Windows Phone Diary: Grappling with Microsoft’s ‘other storage’ problem

wp_ss_20130818_0001I was feeling good Saturday morning, with a full weekend ahead and the news that Microsoft had released “Halo: Spartan Assault” broadly for Windows Phone after the conclusion of the one-month exclusive for Verizon customers.

Sure, all you iPhone users were having fun lining up your pea shooters against waves of undead, but I was finally going to get to experience this great Halo game on my HTC 8X. I was even willing to pay another $6.99 for it, even though I had already bought the game for my Windows 8 tablet.

But when I tried, my phone told me I had reached the storage limit on my device and wouldn’t be able to install the game until I freed up more space.

Welcome to Windows Phone’s “other storage” problem. A significant portion of the storage on my device — nearly 3 GB of the total 8 GB — is taken up by a nebulous “other” category that can’t be easily reduced. It’s a known bug that many Windows Phone users have encountered. My phone shows 1.72 GB of free space, and the listed size of the Halo download is just 691 MB, but the game must require more room once installed.

So instead of fighting waves of Covenant forces on my phone, I spent the weekend grappling with one of the most frustrating bugs I’ve ever encountered.

First, I installed the “GDR2″ update that was supposed to solve the problem. It didn’t fix it for me. So I deleted every app, file and photo that I could live without. No luck. Then I spent the rest of the weekend following suggestions from Microsoft and users on various Windows Phone forums, including turning off the SkyDrive photo auto-upload feature, and trying some apps that were supposed to solve the problem (including Shrink Storage and HTC’s own Make More Space) but didn’t seem to work for me.

My last resort would be a complete reset of my phone, starting from scratch, but that seems pretty extreme. Really, it shouldn’t be this hard to play a game.

Finally on Sunday night, I gave up, charged up my old iPhone, downloaded PvZ 2 and took out my frustration on some zombies. If only Microsoft could be as effective in mowing down this bug.

Previously in this series:

  • Jason Farris

    Curious. I have 4.72GB in my “other”, going to solve.

    • Jason Farris

      Have you run “storage check”? It breaks down the other category in detail, most of my “other” was actually valid data and installs.

      • sun_dog

        Is storage check a Nokia exclusive?

        • Jason Farris

          Hmm. Could be.

          • rlrcstr

            I have a Nokia 920. I can’t find anything called “Storage Check” on the phone or in the store…

          • Jason Farris

            It’s under settings.

  • Brainiac

    This isn’t just a Windows phone issue. iPhone users have the same ‘Other’ data problem. I can’t speak about Windows 8X but on the iPhone the ‘Other’ data is basically just cached data/app data. The only way to clear it on the iPhone is wipe the phone and start over.

  • jepping

    Sound really frustrating. Microsoft has few excuses for this. However, have you really solved your problem? Now that you’ve switched back to your iPhone, can you play Halo? Nope.

    And as with many issues, it’s not as one sided as you describe with only MS to blame. You have some responsibility. Does your iPhone have only 8GB of storage? Nope; it has at least 16GB, correct? Also, why did you get ANY phone with only 8GB on it? Especially a technology writer who is interested in games and apps to do his job, which requires more than an 8GB phone, arguably? The HTC 8X comes in a 16GB version which costs $199 just as the iPhone 16GB at $199, so why didn’t you get that, just as you got the iPhone with 16 or 32?

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Fair enough — in hindsight, I should have gotten a phone with more storage. My hope was that the SkyDrive photo and media sync would significantly reduce my need for on-device storage.

      Take another look at the storage breakdown in the screenshot above. I’ve been very careful about managing my use of storage on the device. Certainly I should be able to download and play a game.

      A big part of the goal with this broader Windows Phone experiment was to experience the device as any user would. I’m careful with my budget, I spent my own money on this device, and if I recall correctly the price of the 16GB HTC was actually $100 more at the time, which factored into my decision. This is the real world.

      • jepping

        You make a fair point about real-world expectations and how you’ve managed storage. And really, like I said, MS has little excuse. In fact, 3GB of “other” in an 8GB device is pretty terrible, erasing 40% of usable space, especially given that WP8 is a new platform, two years after the first version WP7.

