Smartphones are now responsible for the majority of photos that are taken. The downside is that these photos, collectively over time, take up a lot of room. Throw in videos, time-lapses, burst shots, snaps, and uncompressed RAW files, 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 several methods to transfer photos from your Android phone to your computer, and they’re all easy — so make your choice and start snapping.
One of the best 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. We think this is the easiest, fool-proof method, and the only downside is that you’ll need a computer handy.
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.
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 comes standard on almost all Android phones and works quietly in the background, uploading your files to your Google Drive for easy access on other devices. Synced photos are stored privately, too, 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.
Enabling Google Drive’s backup options is simple. In the app, press the menu button or icon, then open the settings menu. Here, 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 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 uploaded, the picture can be accessed via Google Drive. Keep in mind, however, that any files uploaded to your Google Drive will take up your allotted storage space. Therefore, you may want to periodically clean out your drive or opt for a more robust storage plan.
Google Photos works in a similar fashion to Google Drive; in fact, the user interface and experience is nearly identical because both share Google’s Material Design language. Of course, Google Photos is strictly for stowing photos and videos, while Google Drive handles all types of files. But Google Photos offers an array of useful tools that allow you to edit and share your creations, or automatically group photos and videos into collections. The service can also cast content to a Chromecast, keeps your photos private unless specified, and performs smart searches using machine learning. The “assistant” can even create fun projects with your images, such as slideshows, collages, panoramas, and animations. Best of all, you can access your photos from almost any device — not just those running 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 impact your allotted amount of free storage. Google has also recently improved performance, meaning Photos is now twice as fast. However, there is a catch.
The service supports only JPEG photos up to 16 megapixels in size, 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 also 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, however, which can be done by accessing the Settings menu in the top-right corner of the app. Otherwise, it’ll hit against your cellular data plan.
Unlike the iPhone, many Android devices let you expand storage via a MicroSD card. With a large-capacity card inserted, you could set supported photo apps to save content directly to the card instead of your phone’s internal storage. This is particularly useful if you purchased a 16GB or 32GB device, which, if you’re an avid shooter, will fill up in no time. Save the internal memory for applications — use the MicroSD card for storage. But remember, don’t leave the photos sitting on the card – transfer them to your computer. Check out our guide on using MicroSD cards on Android devices.
What if your Android device lacks support for MicroSD? In this case, the Leef Access MicroSD reader is awesome for transferring photos between devices while expanding the storage space on your phone. The tiny dongle plugs into your phone’s Micro USB port, while the other end functions as a MicroSD card reader and a slot for secondary 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. We also like Lexar’s C1 MicroSD Reader. You could also use USB On-the-Go; read more in the section of this article on External Storage.
Like Google Drive, another 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.
Microsoft’s One Drive is another similar option to consider.
A group of former Microsoft engineers, who just so happen to be photo enthusiasts, got together and created Mylio. Billed as a “memory organizer,” the service lets mobile users back up their photos — up to 500,000 — for free. Mylio lets you sync up to 12 Android or iOS devices, and offers in-device photo editing, along with the ability to work with JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and RAW files. The concept behind Mylio is similar to Google Photos, but while the latter targets casual photographers, Mylio seems to skew toward more enthusiasts. We think Google Photos offers more features for everyday shooting, but if you work with high-quality files, Mylio is a great companion to Google Photos.
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.
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.
Sometimes, nothing else will do besides an external storage device. As connectivity in smartphones increases, so do your options for connecting to different storage methods.
One nice thing about Android is its support for external storage, which owes much to a USB protocol called USB On-the-Go (OTG). You can plug in a standard external USB hard drive — the kind you’d use with a laptop or desktop machine — and add a ton of storage for offloading photos and videos, particularly 4K and RAW files. You will need a USB OTG-to-Micro USB adapter, however. Also, keep in mind that not all Android devices support USB OTG; to find out if yours does, use the Easy OTG Checker app.
If your phone doesn’t support USB OTG, another useful option is a portable flash drive (aka a thumbdrive) that’s designed to connect directly to a phone via the Micro USB or USB Type-C port. These products include Leef’s Bridge 3.0 Mobile USB drive, SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive m3.0 or Ultra USB Type-C Flash Drive, and Lexar’s JumpDrive C20c USB Type-C Flash Drive or C20m MicroUSB Flash Drive.
Taking a ton of photos? Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro packs 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. There’s a built-in SD card slot, too, which allows you to back up the photos from your digital camera without a computer.
Updated March 2, 2017, by Les Shu: Updated information on Google Photos and added information regarding portable flash drives, external hard drives, MicroSD cards, and Mylio.