Running out of storage space on your Android phone? Explore it and see where it has gone

If you are running a recent version of Android you have access to a file explorer that can be used to dig deep into the phone or tablet filing system. Use it to discover normally hidden files and folders.

Normally the filing system on an Android phone or tablet is hidden from view. On the PC or Mac it is so easy and perfectly natural to open an Explorer or Finder window to explore the disk contents, but with Android all the files and folders are hidden from view.

There are ways to gain access to the storage in your Android phone or tablet and one method is to use an app from the Google Play Store. There are several file managers and explorers to choose from. You may not need one though.

Android has a built in Explorer than enables you to dig deep into the storage and poke around. I will be using a Samsung Galaxy S6 with Android 6 Marshmallow for this, but other recent phones and versions of Android should be similar.

View Storage in Settings

Go to Settings by pulling down from the top and tapping the gear icon, or go to the apps drawer and tap Settings. Find Storage and press it. The next screen shows the amount of storage used and the total, and also the different ways it is used.

 Android Settings on the Samsung Galaxy S6 Android Settings on the Samsung Galaxy S6

Clear the cache to release storage space

If you are very short of storage space and nearly all the free space has been used up, you can recover some storage space by pressing Cached data. Caches are temporary files and clearing the caches frees up space, but only temporarily because the caches will be refilled. However, it is useful to know in an emergency.

 Storage usage in Android 6 on a Samsung Galaxy S6 Storage usage in Android 6 on the Samsung Galaxy S6

Explore the storage

Return to the previous screen and press Explore. This enables you to explore the storage and a screen of folders is displayed. Your storage might look different to the folders displayed here because some folders are created by apps.

The folder at the top in the screen shot for example, is an app called Podcast Republic. You can often tell what a folder is used for from the name. The Download folder is where files are stored after being downloaded. Press it.

  Explore the storage on an Android phone Explore the storage on an Android phone

Manage files on your phone

The files in your Download folder will be unique to here. Here are some examples of movies, music and photos that have been downloaded on this phone.

When a file is tapped, Android will either use the default app associated with that file type or it will ask you which app you want to use. Select an app, such as Sound Player in this case, as it is a music file.

 Explore the storage on an Android phone Explore the storage on an Android phone 

Long press on a file and selection boxes appear on the left. You can then select one or more files by tapping the boxes to add a tick. A menu is displayed at the top that enables you to share the selected files with the usual share options like Facebook and so on, delete the files, and perform other file related functions.