Not having enough room to store everything used to be a concern for librarians, collectors and people who’d lived in the same house for decades.
Today, it’s a feeling we’re all familiar with.
The proliferation of smartphone apps has eaten into the storage space on our mobile devices, while higher-quality media files also occupy more room.
Handset memory is compromised by pre-installed operating systems, and undeletable manufacturer/network software (known as bloatware) further eats into space.
All of this makes it tricky to determine how much handset memory your next phone requires.
However, don’t worry about RAM – this is unrelated to storage space, even though both are measured in gigabytes, or GB.
Internal or external?
Handset memory comes in two varieties – sealed internal storage and removable external memory.
The latter usually involves microSD cards, inserted into a tiny expansion slot on the handset.
MicroSD cards tend to be between 32 and 128GB in size, though you’ll occasionally see 200 or even 400GB cards on sale.
By contrast, the internal memory your phone comes with isn’t expandable.
For instance, Apple’s iPhone X comes in two sizes – 64GB or 256GB.
Many Apple owners have reported filling 64GB devices within a year of acquiring the handset.
What happens if I fill the internal memory?
Well, your phone won’t explode, or stop working.
However, it will run more slowly, potentially blocking additional app installs or file saves.
Software and system updates might also be prevented, potentially compromising security and resulting in undeletable (but unactionable) home screen update messages.
In an attempt to fill up space, Android and iOS devices periodically suggest deleting rarely-used apps or cached files. However, this is a temporary and limited solution.
You’ll probably have to delete occasional-use apps and downloaded documents, or transfer some media files onto a computer via USB.
Can’t I just upload everything into the cloud?
For one thing, you won’t be able to upload apps or programs to the cloud from your mobile device – they’re either installed on the device or permanently deleted.
For another, domestic broadband connections always prioritise download speeds over uploads, making large-scale uploading a tedious task.
(You certainly wouldn’t want to do this over 4G, either.)
However, if you’re willing to be patient while files slowly upload, cloud storage does have its merits.
Your data is permanently backed up, so it’s accessible even if the handset is lost or wiped.
Those files are also accessible from any web-enabled device, anywhere in the world.
So how much handset memory will I need?
This is the 64 gigabyte question. And that’s generally the answer – at least for now.
Android Oreo requires about 6GB of space, but it also duplicates itself across a further 6GB of memory.
A couple of gigabytes of bloatware and everyday apps will be installed on any modern handset, leaving roughly 50GB for user-generated content.
Apps are getting larger all the time, but popular Android downloads include the BBC Sport app (84MB), Candy Crush Soda Saga (100MB) and WhatsApp (75MB).
A typical JPEG image will occupy around 5MB on any device, as will a 320kbps MP3 file – assuming your music isn’t supplied via a streaming service like Spotify.
This is another great way to minimise handset storage requirements, though it does consume mobile data allowances if you’re not connected to WiFi.
Many apps are installed once and never re-used, so periodic purges will free up extra space.
You can even specify how much phone memory to set aside for webpage content.