For most users, one of the most important functions of a smartphone is a quality camera. Being able to produce quality images consistantly, even in low-light, used to be a major struggle in the smartphone arena. Throughout 2016, however, we watched as nearly every flagship phone—and even some mid-range ones!—shipped with some amazing cameras, and there’s no signs of that progress slowing into 2017. Samsung’s Galaxy S8, LG’s G6, and Google’s Pixel all offer incredible camera performance, with most shots good enough to consider leaving your DSLR or point-and-shoot back at home.
Of course, this bump in quality means you’re probably going to want to view your photos on a larger display, or even make prints as gifts or mementos. Transferring photos from your Android phone to your PC is actually really easy, and offers a couple different methods to do so. If you need your photos immediately, follow along with our wired method, but also consider our second method, which involves setting your phone up to backup wirelessly over WiFi for easy access wherever you go.
Method One: Using a USB Cable
Transferring over a cable is the fastest and most efficient method to get to your photos if you need immediate access. All you need, besides your computer and phone, is a USB cable to run from your phone to your computer. Most Android phones from 2016 and prior use microUSB; some phones from 2016 and later use USB-C connectors. Typically, you’re best off using the cable that came with your phone for charging; simply unplug the standard USB-A connector (the bigger side) from your AC adapter and plug it into the port on your PC.
Once you’ve plugged your phone into your PC, you’ll want to make sure you’ve unlocked your phone. Use your fingerprint, PIN, pattern, or any other lock-screen input you have to make sure your PC has access to the phone. You may have to change your device’s USB options by sliding the notification tray down and selecting the USB transfer tab. This will pop-up an array of options; you’ll want to select “File Transfer” for the fastest method between your computer and phone. You can also select “Photo Transfer” if you wish to use software to determine which photos you want selected, but I find it easier to use the file transfer selection.
Now open your computer’s file browser. On Windows 10 (the platform I’m using), it’s Windows Explorer; on MacOS, it’s Finder. On either platform, you’ll find your device listed on the left-side taskbar. If you’re using a phone with both internal memory and an SD card, as I’m using, you’ll see two different systems to browse. On my PC, they’re (helpfully) labeled “Phone” and “Card.” I store my photos on my SD card, but if you store them on your phone, you’ll want to select that menu.
Once you’re inside your phone’s file system, you’ll want to look for a folder titled “DCIM,” which stands for Digital Camera Images. That folder will hold all of your camera’s images, though it won’t hold other files, like screenshots or downloads (typically, those are found in folders titled, respectively, “Screenshots” and “Downloads.” If you keep your photos on an SD card, you might find these folders back on your phone’s internal memory). Each file will have a thumbnail of the photo, and you’ll be able to sort by date, name, size, etc., just like any other folder on your PC. Once you’ve found the photo or photos (or if you want to copy everything to your PC), make your selections as you would normally and drag them to a folder or location on your PC (Photos, Desktop, Documents, etc).
Once you’ve dragged your files to your computer, you’re done. They’ve been copied—not deleted or moved, just copied—from your phone to your PC, where you can edit or print them as you like. This may take some time, depending on how many photos you’re copying over (the more photos, the more time). Once you’re done transferring your photos, you can unplug your phone—as with most modern smartphones, you don’t need to eject your device to remove it safely. Just make sure your files are done transferring before you do so.
Method Two: Google Photos
Wired transferring is the most convenient method if you need select files at a moment’s notice, but if you’re just looking to keep your photos backed up and safe—or, if you don’t need specific photos right away—you can use Google Photos to back up your device’s photos to the cloud for free, to ensure that your memories are safe, secure, and with you wherever you go.
Google Photos is one of my favorite services offered by Google. The app is available on both Android and iOS, and you can also use their web app at photos.google.com to both view and upload images to the cloud. It’s fast and, for most users, completely free, without limitations. Google offers two distinct settings for uploading photos: High Quality, which allows for unlimited file uploads, makes compressed copies of your files and saves them to your Google account. These photos are resized to 16MP, which should mean that most smartphone photos won’t see any decrease in resolution or quality. Videos, meanwhile, will be compressed to 1080p (if they’re recorded at a higher resolution, like 4K), and will also retain their quality, despite the compression. If you’re a professional photographer, or you need images at a higher resolution that 16MP, you can set Google Photos to upload your images at the original resolution, without any compression at all. These uploads utilize your Google Drive storage. Every Google user has 15GB of free Drive storage, and monthly plans for additional storage are crazy cheap: $1.99/month for 100GB of storage, or $9.99 a month for an entire terabyte of cloud storage (there are additional options beyond this, but most users aren’t going to need more than a terabyte of cloud storage).
For 95% of users, leaving Google Photos set to the default and free “High Quality” option will be good enough. No need to fuss with Google Drive here; Photos is about keeping things simple. Once you have the app installed, you can follow the instructions on your device to begin backing up your photos. Google Photos allows you to control when photos are uploaded to your digital locker; by default, it will upload anytime the phone is connected to WiFi, but you can add restrictions such as charging-only, or even allow the device to upload over mobile data. As with most Google applications, you can control when and what the app does.
After the phone ends its initial backup (which I recommend doing overnight), there’s isn’t too much more to fuss with. The app is also a great way to manage your photos, create collages, or apply effects, but if you’re just looking for a way to get your photos onto your PC, you’ll be happy to know every photo is available on Google’s web app at anytime. When viewing your photos, you can download them by clicking the check mark on each photo and then selecting “Download” from the triple-dot menu in the top-right corner. Personally speaking, I find Photos to be the fastest way to get pictures from my phone and tablet onto my PC. When I’m writing an article, for example, all of my screenshots are wirelessly transferred to my PC and ready for download in seconds. Plus, it makes finding photos from half-a-decade ago simple and fast.
Another featured offered by Google Photos: if you’re looking to transfer photos off your phone to make additional storage space, you can use the built-in tool to clear off any photos on your device that have already been backed up by Google.
If you find yourself in need of a quick photo transfer, I recommend using a wired solution to move photos from your phone to your PC. It simply is the fastest way if you’re in a bind or a crunch for time. But if you’re looking for a photo backup solution, or you have the time to move your library to the cloud, Google Photos is a great method to keeping your library safe and clean. Saving your photos has never been easier, and now you can view them on any display that suits you.