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What's your preferred method for storing media: via SD card, or through the cloud?

As Google continues to slowly push away from SD cards, we wonder: what's your preferred method of storage: SD cards or the cloud? Join us as we discuss the matter!
March 14, 2014
samsung galaxy s5 vs nexus 5 4

In Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and earlier, applications that had permission to access an SD card could read or write to just about any area of your removable storage. With the arrival of Android 4.4 KitKat, this is no longer the case.

While Google says there are several reasons for the changes made to SD with KitKat, many feel that Google is intentionally working to cripple SD cards in order to promote the cloud and its Google Drive service. This controversy is further fueled by the fact that Google slashed down its Drive pricing earlier this week.

The reality is that Google has been pushing away from SD for a while now, despite the fact that there are still many users out there that prefer local, expandable storage. This makes us wonder: how do you store your media, in the cloud or via SD? Does the SD card have a future on Android, and how do you feel about the changes to SD cards in KitKat?

Join us in the discussion, vote in our poll, and sound off in the comments.

Darcy LaCouvee

The cloud freaks me out. But it’s also such a magical, wonderful thing.

Don’t get me wrong – cloud connected services and streaming are magic – but as someone that travels regularly to track down the phones we all know and love, I’m often not in a position to just start streaming the content I want due to bandwidth constraints, or the fact that so much content that is streamed is geofenced due to draconian antiquated IP protectionist policies. Therefore, my love for 128GB microSDXC cards will likely keep me on sub Android 4.3 devices if Google really decides to push the envelope on this.

It’s all about choice. Those with power abuse it absolutely, and it’s a bit scary to think that Google would force millions of people to not be able to access their own data in a way that suits them best.

Choice is what we want – choice is why we opted for Android, and choice is why Android has become the amazing OS that we all know and love, that powers the mobile tech we all know and love. Worst case scenario, there will be simple work arounds, but so many in the future, if Google continues in this trajectory, will not realize this, and will grow frustrated with Google.

In the end, I believe they will do the right thing and acquiesce due to immense public pressure.

Jonathan Feist

First and foremost, the Google Drive price cuts are a bit of a joke. Don’t get me wrong, the new prices are great, arguably the best prices around for arguably the best cloud service around. The reason I laugh is that I am a legacy user of the OLD Google Docs extra storage accounts. I pay $50 / year for 200GB. That’s right, Google’s new prices are pretty much back to what they used to be, for the lower tiers at least.

As a Nexus device user, I have learned to embrace the cloud. Within the first week of having my Nexus 7 tablet in hand, I made sure to purchase a good OTG cable and played with Nexus Media Importer. I actually remember spouting to the world that I had a 1TB Nexus 7. The excitement lasted less than a week and I even stopped carrying around flash drives altogether shortly after that.

It was a natural progression for someone like myself to try out absolutely every cloud storage solution I could find. It helped that I was researching cloud solutions for my workplace at the time too. In the end, I settled on three solutions for myself – Google Drive, Google Play Music and PogoPlug.

Google Drive. With 200GB purchased plus 1/5/10/15GB of free space under my belt, I’ve had no issues uploading all of my personal documents and my entire photo collection. An old habit I have not shaken is to upload all of my files that contain sensitive personal information as password protected ZIPs. I trust Google with most things, but better safe than sorry.

Hands-down, I recommend Google Drive for business. Access control, collaborative document editing and Google+ Hangouts integration can be absolutely priceless tools for groups that work closely together.

Pogoplug. This is a service that has its limitations, but it is possible to get unlimited cloud storage for about $50 / year. Most of us have terabytes of files kicking around, and a lot of that is media. Media is where Pogoplug shines, built right into the web interface is a media player solution, so you can access your files and play your music/movies from anywhere.

Google Play Music. This is where I have a confession to make, despite having the better part of my music collection in Play Music, I still pin a few GB to my device. Feel free to categorize that as Cloud or local storage, as you please.

Finally, there are a small amount of files that I do keep on my devices. Ringtones and wallpapers for example. Truth is, I only have about 200MB of local files that actually live on the device, the remaining are just passing through. Every once in a while I wish I had more storage space to drop a movie or two before I go offline for a flight or road trip, but that is when I pull out the trusty old OTG and a flash drive.

