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Dissecting the '8GB' Xperia M4 Aqua storage kerfuffle

With competitive pricing, waterproof capabilities and Sony's latest Android UX, the Xperia M4 Aqua has a lot going for it. But with a mere 8 gigabytes of internal flash, storage space is a serious issue for the phone. As XperiaBlog discovered upon getting the phone, their M4 was reduced to just 1.26GB of free space after initial setup.

Let's take a look at what's going on, how you get from 8GB to 1.26GB, and what you need to be aware of when judging your phone's storage capacity.

Xperia M4 Aqua

It's not unusual for the usable space of any data storage device to be less than its quoted capacity, and there are a few perfectly valid reasons for this. When you're dealing with hard drive in a PC, some space is taken up by partitioning and formatting the drive. (Think of it as arranging the space on the drive in a way that's usable by the operating system.) On smartphones and tablets, the partition on which the OS lives also takes up a good chunk of space, which is why most manufacturers include some sort of disclaimer in specification listings.

The following, for instance, is taken from Samsung's Galaxy S6 specs page:

User memory is less than the total memory due to storage of the operating system and software used to operate the phones features. Actual user memory will vary depending on the mobile phone operator and may change after software upgrades are performed.

Of the GS6's 32GB of internal flash, some 25GB is available for your own stuff. That's less than the advertised space, and there's a good case for saying all manufacturers should do a better job of exposing the "real" internal storage capacity to users. We're picking on Samsung (and Sony) here, but this issue affects the smartphone industry as whole. Even Apple has taken flak for continuing to ship 8GB iPhones in some markets.

For Sony's part, its does a decent job of explaining the difference between total storage and available storage in its M4 Aqua whitepaper, however the main product listing for the phone isn't anywhere near as clear:

The E2303 and E2353 have 3 GB of free memory available to the user for downloaded applications and their data, music, pictures and movies while each device has up to 8 GB of flash memory in total.

The quoted '3GB' of free memory doesn't account for the way built-in Android apps update.

The problem with this is that 3GB of "free memory" has to account for updates to built-in apps (like Gmail, YouTube and the Google app) as well. These apps live on the system partition out of the box, but when they're updated, the new versions reside on the data partition alongside all your other apps. And this includes core Android system components that usually update in the background. Consider that Google Play Services and Android System WebView both take up more than 100MB each, before you've even got around to updating core apps like Gmail, Google Maps and the Play Store itself — let alone Sony's built-in apps.

It's easy to see how tens of megabytes here and there can squeeze a seemingly adequate 3GB into a more claustrophobic 1.26GB. And as more built-in apps update over time, that number is only going to decrease. That's an ever-shrinking amount of space for apps you actually choose to download.

MORE: Android bloatware isn't bad, just misunderstood

Disabled apps

At what point is saying 'up to 8GB' just plain misleading?

This puts Sony in a tricky situation, as it's difficult to give a truly accurate baseline storage number. And any number they do give is going to be gradually eroded by updates to built-in apps. Nevertheless, it does make the quoted "up to 8GB" of storage in the M4's spec sheet seem disingenuous. Even without built-in apps, you're never, ever going to get anywhere near 8GB of free space. And as we've explained above, the nature of Android app updates makes 3GB an equally unlikely number.

Whether it's enough to fall foul of the UK's Sale of Goods Act or Trade Descriptions Act is debatable. But we can draw a couple of clear conclusions from this whole mess:

  1. Most manufacturers still aren't anywhere near transparent enough when it comes to telling customers just how much available storage space they'll have to play with.
  2. In 2015, you really, really shouldn't be acting like it's OK to ship a phone — even a mid-range phone — with 8GB of internal flash. Or probably even 16GB. Modern Android needs more than that.

For more on that second point, check out Russell Holly's write-up on why 8 and 16GB phones need to go away.

