Microsoft speaks on micro-SD and Windows Phone storage expansion

And it’s unfortunately not very good news.

According to Microsoft’s Charlie Kindel, the company does not support end users upgrading the storage in their Windows Phones with micro-SD. This is a carrier feature, and if the carrier is going to sell such a device, the intention is that it is they, and not the end user, that adds, tests, and supports that configuration.

The issue, apparently, is the micro-SD card format. The cards are unreliable and inconsistent, even between batches made by the same manufacturer, and in Microsoft’s tests, there was no way to “certify” that any would work properly. “Even with high end cards, we have seen wild differences in IO and performance,” he said. “There is just no standardization there.” Put simply, if you expand the storage in a compatible Windows Phone device, it may work, and it may not.

“In most cases, users will have issues,” he told me. “Most cards are of poor quality, and there’s no way we can control that or recommend a certain type of card. If you happen to get a good card, with the right performance and IO characteristics, it will work reliably. But even a bad card will appear to work at first, and the device will boot.”

That, of course, is where the fun starts. If you have a bad card, you’ll notice horrible, unreliable performance, slow app boot times and performance, lock-ups, and random reboots.

“It’s not intended to be user serviceable,” he said. “The carrier does it and supports it.”

As for the “why’s” behind the design, Kindel said that the alternative was two file systems, where the user would have to choose where to put stuff, and micromanage file management. That is not what Microsoft wants for Windows Phone.

Kindel’s advice is for users to check with the carrier first. And Microsoft is going to provide me with AT&T contact information so I can get a statement from them as well. For now, at least, it looks like those that wish to expand the storage in a Focus or other compatible device are on their own.

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46 Responses to Microsoft speaks on micro-SD and Windows Phone storage expansion

  1. pastorwelker says:

    I hope AT&T has a solution ready to go at launch. 8 gbs just is not enough for me. (Thank God I didn’t pull the trigger on the purchase of a 32 gb card a few days ago.) Thanks so much for the heads-up on this issue. By the way, Engadget is reporting the HD7 also has a SD slot.

  2. BI_Tinkering says:

    Okay, so unless we buy the microSDHC from the carrier (and they aren’t right now) we’re going to have to buy a card and benchmark them to see if they are up to the task?

    So that begs the question, what are the numbers we’re looking for?

    • gpsarakis says:

      I’m sure with time as more people get phones they’ll try out all kinds of cards, so it’s a safe bet that we’ll start to get data back on what works and if anyone has problems with some cards.

      I think as long as it’s a fast class 4 or so card you shouldn’t see any problems.

    • vedichymn says:

      The general recommendations I’ve seen (which certainly aren’t official MS recommendations) are class 6 or higher. That said, performance even within a class varied wildly and cheap “noname” class 6 cards might not actually hit that level.

      Interestingly enough, the HD7 appears to ship with a class 2 card, maybe they’re just really good class 2 cards. Since a class is just a “minimum” threshold, and not verified by anyone but the manufacturer you could certainly get a class 2 that performs like a class 6.

      • gullygod says:

        Someone with a Focus should crack it open and verify internal storage.

        Also, these phones should have had different models — 8GB, 16GB…

  3. keithk3927 says:

    Not a huge surprise considering that details on it were nowhere to be found. I plan on getting the Focus and start without the card to get unscientific benchmarks. Then, start over with a Class 4 card that I will buy from AT&T (to hopefully have a little protection), and see how it goes. After reading your review I want to use Windows Phone 7, I have to determine that we can use it in our small business environment, and I want to set my iPod aside. The AT&T rep told me I’d have 30 days to use the unit before committing (I’m currently a VZW customer), but I don’t know if that’s for prospective corporate customers or everyone.

  4. tblowdermilk says:

    Paul —
    Can you comment on how you are using your Focus? Do you have a MicroSD card installed? If so, what’s been your experience? I realize no format is supported (and probably won’t be [if ever]), but I’d be curious if you have any experience using the MicroSD.

    If you’re only using the internal 8 GB, how has that experience been? Do you find that you are longing for more storage space? Or does having a Zune Pass negate the need?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I’m only using internal storage. I guess I’d like to upgrade for vague reasons, but it’s been fine, really. For an actual trip I can of course bring a Zune HD. But it’d be nice–again for unclear reasons–to have my whole music collection on there.

