In recent years, many flagship and mid-range smartphones from top brands like Samsung, Apple, Google, and others have stopped including MicroSD card slots. This trend of removing expandable storage has left many consumers frustrated and questioning why MicroSD slots are disappearing.
The History and Purpose of MicroSD Slots
MicroSD slots have been a core feature in smartphones since the early 2000s. These tiny slots allow users to insert a MicroSD memory card to expand the storage capacity of their phone. The cards are inexpensive, portable, and make it easy to transfer files between devices.
For many years, MicroSD slots were found even on low-end smartphones. The slots gave users an easy way to add more storage for photos, videos, music, apps, and files. Small internal storage capacities like 8GB or 16GB were common on phones, making expandable MicroSD storage almost a necessity.
However, over the past 5-6 years, MicroSD slots have been increasingly disappearing from phones. High-end flagship devices from Samsung, Google, Huawei, and others have dropped MicroSD support. In addition, even many budget phones no longer include the once ubiquitous storage expansion slot.
Why Are Phone Makers Removing MicroSD Slots?
There are a few key reasons OEMs cite for removing MicroSD card slots from their devices:
- Declining need – Higher internal storage capacities make MicroSD less necessary.
- Waterproofing concerns – Sealed devices are more water resistant.
- Cost cutting – Removing parts saves money in materials and licensing fees.
- Signal interference – MicroSD slots can reportedly cause signal issues.
- Streamlining – Removing outdated parts enables sleeker designs.
Let’s explore each of these reasons in more detail:
1. Declining Need Due to Higher Internal Storage
One of the most cited reasons for removing MicroSD slots is that internal storage capacities have increased, so additional external storage is less needed. For example:
- In 2015, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 came with 32GB base storage, up from 16GB the prior year. The higher capacity reduced the necessity for MicroSD expansion, so Samsung removed the slot.
- In 2016, Google’s Pixel phone launched with 32GB or 128GB storage options. With minimal need for expansion, the phone had no MicroSD slot.
- Apple’s iPhone has never had MicroSD expansion, but has steadily increased internal storage from 8GB to 128GB in its latest models.
Essentially, OEMs argue MicroSD slots are no longer as necessary given that even mid-range phones now come standard with 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB internal storage. Power users may want additional external storage, but average consumers likely have enough capacity without MicroSD.
2. Waterproofing and Sealing Concerns
Another factor influencing the removal of MicroSD slots is water resistance. Flagship phones today are striving for sleek, premium designs. A key aspect of this is achieving high IP67/IP68 water and dust resistance ratings.
The MicroSD slot’s opening in the phone’s chassis can allow water ingress and damage internal components. For example, Samsung highlighted improved waterproofing as a benefit of eliminating the MicroSD slot starting with the Galaxy S6.
In pursuit of seamless, premium designs and robust waterproofing, OEMs determine MicroSD slots must be sacrificed. Adding a slot requires workarounds impacting the user experience, like unsightly rubber flaps over the opening.
3. Cost Cutting Measures
Eliminating smartphone features and components is an ongoing effort by OEMs to cut costs. Licensing fees, materials, production, QA testing, etc. all add up. Removing “non-essential” parts like the MicroSD slot offers measurable per-device savings. When multiplied across tens of millions of units, the impact is significant.
Market research firms like Counterpoint have estimated removing MicroSD could save OEMs between $3 to $5 per device in costs. For a company shipping 100 million phones, that’s $300 million to $500 million in savings annually.
In an era when smartphones are ever more complex and expensive to produce, OEMs must balance consumer demands for innovation with the need for profitability. Dropping MicroSD slots is one such move to trim costs.
4. Signal Interference Concerns
Some phone makers have indicated that MicroSD slots can negatively impact signal performance. This is because various phone antennas are located along the metal frame surrounding the chassis.
The theory is that the opening for the MicroSD slot can allow radio frequency leakage in the vicinity of antennas. This can potentially lead to interference and degradation of signal quality, especially for sensitive antennas like GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular.
However, the extent to which MicroSD slots actually interfere with signals is debated. Some engineers say impacts are measurable but likely minor in real-world conditions. Regardless, eliminating slots removes a potential signal impairment point.
