I have a confession to make: I am a digital hoarder. I have a gigabytes worth of e-books, PDF files, music, pictures, movie files; you name it, and I’m always adding new stuff depending on what I’m working on or interested in.

I keep much of my data on the 64 Gb SanDisk Ultra MicroSDXC Class 10 UHS Memory Card in my smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S3. Yes, I can (and do) use Dropbox to access my content via Wi-Fi or my mobile data connection, but it would be tedious to download the sheer number of files I use on a daily basis; it’s much faster to access them from local storage. Of course, there’s more work involved with that option; I have to hook my Samsung to my computer via a USB cable and then drag and drop files into folders either on the card or the internal storage of the phone:

Here’s the problem

The problem with this notion is I have to manually add files to the folders I want to keep them in; I haven’t yet found an auto-synchronization process to just add new files to my phone (Windows Media Player can sync digital media files but I use a wide array of file types). Furthermore, the process was painfully slow to transfer files, taking anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour depending on the size and number of items. 200 MB (Megabytes) worth of PDFs took about 45 seconds, or 4.4 MB/second. This was the exact same speed when I tried the operation on my work and home PC. Not too bad, right? Well, yes, but it gets worse.

File deletions took even longer. I have Auto Backup turned on in my Google+ settings so that all the pictures I take on my Samsung are automatically backed up to my Google+ account. This is great, but the downside is that the pictures are kept on the local micro-SD card and I have to remove manually (I prefer it this way just in case something goes wrong with the backup process so I still have the photos). I could perform the deletions on the phone itself but generally do so when I’m updating my content via the USB cable. Deleting a ton of photos generally looks like this:

(Stare at the screenshot for a while and you’ll understand my experiences – generally it took about 5-10 minutes to finish.)

However, browsing the folders to view the contents was the most painful of all, yielding no end of “Not Responding” notifications. I couldn’t use the computer for much else since it seemed paralyzed reading the folder structure. As with file deletions, sometimes it took 5 minutes just to see what was in a folder! I didn’t know if it was Windows, the Samsung, or some combination thereof but I made sure I had the latest software on my Samsung, drivers to connect to it, and checked that Windows Explorer was set to show Details not thumbnails.

My computer is fairly new (2012) and all the USB ports are 2.0 (you can tell by accessing Windows Device Manager, expanding Universal Serial Bus Controllers, then confirming that your host controllers are “Universal Host” or “Enhanced Host”), which should offer transfer speeds of at least 25 MB/second. I’d like to add a USB 3.0 PCI Express card, which claims transfer speeds of 640 MB/second, but I also wanted to see if I could solve this through existing means. I looked at the USB cable itself and it seemed fine; swapping it for a spare yielded no different results.

The micro-SD card involved is a Class 10, meaning that it should have sequential read-write speeds of 10 MB/second at minimum (all class levels operate at the Mb/second rate specified; e.g. a Class 2 card would read-write at 2 MB/second, a Class 4 card at 4 MB/second and so forth).

Now, the problem could be easily solved if I just took the micro-SD card out of the Samsung and plugged it into a card reader attached to my computer. This offers me a certain advantage, since it appears as a handy drive letter (such as G:) and I can then use a program called Second Copy to take care of business for me by automagically (as we call it in IT) synchronizing additions and deletions between the folder on my PC and the folders on my micro-SD card.

However, I use a Zerolemon rugged case for my phone so it looks like this:

It’s not exactly easy to pry open this case nor do I want to do so very often since I don’t want to risk scratching or damaging it.

How I solved the issue

Reboot to recovery mode and wipe the cache partition

I found a good tip online that indicated the cache partition on my phone might need to be erased to fix this. The steps for a Samsung Galaxy S3 are as follows (but may vary depending on your device):

1. Turn the phone off.

2. Hold the volume up, power and home buttons simultaneously until you see “recovery booting.”

3. A menu will appear with these options:

  • Reboot system now
  • Apply update from ADB
  • Apply update from external storage
  • Wipe data/factory reset
  • Wipe cache partition
  • Apply update from cache

4. Press the volume down button to highlight “wipe cache partition” then press the power button.

5. The cache will be erased, and you will see the same menu described above.

6. Highlight “Reboot system now” and press the power button to reboot.

Once I did this I attempted to browse folders on my Samsung card via the USB cable and found it much faster. Files appeared almost instantly and I no longer saw the dreaded “Not responding” notification. I deleted a folder containing several large video files and this occurred within a couple of seconds. Copying the same 200 Mb batch of files I’d tested earlier took 37 seconds rather than 45, so I can state there was definitely an improvement in access speed.

I’m glad it was an easy fix (though I suspect I may have to do this periodically), but I also found a suggestion online to get another cable to connect the phone to the computer. Specifically, a certified USB 2.0 high speed Micro USB cable; this can transfer files from a thumb drive up to 480 Megabits (or Mb) per second. Note I said “Megabits” not “Megabytes.” A byte is 8 bits, so divide 480 by 8 and this translates to 60 MB per second. That’s still a very respectable speed. I may try that if the issues return or clearing the cache partition becomes too onerous.

Now that this issue has gone away at least for now, the deeper issue at hand is that manually synchronizing files is still an inconvenient process. Surely, there’s a better way to do this, say by wireless means and applications that can take care of this in the background, right? Well, absolutely. In fact, Wi-Fi can transfer at least 8 times as fast as the USB connection. I’ll report back on what I found and how it works in an upcoming article, but hopefully these details are helpful for those that have to (or prefer) use USB connections with their devices.