      I am going to give the micro-SD a shot in November. First, I want to talk to AT&T.

  5. Pingback: Microsoft scare-mongering on expandable storage in Windows Phone 7

  6. gpsarakis says:

    The hit and miss with cards could very well be true, my mother dropped her phone pretty hard one time and somehow the microSD card got crapped on in the process, lost all her data on it. I mean it’s NAND flash, so how can the impact do it? I really don’t know.

    The other side of this could just be the simple fact that OEMs probably want it this way, since they can’t control the OS and how it looks the real thing to try and sell over the next phone maker is in the apps you add and the hardware, so a race over more storage to 32GB and higher if the market demands it could be the way to stand out.

  7. oakengoby says:

    From the Horses’s (AT&T’s) mouth:

    Thanks for your interest in our new Windows Phone 7 devices. We are very excited as well about this great new experience being delivered on some very cool devices on the nation’s fastest network.

    The devices will support the addition of up to a 32GB class 2 (or higher) microSD card. You need to insert the card before you power up the device the first time so that the operating system can map it as available memory to maximize its utilization. This is outlined in the Quick Start Guide you receive in the box. I encourage you to read this before you launch the device the first time to have the best experience with a microSD card.

    Thanks again for your interest. I hope you like it as much as I do. If you have a moment, please let me know your experience.

    Best regards


    Jeff Bradley
    Senior Vice President Devices
    AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets
    Credit to username “eshudnow” over at the AT&T Samsung forums for emailing Mr. Bradley and sharing.

  8. efjay1 says:

    Sorry, not buying it. Have used storage cards for years without data loss, from different manufacturers. There will be variations in performance between vendor’s cards but not to the extent that it will cause the issues being suggested here. And XDA has already swapped the storage card in an HD7 for another and has had no issues. And if MS really had a concern about storage cards they should have insisted they not be used by OEM’s, because wont the same fate befall these cards as well or have they been sprayed with magical pixie dust?

  9. skinnypig118 says:

    My question is, why would this be dependent on the carrier, rather than the manufacturer? Wouldn’t Samsung have tested their hardware with addon memory so that they can claim to support/not-support it?

  10. adamucf says:

    Charlie is correct. Just ask the guy (pretty much a genius) that hacked the original Xbox.

    So why let the OEMs include SD cards? Well I think the assumption is that they are taking enough control and QA in their supply chain and manufacturing processes to ensure that they are shipping with good cards.

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  12. 123keith says:

    After hearing MS’s response my limited experience SD-slot devices, I feel that SD cards will make the phone buggy and slow. I understand I’m not a tech/electronics pro, but this is the vibe I’m getting. I need the storage, so I’m waiting for real world testing/reviews.

    Hopefully, the carriers don’t try and up-sell buggy SD cards too hard (yeah right); and, make WP7 out to be the bad guy.

  13. mobilepaddy says:

    I’m confused. So when I order a Samsung focus, Will AT&T offer me recommended SD cards to go with it? Or Am I just stuck with the 8gb?

    • Paul Thurrott says:

      I was told that if the carrier put the cards in they would have undergone some form of testing to ensure that they work. Not sure whether I buy that, to be honest.

  14. massanutten says:

    Looking forward to the book. Especially after following the progress on this blog. Don’t know how reliable this is but I found the following comment on one of the AT&T forums:

    Thanks for your interest in our new Windows Phone 7 devices. We are very excited as well about this great new experience being delivered on some very cool devices on the nation’s fastest network. The devices will support the addition of up to a 32GB class 2 (or higher) microSD card. You need to insert the card before you power up the device the first time so that the operating system can map it as available memory to maximize its utilization. This is outlined in the Quick Start Guide you receive in the box. I encourage you to read this before you launch the device the first time to have the best experience with a microSD card.

    Thanks again for your interest. I hope you like it as much as I do. If you have a moment, please let me know your experience.

    Best regards


    Jeff Bradley
    Senior Vice President Devices
    AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets

    • oakengoby says:

      I posted the same thing above. I think this at least partially confirms along with a few reviewers upgrading the memory on their devices, that class 2 or higher is supported by the OEM and AT&T.