I respect the difficulties that go with crippled SD cards, especially for users that have not, will not or cannot embrace cloud storage solutions. For many, cloud solutions just are not possible, this is something Google will have to keep in mind as it attempts to expand into emerging markets that do not have ‘always on’ infrastructure. But it may not be for me to pass judgement, as I have not really dealt with the intricacies of an SD card in an Android device for a while now.

Final thought, the inclusion of big media, like 4K video recording and 50MP pictures, will drastically change the storage needs of users. A few GB is enough to store thousands of 5MP images and hours of 720p, even 1080p, video, but just a few short minutes of 4K video recording could cripple a 16GB phone. I do not see this changing my overall media storage techniques, but an SD card will become critical for temporary storage if we do not start seeing devices with 128GB of internal storage.

Joe Hindy

I’m nothing if not adaptable and thus I’ve learned to live in both worlds. Currently, I use SD card storage on my Galaxy Note 3 to tote around my 18GB of music along with some extraneous stuff like emulator games and my Nandroid backups. I also have the camera set to store images and video I capture on my SD card by default. Usually if I have a phone with an SD card slot I’ll do this same thing because it keeps the internal storage on my device clean and clear for things like app data or anything I may have to download. If I do not have a phone with an SD card (notable recent examples include an HTC One and a Nexus 4), then I have cloud services in place with all of those same files.

So yes, I have 18GB worth of songs on my SD card and on my Google Music account. I have all my images and video auto-backup to Dropbox and Google+ (it’s pretty handy to have them in both places). I don’t store emulator ROMs or my Nandroid backup on the cloud because they’re too large so I keep those on my hard drive on my computer. So if I were to ever migrate to a phone that doesn’t have external storage options, I’m still pretty much prepared to go. With Google actively working to kill off external storage, I’m glad I took these extra steps because I apparently I needed to.

Personally I’m not too happy about Google’s effort to kill off SD cards. In my current desktop (and my last laptop and my prior desktop) I have an SSD drive where I keep all my apps and then a separate, much larger (and cheaper) hard drive to carry all my media and games (since the only performance hit games take on an HDD are loading times and not FPS as most important game resources are loaded into RAM). This allows my larger programs like Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, 3DS Max, Visual Studio, Unity, etc to run at optimum speeds while the stuff that doesn’t require high read/write speeds (videos, music, etc) can reside elsewhere.

I like this set up for two reasons. The first being that flash storage technology is still very expensive. Getting even a 120GB SSD costs more than a 1TB HDD in most cases. It’s the same with phone storage. Look at the difference between prices of a 16GB iPhone and a 64GB iPhone. There is a $200 difference between the 16GB and 64GB models. Since there is literally no other difference between the two other than storage size, that means 48GB costs you $200.

On Amazon, a trustworthy 64GB Micro SD card costs you right around $55.

Thus I can pick up a 16GB phone, fork over $55 for the extra storage and end up with 84GB of space (minus OS) on my device and pay less money than simply buying the 64GB variant on my own.

Some may be asking why I need that much storage. It’s really quite simple: because cloud storage is incapable of the read/write speeds necessary for what I need the extra storage for. I can’t read/write fast enough to play an emulator game off of cloud storage. If I’m somewhere without internet connection, I have lost access to all of my files.

I think my biggest beef with cloud storage is that you never actually “own” it. You rent it. With an SD card, I fork out a few bucks and the damn thing belongs to me. I don’t have to shell out another few bucks every month to prevent a guy with a crowbar breaking into my house to repo my SD card. It’s mine. It belongs to me. If I lost my job tomorrow and made no more money, I would still have an SD card. I would not still have cloud storage.

Then you have problems like Megaupload where your files may end up in the hands of federal agencies at moment’s notice and you lose them forever. The US government isn’t going to confiscate my SD card because some guy with a ridiculous name is doing some superfluous things in a country I don’t live in.

Overall, the problem of going to cloud storage rests in two areas: the internet isn’t ubiquitous (yet) and cloud storage is never your storage. Since both of those issues are very unlikely to ever change (Google is never going to just “give” you 250GB of their servers forever), it’s going to be very unlikely that people will sit back and take Google shutting down SD cards with a smile and a wave. Especially since they’ve already invested their hard earned money in a technology that Google is trying to kill and then charge people more money to “temporarily rent” the same amount of storage to fix a problem they caused.

If it were anyone other than Google, I think people would be making a much bigger deal about this.

