Windows Phone 7 and removable storage

So, there’s been some confusion around Windows Phone 7 and its support of removable/expandable storage. As is so often the case, this confusion comes from Microsoft: The company told me specifically (and repeatedly) that the OS would not support this. But it sort of does.

Here’s how it works.

Supported devices (not all Windows Phones will be expandable) will include a micro-SD card slot, which by Microsoft’s requirements must be placed under the battery cover (i.e. next to the actual battery) and not be externally accessible. That’s because this functionality isn’t designed to be something that is swapped out, used with a PC, or whatever. Instead, the micro-SD-based storage will work in tandem with whatever storage is available inside the device. So let’s say you get a device and it has 8 GB of storage internally plus an empty micro-SD slot. You could add a memory card (with 8 to 32 GB of storage) to dramatically expand the storage (to up to 40 GB).

What you can’t do is swap it out without hard resetting the device. That’s because the storage on the card and the internal storage is comingled, and the system makes no differentiation. There’s no way to know where something (an app, song, whatever) is stored, and if you do pop out the card, the phone will complain. And it won’t be readable on your PC, so you can’t use it to transfer content in either direction.

There are technical reasons for these limitations, but I can’t discuss them until my review can be published. (Sometime next week.) For now, let’s just say that Microsoft has cut an interesting compromise here by allowing users to expand the storage, and dramatically, on supported devices. But it’s not as free floating as, say, external memory card support on Android devices or whatever.

So, to put it accurately, Windows Phone does support expandable storage. But it does not support removable storage.

By the way, the Samsung Focus does provide a micro-SD slot. This is still very much the device I intend to buy.

This entry was posted in Errata and Additions, Windows Phone. Bookmark the permalink.

90 Responses to Windows Phone 7 and removable storage

  1. paschott says:

    I feel a little better about this as long as the manufacturers haven’t completely glued it or otherwise fixed it in place. (I seem to remember the dev devices having those cards glued in place.) I like the idea of being able to at least upgrade from a lower size card to a higher one as the prices drop. As long as we’re able to back up the phone or re-install apps, I don’t mind a hard-reset and restore to increase the available storage. If we’re not able to do that, I’m still concerned.

    • sandrobber says:

      Dear …………,

      Thank you for your reply. While the article is an interesting read, I can only really speak on the information we have at HTC. The phones that we have announced that are running Windows Phone 7 do not have SD card slots to expand the storage capabilities on the devices. At this time, we also do not have any information about any other methods of storage expansion either. The other, non-HTC phones that I have seen have not had SD card slots either. So it does seem that removable storage is not an option, and we have not heard any word on other methods of expansion for the memory.

      To send a reply to this message or let me know I have successfully answered your question log in to our ContactUs site using your email address and your ticket number 10USCW42ENA001497.




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      • Paul Thurrott says:

        So. :) This is obviously incorrect, though I agree that HTC doesn’t offer this option on its own devices.

      • kralizek says:

        being unable to expand the SD on the HTC phones could be manageable if the built-in one were enough. But I can’t really understand why the Asian version of the HTC HD7 has 16 GB while the European one has only 8 GB…

  2. joshhood says:

    Do you know if the Omnia 7 does? Some sources say it has the same slot as the Focus, up to 32GB, others say no slot.

  3. toddard says:

    Interesting choice in the Samsung Focus. It is my choice too, but only because T-mobile service is not good in my area. I had my heart set on the HD7, but the Dell looks compelling also! The things I like about the Focus are that it has the biggest screen among the AT&T offerings, it is Super AMOLED, plus it is the thinnest and lightest.

  4. markuslaff says:

    wow… MS couldn’t have made that any clearer!

    Did MS mention if the SD Cards had to be any specific speed class?

  5. vangrieg says:

    That’s great but it looks like only Samsung Focus has an accessible SD card. Others neither let users upgrade storage nor have variants with decent storage included. 8GB is just ridiculous.

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  8. interframe says:

    As long as I can expand the storage on the device, I don’t really see a problem. So I guess a good tip would be if you don’t like how much storage comes with your Windows Phone, replace the SD card immediately before you even setup your device (and obviously, get a device that supports a physical and accessible SD card).

    And Paul, since a lot of Windows Phone 7 is cloud-centric (I mean you need a Windows Live ID to being with), does it really matter that the device hard-resets? Wouldn’t you able to just sign in with your Live ID and get back most of your stuff, as well as re-sync your Zune content from the PC and re-download the apps you already downloaded before on the Marketplace with your Windows Live ID?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      For the most part. You will have to manually reinstall all the apps you bought or downloaded. You will have to resync any PC content (digital media, whatever), and reconnect to SharePoint, etc.

      • billwil says:

        Paul…won’t syncing with the Zune software re-install the apps you’ve purchased while you’re syncing other PC content? This is how it works with the ZuneHD IIRC, so I was thinking it would be similar.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        No. It doesn’t work like it does with Zune HD apps. That is, Windows Phone 7 apps are *not* downloaded to the PC.