MORE: Just say no to 16GB of storage in 2015

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

36 Comments
  • I'm sorry, that is outrageous and I'd be pissed if that was my phone. I will never get a phone that has under 32gb or can't be upgraded to at least that because knowing its never 32gb does no one any good. We all know that even with 400mb, apps won't update saying "insufficient space" so the more the merrier.
  • A2SD helps a little on 16Gb models, as long as app and game developers enable it. And you have a fast sdcard. Still using the Sprint GSIII on FreedomPop Unlimited for $19.99
  • When Gingerbread came out for the OG HTC EVO 4G (yeah, we're talking 2011 here), it refused to download email or gReader or app updates if it had under 41MB free space, 11% free. I'd have to clear cache or delete all superfluous apps to get it functioning. I wiped it, tried Cyanogenmod, came back and basically spent three or four months constantly fighting with its lost functionality due to the update. Finally, my g/f, who is even more of a penny pincher than I am asked, "How much is that Galaxy 2 phone you're talking about?" $500 because I'm still on contract. "Why don't you just buy it because you've wasted so much time messing with your phone, you just spent that much on photo gear you'll use maybe once or twice per year, and you use your phone 50 times per day at least?" She is a wise woman. What they need to do is the same as they did with TV or monitor size measurements back in the day when they'd say, "25" diagonal measurement; 23.8" viewable." They should just say how much user available space there is on the phone so instead of being surprised that your new 32GB phone only lets you put on 23GB of apps and content, you know going in what the shrinkage will be.
  • "...you know going in what the shrinkage will be." Makes me think other measurements should be disclaimed with "before pool" or "after pool" for maximum disclosure.
  • I completely agree. 8 and 16GB capacities were fine in 2008, but how can anyone say that the cost of storage hasn't come down enough in 7 years. at the scale that companies like apple and samsung buy NAND flash, the cost to go from 16GB to 32GB is pennies per device. the only reason to keep pumping out devices with 16GB or less storage is planned obsolescence.
  • Yep via AC App on VZW Moto X DE/N7
  • And they can easily make a lot more only selling the 8gb models. My guess is they set the price of the top end (be it 32, 64 or 128, depending on manufacturer) to have the smallest profit margin of the lot so their lower storage ones, that most people tend to buy, can reel in the $$$ while the top end ones pull in a relatively small profit in comparison and are just sort of their for the power users and for the advertising ("ooh, look at us! We put 128gb into a phone! Don't look at the price though"). Sony Xperia Z2
    Nvidia Sheild
    Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
  • Actually, it costs Apple approximately $20 more to go from 16gb to 128gb in the 6 Plus. Last I checked, it costs Samsung $26 more for 128gb over 32gb models of the S6. Margins are significantly higher at the top end. Brass tax, this is a problem started by Apple and perpetuated by nearly every other manufacturer. No one wants to accurately price their storage options because it doesn't make economical sense(in their minds). In reality, pricing more competitively like the One Plus One's +$50 increment would make many manufacturers' phones significantly more attractive without a substantial gain in part costs. Another great example is the Zenphone 2. RAM costs more than internal storage. Doubling RAM and quadrupling internal storage for $100 is another reasonable approach as it is more profitable than a +$50 increase for storage alone while giving noticeable extra incentive.
  • Just release the phone in the US and I'll slap an SD card in there and be on my merry way.
  • How could you be merry if such "smart"phone can't learn anything else? A smartphone is meant to learn from apps. This is just a waterproof 'net'phone/camera/mp3 player at it's best.
  • I still think 16GB isn't the worst starting point for a budget-range phone. But it should, indeed, be the absolute bare minimum for anything, including those. Anything less is utterly unusable.
  • If an app is going to be updated and put in user app space, then why not put it in their originally with the smartphone build instead of putting it in system.
    that way you can make the system partition smaller. Just seems like a really stupid way to build a phone, so that essentially every app you bundle with the phone has to take up twice the room once you update, just stupid design. Only system stuff that will only be updated via OTA should be in system period.
  • don't quote me on this, but I believe when you format/reset to factory the built in apps need to be in the system partition so they don't also go away when you reset to factory.
  • that makes technical sense, but from a design standpoint it's still a big waste of space.
    There has to be a better way.
