The age of the microSD card could be coming to an end thanks to Samsung’s lateststorage product. The company has announced UFS cards with considerably higher data speeds, and capacities as high as 256GB. Whereas even the fastest microSD cardsstruggle to keep up with new USB specifications, UFS cards are as speedy as a desktopSSD. Sound too good to be true? Well, there’s a drawback: UFS cards have different contacts and aren’t backward compatible with microSD slots.
Most of the NAND flash storage currently used in mobile devices is based on the eMMC 5.0 standard. Samsung started using much faster UFS storage in its devices in 2015 with the Galaxy S6. That was only for the internal storage, though. The microSD card in your Galaxy S7 (or any other device, for that matter) is still based on eMMC storage. As you can probably gather from the name, UFS cards put that same super-fast NAND inside a removable card. The newly announced cards use the UFS 1.0 specification and internal phone storage is already on UFS 2.0, but the cards are certainly no slouches.
The top-of-the-line 256GB UFS card is capable of 530MB/s sequential read speeds and 170MB/s sequential writes, according to Samsung. A typical microSD card can pull off about 100MB/s and 90MB/s for sequential read and write speeds, respectively. The cards will also be available in 32, 64, and 128 gigabyte capacities, presumably with the same speeds. UFS relies on the SCSI transfer architecture, which allows the storage to accept multiple commands with command queuing features. This improves internal efficiency dramatically, and it’s paired with a new M-PHY electrical interface that’s capable of up to 5.8Gbps per lane.
Most of what people use removable storage for now is backing up large amounts of data that won’t fit on the faster internal storage. However, Samsung thinks that removable storage will need to be faster in the future to take advantage of 3D VR video and ultra-high quality photos. Android devices also support adopting removable storage as part of the system, merging it with the internal NAND. Doing so with a microSD card can slow the device down, but a UFS card shouldn’t have that problem.
Samsung hasn’t released any pricing or availability information for its UFS cards yet, but don’t expect them to be inexpensive. We’ve been spoiled by the incredibly low cost of microSD cards for years, and the move to UFS might be a bit of a shock. No other manufacturers have announced UFS cards yet, so Samsung gets to set the price. As for timing, that will depend on when there are devices that support UFS cards. I hope it’s at least possible to create one slot that accepts both microSD and UFS cards. Otherwise, this is going to be a painful transition.