        Without providing a way to erase this unused space, no one has business selling any 8GB phone, including Apple. My mom’s late model 3GS has 8GB and she curses at it for always running out of space. So same deal, with Apple on the same end of her cursing.

        • Jason Farris

          I did a bit of reading on this, “other” is quite a few things, and to some degree, dynamic, much like an OS pagefile on the c:/. In that respect it should be giving space back for things like new apps so hmm.

          I grabbed shrink storage and took my 4.72 down to 2.2, then took a look through the storage check at everything else that was being rolled into “other”, it was actually mostly stuff I wanted like email, maps, etc. I’m going to monitor it for a week.

          That said I can’t believe you have an 8gb phone, I didn’t realize they came that small except with MicroSD, shoot, even my day-one WP7 had 16gb.

          $.99 cent phones are a bit of a YGWYPF, especially if you want to keep a library of games. I got a 32gb Nokia on launch day, with a wireless charger for under hundred bucks.

          I hope you find your 2gb.

  • Pat

    After 6 months of using my HTC 8X (16 GB) I had 6 GB of data in “other” storage. Turns out, that it was the cache from the portico update. Not cool. I needed that space for other things, so I had to back everything up (and not through skydrive!!!) and reset the phone and selectively put stuff back on. A month and a half later I’m already over 1 GB in my other storage simply because I take a lot of photos. At least it’s not 6 GB. The phone needs an ability to clear the camera / photos app cache and the downloads cache. There is no “downloads” app on WP like there was on andriod and WP needs it.

  • sun_dog

    I feel for you Todd. While I can’t even play that game on my 512mb Lumia 521, the Lumias do have access to an app “Lumia storage check” that was invaluable in allowing me to even get the latest update over the last week. Storage Check came with my update (but not Glance), though I think it’s still Nokia exclusive?

    I was able to see that a few innocent looking apps that I never use had taken up tons of storage. It also let me remove the Drive maps and put them on my SD card (which I moved back after the update since there is talk about instability with that location). The rest of my bloated Other space is most likely a combo of work emails and skydrive uploads.

    Hopefully Nokia throws everyone else a bone an opens up availability of that app to help pinpoint problem areas.

  • William1976

    You’re totally right, but what I don’t understand is why you got an 8GB phone in the first place…

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/johndavidfrancis JD Francis

    Hey Todd,
    I have the Verizon HTC 8X with 16GB, and I have the same issue. From what I’ve read online, it sounds like there’s a bug with the way the OS releases space from that other category. Something about installing apps and the packages used for installing staying in Other instead of being cleared. I’m concerned that GDR2 didn’t fix it. I keep holding out hope that when I get the update, I won’t have to worry about it again.
    Last week I got tired of waiting and just reset my phone after using the built-in Microsoft backups. I made sure all my pics were backed up to SkyDrive. All in all, it wasn’t too painful. I did have to redownload a bunch of podcasts, log back in to a lot of my apps, and change quite a few settings. Overall the restore was pretty successful and didn’t take that long. All the apps came back. I was surprised that the OS didn’t keep more of my settings backed up though. It defaulted a lot of things. Didn’t remember my podcast subscriptions. Stuff like that. The biggest pain point is that now I don’t have a lot of my kids’ photos on my phone. Easily solved by downloading from Skydrive, but it did make the phone seem pretty barren.
    So it’s been about a week….and my Other space is just over 2 GBs but that’s still less than the 6GB it had been prior to reset. Anyway, just wanted to share my experience.

  • Marmite
  • Sarah Williamson Beddow

    Grappling with this too….I have 5.18 GB in other, have a nokia and Storage Check doesn’t come up, did Shrink Storage, don’t have enough space to complete the update for my phone and am not happy. I’ve called tmobile and nokia and get nada. And yes JJ I have an 8GB phone – and I’d like to access at least half of those 8GB’s! About to reset my phone, give it to my kid, or see what a pellet gun will do to it.

    • Sarah Williamson Beddow

      After some angst I reset my phone. It was pretty painless. I was able to get the update with Storage Check and the process cleared my other storage. My phone works and I no longer want to shoot it. There were some minor glitches, but overall it worked well. I’ve helped other Other Storage people do this for their phones too.
      Would be good if the carriers reached out to customers and helped them fix this. Some pro-active customer service in this case would probably save some customers. I was ready to give up.