How to get files from your phone onto your laptop (without Wi-Fi)

You're on a train, say. Or a coffee shop with unusable Wi-Fi. How can you use your phone to grab that one thing you need?

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I was on the first hour of a five-hour train trip last week when my wife informed me that she needed a file she had emailed herself. The train's Wi-Fi wasn't working. She had her MacBook ready, and our phones (her iPhone, my Android) could get a decent enough 4G signal. So how were we going to work this?

It takes a little bit of mental diagramming, which feels a bit sad in 2013. And you need to have the right tools installed, which doesn't take that long, and is free, but, again: 2013. In any case, and in my case, here's how I transferred some WPD (WordPerfect—I know, I know) files from my Android phone to my wife's MacBook:

  • Open up an Incognito Window in mobile Chrome, and let my wife log into her Gmail account (on Gmail's really very good mobile web version).
  • Download the files from the attachments on those Gmail messages. If you go through the built-in Gmail app (besides needing to add her account to my phone), the phone will often reject files it doesn't have an app to "handle." These files just go straight into Downloads.
  • Unlock my phone, plug my phone into her MacBook, wait for Android File Transfer for Mac to pop up, then drag the files from "Downloads" onto her Desktop. Done.

Most of us aren't sitting on a train, next to a spouse who thinks about his phone and how it works as part of his career. So more of us should keep a few tools on hand for those rare but stressful situations where Wi-Fi, or sometimes mobile web, is not available, but files need to be moved. A short list of what you'll need follows.

Note: An Android phone makes it much easier to grab files over a cellular connection and drop them onto your laptop than an iPhone. Not just because I'm an Android geek! It is due to the way that Android allows you to browse your storage folders over a USB connection, while an iPhone protects/obscures its own storage from external browsers.

The tools for your no-Wi-Fi trip

  • A cord to connect laptop and phone: 30-pin (old Apple), Lightning (new Apple), or micro USB (most Android).
  • USB access to your Android: That means having USB drivers installed, in the case of Windows (which occasionally might work on its own, no help needed) or Linux (which needs a lot of help). On Mac, you need the aforementioned Android File Transfer for Mac.


  • iFunBox, exposing all the files deep in an iPhone

    via i-FunBox.com

  • USB access to your iPhone: Either through the simple iTunes method, or using something trickier and far more fun, like iFunBox for Windows and Mac machines.
  • The right software on your Android: As noted above, Gmail doesn't always play nice with attachments it doesn't recognize. As previously covered, you want to grab Gmail Attachment Download, so you can store files you grab from email on your phone, no matter what kind; and also Attachments/"Gmail Attach", so you can send out links to things you've put back on your phone.

Having Dropbox for Android installed is smart, too, especially if you the thing you need is in your Dropbox. You can download files and get to them through the file system over a USB cord.

Finally, Astro File Manager is my preferred file browser. Not all phones come with an app installed that can root around inside the storage space. Astro can do that, and also send and receive files from Google Drive, Dropbox, and other places you might have stashed your files. It's a very handy Swiss-Army-app to have installed.

The right software on your iPhone: As mentioned, iFunBox (for Windows and Mac) is a great tool for getting nearly complete access to the files floating around on your iPhone. But to really keep files ready for you to grab, you'll want Dropbox for iPhone/iPad (and on your computer). Obviously you can't just upload files to Dropbox from your phone and download them on your laptop, because, remember, your laptop doesn't have Wi-Fi. But you can make files in Dropbox a "favorite" by clicking the star icon at bottom, and it saves that file locally to your phone, so you can always open it. And if you're playing around with iFunBox, you might even be able to get to it, in Library/Caches/Dropbox.


I hope that at least one or two of those links and pointers helps you out in the dark times of realizing you're missing a file with zero bars of Wi-Fi.

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