When you think of your smartphone, apps and interfaces are probably the first things that come to mind. Among all the stuff on the surface level, however, our modern mobile devices are filled with files – folders over folders from them! – Just like the chunky old computers we’ve relied on for ages.
We may not be faced with our phones’ file systems too often, but it is valuable to know that they are there – and to know how they can work for us when needed. After all, your Android device is a productivity powerhouse. It can bring everything from PDFs and PSDs to presentations and podcasts under one roof. It can even act as a portable hard drive and keep all the important files you may need in your pocket (and not just in a distant cloud). Your mobile device can transfer a lot of data, and you may want to deal with it and deal with it directly.
Here’s everything you need to know to get under the hood and take advantage of your phone’s file management capabilities.
Manage files on your Android phone
You may not notice it at a glance, but with Android you can actually access a device’s entire file system – even from the device itself.
The operating system has had its own native file manager since Android 6.0 Marshmallow was released in 2015. What started as an experimental effort has developed into a powerful tool for basic data manipulation. With Android 6.0 to 7.1, the file manager is somewhat hidden at system level: you have to look in the section Storage of your system settings, then scroll all the way down and tap on the line labeled “Search” to find it.
With Google’s Android 8.0 Oreo version, the file manager is in the Android download app. All you have to do is open this app and select “Show internal storage” from the menu to search your phone’s full internal storage. You can then open, move, rename, copy, delete, and share files as needed.
And if yes Android 9 or higher on your phone is even easier: in the latest Android versions, the file manager is available in its own, reasonably named file app. Simply open it to browse any area of your local storage or a connected drive account. You can either use the file type icons at the top of the screen or, if you want to search folder by folder, tap the three-dot menu icon in the top right corner and select “Show internal storage” – and then tap the three – –line Menu icon in the topLeft Corner and look for the name of your phone.
If you don’t see the file app on your phone, you’re probably using a device from a manufacturer like Samsung that chooses not to include this system-level Android element in its software and instead provide it itself – an alternative (supposedly with the aim of doing so) to push your own cloud storage service and / or the cloud storage service of a paid partner in addition to Google Drive). Such an app may be in a folder with the manufacturer’s name in your app drawer and is called “My Files” – or something like that. You will likely find the same basic type of file management functionality in it, just with a slightly different interface and set of options.
If you want to do more than the simplest file management on the device, a third-party file manager is the way to go. My latest recommendations for different needs can be found in my separate summary of the best Android File Manager apps.
Supplement your phone’s local storage
A little-known feature of Android is the ability to connect to external storage devices such as USB memory sticks and even portable hard drives with larger capacity. A phone only has to support something that is known as USB On-The-Goor USB OTG for the connection to work.
A whole range of devices, including Google’s pixel phones and many Samsung Galaxy products, offer this support. If you are not sure if your phone is doing this, it is best to google Google’s name along with “USB OTG”. Chances are that you will find the answer fairly quickly.
Assuming your device supports USB OTG, you only need a USB-A to USB-C adapter like this one made by amazon. (If you have an older device without USB-C, you will need a USB-A to Micro USB adapter instead. You will find numerous such options on amazon or at pretty much any electronics retailer.) Use the adapter to connect the external drive to your phone and look for a notification that confirms that the drive is connected.
In the notification, tap the “Browse” option, and you’re done: you can now browse and access all files on your external drive.
When you’re done, don’t forget to return to the notification and tap “Eject” before disconnecting the drive.
Transfer files between your phone and computer
Your Android phone not only supports external hard drives, but can also act as an external hard drive. Simply connect your device to any Windows, Mac, or Chrome OS computer, and you can easily access the entire file system and drag and drop files between the device and your desktop.
With a Windows or Chrome OS system, it’s essentially as simple as plug and play. On a Mac, you need to install first a special program on your computer before the connection can be established.
For step-by-step instructions on these topics, see my comprehensive guide to Android file transfer.
Transfer files between devices wirelessly
Do you want to transfer files between your Android phone and a computer (or other Android phone, iPhone, etc.) without the need for cables? No problem.
Your easiest option is to hire a middleman – especially a cloud storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive. Simply upload the files to a folder in the respective app on your Android phone and search for the folder in the same app on the receiving device (or vice versa).
However, they can be more advanced – making your life a lot easier. If you transfer between two Android devices in the same physical area, this is Google Files app (which is confusing Not The same as the file app mentioned above, which is preinstalled on many devices, does the job with minimal effort. Simply install the app on both devices, tap the Share tab below, and then tap the Send or Receive button to set up the transfer. The app automatically encrypts all data sent.
If you use devices on different platforms – and / or devices that are not in the same physical location – one handy tool that should be considered is a multiplatform app called To join (which also has the option of encrypting its transmissions, although you’ll need to check the app’s settings to enable this option). To install the app on your Android device and then install the same app that Chrome version, or the Windows 10 version on any other device you want to share files with. You can also access the service from a regular website on any desktop computer – for example, if you’re using a Mac with a browser other than Chrome.
Once you’ve signed in to the apps at both ends, you can easily start file transfers in both directions. On Android, simply share a file from any app – a file manager, image gallery, or other file usage utility – and choose Join as a destination. The file will appear on your desktop within seconds.
On a computer, sending a file is as easy as opening the join app or extension, selecting your phone as the receiving device, and then dragging the file into the window.
Join offers a number of 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 also if you only use it for use With wireless file transfers it is worth keeping the data. The app comes with a free (ad-financed) one-month trial, and then requires a one-time purchase of $ 5 if you want to continue using it.
Sync the memory of your Android phone with a computer
You may want to save certain files locally on your Android phone, but you also want those files to be backed up and saved on your computer. The best of both worlds, right?
Believe it or not, it’s actually quite simple. Just get an Android app called AutoSync that is available for use with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and box. You can use it to pair between a local folder on your phone and a cloud-based folder – for free with a single pair of folders and files less than 10MB, or for a one-time payment of $ 5 with no real restrictions.
Install the appropriate computer-side app for the service you prefer. Make sure it’s synced to your computer’s hard drive – and you’ve got it: the folder on your Android device is now effectively part of your PC.
You can even set the folders to stay synchronized in both directions. So if you add or update a file on your computer, the same changes will also appear on your phone.
This is a wrap!
Congratulations: You have officially earned the title of an Android file master. (In fact, you can even put it in a document, print it out, and stick it on your desk so everyone knows it.)
Above: Make sure you understand the pros and cons of Android backups. After all, they also consist of files – and quite important ones.