9 ways to make the most of your Android device

9 ways to make the most of your Android device

Your Android device is a mighty computer -- so isn't it time you start tapping into its PC-like powers?

When you stop and think about it, the word "smartphone" is starting to sound a little stale.

Sure, these pocket-size gadgets we tote around are capable of making calls -- but for most of us, that's become a secondary feature compared to the range of data-centric functions the devices enable. In reality, we're carrying tiny, capable computers that also happen to work as phones.

Android devices in particular offer advanced functionality when it comes to the computer-level task of managing and manipulating files. The Android operating system allows you to perform all sorts of PC-like tasks, from dragging and dropping files between your phone and computer to plugging a USB drive directly into your device and accessing its contents. Between what Android offers out of the box and the features that third-party apps add to the equation, that shiny little slab in your pocket packs serious productivity potential.

Here are nine ways to tap into it and take your Android experience to the next level.

1. Use your Android device like an external hard drive

Unlike that other popular mobile platform, devices running Android can function like any other form of external storage: Simply plug your Android phone into your computer, and it'll show up in the system as an external drive. You can browse through its folders and copy, delete, or drag and drop files as needed.

(Somewhat ironically, this process "just works" with Windows PCs. On Macs, you'll need to download and install a special Android File Transfer program for the phone to be accessible.)

The folders you'll likely want to focus on are DCIM, where camera images are stored; Download, where content downloaded to the device is typically saved; Movies and Music, which are self-explanatory; Ringtones and Notifications, which hold any custom sound files for those respective purposes; and Pictures, which contains a folder of any screenshots you've captured on your device.

You'll also see a slew of folders specific to various apps you've installed.

2. Transfer files wirelessly between your Android device and your computer

Want to move files between your Android device and computer without a physical connection? No problem.

The simplest way is via a free app called Pushbullet. Install Pushbullet on your Android device, install the counterpart on your computer -- a cross-platform browser extension, most easily, or a stand-alone Windows program, if you prefer -- and voilà: You can now use the native Android share command to wirelessly push any image, document, or other type of file from your phone to your computer in seconds. The phone and computer could be miles apart and on different data networks, and it'll still work almost instantly.

If you want to send files the other way, from your computer to your Android device, all you have to do is click on the browser extension to initiate the process.

3. Access your computer's files remotely from any Android device

We've all been there: out somewhere in the physical world and wishing we could pull up a file from our desktop at home. It's actually quite easy to do with Google's free Chrome Remote Desktop app, which allows you to access all the data on your computer from any Android phone or tablet.

Simply install the app, then snag the companion extension for your computer's Chrome browser (available for Windows, Mac, or Linux). Once you set it up, you can securely view your computer's desktop right on your Android device and run programs, browse files, or move items around as you wish.

4. Grant yourself access to your Android device's file system

At this point, most of us use our smartphones as stand-alone devices -- a contrast to the initial paradigm of phones serving as frequently tethered computer companions. What happens when you want to manage files on your phone without a PC around?

Simple: Download a file manager for your Android device, and you'll be able to browse its storage and manipulate files as if it were a desktop system. There are tons of commendable options in Google's Play Store, but if I were to pick only one to recommend, it'd be Cabinet. The app is attractive and intuitive, conforming to Google's latest Material Design standards, and it has all the tools most folks will need for browsing through their device's storage system and performing things like copying, pasting, renaming, and sharing files. It can even link up to remote FTP servers using secure SSH connections.

And it's completely free to use.

5. Streamline your cloud storage setup

Cloud storage services are a dime a dozen these days, and I know I'm not the only one who splits data between a couple different providers. If you use more than one cloud storage service and wish you had a centralized place to view and manage all of your files together, Unclouded is the tool for you.

Unclouded lets you sign into cloud storage accounts from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and OneDrive, then access your stuff from all of those places within a single, nicely designed UI. You can toggle between services with a couple quick taps, then browse your data, upload or download files, and even move files from one service to another.

Unclouded has advanced features for managing your cloud storage, too, such as the ability to see what types of data are eating up the most space and to search for duplicate files across your various providers. The main app is free, though you'll probably want to pay $2.49 for an in-app upgrade to the "premium" version, which provides unlimited account linking and the ability to protect the app with a PIN or password.

