Back to School: Mobile File Transfer Options for Mobile Devices


Smartphones and tablets can be useful tools when you’re heading back to school. They can enhance both your studies and social life, so when you’re away from home or the dorm all day long, the last thing you need is to run out of room for more photos, files, or notes. Thankfully, getting files off your devices doesn’t require a desktop or notebook. We’ll go over some methods you can use to free up space, backup, and share your files while you’re on the move.

Add More Memory

One option for Android device owners (sorry Apple fans) is the ability to simply add a microSD card to your phone or tablet. This straightforward solution of adding additional storage to the device itself gives you the ability to free up space fast. Some apps will even let you create new files directly on the card, preserving your internal memory and saving you that extra step. While microSD cards as big as 1TB might exist, keep in mind that your device will have a limit as to what it can use. Check your phone or tablet’s specs, but typical sizes include 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB cards.

SanDisk 128GB Extreme UHS-I microSDXC Memory Card with SD Adapter

Flash Drives and USB OTG

For a more portable solution, you can plug in a flash drive as you would with a desktop or laptop. With a flash drive, you can copy files quickly and share them more easily with other devices and computers. It also makes for an ideal backup solution, giving you a secondary location for your files in case your phone or tablet is damaged or lost. However, if you’re an Android owner, you’ll need to make sure your device supports USB OTG first.

USB On-the-Go (OTG) is a specification that lets your mobile device act as a host, like a desktop, and recognize the flash drive as a peripheral. Multiple free apps in the Google Play store can easily tell you if your device is compatible. USB OTG is not an option for iOS users though the upcoming iOS 13 and iPadOS are adding support for external storage devices. For current iPhone and iPad owners, you can simply use the available app from Lightning flash drive manufacturers to use it as a storage device for your phone or tablet.

Gigastone 128GB IF-6600 i-Flash Drive

Android users can pick up drives that are designed for mobile use, too, with either micro-USB or USB Type-C connectors. If you want to use standard USB Type-A sticks, you will need to get a USB OTG cable to get things working. An additional pro to using a flash drive is that many of the mobile-centric sticks also have USB Type-A ports, so you can immediately transfer from mobile to desktop/laptop if needed. Lastly, external bus-powered hard drives could also be used, but we don’t recommend it. It’s very hit-or-miss as to whether your smartphone or tablet will be able to provide the power they need to function.

iFi AUDIO USB 3.0 Type-C to USB Type-A OTG Cable

Bluetooth, NFC, and AirDrop

While not ideal for freeing up phone storage or backing up your photo gallery, there are wireless solutions that are useful for fast and limited file transfers between devices. For Android users, you can open a file and choose to share it via Bluetooth to nearby devices or beam it to a specific device via NFC. With NFC, you would touch the backs of the two devices together to initiate the transfer. Apple users have AirDrop. When transferring between iOS devices, just select to share via AirDrop and pick the person you want to send it to.

Upload to the Cloud

With a “set it and forget it” mentality, cloud storage is a convenient wireless option for larger file backups. Many services are available and most offer free options for students on a budget. Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud to name a few. However, they do have considerable drawbacks to keep in mind. First, the free options can fill up fast, leaving you with nowhere to transfer files unless you start paying a monthly subscription. Second, you’re usually stuck with finding a Wi-Fi signal before you can transfer anything. Well, unless you want to rack up data charges on your mobile bill.

What’s the Best Solution?

Which option you choose is entirely up to you and your needs, but I recommend a combination of all of these, as one method’s “pro” typically offsets another’s “con.” I have an Android phone, so NFC is an option for a quick file share. I have an extra 64GB microSD in the SIM tray, and a dual USB-C/USB-A stick handy. On a low storage warning I can immediately dump files to the microSD, then make a backup copy to the stick, just in case. Cloud storage is set up to run when I’m using Wi-Fi, so my data’s available in case my physical options are compromised.

Do you do anything unique to transfer files from your mobile devices? Please share your suggestions and comments below—we’d love to hear what you have to say. If you need mobile storage gear for your smartphone or tablet, you can find a vast array of microSD cards, flash drives, and OTG cables online at B&H.

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