How to delete photos from your Android device and retain them on Google Drive

If you need to free up local storage space on your Android device, and have lots of photos on your phone, learn how to delete those images without actually losing them.

Image: Jack Wallen

Your Android device is running out of internal storage space. What do you do? Delete apps? That doesn't usually free up much space, unless you have installed a multitude of apps. Clear your various caches? That will generally give you a gig or two of space.

Most often, you'll turn to photos and videos--that is where the majority of space is gobbled up on mobile devices. But what happens when you delete one of those photos from your device? If you check your Google Drive Photos section, you'll see the photo has been removed from the cloud as well.

Fortunately, there is a way around that, and all it takes is one tap. This isn't a setting you can adjust--it's a single button that will delete all photos from your device that are backed up to Google Photos. If none of your photos are backed up to Google, then no photos will be deleted. In other words, you first need to enable the backup.

SEE: End user data backup policy (Tech Pro Research)

Backing up to Google Photos

Before you attempt to delete anything, enable Back Up & Sync from within Google Photos. Here's how.

  1. Open Google Photos on your Android device.
  2. Slide right from the left edge of the screen to reveal the sidebar.
  3. Tap Settings.
  4. Tap Back Up & Sync.
  5. Tap to enable Back Up & Sync (Figure A).

Be patient--it may take a while to complete the initial backup.

Figure A

Enabling Back Up & Sync in Google Drive Photos on the Nextbit Robin.

Enabling Back Up & Sync on the Nextbit Robin.

Image: Jack Wallen

Freeing up space

Once the initial backup is complete, it's time to free up space. This will delete all of the local copies of photos while retaining everything on your Google cloud account. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Open Google Photos on your Android device.
  2. Slide right from the left edge of the screen to reveal the sidebar.
  3. Tap Settings.
  4. Tap Free Up Device Storage.
  5. When prompted, tap REMOVE (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Removing locally stored copies of photos is just a tap away.

Image: Jack Wallen

You have freed up space on your Android device without losing your photos and videos. If you need to view those photos and videos, open Google Photos, and you'll see them. If you need to get a local copy back, open the photo in Google Photos, tap the Menu button, and then tap Download--photo restored.

A full device is an unhappy device

Because smartphones deal with solid-state storage, the less space they have, the slower the device will write to the file system. So make sure you have space on your device for the system to run as smoothly as possible--Android needs at least 200-500 MB free at a minimum, though I recommend 500 MB to 1 GB.

By clearing out locally-saved copies of photos, you can gain precious free space without losing your files.

Also see

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....