The microSD card is dead! What’s next?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Let me begin this editorial with a disclaimer - for years and years, I’ve been a huge advocate of the microSD card slot in phones. Hell, I gave so much flak to Apple for not including one that I’m honestly ashamed of this clickbaity title. What made me change my mind? A certain present that I got a couple of years ago.

The path to obsolescence - a personal story


For my 36th birthday, my girlfriend bought me a Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Back then Huawei was enjoying exponential growth in Europe and all future troubles were just a speck in the crystal balls of the most gifted fortune tellers. The phone was good, it was great actually but there was one problem.

Huawei being Huawei decided to reinvent the microSD card slot and introduced something called the nano memory card - 45% smaller than micro SD, shares the same slot with a nano-SIM, a cool concept altogether. The thing is, these nano memory cards were notoriously hard to get in Europe by the time.

I spent some time feeling anxious but eventually decided to transfer all the data from my trustworthy 64GB Sandisk microSD card to the Mate 20’s onboard storage. I was left with about 50GB of free memory and the feeling of not being able to use my phone to its absolute maximum. But as days went by, it turned out that I didn’t miss my microSD card in the slightest. But why?

#1 Phones have way more storage now


Back in my Xperia Ray days, a microSD card was a necessity. This phone had only 1GB of onboard storage with the OS taking 70% of it. The Xperia Ray even came with a 4GB microSD card included and this was not a bonus. It was Sony admitting that their phone has insufficient storage.

Nowadays, you get 64GB as the bare minimum, and if you want you can go all the way to 512GB. Yeah, 64GB might be a stretch, especially if you’re trigger-happy with your 4K videos or you play lots of games but even then, you’ll be hard-pressed to fill up a 128GB phone in its two-or-so-year lifecycle. That’s because your photos and videos aren’t really your own anymore.

#2 Cloudy with a chance of data leaks

Image credit: https://shotkit.com/

Everything is in the cloud now. Well, not EVERYTHING but most of the things worth sharing go straight to them servers. No point in keeping gigabytes of photos and videos on your phone when they’re already posted on Facebook, or backed up in Google Photos.

When you think about it, our phones are backing up almost everything we do to the cloud, many things by default, too. Your contacts, mail, chats, photos and videos, music, even the list of apps you’re using. Most of the time, your phone’s memory serves only to accommodate apps and games. And there’s a limited amount of apps you actually use, and also a limited amount of games you can play at any given time.

My list of apps has grown tremendously over the years because I tend to keep everything, but even though I have around 80 apps installed (games included), they only take around 27GB. If I do a little spring cleaning this number can be halved easily.
 

Music is already in the cloud and I prefer to pay the $4.99/mo for my Spotify subscription than to rip CDs and transfer them to my phone, pay for and download music tracks, organize them and so on and so forth. With game streaming services like Stadia, xCloud, Amazon Luna you’ll be able to play AAA titles on your phone with zero storage repercussions. Man, do I look forward to this one - I’m so sick of the state of mobile gaming now - but that’s a different story altogether.

#3 Be the cheetah, not the snail!


Can a microSD card slow down your phone? Absolutely! Your phone’s NVMe storage is blazing fast with read/write speeds up to hundreds of megabytes per second. The microSD card on the other hand tops at around 100 MB/s. There are faster microSD cards out there but modern phones just don’t support them. Somehow we’re stuck with the UHS-I standard, even though digital cameras can utilize faster transfers. It boggles my mind but it is what it is.

So, your phone will be faster and snappier if everything is stored onboard, right? That’s true but there’s yet another nail in the coffin of the microSD card and it’s called 5G. While 5G speeds are currently not very inspiring (we’re talking about an average of 50Mbps in the US), the future is coming fast and mmWave 5G could theoretically deliver speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.


Last year, Verizon and Qualcomm conducted a test and achieved a 5.06Gbps peak transfer speed using 5G mmWave technology. This equates to 630 MB/s - six times faster than the best microSD card you can use on your phone. Granted, we’re not there yet, but in a year or two, accessing data on the cloud will be faster than reading it from a microSD card (at least on phones).

#4 Broken down, lost, and out of money


I’m not talking about my student years here. Believe it or not, keeping your data on a microSD card can be less secure than keeping it in the cloud. Yeah, #2 says “data leaks” in the heading but data leaks make headlines because they are very rare, especially when we talk about big companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Their servers are more secure than your phone will ever be and these companies will make everything in their power to protect your data (their reputation). Billions of dollars are on the line.

On the other side, we have your normal microSD card, and if you didn’t go out of your way to encrypt it and secure the data on it, it is game over when you lose it or it gets stolen. Then there’s the reliability side to it. There’s a reason why we’re backing up everything in the cloud - because servers have redundancies in place in case something breaks. When your microSD card fails - that’s it. In most cases, your data is permanently lost.

Finally, there’s the price. A 512GB microSD card will set you back $80-100, while Google One storage plans start from $19.99/year for 100GB and go up to $99.99/year for 2TB (you can get up to 30TB but it’s really pricey at that point). Now, that’s not downright cheaper at every storage level, but you can access the information from practically anywhere on any device, and it’s far more secure.

What’s next?


I hope you’ve made it this far without cringing and hating me in your guts. I don’t own shares in Google, Dropbox, or Mega. And I understand the mentality of “better to have it and not need it, than vice-versa.” But with Samsung taking a page from Apple’s book and removing the microSD card from its Galaxy S21 lineup, it’s the beginning of the end, really.

I can’t blame Samsung or be angry about it - remember the Galaxy S10+ with 1TB storage? Samsung has the technology to offer a 1TB phone, yet the company backed down and now tops at 512GB as a maximum storage option. Nobody needs that much storage on a phone. Even the 512GB option is overkill for 90% of the users. Tell me what do you think about it? Am I on the wrong track completely?

Does the microSD slot still matter?

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