  9. Bryant Avey says:

    I was looking at the phones today and trying to decide which one to get. So you’re going for the Samsung Focus – that’s nice to know. I like the HTC HD7 on T-Mobile, but I have my company phones on AT&T, so I was trying to decide between the LG Quantum and Samsung Focus.

    Can I ask what do you like about the Focus over the other models, besides the micro-SD slot? Maybe that’s enough in itself, eh?

    Also, you may have said this already in another post, but when will the phones be available for purchase?

  10. c0rk says:

    This is GREAT news.

    Thank you for digging in deep to coalesce confusing press and lazy reporting into a clear statement of actual functionality. I do of course… have some questions…

    In the MSFT FAQ, it says…

    “Windows Phone uses a special high–performance SD card that works differently than SD cards in other devices.”

    … I also plan on getting the Samsung Focus on 11/8, but want to know more about the ‘special’ SD card that I need to have in order to expand the capacity. Does this correspond to a Micro-SD Class? I ask b/c I’d much prefer to purchase this card myself ahead of time rather than be ripped off at the point of sale by AT&T.

    This brings up two follow-up questions…

    1. Would it be best to insert this card before 1st bootup (meaning I should bring my SD card to the AT&T store on launch day, and have them insert it before boot)?
    2. How simple will it be to hard-reset Windows Phone? (I just assume not confuse AT&T if this is something i can do myself w/ ease — I’ve hard reset a WinMo 6.5 or 2)

    I currently carry around my 30GB Zune HD, and think it would be useful to have more capacity on the Focus for usage in air-travel and other ‘low-connectivity’ circumstances which will leave me w/o access to the Zune Streaming Service.

    … Thank you for all your hard work on the book and for seeking out the final-truth on this topic.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      1. Yeah, if you’re going to get the card and the phone at the same time, definitely do that.

      2. Very simple. There’s a way to do this in Settings – About: “Reset Your Phone.”

  11. coreymcl says:

    Paul, can you confirm the type of MicroSD required? MicroSDHC or MicroSDHC Card Class 2 or do they care?

    Thanks for confirming!


  12. billwil says:

    I know I could wait until I can handle the devices myself, Paul…but I’m finding it difficult to do so…so I have a question. The Samsung Focus is also looking the most interesting to me, as well, but I love the solid feel of the all metal bodies of the HTC handsets (like the HD2…and presumably the HD7 as well). How does the Focus feel with its all plastic body? Does it feel sort of cheap or does it feel solid like a premium phone should? I know it is supposed to be very light…presumably helped by a plastic body…but I’m concerned that it will feel low-end. Of course…it’s probably hard to think “low-end” with that beautiful super AMOLED screen! I can’t wait….please throw us a bone, here. :)


  13. odog4ever says:

    I was all set to get a Samsung Focus after I heard about the expandable memory but on the official Windows Phone site it clocks in at a measly 3 hrs of talk time! That is unacceptable in 2010. Guess I’m going to have to switch to T-moblie to get my big screen WP7 fix…

  14. jkimrey says:

    Excellent news – thanks for clarifying this for us Paul.

    BTW – do you expect the phones via the normal AT&T distribution channels? IE – should we expect to see these phones in Best Buy, etc on Nov 8th? Any idea when pre-orders will start for the Samsung Focus? Can’t wait!

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      You know, I haven’t heard, but that’s a fair assumption. I think AT&T is going to be pretty good about spreading the word, though my natural distrust of all wireless carriers remains.

  15. Pingback: Expandable storage confirmed in Windows Phone 7, required a hard reset | Windows Phone 7 Zone

  16. sethdiaz says:

    Do you know what speed class the Focus will support for the micro SDHC cards? I too am heavily leaning toward the Focus for my next purchase and would like to get whatever the highest speed the device supports. A quick search of NewEgg turns up 16GB cards all they way up to Class 10. Sadly, the only available 32GB card only runs at Class 2.

  17. ticorules says:

    One of the only things that tempered my excitement about WP7 was the storage capabilities. 16gb is definitely not enough for my needs. So this is good news!

    But which phones are considered supported devices?


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  20. Tony says:

    Hey Paul
    Thanks for this info.

    I have used windows mobile for a long time, and I update rom’s or do a hard reset once a month.
    I have “all” my application on the storage card so I don’t have to install/config all my programs every time i do a hard reset.
    The first ting I do before a hard reset, is to remove my SD-card, off course, so my docs/programs/etc don’t get messed up.

    How will this be in Windows Phone 7 ?

  21. raygolf says:

    Thanks for clarifying this.

    Do you know if any of the HTC phones support expandable storage? As usual with this type of thing, there is conflicting information around the net.

  22. gpsarakis says:

    Can you dive more into detail what a “hard reset” will do to a device? Like if you get one that already comes with a 8GB microSD card but want to swap that out (before you even do anything to the phone would be when I do it), and put in a 32GB one.

    What, if anything, could you lose and how would you get it back? Like OEM/Carrier specific things for example?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      A hard reset puts the phone back to 0, where it was when you first bought it and turned it on for the first time.

  23. chillnoosa says:

    Intrigued Paul,
    Which phone would you have chosen if you weren’t in the US??