  • Yeah, I think bloat should be tied to a carrier. Once you activate the phone on a carrier the bloat can get downloaded to your phone. That way they can still force their garbage onto you but you can then delete it if you want.
  • Internal storage has come down in costs. There is absolutely no reason to even manufacture a device with less than 32gb these days. The savings are minimal and would be offset by the number of people who are then steered away from purchasing an 8 or 16gb device. Posted via the Android Central App
  • My daughter has an 8 gb phone (her choice, not mine), and she had to delete all her apps in order to update her banking app. 16gb should be the lower limit for cheap phones, 32 for mid and high end phones... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Don't forget that apps complied with ART take up more space than the older Dalvik virtual machine.
  • Agreed. You can't do much of anything with that amount of storage... How would you even upgrade Android when an update comes out?
  • I still find it ridiculous that device makers can't budget for a 16gb flash chip at this point. I can get a 16gb SD card are around $4-8. That used to be $30+ when 8gb in a phone used to be "enough". Now, there's just no excuse other than marketing. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It shouldn't cost much but a comparison to SD cards is not fair, really. On board storage flash costs more to produce and apart from the highest end SD cards, is much faster.
  • You're half wrong. on board storage is cheaper to produce than SD cards. At the scale that big companies like samsung and apple buy flash storage it is literally a penny or two in cost to go from 8 to 16GB.
  • Doesn't Samsung make flash storage? Even if they have to buy it from themselves, there's no way they're paying anywhere close to market value.
  • It seems back in the PC days I had RAM with Samsung chips on it. I know it isn't the same but I'm sure as some point Sammy made just about all of it.
  • You don't think SD cards are produced at scale?
  • The greedy bastards don't even have the excuse of storage being expensive these days. Posted via Android Central App
  • "In 2015, you really, really shouldn't be acting like it's OK to ship a phone — even a mid-range phone — with 8GB of internal flash. Or probably even 16GB. Modern Android needs more than that."
    This is so true. Now if we could only find a way of cramming this idea into phone makers heads.
  • I remember a buddy of mine having issues with his Nexus One as the years went on. This phone would have storage issues day one. Me personally, I am fine with 16GB. I have about 7 games installed and 27 user apps total according to titanium backup and I have 8.64GB of space remaining. I don't take a whole lot of pictures and don't have music or other media taking up space on my device. I am fine with 16GB being the bottom. 8GB is too little though unless you are using an older, stock version of Android. My 2012 Nexus 7, for instance is an 8GB model and it is perfectly fine, though I don't have as many apps and things on that device. Once you start getting some newer games on there the storage take quite a hit. I am still running Jelly bean though for performance reasons.
  • 1.26 GB left? That would be quite a shock if it were my new phone. Shame on Sony for shipping a phone like that.
  • My phone has 16 gb and its not a problem. I just keep all my pictures and videos on my 64gb sd card. Nothing is wrong with 16gb is you have an sd card but extra breathing room is always welcome. I dont think that i would be able to do 8gb though. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I think with it only being 8gb to start, taking that much space is huge for a phone with an already small amount of storage. Just one more reason the base storage model for all phones needs to be higher, and yes manufacturers should do a better job detailing how much storage you actually will get out of the box.
  • 16GB for budget phones 32GB for flagships And that's the BARE MINIMUM.
  • Guess I'm going to keep my moto g 2nd gen a little longer then. At least it has less bloatware... Water resistant not water proof bummer. Posted via the Android Central App on my Sony Xperia Z Ultra GPe w/ Lollipop 5.1.
  • Alternatively, give us a way to move apps and their associated data to sd.
  • Come on, it's 2015. Even the cheapest most entry-level phones should come with 16gb minimum. And anything above entry-level should come with 32gb minimum.
  • I recently got an M4 Aqua and I was and have proof that they said it can handle all of my apps that where on my Samung Galaxy S3. I am now in the process of trying to change the phone but I am told by my provider and Sony, I should of read the "White Paper". But it stated 8GB of Memory and I only had 1.2GB, I could install all of my apps on my S3 and they worked fine, The M4 Freezers the most basic apps. Do you read all information related to your phone or take your provider/seller word that is stated. I am sure they would not sell many phones if they said it had about 1.25 out of 8GB