FTP: the best file transfer solution for the Galaxy Nexus

Unlike most Android phones (except the Nexus and Nexus S) before it, the Galaxy Nexus is an MTP device instead of a UMS device. The good news about this is:

  • The phone has a single gigantic storage pool, so you no longer have to worry about managing space on small internal storage vs. an SD card
  • While connected to a PC, files on the phone can be simultaneously accessed by the phone and the PC
  • No need for mounting and dismounting of the SD card for a PC connection

Here’s the bad news from my experience:

  • Linux and OS X don’t support MTP
  • While Windows supports MTP at the OS level, desktop application support is poor. This means that you can’t access files on the phone from most applications. In addition, applications that claim to support MTP – such as Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Media Player – don’t play very well with the Galaxy Nexus
  • Significant speed and reliability issues when writing files and reading from folders on the phone containing thousands of files

Using FTP instead of MTP allows you to keep all of the latter’s advantages while eliminating its disadvantages. Additionally, with FTP you might never have to physically connect your phone to your PC ever again.

There are many Android FTP apps, but the best one I’ve come across is File Expert. Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Install the app
  2. Connect to the same LAN as the one the PC’s on
  3. Open File Expert
  4. Select “Share My Contents” from the 1st screen
  5. Select “Start Share via FTP” on the next screen
  6. You should see a confirmation dialog pop up showing the phone’s FTP URL (e.g., username and password (these can be changed in File Expert’s settings, but the default configuration is effective as is)
  7. You can now use the URL and credentials in Step 6 above to browse the phone’s (non-root) storage with full read and write access from an any desktop application which supports FTP. For browsing and basic file transfer, I prefer FireFTP.* For syncing and backup, I prefer the venerable SyncBack, which I provide some pointers on below
  8. Click OK on the dialog in Step 6 to make it go away. When you’re finished with the FTP operation, click “Stop Share via FTP” to shut down the FTP server.** Note that you can continue to use your phone normally during the FTP operation, as long as it doesn’t sleep. Sleeping will drop the transfer rate to zero, but won’t stop the transfer itself – waking the phone up will resume the transfer. You can force the Galaxy Nexus to stay awake while on AC power by Going to Settings -> Developer Options -> checking “Stay awake”

Write speed using the above method is pretty good (for a small, low power mobile device): I get up to 4.55 MB/s while transferring files from a Gigabit-connected PC to my 802.11n-connected Galaxy Nexus. It’s a heck of a lot faster than copying the same files using Windows Explorer.

A few notes on using SyncBack:

  • In the FTP tab of the Profile editor, enter the FTP URL and credentials in the format shown below. Note that the Hostname field contains the IP address only and the Port field contains the last 4 digits of the URL in Step 6 above
  • If the destination folder is on the phone, ensure the “Delete all empty directories in destination” option in the Sub-directories tab of the Profile editor is unchecked. For some reason SyncBack will wipe out the entire target directory after the sync procedure otherwise

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t use a cloud solution like Dropbox or SugarSync. First of all, I tried both of those. But if you don’t want your files in the cloud in the first place, you’re wasting bandwidth uploading to and downloading from a remote server. LAN file transfer is much faster, doesn’t use any ISP bandwidth, and doesn’t suffer from storage limitations as most cloud solutions do. Additionally, far more applications support FTP than support any particular cloud solution, so you’re not locked into a specific client or service.


*FireFTP is dead simple: enter the URL into Firefox’s address bar, hit Enter and the client will take over from there. It’ll ask you for a username and password and once you enter those, you’re in business.

**Small security note here: if you plan to enable FTP during the file transfer over a secure private network only, the default credentials should be OK. Otherwise, for maximum security it’s probably a good idea to change them to something more difficult to crack

Author: jdrch

ISTJ, Rice Owl, UF Gator, mechanical engineer. STEM, sports, music, movies, humor. Account mine only & unaffiliated.

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