It’s an age-old story. File meets computer, computer wants to introduce file to its smartphone, computer can’t find the right feature for that. Transferring files (even things like high-res photos) between PC and mobile devices is often a pain, yes, but it’s not impossible, and in fact there are a few different ways to do it.
In this guide, we’ll teach you exactly how to transfer files from Android to your PC, whether you want to use a software or more traditional hardware solution.
Wi-Fi transfer app
If your computer is connected to a nearby wireless network, one of the easiest ways to transfer files to a mobile device is to set up wireless transfer. These services specialize in porting information through your wireless network and onto a mobile device. Once set up, these services are quick, simple, and reliable, so long as your wireless internet connection is stable.
In fact, there are so many transfer services available, one of the hardest parts may be finding the right one for your PC. If you use an Android or iOS device, you will want to take a look at Portal, an app from Pushbullet. Once you download the app from your device’s respective app store and scan the website’s QR Code, you can push pictures, videos, and other files through the site and onto your mobile phone. It’s especially easy with Google Chrome because you can just drag and drop files to instantly transfer them from one device to another.
Another common solution is Filedrop, which is free for all systems except iOS (where it costs $3). Like Portal, Filedrop pairs with Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android devices, and then lets you quickly transfer files with a simple drag-and-drop method.
An alternative for Apple users is Airdrop, a proprietary piece of software that works between all Macs and iOS devices without requiring you to download any additional software.
Cloud storage service
Most of the best cloud storage providers offer a reasonable alternative to Wi-Fi transfer apps. You also don’t actually need Wi-Fi for every step when using a cloud sharing service. Simply fire up your favorite browser and register for a cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox (but which is best?), then upload your files. Afterward, you can download the app for your phone and — as long as you have a Wi-Fi or data connection — access the same information.
The information will remain floating in the cloud, but it’s accessible from either destination. This is useful for when you need to transfer data between different platforms, and it makes it easy to share said info with friends and coworkers.
However, both drag-and-drop transfers and cloud services have some security issues. If you’re not using a secure wireless network, then data theft is a possibility. Be smart about your transfers and sensitive information — we recommend enabling two-step verification and using a unique password from a password manager on all your cloud storage accounts.
Pair via Bluetooth
Bluetooth still has a lot of benefits in a Wi-Fi dominated age, and though pairing isn’t as quick or easy as using cloud storage, you can do it without the need for Wi-Fi. Turn on Bluetooth on your PC and mobile device, then look on your computer to see if it detects any nearby device. Try checking the “Devices and Printers” panel if there’s no automatic connection.
Most PCs will then move onto a confirmation task, where you have to type in a code or compare numbers. This will allow the computer to pair with your mobile device. The device should then appear in your list of connected drives when you look at your menu or file browser. On many PCs, you can select “Send a File” from the Bluetooth menu by clicking on the Bluetooth logo in the bottom-right corner of your screen. You can also manage Bluetooth devices more directly from the Devices and Printers panel, if necessary.
Bluetooth is a reliable method because most devices offer Bluetooth connectivity, and once paired, it’s easy to automatically pair again. If you have a very old computer and a newer mobile device, however, there may be some trouble with matching protocols — there’s also the possibility that your computer may not have Bluetooth. Although you could purchase a Bluetooth adaptor, that doesn’t exactly help you transfer those files right now.
Try an NFC connection
NFC stands for near field communication. It’s a data transfer technology that many phones and some computers now possess. Whether you’re dealing with Android Beam or Windows Phone NFC, look into enabling NFC transfers. This protocol requires your devices to be physically close — hence the frequent “bump” and “tap” apps — but it’s still safer when compared to wireless transfers.
That said, it’s a bit more time-consuming and often limited. Apple, for example, only uses NFC for payment purposes.
Even if you can’t establish an NFC connection directly with your PC, take a look at external hard drives and similar devices that can use NFC. This may be an easy way to quickly transfer data to and from your PC using an intermediary device. Plus, you get an external hard drive to use in other situations — these are our favorites.
Stick with email
Ahh, email. Solid, dependable, sensible, and not at all exciting. Nonetheless, it’s often handy when you need to transfer files from your desktop to a nearby tablet or smartphone. Not everyone has the fancy apps, services, and connectivity listed above. That’s where email can be a life saver.
It’s easier than a lot of other options, and most mobile devices are now smart enough to open attachments in a readable form, especially if you use a PDF. Thanks to OneDrive and Office 365, you may also be able to open and edit Word docs directly within your email client.
There are ways to use Office for free too.
When all else fails, try a USB drive
While the commonplace USB drive has recently fallen out of favor due to wireless functionality and the aforementioned cloud, sometimes the best option is still using a flash drive or an external hard drive to move your files. Not only is setting up a USB connection safer than transferring your data wirelessly, it’s ideal when you want to save a lot of content and transfer it all at once to multiple devices without weighing down your wireless network.
The key is picking out the right USB device to use. Many Android devices, for example, use USB On-The-Go, which can pair with compatible USB storage devices and allows for quick transfers between your PC and Android device.
Another alternative to consider is a wireless media reader. These are external hard drives that use SD cards or USB drives that can create their own hotspot, thus giving you a plethora of connection options for both your PC and mobile devices. You won’t even need a wireless network nearby — just think of them as a jack-of-all-trades for moving content around.
Updated 10/31/2017 by Jon Martindale – Updated methods and text.
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