5. Streamlining and Sleeker Designs
A final factor for removing MicroSD slots is OEMs desire for streamlined, sleek smartphone designs. MicroSD slots with plastic trays visibly break the phone’s clean exterior lines.
Eliminating ports and slots enables phone makers to minimize seams, holes, and openings in the phone’s chassis. This allows for glossy, minimalist designs with smooth metal/glass exteriors unbroken by superfluous slots.
Phone brands perceive this as increasing visual refinement and premium appeal. Many competitors are eliminating headset jacks, charging ports, and other elements viewed as outdated or cluttering their industrial designs.
Are Consumers Now Better Off Without MicroSD?
Given the rationale behind their removal, are consumers ultimately better off without MicroSD card slots in their phones?
For some mainstream users, the benefits may marginally outweigh the drawbacks. Waterproofing, cost and signal considerations, and sleeker designs are positives for casual users.
But for power users who need lots of affordable external storage, MicroSD slots remain an essential feature. Sure, internal storage sizes have grown. But hardcore users will always want more capacity, especially for media content and files.
MicroSD cards are simply far cheaper than onboard flash storage. A 512GB MicroSD card on Amazon costs $55. To get a 512GB iPhone with no MicroSD would cost $1,449 – over 26X more expensive!
Yes, the experience is more seamless without removable storage. But phone makers could add back MicroSD support in many cases if they deemed it important enough.
Ultimately, manufacturers have decided the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for their target mainstream consumer base. But they may alienate power users who still need expandable local storage in their devices.
What Phone Options Still Have MicroSD Slots?
Despite the overall industry trend, there are still quality smartphones offering MicroSD expansion:
- Samsung mid-rangers – A50, A51, A71, S10 Lite, etc. Recent mid-range Galaxy phones have MicroSD.
- Motorola – Many G-series and E-series Motorola phones still include MicroSD card slots.
- Xiaomi – Redmi and Poco budget phones retain MicroSD expansion.
- LG – Models like the Stylo and K-series have optional MicroSD slots.
- Nokia – Nokia 2.3, 3.2, and other budget phones have MicroSD.
Here is a table summarizing some popular current phones with MicroSD slots and their supported maximum storage size:
|Phone Model||Max MicroSD Capacity|
|Samsung Galaxy A51||512GB|
|Motorola Moto G Power||512GB|
|Xiaomi Redmi Note 9||512GB|
|LG Stylo 5||2TB|
So consumers still have options from mainstream brands if they consider expandable storage a must-have. Flagships may lack MicroSD, but numerous current mid-range and budget phones retain the feature.
Will Removable Storage Ever Return?
As phone internal storage continues increasing, will MicroSD slots ever make a comeback in high-end smartphones?
Expanding memory will likely remain restricted to mid-range and budget devices. For now, it seems unlikely Samsung and others will revive removable storage in their premium phones.
However, a few developments could potentially change their minds:
- If storage capacities plateau while media sizes balloon – 8K video and ultra-hi-res photography will devour space.
- If folding/multi-screen phones need easily transferrable storage between devices.
- If hardware workarounds allay waterproofing and signaling concerns over expandable storage.
- If phone designs shift away from seamless metallic chassis back to detachable elements.
Barring such changes, flagship phones will probably remain uncluttered by MicroSD slots. But mid-range choices will continue meeting mainstream storage needs. And many may accept the tradeoffs of no MicroSD for better water resistance and cheaper costs.
In the end, the loss of replaceable batteries and expandable storage is disappointing for power users. But the evolution of smartphone design priorities has deemed them obsolete for most consumers.
Given their intensive use as productivity devices central to our lives, compromises made in the name of costs, looks or waterproofing can feel regressive. Yet the market has spoken via sales, showing the bulk of buyers don’t view external storage as crucial.
Rather than fight this trend, pragmatic users should choose devices meeting their priorities. Those wanting unlimited storage, removable batteries, headphone jacks or other “legacy” features have ample quality options. Hopefully market competition ensures continued choices catering to a diversity of consumer needs.