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The fastest way to transfer photos from an Android phone to a computer is to use the Google Photos app—but this option isn’t for everyone.
Maybe you don’t want all of your personal media files sitting on Google’s servers, or maybe you refuse to pay the company for cloud storage. Whatever your reason, you may want to move your pictures from your Android device to a laptop or desktop computer over a USB cable.
It’s important that you choose at least one alternative storage method for your photos and videos—that way if your phone gets lost, stolen, or badly damaged, your precious digital memories will live forever.
We’re going to focus on manually transferring files without WiFi, so you’ll need a USB cable that fits your Android phone at one end and your PC or Mac at the other. With the latest computer and phone models, a USB-C-to-USB-C cable should do the trick.
[Related: USB-C is on track to become the charging cable standard in the EU]
When working with both Windows and macOS, you may have to put your phone in file transfer mode. To do this, connect your Android device, tap the Charging this device via USB notification that automatically pops up, find Use USB for, and select File Transfer.
How to transfer photos from Android to Windows
After you connect your Android phone to your Windows 10 or 11 computer with the appropriate USB cable, File Explorer should automatically open a new window showing the contents of your mobile device. If that doesn’t happen, you should be able to find your phone by looking in the left-hand navigation pane of File Explorer or clicking This PC to see a list of connected drives and devices.
Once you find it, you can browse your Android smartphone just as you would any other folder on your Windows system. You’ll typically find your photos and videos in a folder called DCIM, so you can move them to your computer however you like: drag and drop, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, or the copy (two rectangles) and paste (a clipboard and a rectangle) icons in the File Explorer toolbar at the top of the window.
You can also right-click on the name of your phone in File Explorer, and then choose Show more options > Import pictures and videos to move files across. You can pick and choose which photos and videos to copy, or you can just grab everything. By default, the files will go to the Pictures folder in your Windows user account, but it’s possible to change the items’ destination by selecting More options.
We’d recommend keeping your photos and videos backed up in a third location other than your phone and computer, just in case. An external hard drive is a great choice, but there are also plenty of third-party applications to pick from, including Windows’ built-in File History backup tool. You can search for it and launch it from the Start menu. If you decide you do want to store at least some pics in the cloud, you have options beyond Google, too.
How to transfer photos from Android to macOS
To get Android and macOS talking to each other, you’ll need a small, free software tool from Google called Android File Transfer. After downloading the package, drag the Android File Transfer app icon to the Applications folder, and you’ll be able to launch it from the Applications screen in Finder or through Spotlight (Cmd+Space).
As it’s a new program freshly downloaded from the internet, you’ll get a pop-up dialog asking you to confirm that you want to run it. Once you do, connect your Android phone to your Mac with the appropriate USB cable. You should then see a pop-up window asking if you want to allow the “accessory” (your phone) to connect to macOS. Choose Allow to continue.
You’ll then see a list of all the folders on your Android phone—your photos and videos will likely be inside the one called DCIM. Open it up to get at your files, then drag and drop them wherever you like on your computer. If you want to use them with the macOS Photos app, open that program and click File, then Import to point it toward your photos and videos.
As always, it’s a good idea to keep your photos (and other data) backed up to an external drive, just in case something should happen to both your phone and Mac. For backing up your files to another location, you can choose one of many available third-party programs, or use the Time Machine tool that comes built into macOS. As always, cloud storage is an option if it works for you. Don’t skip this step—it’d be tragic to transfer everything just to lose it from a hard drive crash.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on December 8, 2022.