  15. Master Devwi says:

    Hmm, this has me somewhat concerned. I plan on getting the Samsung Focus on launch day and immediately expanding the memory. I’ve already purchased a 32GB Kingston micro-SD card (Class 4) just for this purpose. 16GB on the phone is barely acceptable, but 8GB is nowhere near enough storage. Hopefully, my micro-SD card won’t cause any problems. I’m very interested to hear what you find out from AT&T, Paul.

  16. Drew says:

    So it is microSD or microSDHC?

  17. oakengoby says:

    I’m interested to know whether we will be speed-limited based on the class of alower-speed card. For example, if the stock card is a class 4 8 GB card and the consumer adds a 16 GB class 6 to the expandable memory slot , would memory access be somehow limited to the class 4 speed due to whatever mojo Microsoft does to combine the two memory sources?

  18. digime2007 says:

    It’s all about being “always delightful” (Balmer, 2010, over and over again) isn’t it?

    They decided to combine the storage to stop users having to choose where to store their data/programs. That simplifies things nicely and improves the UX but then raises the complication of having to do a hard reset to incorporate the card into the combined store. Plus, this action has the side effect of losing data and apps. Not nice, but avoidable if you hide the slot away inside the phone.

    Also, any striping of storage reduces reliability so letting users replace their cards could potentially lead to problems. Again, you can avoid these issues if you put the responsibility of QC on the manufacturer/vendor. This means less problems, less chance of an iPhone-antenna type PR disaster and more ‘always delightfulness’.

  19. roberthleeii says:

    I agree with most people 8gig is not enough. i went from an iphone 3g with 8gig to an iphone 3gs with 16gig and it made all the difference in the world for me. I do use my phone as my only media player.

    The reason i think this way of expandable storage (if done well) is appealing is that it allows the carriers to order only one phone. Unlike the iphone where it is the iphone 4 16gig and the iphone 4 with 32gig. It makes it easier on the seller and buyer with one choice per phone. my mother does not even use 1gig on her iphone 4 where as i always keep 10 – 13 on my phone. if this process was done correctly you can make that jump from 8gig to 40gig where all you pay for is the actual cost of the memory, not an arbitrary $100 for 16gig.

  20. jetninja says:

    I’m sorry, I can’t believe this BS from MS.

    Think about it. The manufacturers are pumping these out, probably a thousand a day easy. So are we to believe, they are using some super secret sauce test to vet out the top oh say 10% of these oh so crappy SD cards. In the HD2 on XDA that was taken apart, a Class 0 card was found. It was replaced with a garden variety Class 2 32GB card, hard reset, works fine.

    I can’t believe they are tossing out (can’t really resell that many “bad” cards can they!) tons of unworthy SD cards.

    I’ve bought many for my DSLR’s, Class 6 all, no name and name brands….all work great. I do not believe these phones internal requirements are any higher, and seems to point that they are in “fact” lower.

  21. jetninja says:

    PS….dont get me wrong, I’m a big MS fan and love the podcast with Leo – Paul, listen to it on my Zune 120 on my commute! Ha Ha….

    You’ve pretty much sold me on getting a Focus, and 8GB will not do. Though may wait for 2nd gen devices, but the Super OLED is so tempting.

    Thanks for the discussion!

    • Rich says:

      I was coming here to post the exact same thing. Paul sold me on the Focus too but there is NO WAY I can live with only 8GB of storage. I have an hour long commute each way and I stuff my phone with video PodCasts (I sit a stop lights for half of my commute).

      @PAUL – is there any word on second generation phones coming in 3 or 6 months from now? If it’s anything like Android is doing now, there could be 10x better of a phone by Jan 1 that will make everyone regret their initial purchase and waste of a 2 year AT&T contract extension.

      • Paul Thurrott says:

        No word on 2nd gen phones, sorry. My sources at Microsoft have not seen any yet, and from what I understand, they saw the 1st gen stuff for the first time just a day or two before the launch event.

  22. jeetop says:

    I’m still amazed at how much confusion there still is about WP7 and SD cards.