TL;DR: I am prepared for both scenarios (SD card or cloud storage) but I prefer SD cards because of privacy, connection and ownership concerns. I do not agree with what Google is doing to SD cards because cloud storage alternatives do not yet live up to the price and availability of SD card storage.

Robert Triggs

For me this is simple, I’m firmly in the SD Card camp and I’m disappointed to see the slot become somewhat of a rarity.

Although I make use of Google Drive for documents, I’m nowhere near the stage where I need to pay for storage, and I don’t really fancy renting expensive online space when I can grab another hard drive or bigger SD card for a fraction of the price. I still make regular use of my PC, and like to keep my music, pictures, and movies on a physical hard drive, as it’s just quicker to transfer and backup files over USB than it is to constantly transfer files over the web. Given the limited storage space offered in mobile devices (I have over terabyte of media), I like to swap stuff over fairly regularly, and my PC is the most convenient way to do it.

Furthermore, a large number of customers are on data plans which don’t offer unlimited data, and many are stuck with speeds that aren’t particularly useful for transferring a lot of data quickly. Regularly streaming and swapping out high quality video content on the move is out of the question for most people. Even on a decent broadband connection you’re faced with pretty slow upload speeds if you want to backup your video collection online.

On the other hand, I’m happy to see the prices of cloud storage come down, as it certainly makes it a more viable option for those who are already paying for bigger and faster data plans and those who no longer own PCs with upgradable hard drives.

I’m disappointed that Google is trying to push people into the online space, as I don’t see it meeting most people’s mobile media needs. One day when we’re all using super quick 5G data networks and unlimited data packages are more reasonably priced, I might change my mind. Until then, I’m very much pro SD card and won’t be buying any devices which don’t support it.

Adam Koueider

When the Nexus S was released without an SD card, Google was signalling intent. SD cards are old news. But the reality of the matter is that we live in a data driven world. Storage is everything, whether it is physical storage or cloud storage, people need to store stuff somewhere.

Anybody who lives in Australia knows that if you’re going to be going through a major carrier, you’ll be paying through the nose for a limited amount of data. 4G has just now become reasonably ubiquitous in Sydney, and even then, I still can’t get 4G where I live. So to tell me to make do with 16GB of storage with a 1GB of (mostly 3G) mobile data, and no SD card is fairly crazy. But I actually had to make do with this exact situation and I lived. I owned a Nexus 4 for a good 6 months, and I sacrificed a few things. I uninstalled all, but the most primitive games and I had to leave out the fairly large (FLAC) music collection I’d been carrying around on an SD card in my Galaxy S3. I used Spotify for almost all of my music, and I got through it, but what I don’t get is that to move forward, I had to go backwards. I had to forgo all of the stuff that made my phone a multiple purpose device, to fit in a few more pictures.

NAND prices are going down, and that’s great. But what I’ve failed to see is those price savings pushed down to me, the consumer. Samsung promises a 64GB flagship every year, but you never see it in carrier stores, or on shop floors. Apple prices the upgraded iPhone storage ludicrously (the 64GB iPhone 5S is over $1000 dollars!) and it’s rather obvious that SD cards need to stay. Sure I can make do without an SD card, but I’d have a significantly worse experience.

A few years ago, removable batteries were a staple of a smartphone. The iPhone was slammed for a lack of a removable battery, but now, removable batteries are extremely rare in flagship smartphones. But the difference between battery and storage technology is that the batteries in smartphones have gotten much better in the past 2-3 years. With this year’s flagships carrying enough juice to help carry all, but the heaviest users through a day’s use, the need for a removable battery has pretty much become useless for most consumers. Storage on the other hand, doesn’t look to be going anywhere and instead we are being pushed toward the cloud.

The cloud has its advantages, but even Google itself realises not everybody has the best — or even any — internet connection. Hence, Project Loon, which was announced last year as a means to get the whole world online. For the cloud to work, and work well, it will take many countries a few more years for it to become a viable solution, because right now, it just isn’t for a lot of people. And even then, we would probably be better off with physical storage. What was ever wrong with that anyways?

Sure, SD cards do have issues with security, games and apps, but they serve extremely useful purposes for music, movie and picture collections which would allow storage space to be used for apps. Micro SD cards don’t even require design to be adapted as much as a removable battery would, and they don’t take up that much space as well, so for now, chalk me up as another one in the SD card camp.

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