How to Add Extra Storage to Your Phone or Tablet with a Mobile Drive

You’ve been taking photos and videos, downloading documents, and installing apps like there’s no tomorrow. All of a sudden you realize you’re running out of room on your phone. What do you do?

Sure, you could use cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive to store files, but those require an internet connection to access your files. If you want to actually take files with you, there is a better solution.

Just like you’ve been using USB flash drives with your PC or Mac all these years, there are also flash drive-esque devices that connect to phones and tablets. After testing a few, here are some that we recommend:

  • The SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick is the most versatile, being able to connect to iOS devices, Android devices, and computers (either wirelessly or over its USB connection like a traditional flash drive). Put any files on it from your PC, and you’ll be able to read them using an app on your phone. The SanDisk software can also back up your photos and contacts, and secure any sensitive files you have on the drive with the SecureAccess software (which can only be protected and unprotected on your PC or Mac). And, of course, wireless drives don’t have to be physically connected, which is nice—though you will have to charge it.
  • The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is more like a traditional flash drive, but built for the iPhone and iPad. It plugs into the Lightning port on the bottom of your device so you can directly access files stored on it. Like the SanDisk Connect, it can back up photos and contacts, though it can also back up your calendar and social media. The iXpand drive can also protect individual files in the SanDiskSecureAccess vault directly on the drive using the iXpand Drive app.
  • The Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive is similar to the iXpand drive, connecting directly to the Lightning port on your device. However, it has one unique feature: allows you to transfer files between the drive and a few of the more popular cloud services without having to copy the files on your mobile device first. The Leef iBridge 3 also allows you to protect your files, like the iXpand drive, but it protects the whole drive, not individual files.

The iXpand and Leef iBridge 3 drives should both fit over most cases. We tested them on an iPhone 7 Plus with a Speck Presidio Grip case and it fit just fine. They may not fit as well with some of the thicker cases, such as OtterBox cases. The iXpand drive is a bit more flexible than the Leef iBridge 3 drive.

NOTE: We’re mostly focusing on iOS in this guide, since Android phones are much more versatile. If your Android device supports USB on-the-go (OTG), you can use any old flash drive just by plugging it in using a USB OTG cable. You can read more about that process in this article. You can also use a USB-A-plus-USB-C flash drive like this one. If your Android phone does not support physical USB connections, the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick should work well with Android too.

In this guide, we’ll walk through the process of using all three of these devices to store and read files on your iPhone or iPad, as well as back up photos or other files if you want to free up space. There is more you can do with these drives than we discuss here, and we’ll provide links to help pages so you can learn all about using your new drive.

How to Use the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick is a flash drive that works not only with your computer, but with your phone and tablet as well. It runs its own wireless network, so you can connect to it wirelessly. That means it can be in your pocket, purse, backpack, or anywhere within about 150 feet with a clear line of sight while it’s connected to your device.

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick provides up to 256GB of extra storage, and the prices range from about $25 for 16GB to about $200 for 256GB, as of this writing.

Charging the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick and Connecting It to Your PC

Before we get started with the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick, plug the drive into your computer or a USB adapter and let it fully charge. This might take up to two hours.

While the drive is charging, download and install the appropriate app for your device: Connect Drive for iOS or for Connect Drive for Android. We’re going to show you how to use the drive and the app on iOS, but the process is the very similar on both. If you’re charging the drive in a USB port on your computer, you can also use the charging time to copy any photos, videos, or other files you want to access on your phone to the drive. Copy files just like you would any other flash drive.

Once the drive is fully charged, turn it on by pressing the power button on the side of the drive.

The LED on the top of the drive blinks white to indicate the drive is on.

Connecting the SanDisk Connect to Your Phone or Tablet

To connect to the drive on Android, open the Connect Drive app and select the Wi-Fi network that your drive creates.

If you’re connecting the drive wirelessly to a PC or Mac, connect to the drive’s Wi-Fi network just like you would connect to any other Wi-Fi network. Then, open a browser and go to http://172.25.63.1/myconnect/. You should see the files on your drive in the browser window and you can manage the files right in the browser.

iOS is a bit different. To connect to the drive, you have to go through the Wi-Fi settings for your iPhone or iPad, not in the Connect Drive app. To do so, tap “Settings” on the Home screen.

On the Settings screen, tap the “Wi-Fi” option.

Under Choose a Network, you should see the SanDisk Connect drive listed with unique code of six numbers and letters after it, identifying your specific wireless stick. Tap on “SanDisk Connect” in the list.

The SanDisk Connect drive moves up to the top of the screen with a checkmark beside it.

