From managing files on your phone to seamlessly syncing folders with your computer, this guide will turn you into a certified Android master file.
When you think of your smartphone, apps and interfaces are probably the first things that come to mind. However, beneath all those superficial things, our modern mobile devices are full of files – folders on their folders! – Like the weird old computers we’ve relied on for a long time.
We may not face our phone’s file systems very often, but it’s valuable to know that they’re there and how they can work for us when the need arises. After all, your Android device is a powerhouse of productivity. You can juggle everything from PDF and PSD files to presentations and podcasts. It can even act as a portable hard drive and store in your pocket any important files you might need (and not just in a distant cloud). Your mobile device can carry a large amount of data, and there may come a time when you want to dig deep and deal with it directly.
Here’s everything you need to know to know the hood and take advantage of your phone’s file management capabilities.
You may not realize it at a glance, but Android actually allows you to access the entire file system of a device, even from the device itself.
The operating system has its own native file manager since the launch of Android 6.0 Marshmallow in 2015 and what started as an apparently experimental effort has become a tool capable of manipulating basic data. With Android 6.0 – 7.1, the file manager at the system level is somewhat hidden – you have to look in the Storage section of the system settings, then scroll to the bottom and click on the line labeled «Explore» to find it.
Meanwhile, with the release of Android 8.0 Oreo from Google, the file manager resides in the Android Downloads application. All you have to do is open the app and select the «Show internal storage» option from its menu to navigate the entire internal storage of your phone. Then you can open, move, rename, copy, delete and share files as needed.
And if you have Android 9 or later on your phone, things get even easier – in those recent versions of Android, the file manager exists in its own file application with a sensitive name. Just open it to explore any area of your local storage or a connected Drive account; you can use the file type icons at the top of the screen, or if you want to browse folder by folder, tap the three-point menu icon in the upper right corner and select «Show internal storage» – then tap all three icon menu lines in top left corner and find the name of the phone.
The latest version of Files at the system level allows you to browse files in various ways, including a traditional folder-by-folder view.
If you don’t see the Files app on your phone, you’re most likely using a device from a manufacturer, such as Samsung, that chooses not to include this system-level Android item in their software and offers it instead by itself. alternative (apparently in order to power your own cloud storage service and / or a partner’s paid cloud storage service with Google Drive). Such an application could exist in a folder with the manufacturer’s name, in the application drawer and could be called My Files or something like that. You’ll probably find the same basic type of file management functionality within it, only with a slightly different interface and set of options.
If you want to do more than just manage your device files, in the meantime, this is the way to go with a third-party file manager. You can find the latest recommendations for various needs in my separate summary of the best Android file management applications.
Supplement your phone’s local storage
A little-known feature of Android is its ability to connect to external storage devices such as USB sticks and portable hard drives with even higher capacity. A phone only needs to accept something known as USB On-The-Go or USB OTG for the connection to work.
A number of devices, including Google Pixel phones and many Samsung Galaxy products, offer such support. If you’re not sure if your phone is working, the best thing to do is to send it your Google name along with «USB OTG»; chances are, you’ll find the answer pretty quickly.
As long as your device supports USB OTG, all you need is a USB-A to USB-C adapter like the one made by Amazon. (If you have an older device that doesn’t have USB-C, you’ll need a USB-A to micro-USB adapter – you can find many of these options on Amazon or almost any electronics retailer.) Adapter to connect the external drive on the phone, then look for a notification to confirm that the unit is connected.
Touch the «Browse» option in the notification and you’re done – you can now browse and access all the files on your external drive.
Look for the notification that appears when an external drive is connected, and you’ll be able to browse its contents as soon as possible.
When you’re done, don’t forget to return to the notification and tap «Eject» before disconnecting the unit.
File transfer between phone and computer
In addition to accepting external hard drives, your Android phone can act as an external hard drive. Connect your device to any Windows, Mac, or Chrome OS computer, and you can easily access your entire file system and easily drag and drop files between it and your desktop.
With a Windows or Chrome operating system, it’s essentially as simple as plug and play. With a Mac, you will first need to install a special program on your computer before you can connect.
For step-by-step instructions on any of these fronts, click my full Android file transfer guide.
Wireless file transfer between devices
Want to transfer files between your Android phone and a computer (or another Android phone, iPhone, etc.) without the need for cables? No problem.
The easiest option is to adopt an intermediary, especially a cloud storage service such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. Upload the files to a folder in that app on your Android phone, then search for the folder in the same app on the receiving device (or vice versa).
However, you can go further than that and as a result, you can make your life significantly easier. If you transfer between two Android devices in the same physical area, the Google Files app (which is confusingly not the same as the aforementioned Files app, which is pre-installed on many devices) will do the job with a minimum of fuss. and inconvenience. . Just install the app on both devices, tap the Share tab at the bottom, and then tap the Send or Receive button to set up the transfer. The application will automatically encrypt any data you send.
If you use devices on different platforms and / or devices that are not in the same physical location, a useful tool worth considering is a cross-platform application called Join (which also has the ability to encrypt your transfers, although you should look into application settings to enable that option). Install the app on your Android device, and then install the same app, Chrome, or Windows 10 on any other device you want to share files with. You can also access the service through a normal website on any desktop computer, for example, if you’re using a Mac with a browser other than Chrome.
Once you’ve connected to the apps on both ends, you’re ready to seamlessly initiate file transfers in both directions. On Android, simply share a file from any application (a file manager, image gallery, or any other file-sharing utility) and select Join as destination. The file will appear on the desktop in seconds.
Meanwhile, on a computer, sending a file is as simple as opening the Join application or extension, selecting your phone as your receiving device, and then dragging the file into the window.
Place a file in Join on the desktop (left) and it will appear on your Android device a second later (right).
Joining has many other features, including the ability to send a «Note to self» style notification from a computer to your phone and even paste text from a computer directly into your phone’s clipboard, but even if you just used to Wireless file transfers are worth keeping. The app comes with a free trial period of one month (accepted by ads) and then requires a one-time purchase of $ 5 if you want to continue using it.
Synchronize your Android phone’s storage space with a computer
You may like to have certain files stored locally on your Android phone, but you also want these files to be copied and saved to your computer. The best of both worlds, right?
Believe it or not, this is pretty easy to do. Simply grab an Android app called AutoSync, which is available for use with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Box. It will allow you to pair your local folder on your phone with a cloud-based folder, for free with a single pair of folders and files under 10 MB or for a one-time payment of $ 5 with no real restrictions.
Install the appropriate application from your computer for your favorite service, make sure it’s set to sync with your computer’s hard drive, and here you have it – your Android device’s folder is now actually part of your computer.
You may even have folders constantly synchronized in both directions, so if you add or update a file on your computer, the same changes will occur on your phone.
This is a package!
Congratulations – you have officially obtained the title of Android File Master. (Seriously, you can even write it on a document, print it, and paste it on your desktop so everyone knows.)
Next: Make sure you understand the ins and outs of Android backups. Finally, they are made up of files, after all, and also quite important.