How to transfer photos from Android to a computer

By | February 23, 2024

The standard way to get pictures and video off of an Android phone and into the wider world is to use the Google Photos app that comes with the device, but this option isn’t for everyone. Some people just want to transfer photos directly from their Android to a computer.

Maybe you don’t want all of your personal media files sitting on Google’s servers, or maybe you don’t want to pay the company any money for cloud storage—you only get 15GB of room for free, spread across Google Photos, Gmail, and other Google products.

Even if you use that space, moving your photos and videos to a Windows or macOS computer can be a useful alternative if you want to store a file in a particular place.

It’s important that you choose at least one method for getting your pics and vids off your phone—otherwise, if it gets lost, stolen, or badly damaged, your precious digital memories will be gone 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 (USB-C is now the most common connection port on all these devices).

[Related: USB-C is on track to become the charging cable standard in the EU]

On both Windows and macOS, you may have to put your phone in file transfer mode once it’s connected: To do this, open up Settings on your Android device, then pick Connected devices, USB, and File transfer.

You can use apps such as Dropbox to wirelessly beam photos and videos from an Android phone to a computer, but again, you’ll have to pay for cloud storage space once you hit the free limit—which is 2GB for Dropbox. 

How to transfer photos from Android to Windows

Connect your Android phone to your Windows 10 or 11 computer with the appropriate USB cable, and your phone should show up in File Explorer (and start charging at the same time). If your phone isn’t appearing in the left-hand navigation pane in File Explorer, click This PC to see a list of drives and devices, and you should be able to find it there.

You can then browse your Android smartphone just as you would any other folder on your Windows system. The photos and videos are typically stored 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.

You can also right-click on the name of your phone in File Explorer, then choose Show more options and 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 go to the Pictures folder in your Windows user account, but it’s possible to change this by selecting More options.

We’d recommend keeping your photos and videos backed up in a third location (besides your phone and computer) on an external drive, just in case. There are plenty of third-party applications to pick from, but Windows also has the built-in File History backup tool—you can search for it and launch it from the Start menu.

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 computer 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, so choose Allow to continue.

You’ll then see a list of all the folders on your connected Android phone—your photos and videos will most likely be inside the one called DCIM. Open this 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 Photos app on macOS, open that app and pick File, then Import to point it toward your photos and videos.

As always, it’s a very 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 at the same time. For backing up your files to another location, you can either choose one of the many available third-party programs, or use the Time Machine tool that comes built into macOS. Don’t skip this step—it’d be tragic to transfer everything just to lose it from a hard drive crash.