The State of Android File Transfers

Recently my wife's Google Pixel stopped working. After getting a replacement Pixel, we found ourselves in a predicament where we could not transfer data from her old Pixel phone since it was stuck in a boot screen. We had photos backed up on Google Photos and some files in Google Drive but not everything was backed up to the cloud.

The only option left was to transfer from a recent computer backup that luckily had all recent files up until the day the old Pixel phone died. The only problem with backing up from a computer is the terrible state of most official Android Transfer software.

We first tried Android File Transfer for macOS. Android File Transfer on macOS has it's flaws. It's fast enough, however it updates the last modified date of all files that it copies over from the computer to the Android device. So we were left with photos that all had the same modified date of when they were copied. All photos ended up out of order.

Next up I tried a file transfer using Windows since it implements MTP. Windows works fine for small file transfers, but for anything in the 10s of GB it slows down to a crawl. We tried transferring over 30 GB of photos and it estimated 20 hours to complete the task. Normally I wouldn't take the Windows file transfer progress dialog seriously, but after 5 hours of waiting and 13 hours remaining I decided I couldn't wait any longer.

It's worth mentioning that some Android phones come with a data transfer capability using a usb cable between two working phones. The data transfer for Google Pixel works fine, though it is somewhat flawed (perhaps by design). It does a "smart" copy of files from your old phone to your new phone leaving out some files that may not be essential like thumbnails and some file types like html (I'm guessing in most cases these aren't intentionally downloaded but still). This might be ok but if you're afraid of missing files like I am it doesn't suffice. Also it only works if your new phone is the same OS version or later. If you'd like to transfer without the app failing to transfer over some files because of an OS mismatch, skip the data transfer option and update your new Android phone.

The only official viable option I know of if you can't transfer using a USB cable or some other mechanism between two working phones is to use adb. adb is fast, efficient, thorough and perhaps the best option for transferring files from your laptop to your Android Phone.

If you'd like to transfer files from your computer to your Android phone follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Settings > About Phone and tap on Build Number until the Developer Options appears.

  2. Go to Settings > System > Advanced > Developer Options. And tap the option to enable developer mode.

  3. Scroll down under Developer Options and enable USB Debugging. Make sure you tap Always allow for this computer and ok to trust the computer when prompted.

  4. Connect your usb between Android phone and your computer.

  5. Once prompted by a USB notification, tap it and Enable MTP on your Android phone under USB Preferences.

  6. On your computer, install adb

  7. Check that your android device is connected to your computer, and notice the device is attached by running the following command in your terminal:

adb devices
  1. Copy the files fom your computer to your Android phone using adb push. The command below will copy all files in the current directory to the root internal storage directory of your android phone:
adb push --sync . /sdcard/

You can also choose to copy single directories at a time (with all sub directories and files):

adb push --sync ./some-folder /sdcard/

which will result in copying all of the contents of /some-folder to /sdcard/some-folder

I'm hoping that tools like Android File Transfer for macOS improve over time, but at least you have the option to try adb if you need it.

Always keep your devices backed up!

Nabil Jamaleddine | 2019-10-03 #DCIM #android #android-file-transfer #pixel