Is MicroSD better than USB?

When it comes to external storage for devices like phones, tablets, and laptops, MicroSD and USB flash drives are two of the most popular options. Both MicroSD cards and USB drives provide a way to expand the storage capacity of your device. But which one is better? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each to find out.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about MicroSD vs USB storage:

  • MicroSD cards are smaller and thinner making them better for mobile devices. USB drives stick out and are bulkier.
  • USB drives generally have higher maximum capacities than MicroSD currently.
  • MicroSD card readers are built into most mobile devices. USB requires carrying around an extra accessory.
  • MicroSD is better optimized for running apps and booting operating systems due to faster random read/write speeds.
  • USB drives are more universally compatible with different devices including desktop PCs.

Size and Design

One of the biggest differences between MicroSD and USB flash drives is their physical size and design. MicroSD cards are tiny, measuring just 15 x 11 x 1 mm. Their small size means they easily slot into smartphones, tablets, handheld gaming devices, and other electronics without protruding very far. The small thin profile makes them ideal for mobile gear where compactness is key.

USB drives on the other hand are larger and bulkier. They stick out from devices when inserted which makes them less ideal for portability. The larger physical USB connector is also more prone to damage if the drive is bumped or mishandled compared to the fully enclosed MicroSD. If you want external storage for mostly stationary devices like desktop PCs, then the size of a USB drive isn’t as much of an issue.


When it comes to maximum storage capacity, USB flash drives currently have the edge over MicroSD cards. Here are some examples of maximum capacities currently available:

512GB 1TB
400GB 512GB
256GB 256GB
200GB 128GB
128GB 64GB
64GB 32GB

As you can see, the highest capacity USB drives are currently double the maximum capacity of the largest MicroSD cards available. This makes USB better suited for very large storage needs above 512GB.

However, both MicroSD and USB offer ample storage for most users. The average person typically doesn’t need more than 256GB. Cards up to 512GB are suitable for storing large libraries of photos, videos, movies, and music offline. Unless you have very specialized high capacity storage requirements, both USB and MicroSD offer sufficient capacities for everyday use.

Compatibility and Convenience

One area where MicroSD excels over USB is device compatibility, especially when it comes to mobile devices. Most smartphones, tablets, and even many laptops now come with built-in MicroSD card slots. This allows you to easily expand storage without any extra accessories. MicroSD also runs seamlessly once inserted with no drivers or software installation required. Just pop it in and you instantly have more storage.

USB drives require carrying around a USB cable or adapter to connect to different devices. While you can plug USB right into desktops and laptops, you need extra dongles and card readers for phones and tablets. This introduces more bulk and items that can get lost. With MicroSD you always have expandable storage ready to go with no cables or adapters.

Speed Comparison

The transfer speeds of MicroSD and USB flash drives are fairly comparable especially for typical consumer use cases like storing and accessing media files and documents. Both interconnect via USB 2.0 for baseline transfer rates. However, there are some differences in maximum speeds:

Max read 100 MB/s 625 MB/s
Max write 90 MB/s 625 MB/s

As the specs show, the fastest high-end USB drives have significantly higher maximum data transfer rates topping out over 600 MB/s. MicroSD cards currently max out around 100 MB/s. This means USB is better for quickly moving very large files like 4K video footage or enormous collections of RAW images.

However, for everyday use the speeds of both are so fast that transfers complete in seconds for things like moving music, photos, and documents. The higher USB transfer rates often go unused for more basic storage needs. Both offer ample performance for average consumers.

Durability and Reliability

MicroSD memory cards win hands down when it comes to durability. Their small size and enclosed design with no protruding parts makes them very rugged. Most are rated to survive shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, water, and other abuse that would easily damage a USB drive. You don’t have to worry about protecting MicroSD cards nearly as much when tossing them in a bag or pocket.

USB drives are larger and the external connector is prone to snapping off if bent or torqued. They are also sensitive to liquids and excessive static discharge. The contacts can wear out over time from frequent insertion/removal. Overall USB drives are more fragile and prone to physical failure unless cared for gently in protected cases.


USB drives have an edge when it comes to security features and options. Many have built-in encryption to password protect data without any user setup. Most also have a physical write protect switch to easily lock and unlock write access. Some higher-end models even have onboard keypads for passcode entry to decrypt data.

MicroSD security relies more on software-based solutions like full disk encryption apps. Some higher end cards do support onboard password protection and locking but it is less common. If security features are a priority, USB drives currently offer better physical control and protection.

Price Comparison

In terms of upfront cost for the same capacities, USB drives tend to be a bit cheaper than MicroSD cards. Here are some average price comparisons for top name brand models:

Capacity MicroSD Price USB Price
64GB $12 $8
128GB $18 $15
256GB $36 $28
512GB $90 $60

Across all common capacities, USB drives are about 25% less expensive than equivalently sized MicroSD cards. The price gap does narrow at the very high end however.

It’s also worth noting that while USB drives themselves may cost less, you need the extra accessories like readers and cables to use them with mobile devices. So the overall cost difference is not as large when factoring in those additional items.

Performance Comparison

One area where MicroSD cards have a noticeable advantage over USB drives is running apps and booting operating systems. MicroSD has much faster random read/write speeds which greatly improves performance for those use cases.

Many Android phones and handheld gaming devices allow using MicroSD for expanded internal system storage. This is not practical with USB drives. The dramatically slower random I/O performance of USB causes very slow app loading and poor system performance if trying to run an OS from it.

For simply storing and accessing media and documents, both USB and MicroSD are similarly fast. But if you intend to use the storage for apps or system files, MicroSD is the only reasonable option.

Winner for Mobile Use

For mobile devices like phones, tablets, and handheld gaming systems, MicroSD is generally the better choice thanks to:

  • Small and compact size
  • Seamless device integration and no cables/adapters needed
  • Rugged, durable design
  • Faster app performance and ability to run operating systems

MicroSD cards are purpose built for mobile gear and optimized for those use cases.

Winner for Desktop Use

For desktop PCs and laptops, USB drives have the advantage for several reasons:

  • Cheaper cost for higher capacities
  • Faster maximum transfer speeds
  • More security features
  • Universal compatibility with nearly any computer

USB drives have been widely used with desktops for decades. They integrate seamlessly and provide fast file transfers ideal for backups, sharing, and expanded storage.

Overall Winner

While both MicroSD cards and USB drives have their strengths in specific areas, MicroSD comes out at the overall winner when all factors are considered. The convenience, seamless device integration, ruggedness, and mobile-centric design give it the edge for general everyday use. Phones and tablets are now the most common computing devices, and being able to easily expand their storage with MicroSD is a huge benefit.

Here is a summary of the key advantages of MicroSD cards over USB drives:

  • More compact and portable
  • Integrates better with phones and tablets
  • More durable and reliable
  • Faster app performance

For mobile device owners who need some extra storage space, MicroSD is certainly the best option. USB drives retain niche advantages for desktop use cases, but for on-the-go storage MicroSD can’t be beat.