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Transferring Geographic Data Files To And From An Android Unit I

The past four posts (one, two, three, four) have covered desktop applications that create offline map files for use with some Android map display and GPS tracking apps. But once you’ve created the maps, you need to get them onto your Android unit to use them. For that matter, if you use an Android app to save geographic information like waypoints and tracks, you’ll probably need an easy way to copy those files back onto your PC, or share them with others. It should be a simple process, but often isn’t. In my Droid X manual, there’s only a very short section on this, and it’s both limited and wrong. This post and the next will cover several different ways to move file onto, and off of, an Android unit, listed here roughly in order of speed:

  • Direct USB connection (fastest, but not always convenient)
  • FTP server (second fastest, but least convenient)
  • Online file transfer service (convenient, but only copies files to Android, not from)
  • Online file storage/synchronization services (slowest but most flexible)

Each has advantages and disadvantages, but one or more of them should meet most file transfer requirements. I’ll cover the first two today, and the others tomorrow.

1. Direct USB Connection

Your Android unit should have come with a cable that lets you hook it up directly to your computer. However, the default connection only allows for transferring media files from your computer to your Android. To copy data to/from your Android’s microSD memory card storage, you’ll need to put it into USB Mass Storage Mode:


Figure 1: Connect your Android unit to your phone with the USB cable; you should get a message indicating that it’s connected, and the USB symbol should show up in the status bar.


Figure 2: Drag down the status bar to view the message; you’ll see one that says USB connection. Tap on that …


Figure 3: … and the USB mode menu will appear. Select “USB Mass Storage” and tap OK; your computer will now mount the Android’s microSD card as a USB drive


Figure 4: Here, the Android microSD card is listed as removable disk G:. You can now navigate the folder structure through your computer’s file explorer


Figure 5: … and copy data to/from the unit. For example, I could copy the maps created in recent posts into a subfolder of the TrekBuddy folder, and could copy waypoint/track files from that folder, or from the TurboGPS folder


Figure 6: IMPORTANT! Once you’ve completed all file operations, don’t just disconnect the cable directly; you may wind up corrupting the memory card, which would be bad. Eject the microSD card disk by right-clicking on it and choosing eject, or using the “Safely Remove Hardware” option in the traybar icon. Once that’s done, go to the USB mode menu (from step 3), select PC Mode and OK, then wait a few seconds for the Android unit to re-mount the SD card.

Since this approach uses a USB 2.0 connection running at 480 Mbps, it’s going to be the fastest at copying data, and is probably the best choice for large files. But unlike the remaining three options, it requires that you have the correct USB cable handy. You could also pull the microSD card out of your Android unit, put it into a card reader, and then copy/move files from there; if you do this, make sure you follow the same “Eject / Safely Remove Hardware” process as above. But many Android units require you to remove the battery to access the microSD card, which can make that approach inconvenient.

2. Android FTP Server

Convenient, since it doesn’t require a cable, and fairly fast since it copies/moves files at the top speed of your wireless connection; you also don’t have to worry about dismounting/mounting your SD card. But highly geeky, since you have to install a FTP server program on your Android, configure it, then set up a network folder on your main computer that links to the FTP server. I’ve set it up myself, and it works, but I find the direct USB connection more convenient, faster and easier to use. Full directions available at the Android Police website.

Last two approaches tomorrow.

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