Turn your Android phablet into a portable Wi-Fi hard drive with this guide

Not everyone likes storing their personal files on a cloud service, and carrying around extra hardware all the time can be cumbersome. Android enthusiasts remain passionate about our options to expand internal storage which is why it’s time to ditch that old portable USB hard drive and start using your phablet for file storage instead. In this guide, you will learn how to turn your Android powered smartphone into a portable hard drive you can use wirelessly!

Android Hard Drive: How to Guide Contents

Hardware Requirements for Android Wireless Storage

The first thing you will need for this project is a phablet with plenty of internal storage space. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 for example comes pre-loaded with 64GB internal storage that can be expanded beyond 300GB via 256GB microSD.

How much space you need is entirely up to you – there is no minimum requirement to learn this software technique, so don’t get discouraged if your phablet doesn’t have expandable memory.

How well your microSD card performs depends on its class and speed, as well as the capabilities of your phone. If you plan to transfer large files to your wireless storage then a higher-speed micro SD card will improve data transfer speeds when moving files between devices.

Which microSD card should I choose?

Some of the highest quality memory cards available have clocked read speeds up to 95/MB/s. Some of the best quality micro SD cards on the market right now include the Samsung EVO+ and SanDisk. For maximum quality and speed, go with a SanDisk Extreme.

The only other hardware requirement for this project will be a trusted Wi-Fi network to transfer the files over. You will need access to the same Wi-Fi or LAN on both your phablet and secondary device (laptop, desktop, or whatever else you are using).

Required Software and Configuration

To use your phablet as a wireless hard drive, we first need to install a file manager that has FTP networking capabilities such as ES File Explorer. I am recommending this app because it has been around almost as long as Android itself and comes with pretty much every feature you can ask for in a file browser.

Grab ES File Explorer from the Google Play store and Open it up once it’s installed. From the ES home screen look for the “View on PC” icon or tap the main menu button and choose “Remote Manager” under the “Network” options.

How to find remote manager in Android ES File Explorer.
Access Remote Manager in ES File Explorer. Screenshot: Phablist.

At this point, you should see the desired Wi-Fi network under “Network Status”. Tap “Turn On” to start the FTP server. It’s very important that your mobile device is connected to a trusted Wi-Fi network before the server starts.

ES File Explorer will notify you if Wi-Fi is not enabled. Your network can be verified by paying special notice to the name displayed under Network Status. If things are configured properly, take note of the IP address that will be used to input on your PC.

How to configure Android remote manager in ES File Explorer. Screenshot: Phablist.
How to configure Android remote manager in ES File Explorer. Screenshot: Phablist.

Root Directory: You will need to point ES File Explorer to the desired root directory by navigating to the settings and tapping on “Set root directory.” The selected folder will be shown by default when connecting to the wireless hard drive and you will only be able to access folders contained in the default folder.

Securing Your Wireless Hard Drive: When setting up Remote Manager for the first time there will be no added security layers protecting your files, meaning anyone on your network with the wireless hard drive FTP address can access your files. If you require more security, set a username and password for the server by tapping on Set manage account.

Port Setting: The default port setting is 3721; don’t change this unless you know what you are doing.

Transferring Files to the Android Wireless Hard Drive

On your PC, you will need a means of transferring files over FTP. This can usually be done through Windows Explorer but advanced users might find that a program like FileZilla is a more appropriate solution. Both ways are discussed here; just remember that your PC must also be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your wireless hard drive.

Windows Explorer

Accessing files in FTP using Windows explorer is easy as pie. First, open “Computer” by clicking the “Start” button. Use the address bar just like you would in a web browser by typing the FTP address noted in the software configuration step and pressing ENTER.

You don't need extra software to transfer files via FTP using Windows Explorer. Screenshot: Phablist.
You don’t need extra software to transfer files via FTP using Windows Explorer. Screenshot: Phablist.

If everything is set up correctly, you should see the files contained in the root folder that was set in the Software Configuration step. You may have to enter a username and password before seeing the files depending on the security settings you chose in the last step.

FileZilla

The quickest and easiest way to establish a connection in FileZilla between the computer you are connecting from and the wireless hard drive remote server is by using the ‘Quick connect’ bar. Follow this easy step-by-step process.

  1. Enter the Host/Domain/IP address found in the ES File Explorer Remote Manager into the ‘Host:’ field.
  2. Enter the correct FTP username into the ‘Username:’ field. Leave this blank if using the default “Anonymous” account.
  3. Enter the correct password for the user previously entered. Leave blank if not using security.
  4. Enter the port number found after the second colon in the FTP address; default for ES File Explorer is 3721. This setting can also be changed in the Remote Manager settings and depends on your security preferences. FileZilla will automatically set the port to 21 if none is entered.
  5. Click the ‘Quick connect’ button. In the window immediately below, results of the connection will be shown. A successful connection will end in “Directory listing successful.”
  6. Consult the FileZilla support page for information on how to transfer files.
How to easily upload and download files in FileZilla. Photo: Phablist.
How to easily upload and download files in FileZilla. Photo: Phablist.

The FileZilla interface may seem intimidating but it’s actually very easy to use once you understand how the windows are laid out. The directory on the left is for the local machine (the PC) while the remote directory (the Android device) is displayed on the right.

Example: Transfer my pictures folder from computer to Android SD card

  1. Navigate to the documents folder in the PC menu tree.
  2. Navigate to SD card folder on the root directory.
  3. Transfer (upload) the folder by double-clicking it. You can also single right-click on the folder to bring up a sub menu with the upload option.

That’s all you really need to know in order to get started with wirelessly transferring files between your computer and smartphone using FileZilla. To transfer files from the Android device to the PC, use the same procedure except this time double click on the file or folder located in the remote (right side) directory.

Using Your Wireless Hard Drive Without a trusted Wi-Fi network

Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you don’t have access to a wireless network you trust for transferring files. In cases where you don’t have access to Wi-Fi, or don’t want to use a public network, it is possible to use your smartphone to create your own private Wi-Fi network.

This setup is known as tethering or internet sharing and it allows any device with a wireless connection to connect to the internet via your smartphone connection. Almost all modern Android phablets support tethering but in some cases the feature may be blocked depending on your mobile carrier.

Setting up a Wi-Fi tethering network is easy on an Android device. Start by navigating to your main system settings and searching for “Tethering and Mobile Hotspot”. You can also find this setting by navigating to wireless & networks, near Data usage.

The fastest way to find mobile hot spot is to use the settings search bar. Screenshot: Phablist.
The fastest way to find mobile hot spot is to use the settings search bar. Screenshot: Phablist.

From here, you can configure the network name and security options. Once your network is setup, all you have to do is connect your laptop or computer to your smartphone just as you would with any normal Wi-Fi network.

Secure your private Wi-Fi network by navigating to the mobile hot spot settings. Screenshot: Phablist.
Secure your private Wi-Fi network by navigating to the mobile hot spot settings. Screenshot: Phablist.

Final Thoughts

While this may not be the perfect solution, it works well when you need to quickly transfer documents and other small files without going through the hassle of plugging in cables.

Because files are being transferred over Wi-Fi, transfer times can be terribly slow at times. For transferring big files, it’s recommended that you use a USB cable. While this may defeat the purpose of a wireless hard-drive, keeping a single charging cable around is better than carrying a whole other device.



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