    I totall agree with Microsoft on their standpoint, there will be problems with users not understanding the file system structure and using inadequate cards and they have left the decision to support this up to the manufacturer/carrier. However:

    Every device has an SD card on the board be it user accessible or not. The Focus we know about and the guys at XDA have found it on the HD7 and swapped it for 32GB cards. The Venue Pro also has a slot somewhere as well as the Mozart with an 8GB Sandisk card although as yet in an unknown location.

    (To test on a device just press volume down & power while connected to a PC and you will enter a bootloader mode which lists the size and manufacturer of the installed SD card.)

    From memory all the discovered cards so far are class zero, maybe one or two were class two, meaning there isn’t much technical base for the “performance issues” claim, it is merely the company standpoint to discourage inexperienced users.

    The only issue as far as I can see if you are technically competent is if your handset includes swapping the card within the warranty. The Focus does and they provide support, the HD7 requires removing a warranty seal to do it.
    Various sites/blogs have somewhat misreported the whole SD card issue causing a lot of confusion between potential users.

    • jeetop says:

      Oops, my bad- “every device” is not quite accurate. Forgot to say the Omnia 7 uses a Samsung on board flash chip instead of an SD card, naturally as Samsung make their own flash chips.

  23. BI_Tinkering says:

    At this point I’m likely to go with either the SanDisk 32GB (Class 2) or Kingston 16GB (Class 10) The latter wouldn’t give me quite as much room as my existing ZuneHD, but would force me to think twice about uploading ALL of my music.

    Why load a greatest hits album if you’re also loading the albums those hits came from? Also why not think twice about the bit rate of the files you load on to the phone? I rip in WM Lossless or WMPro 192Kbps and set Zune device quality to 192 Kbps, but to be honest, it’s a phone, so how likely are you to hear the difference between WMPro 192Kbps and WMPro 128Kbps?

    So for me it really comes down to Size (40GB total w/32GB Class 2) or Speed (24GB w/16GB Class 10)? Right now I’m leaning twoard Speed as size is sure to come down in price.

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  25. mixworx says:

    Guy who tested SD cards and found drastic differences was true. I recently did it too for industrial mobile terminals support, to store SQLMobile db-file here and I developed small NETCF exe, runnable even on desktop which did complex testsuite with mixture of big and small files, copying between internal storage of WM and card, deleting and so on simply to compare results of many cards on the same device. There is many factors that affect card performance, even host controller solution, but most crucial is internal SD controller chip (almost none knows which companies make them all, but it is very few) and of course used memory chip, if it is MLC or SLC. The fastest card ever in 2007 was Kingston Ultimage with very good controller and SLC chip inside. While copying big files, almost all cards perform well, but HUGE difference is when you deal with many small files (copying, creating, deleting) and very few SD card controllers was good (async?) in the time. Also, as SLC chips was far more expensive, they silently disappeared from better cards in favor of MLC with higher capacity (but also 10x less reliability of block writes) which was bad. On microSD, there is even limitation of badwidth (probably half of full 50MHz?) and here is less space to embed advanced controller, but I hope that this is changing now. Hoping also that WP7 is built around SDXC support to allow even larger cards. Performace is all about fast random access for even very small transfers for really GOOD cards… Utility I did was developed for my former employer, so I havent yet any right to disclose it, but may be I will try to ask.

  26. hashpot666 says:

    After the statements made by MS & AT&T, I think the biggest question remaining is what is the speed of the card-reader built-in to the phone? I know they’re saying Class-2 and above cards are supported but they should clarify the max supported speed allowed by the reader. If the reader can only read upto Class-2, it won’t matter if we get anything higher in terms of speed.

    • mixworx says:

      Here wouldnt be issue, no reason to not support max possible speed of SD card interface. But cards SD controller and mem-chip technology matters. “Class” also does not say anything about random access speed or cards async/cached writes.

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  29. hashpot666 says:

    I have now ordered a 32GB Class 4 Kingston card from Amazon. I was unable to find 32GB in a higher class from a brand name manufacturer. I also could not find any Sandisk cards 16G & up that were higher than Class 2 (my local AT&T store is selling a 32GB Sandisk which doesn’t state the Class and the store employees are clueless about the types of cards).

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  31. Pingback: AT&T apparently selling "certified" SD cards for Windows Phone now | Windows Phone Secrets

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