6. Selectively sync your Android device to the cloud

For even more cloud power, add an app called FolderSync to your Android arsenal. FolderSync allows your phone to act as an extension of your cloud storage by creating an automatic and ongoing sync between locally stored folders and those that reside in your cloud account(s).

All you do is tell the app which folders on your phone you want to keep synced -- the folder where you store documents, for instance, or one that contains your audio files -- then tell it where in the cloud you want those folders to be mirrored. FolderSync supports a huge array of cloud storage providers, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and OneDrive, along with Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon S3 Simple Storage Service, and practically any server that permits WebDAV or FTP connections.

FolderSync works with any type of file, too, and it can sync your data in either direction -- from your Android device to the cloud or vice versa. It can also create a two-way sync, which effectively makes your local folder and the cloud-based folder one and the same.

FolderSync costs $2.87. It's also available in an ad-supported and feature-limited free version if you want to try it out before you commit.

7. Beam files between two Android devices

Ever find yourself needing to quickly transfer a file between two Android devices -- your own phone and tablet, for example, or your phone and a colleague's? Android has a built-in feature that makes it dead-simple to do.

As long as your device is running Android 5.0 or higher, simply tap the share command from whatever app you're using to access the file. In the list of choices that appears, select the Android Beam option, then follow the instructions and tap the back of your device against the back of the receiving device.

The two devices will use NFC (near-field communication) to establish a connection and wirelessly transmit the file. The other device doesn't have to run Android 5.0 to receive the file, either; as long it runs Android 3.0 or higher (which any reasonably recent Android device is), it'll be able to accept the transfer.

8. Throw content around from one Android app to another

Speaking of the share command, are you using it to its full advantage? I've often called the share command Android's quiet killer feature, for good reason: Unassuming as it may be, the command empowers you to quickly and seamlessly pass any type of data between applications.

Let's say you're looking at an image in your phone's photo gallery, for instance. Tap the share command, and with one more tap, you can send the image directly to someone in your favorite messaging or emailing app or add the image directly into any cloud storage service for which you have an app installed. You could also send the image to a note-saving service like Evernote or Keep or even send it directly into a photo-editing app like Snapseed for a little on-the-spot polishing.

The same concept works with text: You can highlight text in an email or on a Web page, then tap the share command to send the snippet to any other relevant app -- a note-taking service, a messaging service, or even to Google itself to initiate an instant Web search.

Think of Android's share command as connective tissue that ties everything on your device together. Get in the habit of embracing it, and it can change the way you think about and use your phone.

9. Plug 'n' play with external storage

Many Android devices support the use of external USB drives like thumb drives, which makes it really convenient to expand your storage potential and/or access external data on the go.

The best way to find out if your device supports USB storage is to head into the Storage section of your system settings. If you see an option at the bottom of that section to mount USB storage, you should be good to go. If you don't see any such option, your device likely doesn't support the protocol required to act as a USB host.

That protocol is called USB OTG, or USB On-The-Go. In order to utilize it, you'll need a USB OTG adapter, since most USB drives don't have micro-USB connectors and thus can't plug directly into Android devices. You can usually find a variety of those adapters for less than five bucks on Amazon.

Alternatively, you can look at a USB drive like the SanDisk Ultra Dual, which contains both regular USB and micro-USB connectors for easy universal access. Those drives currently start at about $13 for the newer USB 3.0 models or a little less if you don't mind going with the older USB 2.0 variety.

Either way, once you plug your USB drive into your phone, you'll be able to access its contents via any file manager app (including the aforementioned Cabinet). If you don't see an obvious option in the file manager for external storage, simply navigate to the root directory, open the Storage folder, and look for a folder named "usbdisk" within it. There, you'll find all the contents of your external drive and be able to open or manipulate files as you wish.

As with using USB storage on a regular computer, it's advisable to unmount your drive before unplugging it from your Android device. You can do this by heading into the Storage section of your device's system settings. Anytime an external storage device is connected, you'll see an option at the bottom of that screen to unmount the drive.

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