Transfer files from Android phone to USB flash drive

If you are struggling for storage on your Android phone, what can you do? Plug in a USB drive! Here is how to transfer files from an Android phone to a USB stick, thumb drive, flash drive.

It is easy to fill the storage on a phone when you are shooting videos or high resolution photos. Some phones can shoot 4k videos and these use as much as a gigabyte of storage for each minute recorded. It depends on the quality and frame rate, so more or less storage may be needed.

Some phones can save photos in RAW file format and they use many megabytes of storage per photo. Some phones take up to 64 megapixel photos and they can use 40 MB of storage per photo.

If you are at home, you can plug the phone into a computer or use Wi-Fi to get the videos or photos off the phone and free up space on the device. When you are out shooting photos and videos, you cannot do this. You don’t want to upload gigabytes of media on your mobile phone plan or try and upload gigabytes over limited public Wi-Fi, so what can you do?

With a USB stick, thumb drive or flash drive, whatever you choose to call these storage devices, you can transfer files and free up space on your phone so you can continue shooting videos and photos.

That is just one use for transferring files from an Android phone to a USB flash drive and there are others. For example, you could store hundreds of gigabytes of music on the USB stick and transfer what you need for the day or the ween to your phone. You don’t need to store all your music on the phone. Sure, you can stream music, but when it is on the phone, it works anywhere and it can be CD quality.

How to use USB storage with an Android phone: Easy guide

1 Get a USB flash drive

USB flash drive in packaging
USB flash drive with Type A and Type C connectors
USB flash drive with USB A and USB C plugs
USB flash drive with Type A and Type C connectors

Having the right storage makes the task easier and most recent Android phones have USB Type C sockets. Many computers have USB Type A sockets, although the smaller Type C sockets are becoming more common.

If you buy a USB flash drive with both plugs, like this one, it can be plugged into a computer or a phone. If the flash drive only has a USB Type A plug, you will need a dongle to convert USB A to USB C. It works, but it is an extra purchase and extra hassle. The one I got can be plugged straight into a phone.

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I bought mine from Amazon and it came the next day with free delivery (if I signed up for a free month of Amazon Prime, which I did – I’m trying to watch as much as I can before the trial expires, but that’s another story).

2 Plug a USB drive into a phone

Android phone home screen showing USB storage icon
USB icon on an Android phone

Plug the USB drive into the Android phone and look at the top of the screen where the notification icons appear. You should see a tiny USB icon.

I used a Samsung Galaxy M31 phone, which is a fairly cheap one. Most modern phones are plug and play, but old Android phones may not be, so I can’t guarantee that USB storage devices work on all Android phones. All new ones, yes, but not very old ones. They basically need to support USB OTG (USB On-The-Go – Wikipedia).

3 Pull down for notifications

Android notification showing USB storage added
USB notification on an Android phone

Pull down from the top of the screen on the phone to show notifications. Here you can see that USB storage has been added to the phone.

Android notification showing USB storage added
USB notification on an Android phone

Tap the v at the right side of the notification to expand it and there are Open and Unmount options. Unmount is used just before unplugging the USB storage when you have finished with it. Press Open.

This is Android 11, so it may look slightly different with other versions of Android. You might even get a permissions popup if you have never used USB storage before.

4 View USB storage on a phone

USB storage in the Files app on a Samsung Android phone
The My Files app on a Samsung phone

This is a brand new USB stick, so there are no files on it yet. If there were files, they would be displayed here. The app that is opened is the My Files app on the Samsung phone. Other phones may have a different app. If your phone does not have a file manager, there are apps in the Google Play Store. Files By Google is one.

Press the back button in the top left corner.

5 Browse files and storage on a phone

USB storage in the Files app on a Samsung Android phone
The My Files app on a Samsung phone

The My Files app lets you browse the storage on the phone and view files and folders. The USB storage is listed at the bottom of the screen. The categories at the top are useful and it saves you having to hunt for the location the phone stores images, videos, audio, documents, downloads and so on.

Let’s transfer some photos from the phone to the USB flash drive. Press Images.

6 Select files to copy to USB

Selecting files in the Files app on a Samsung Android phone
Select multiple files and copy them

My Files shows the photos that are stored on the phone. When you get something like this, either tap or press and hold an image to enable multiple files to be selected. At the bottom of the screen are icons to move, copy and delete the selected items.

Choose Move if you want to free up space on the phone or press Copy if you want to make a backup copy of the files on the USB storage.

7 Navigate to the USB storage

Copying files to USB storage from an Android phone
Copy or move files

You will be returned to the previous screen listing the storage devices. Tap USB Storage 1 or whatever the USB flash drive is called on your phone, the name may vary. Now we can press Copy here or Move here at the bottom of the screen to copy or move all of the photos that were selected. I am copying, but moving files has the same steps.

8 View files on USB storage

Transferring files to USB storage from an Android phone
Files on USB storage connected to a phone

The files are copied or moved to the USB storage and when the task is complete, you will see the icons and filenames. If you have finished with the USB storage, pull down from the top of the screen, expand the USB storage notification and press Unmount, as shown in step 4.

It is unlikely that anything bad will happen if you just unplug the USB stick without unmounting it, but it is best to follow the correct procedure anyway.

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