16GB iPhone: The low-storage survival guide

Maybe you wanted to save $100 and get the cheapest iPhone 5c or iPhone 5s you could, or maybe you were just desperate to get an iPhone, any iPhone, in the color and on the carrier you most wanted. Maybe you paid $1500 for a gold iPhone 5s without even checking how much storage it had! Whatever the reason, you're now stuck with 16GB and you're already running out of space. You can't download any more apps or games, you can't take any more pictures or videos, you can't even update when a new version of iOS 7 is pushed out. Nerd world problem, maybe, but you're frustrated, you're exasperated, and you don't want to live like this any more. What do you do?

What's taking up all our 16GB of iPhone storage space?

16GB might sound like enough space when you're looking at an online order page or staring at a display or box in a retail store, so what's the problem with it in the real world? Where do all those gigabytes go when you get your iPhone meets the real world?

  • Operating system: The first big bite out of your 16GB of iPhone storage is iOS 7 itself. And it really is a big one. Roughly 2-3GB.

  • Photos & videos: The iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c can both take 8 megapixel photos and 28 megapixel panoramas, and shoot 1080p video at 30fps. The iPhone 5s can also shoot 720p and 120fps. Those can be some big files. About an hour of 1080p video can take up roughly 10GB of storage.

  • Movies, TV, and music: iTunes movies can be 1-3GB in size for SD depending on the length. If you prefer watching HD, they can be 3-6GB. iTunes TV shows can be a quarter to half the size of movies, but more than make up for it by the number of episodes typically available. Music files are much smaller, but most people have a lot more songs, which more than makes up for it.

  • Apps and games: Apps and especially games can also take up a lot of space on your iPhone. It's not uncommon for some console-quality games to be well over 1GB in size these days. Large reference apps, with tons of movies and pictures can also be over 1GB. Then there's the content. If you create media files or documents, that can quickly eat away at your storage too.

  • Attachments: If you get a lot of files attached to your email, or receive a lot of MMS/iMessages with media attachments, all of those take up space, especially if they're recent and/or stored locally on your iPhone.

How can you reclaim your 16GB of iPhone space, and get on with your life?

The bad news is you can't reduce the amount of space taken up on your 16GB iPhone by iOS. The good news is, you can reduce almost everything else. And you have two major options:

  • Off-load: Connect your iPhone to your Mac or Windows PC, copy over any photos, videos, movies, TV shows, music, apps, and games you're not using, then delete them from your iPhone. Then, move them back and forth as/when you want to take them with you. It's old-school and arduous, but if you're the type who enjoys micro-managing everything, it's an option.

  • Online: Cloud services, be they nearline storage or steaming solutions can keep your photos, videos, movies, TV shows, music, apps, and games off your iPhone, but available on the internet, often just a tap or two away. It requires an internet connection, of course, but it's the new thing, and it's a perfect match for mobile.

Off-loading is direct, fast for large files, but requires you have the Mac or Windows PC you sync with available whenever you need to move content around. If you're out and want to shoot a video of your child, pet, or simply something amazing, you're stuck. You'll have to delete something else to make room. If you never leave your computer, and always have your Lightning cable handle, maybe it won't be a problem. In the real world, you'll have to be pre-emptive and take enough stuff off that you always have extra space when you go out.

Online is convenient, and can be used anywhere, but if you don't have a lot of data, or a solid connection, it can be expensive or frustrating to get what you want, when you want it. If you never leave a Wi-Fi hotspot, and the services you want are in your area, you could get by. Dropbox, Google+, Flickr, Spotify, Songza, iTunes Radio, Netflix, Amazon, and other services cover both your stuff, and catalog stuff, giving you way more from the cloud than you ever could fit on a single phone.

A mixture of both is also possible. You can sync on and off bigger stuff you don't use often, like old photos and videos, and movies and TV shows you've bought but already seen. You can store or stream smaller stuff, and things you don't need all the time, but do need to be able to access at any time.

How are you managing your 16GB iPhone?

If you have a 16GB iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c, and you've finely honed your storage managements skills, let us know your favorite tricks!

iPhone 5c

iPhone 5c
Apple's first popular iPhone with a 4-inch in-cell display, LTE 4G, and BT 4.0 LE. Fun features include:

Complete review >

Released
September, 2013

Alternatives
iPhone 5s, iPhone 4s

Replacements
iPhone 6 (rumored)
Fall, 2014

Resources
Buyers guide
Help forum

iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s
Apple's current flagship iPhone with a 4-inch in-cell display, LTE 4G, and BT 4.0 LE. New features include:

Complete review >

Released
September, 2013

Alternatives
iPhone 5c, iPhone 4s

Replacements
iPhone 6 (rumored)
Fall, 2014

Resources
Buyers guide
Help forum