  24. sca2pula says:

    Great article. This is fantastic news! Did you manage to find out if any other brands/ models will be getting sd card slots? I’ve got my eye on the Mozart but so far it appears it doesn’t have an sd slot.

  25. So what you’re saying is the phones will be slower by default because they will be accessing the SD card.

    Are the touted internal storages for all the phone even real internal 8GB or is a card included in that then?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I’m not sure I’m saying that. I’m saying that the phone will decide where stuff is stored and that the user will have no way to micromanage it.

  26. Ian says:

    This is great news! One of my main concerns for WP7 has been storage, doesn’t have to be swappable but being able to have more than 8 (or even 16) at launch is great.

  27. Dzejms says:

    Good. One thing I hated about the old Winmo phones was choosing whether to store/install locally or on the removable card. I’d much rather have the option to expand, yet have it all seem like one volume.

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  29. gpsarakis says:

    How do we know where the preloaded OEM apps are though? What happens if they’re on the microSD originally? Are those OEM specific/carrier specific apps something you can get again if you lose them? That’s the only real question I have at this point.

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  35. laudens says:

    Removable, universally readable (windows, OSX, and Linux) makes my life easier since I can add and deleted from my computer. My current phone has lots of storage available and no quick (or cheep) way to move music, photos or apps from my Mac to the phone. No cable yet (phone is less than 6 months old) and no assurance that the phone OS will be compatible with Mac OS. Bought the phone for other features, but really miss calendar and contacts sync.

  36. trdyer says:

    On WW the MSFT guy said that there was a favourite device among the exec’s.

    Any idea which one that is?

    I am looking forward to win phone 7, but I really don’t want to switch carriers (in contract for another year and a half, 3 year contract’s in canada) and by that time win phone 8 should be out.

  37. edgar says:

    thanks for the article. I’m still between the Samsung Focus and HTC Surround. Maybe when I see them in Person will finally decide.

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  39. epatchen says:

    Thx for the clarification on the microSD slot. I too am still curious about the “Special High Speed” memory and if it requires a specific class etc.

    Also, am I reading the specs correctly, that the focus only has 256mb of RAM while the HTC models have 576mb? Other than the RAM I was leaning towards the Focus but sitting here with an old iPhone 3g that’s always running out of memory I am nervous about 256 MB of Ram.

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      This thing performs demonstrably better than the prototype, and as well as the other phone I’m testing. So I don’t know what to say to that.

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  41. bobbycannon says:

    So I’m was set on buying the focus on November 8 and I’m very excited to hear you can upgrade the memory. I was concerned about the 8g onboard of not being enough but not anymore. Now I super stoke and ready to purchase my new phone!

    I’m even leaving Verison Wireless and switching to AT&T just for WP7!

    I’m been researching MicroSDHC cards and noticed the “class” speeds. The class number is the MB/s it can transfer at.

    My question is do you currently have an SDCARD installed. If so what speed and how is the performance?

  42. fudtbear says:

    Is it alright to use a 32GB Class 2 microSD card in the Samsung Focus or do I need to stick to a 16 GB Class 4 microSD because of speed issues. Not so much worried about downloads from computer to phone but mainly wanting to insure quick response when using the phone and no hiccups when watching videos on phone. Has anyone found out if Class 2 will be enough or should we get Class 4 cards?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      Still waiting on the official word on this.

      • fudtbear says:

        Well, I guess we do have until November 8th to find out. i will be awaiting your word on this. I tried to ask a Rep at the local AT&T store and he said he hadn’t even heard about Windows Phone 7 yet. I told him he needed a career change. Unfortunately, my local store has lost all it’s knowledgeable employees.

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  46. psjohnson96 says:

    Paul, any word yet on what speed of microSD card will work in WP7?

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  49. pete2s says:

    Apps are typically installed to the ROM. This practice severely limits the number of large apps because of the small ROM size, like 512MB on the HTCs. On a Windows 7 Phone, are the apps installed to the ROM? Is any part of the app stored on the ROM, like the executable, while the media for the app is installed in the internal/SD memory?

    It wouldn’t surprise me if all of the apps are stored in the ROM and isolated memory files, like saved games, are stored on the internal/SD memory.

  50. Matt Dotson says:

    According to the Samsung press release , a class 2 (or better) microsd card is ok to use.

  51. fudtbear says:

    So I am going on my second day with my new Samsung Focus and although I saw the reports of problems with adding memory with microSD’s I am happy to say that my 32 GB Sandisk Class 2 card is doing just fine. On a side note, I’m not sure if I realized how having Zune pass and Sky Drive actually keeps you from needing as much room as you would think. I will be using most of my room to store podcast. When is the TWIT app going to be available?

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  53. jahman7 says:

    I just inserted a card to my Focus, 16GB C4, and my phone won’t recognize it. Any idea’s if I will need to hard reset or what I should do? Is this a possible hardware problem?

  54. brettstr42 says:

    Hey guys,

    Any updates to be had on this subject? I’m enjoying my new Focus with Copy/Paste and would love to upgrade the storage. Any news or info provided in much appreciated.

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