Most of the reviews that have come out for the Galaxy Tab S9 tablet compare it to the iPad Pro — a tablet I am very familiar with and use regularly. One of the big advantages touted about Android in general is the ability to expand the storage with a microSD card.

In the case of the Tab S9, up to 1TB.

After getting my hands on a Tab S9 Plus, my first Android device in about 3 years, I was curious to try exactly those things out.

I was a bit disappointed, to be frank.

Credit where it’s due, the ability to add extra storage so cheaply is nothing to sneeze at. At the time of writing this, a 512GB Samsung Pro microSD card was on sale for ~$35.

However, over the years Android seems to have removed some of the features that made expandable storage the most useful. Namely:

  • There is no longer the option to format the microSD card as internal, where the tablet used the card as an extension of its internal memory for OS and all apps. (This is reportedly because internal storage is much faster than any microSD card and they want to ensure OS performance. I get it, but I find this an equal hindrance in other ways.)
  • You can’t set the microSD card as the default app install location, nor do all apps allow you to move them after the fact. This means that several apps, including larger ones like several games and emulators, insist on running through internal storage. This space adds up, and seems like a real missed opportunity to have benefitted from a storage card.

This is a shame especially because the Nintendo Switch, which obviously plays games, does allow a microSD card to act as an extension of its internal storage.

For me, these limitations largely mean that the microSD card is really only useful for storing music, photos, or video files. That’s not nothing, but right away my sense of the Tab S9 being a gaming tablet seemed less robust.

These limitations are glossed over in most reviews of the Tab S9, usually in favor of a hand-wave statement about expandable storage being cool and then moving on to other points.

For a microSD card, the biggest advantage over using an external SSD drive would have been being seen as internal storage seamlessly, but we don’t get this. If it’s going to be seen as a separate drive that we can’t reliably put apps on, it’s not much different than using an external SSD.

Except that an external SSD has potentially even more storage and significantly faster transfer speeds.

This is not bashing Android and there are certainly aspects I appreciate more than iPadOS. But I think for various use cases you’d still be better off buying larger internal storage for an Android tablet because of the reasons I mentioned above, and once you’ve done that you are (in this way) largely in the same boat as an iPad.

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