Data to go: how to get files off your phone in a jiffy

Now that so many of us have replaced the camera with a smartphone, our little mobile devices carry so many pictures on them, you have to wonder just how you get them off?

Oh sure, there’s always a computer, but in this “post-PC” world of ours that often has us not using a laptop or desktop in exchange for a tablet, that’s not always easy, and uploading these images to social networking services doesn’t count.

You can do that, but uploading an image to Instagram doesn’t even come close to a full-size photo out of most of the smartphones you’ll find out there, with only a mere 640×640 pixel image up until recently, switched to a 1080×1080 image as of July.

Doing the math, Instagram is getting a little over a megapixel for your image, and when the minimum standard for a smartphone camera these days is 5 megapixels, you know you’re not getting the full picture.

Facebook can take a bigger image, with up to 2048 pixels on its largest side, giving you larger images, but it’s not doing to provide the best backup solution if your phone goes walkabout or you decide to drop it in a pool of water, which we’re told some people do.

So getting images off your device is an important thing, and it’s also important for other files, such as any documents you’ve written on the phone, audio recordings, and anything else you deem important.

How do you do this?

Phones and tablets with Google Android

Without a doubt, Android is the easiest platform to get files off onto another medium in a heartbeat. And we’re not kidding with that metaphor, because provided you have the right device, it doesn’t take much more than a beat or two with your heart.

To do this, you need one of the dual mode USB keys that can be found in most electronic and office supply stores.


These are like regular USB thumb drives, only they have two ends: a standard full-size USB connector for a computer and a microUSB connector.

The full-size connector you know, as this is the one that allows you to plug in all sort of USB devices. You’ve plugged them in before, and will for some time to come, and this isn’t going anywhere fast, though it likely will be replaced in the next decade or so.

That other connector, however, is the same one you use to charge an Android smartphone or tablet, and even some headphones, speakers, and computers.

“MicroUSB” is its name, and it is seen as the international standard for smartphone charging, which is why pretty much every smartphone relies on it, except for that of the iPhone (and in Europe, Apple is required to package in a converter, with the expectation being that by 2017, Apple will be forced to go with a standard USB charge mechanism, likely USB Type C by that point).

But charging is only one part of what the microUSB port can do, with data transfer another part of that.


You’ll likely have seen that if you have ever plugged a phone into a computer before, since you can transfer files from one device to the other and back, and this also works when you’re not using a computer.

When you’re not using a computer, you can use the special dual-mode USB drive to backup files, transferring things from the phone to a thumb drive, which can later on be plugged into a computer and moved to your device.

Dual-mode drives come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some rely on USB 2.0, while others use USB 3.0, meaning the different device you purchase might have a faster connection to the computer you plug it into than others.

The good thing about dual-mode devices, though, is while they work as a way of backing up what’s on a smartphone or tablet with a microUSB port, they also allow the phone or tablet to read what has been left on the USB drive.

Let’s say you want to bring a document to read on your phone that you’ve been working on and you’ll just be using your phone on the bus ride in. For this, you simply save the document to the dual-mode USB key, and then plug that key into the phone, allowing you to peek into the drive and open the document on your phone.

Apps for exploring what is on the drive exist for Android, and even if you don’t download something special like File Commander — which is one of our favourites to use — Android phones and tablets will almost always come with some form of file browsing software preinstalled, allowing you to browse to the external USB device when you need to.

One more thing…


Owners of Android devices also get a bit of a bonus thanks to that microUSB port: they can use their regular notebook drive.

They can’t just plug it in, obviously, since the microUSB port and USB connector normally used aren’t the same, but if you find a special cable or converter, you can make it work.


These are called on-the-go cables, or “OtG” devices, and they basically convert the microUSB port to a regular USB port, similar to what those aforementioned dual-more USB drives are doing, but without the thumb drive.

If you already have a drive you love and don’t mind bringing around a cable, this will work too, and for a much cheaper cost, with on-the-go cables running for around $2 to $11 depending on where you go.

Apple’s iPhone and iPad

We’re big fans of Apple’s iPhone and iPad, but when it comes to getting files on and off the device, the big A has generally had two opinions on the matter, and these focus quite heavily on the cloud and computers.

The latter of these has been the rather dominant one for the better half of a decade when Apple found a way to revitalise the smartphone with its iPhone, and so the only way to get files off your iPhone was at one point to use a computer.

Fortunately, wireless networks and internet-based computing have paved the way to the “cloud”, that magical place in the sky made up of ones and zeroes where you can wirelessly transfer your files and documents to a storage system held somewhere in the world.

Cloud storage is a necessity these days, too, and it’s advisable that people have a backup method on a system they trust, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and so on.

But what happens if you want to get the files off your iPhone and to your computer without the cloud?