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8 easy ways to transfer photos off your Android smartphone

Now that every smartphone has at least one camera built into it, we’re taking more photos than ever. The downside is that these photos, collectively over time, take up a lot of room. Throw in videos, time-lapses, and burst shots, and you’ll easily fill up a 16GB device. The cause is that users don’t edit, back up,® or delete their photos, turning their phones into digital graveyards. If you want to archive your photos to use later – whether to share or edit – make it a habit to get them off your phone. It will not only free up space, but you can store them safely for future viewing. There are a few ways to transfer photos from your Android phone to your computer, and they’re all easy, so take your pick and start shooting.

Updated June 7, 2016: Updated with new video.

Google Drive Backup

Google Drive’s Backup service is by far the simplest method for both backing up your photos and subsequently getting off your Android phone. The service is standard on almost all Android phones and works quietly in the background, uploading your files to your Google Drive for easy access from other devices. Synced photos are stored privately, meaning you don’t have to worry about any embarrassing photos winding up in the wrong hands, but they’re easily and quickly accessible from within your Google drive.

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Synced photos will be saved to a private folder in your Google Drive.

Enabling Google Drive’s backup options is simple. In the app, press the menu button or icon, then open the settings menu. In this menu, you can set the auto backup to be on or off, as well as change the settings that correspond to it. In order to access and download your synced photos, open your Google Drive. Your photos are stored in a private folder labeled “Google Photos.” Open that folder, and you can browse and download your photos directly to your desktop.

If you don’t want to enable syncing, you can also upload individual files from your phone to your drive. Open up your phone’s photo gallery, open a picture, then tap the “share” button. From there, you will be able to select from multiple sharing option. Tap the Google Drive icon, and the files will be uploaded. Once it’s uploaded, the picture can be accessed via your Google Drive. Be aware than any files uploaded to your Google Drive, whether via backup or individually, will take up your allotted free storage amount. You may want to periodically clean out your drive, or opt to pay for a a higher storage plan.

Google Photos

Google Photos works similarly to Google Drive; in fact, the user interface and experience is nearly identical. Of course, Google Photos is strictly for photos and videos, while Google Drive handles all types of files. But Google Photos offers useful tools such as light editing and sharing; grouping photos and videos into collections; and smart searching using machine learning. The “assistant” automatically creates fun projects with your images, such as slideshows, collages, and animations. And, you can access your stored photos from almost any device, not just Android.

If your utmost concern is backing up images, then Google Photos might be the better solution; it’s free, storage is unlimited, and, unlike Google Drive, it doesn’t hit against your allotted free storage amount. There is a catch, however.

Google Photos Hands On
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

The service supports only JPEG photos up to 16 megapixels and Full HD (1080p) videos. That’s fine for the majority of users, but if you have a phone that shoots RAW or 4K, you’ll either have to let Google Photos downsample those files or save it to your Google Drive account. But, for the time being, few of us have smartphones that exceed those specs.

Google Photos is simple to set up and use. Once you connect it to your Google ID, the app will upload any new content automatically. Make sure you set Google Photos to only sync when your phone is on a Wi-Fi network (in the Settings option under the drop-down menu on the top-right); otherwise it’ll hit against your cellular data plan. Unless you actively share your photos and videos, the content is private.

Facebook Sync

There are a few other auto syncing services. Much like Google Drive, Facebook will automatically back-up photos from your phone and save them privately. You can then select photos you wish to be posted to Facebook.

Here’s how you get it working: Open the Facebook Android app, and navigate to your profile. Tap “Photos,” then at the top right of the screen, tap the “Synced” button, then follow the instructions to begin Syncing. To find your synced photos, return to the Photos section on your profile and open the “Synced from Phone” album. Again, this is a private album, so your friends will not be able to access them until you manually post them to your profile publicly. 

A more detailed FAQ can be found on Facebook’s help page

Dropbox

Android Drop BoxAnother option is the popular Dropbox app for Android, a free utility that automatically syncs files and photos with the cloud-based server, so you can easily access them anywhere. The Dropbox App is available via the Google Play store.

Once you’ve downloaded the Dropbox app, you’ll have to either log in to your existing account or make a new one. Either in settings or at the top of the photos and media tab, select “Turn on camera upload” to access the settings that govern what photos get backed up automatically, and whether you want them backed up on cellular data or only over Wi-Fi.

Another similar option to consider is Microsoft’s One Drive.

USB

One of the beautiful features of the Android operating system is its mostly unfettered access to the file system. The fact that you can simply plug your phone into your computer using the included USB cable makes it easy to download any and all images and drag them into any desktop app or your file system for safekeeping. If you’re using Windows, the USB connection auto-prompts will present you with options for managing the device as soon as it’s connected. If you’re on a Mac, there are a few options, one being the Android File Transfer program. We have a handy guide for transferring any type of file from your Android phone to your Mac.

Email and Sharing

It isn’t the most elegant solution, but if you only need to transfer over an image or two, and you only do it sporadically, then you can easily use your email. Depending on your email provider, the exact process may vary, but it’s a simple process no matter which app you use. Compose a new email, and enter your email address as the recipient.

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Tap on the menu button to bring up a context menu, and then select “Attach file” to add a picture to your email, or if you’re in Gmail, you can capture a photo right from that menu.

Send the email, and a few short minutes later you’ll see the email pop up in your inbox for you to open from another phone or your computer. Note that you are sending a large file, and some email services have a limit on the file size you can send.

You can also share a photo to other services, like Facebook, Google Drive, Instagram, and Twitter by sharing. Pull up the photo you wish to share, then tap the “Share” button. From there, you will be prompted to select which app you wish to use to share the picture. Depending on which app you choose, the picture will be emailed, posted, or uploaded.

External Drives

Sometimes, nothing else will do besides a good ol’ fashioned external storage device. As connectivity in smartphones increases, so do your options for connecting to different storage methods.

If you find yourself on the go all the time, the Leef Access MicroSD reader is awesome for easily transferring photos between devices while expanding the storage space on your phone. The tiny dongle plugs into the phone’s Micro USB port, while the other end is a MicroSD card reader and a slot for secondary card storage. Once a card is inserted, you can use most file management apps to copy photos (or any files, for that matter) to the card. If you use a high-speed MicroSD card, the transfer process from phone to card is relatively quick. Another useful option from Leef is the Bridge 3.0 Mobile USB drive.

Taking a ton of photos? Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless provides tons of storage, wireless connectivity, and portability into a single package. With Wi-Fi, you can connect your Android device to the drive (via the WD My Cloud app) and easily copy photos over, as well as music, video, and document files. The built-in battery can power the hard drive for up to 20 hours of standby time, or 6 hours of continuous video streaming. There’s a built-in SD card slot too, to back up the photos from your digital camera without a computer.

Photo Apps

While applications like Instagram and Facebook will allow you to publicly post the photos you take for your social network, they aren’t great for backing up every shot, especially if you don’t want to share them with everybody you know. Android applications like Flickr not only improve the shots you take with your phone by adding filters and editing tools, but also allow acute control over the publication of your photos while providing a convenient cloud-based backup.

There are numerous photo apps and services available. Some of the ones we like include ThisLife from Shutterfly, VSCO Cam, and Lightroom from Adobe.

Updated December 21, 2015 by Brendan Hesse: Updated to account for new syncing options. Added additional information, including Google Photos.