Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Expandable Storage on Android Nexus Devices (Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus)

In this post, I am going to detail how to expand the storage of the device beyond the 8GB, 16GB or 32GB that comes built in to these devices. This process does not require modifying the ROM and does not require rooting the device; it is as simple as installing a single app.

The Nexus 7 tablet is fantastic; it has great dimensions, a good screen and comes at a fantastic price. The only real downside that I ever see about the device (or indeed, any "Nexus" device) is the lack of expandable storage; it has no micro SD card slot. The fact is though that it is very easy and inexpensive to add storage to your device. This is perfect for the long commute or going away on holiday scenarios where the on-board storage just doesn't cut it. Especially useful if you won't have access to your "media in the cloud" due to lack of wifi.

I figure now is a good time to highlight this for users who are tempted by the Nexus 7 tablet or other Nexus device but are hesitating due to the storage restriction. Also, since the announcement of the iPad Mini, now seems like a great time to highlight a strength of having Android as your OS!

This process allows you to connect a pen drive to your tablet or phone, and have any media stored on the pen become accessible to the mobile device. What does accessible mean? Well you be able to open the media straight from the device (streaming it, in the case of music or videos) or you can copy from the pen drive straight onto your device allowing you disconnect the pen drive whilst consuming your media.

With this process, your Nexus device can be expanded to support any size of expandable storage. I frequently use a 32GB pen drive, but I have also successfully used my 128GB Samsung Solid State Hard Drive too. (Note, external USB drives which require moving parts, like 2.5" external hard drives with platter hard drives don't work. This is because the device can't provide the hard drive with the power it needs over USB).

In order to provide more storage to the device, you will need the following:

  1. a Nexus device. I have personally tested this process on the Asus Nexus 7, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and presumably works all other Nexus devices. If you discover it to work on other devices, please leave a comment below.
  2. a pen drive - any old pen drive will do (in fact, even my 2.5" SSD drive worked a treat).
  3. an OTG micro-USB cable. Clicking on the link will take you to Amazon.co.uk where you can purchase one I recommend.
  4. the Nexus Media Importer application, available from Google Play. This cost just over £1 but trust me, it is well worth the money.

Setting up Pen Drive


In order to have the pen drive readable from the tablet, you must ensure the pen drive is formatted correctly. As of version 3, the list of acceptable formats is:
  1. FAT16
  2. FAT32
  3. NTFS
If your pen drive is already in one of the formats above, you can move on. Otherwise, you will need to format your drive; you will only have to do this once but it is required.

I recommend you try NTFS first. FAT32 has a restriction on the file size meaning the largest size an individual file can be is 4GB. NTFS however, supports files up to a rather more impressive 16TB. Yes, TeraBytes. Realistically though, even 4GB is probably going to be fine for most things. Sure, a full HD movie might be bigger than 4GB; if you use FAT32 and need this kind of file size support, you will need to ensure your movie is chopped into parts, with each part smaller than 4GB.

If you experience any problems with NTFS, you can try FAT32 instead. If you are using Windows 7 (or later) and wish to use FAT32, you will want to make sure that you use a 3rd party add-on which supports formatting to Fat32 (like this app http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Hard-Disk-Utils/FAT32format.shtml)

Adding Media Files

The files don't need to be named in any specific way, or held within a certain directory, so just copy them onto the drive. I would advise copying one file on first and testing it before spending a while copying your whole video library to find a problem later.

Connecting the Pen Drive

You have the USB OTG cable, so simply plug that into your device. Plug the pen drive into the USB slot on the cable. You really can't fail on this step! :-)

Launch the Nexus Media Importer app

If the app offers itself to launch automatically on a device being connected, it is a good idea to let it do this.

Otherwise, launch the app manually in the usual way you launch apps.

The "two arrows" icon in the upper-right of the app is used to trigger a re-scan of devices and might be required if your media isn't visible. Clicking on any of your media will present you with the ability to stream videos/music or open documents and pictures. The app itself is fairly straightforward but let me know if you have any specific questions/problems when trying this yourself.


There you go. The one single downside of the "Nexus" devices solved! Let me know how you get on if you're attempting this at home.