You are now connected to your drive. Open the Connect Drive app and swipe left to go through the introductory screens. On the last screen, tap the “Get Started” button at the bottom.

 

The initial screen of the Connect Drive app displays with some helpful hints to get you started.

Accessing Files on the Wireless Stick

Files on the wireless stick can be accessed directly on the drive. Open the Connect Drive app and you’ll see all the files and folders on the drive. To open or view a file, simply tap on the file. If the file is in a folder on the drive, tap the folder to open it and then tap on the file. For example, to view a photo on our drive, we tap the Photos folder to open it…

…then we tap on a photo in the folder.

The photo displays directly in the app. You can also tap the right arrow icon at the bottom of the screen to start a slideshow using all the photos at the same level (the root of the drive or in the same folder). The Connect Drive app supports viewing .bmp, .tif, .tiff, .jpg, .png, .xbm, .ico, and .tga images.

You can stream videos to up to three devices from the drive the same way. Simply tap on a video file to play it directly in the Connect Drive app. The Connect Drive app can play .wmv, .avi, .mkv, .mp4, .mov, .flv, .mpg, .rmvb, .m4v, and .ts video files. (Note that some DRM-protected content cannot be played, however.)

You can also play music files in the form of .mp3, .wav, .m4a, .aac, and .ogg, as well as view Microsoft Office documents (.doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, and .pptx) and PDF files.

Backing Up Photos and Videos from Your Device to the Wireless Stick

To save room on your device, you may want to transfer some of your photos and videos from your camera roll to the wireless stick and access them directly on the drive.

NOTE: Photos and videos are the only types of files you can officially transfer from your device to the drive. However, the Connect Drive app is added to the iOS share sheet, so you might be able to transfer files from other apps to the drive using the share sheet if those apps support it. For example, we selected a video in VLC and then used the share sheet to copy the file to the Connect Drive app, which automatically copies the file to the wireless stick. You can also transfer photos and videos (up to 10 files at a time) in the camera roll using the share sheet instead of the Connect Drive app. Select them in the camera roll, tap the Share icon, and then tap the Connect Drive icon on the share sheet. Then, choose where on the drive you want to paste the files.

To use the Connect Drive app to back up photos and videos to the drive, open the app and tap the plus icon at the bottom of screen showing the contents of the drive.

The first time you copy files, the Connect Drive app will ask permission to access your photos. Tap “OK” on the dialog box that displays. You’ll then see the photos in your camera roll. You can also click the Albums button to access other albums.

Once you’ve located the photos you want to back up to the wireless stick, tap on those photos. Then, tap the “Select Destination” button at the bottom of the screen.

Now, you’re prompted to select a destination on the drive. You can select any existing folder by tapping on it, or you can tap “New Folder” to create a new folder to contain the copied photos. Once you have selected your destination, tap the “Copy Here” button at the bottom of the screen.

The app displays the status of the copy process. You can pause the copying of a photo, cancel the process, or hide the progress screen.

When the photos have been copied, the following dialog box displays. Click the “OK” button to close the dialog box.

If you’d rather back up your entire camera roll, you can tap the menu button in the upper-left corner of the main screen and head to “Camera Roll Backup”. You can set it to back up manually or automatically.

 

Connecting to the Internet and Use the Wireless Stick at the Same Time

When you connect your device to the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick, you give up your normal Wi-Fi connection, so you won’t be able to access the internet. You can get it back, though—you just have to re-connect to your normal Wi-Fi network through the Connect Drive app.

Tap the hamburger menu button in the upper-left corner of the screen.

Tap “Internet Connection” on the slide-out menu.

Click the “Next” button on the introductory screen.

Tap on the network you want to connect to under Unknown networks.

Enter the password on the popup dialog box and tap the “OK” button.

The following screen displays while the drive is connecting to the network.

Once the drive has connected to the network, the following screen displays and the LED on the drive will double blink indicating the device is connected to another Wi-Fi network. To access both the drive and the network on your iOS device, go back to the Wi-Fi Settings screen for your iOS device and select your network.

The next time you connect to the wireless drive in your device’s Settings, and you’re within range of a known network (one you’ve connected to before), simply connect to that network again in the Settings after connecting to the drive. You will then be connected to both the drive and the Wi-Fi network.

You can also protect the Wi-Fi connection on your drive with a password just like you protect your Wi-Fi network, and we recommend you do so. This prevents others around you from connecting to your drive and accessing your content.

Tap the menu button again and then tap the “Settings” option.

On the Settings screen, tap “Set Password to Drive” under Security.

Enable “Security” by tapping on the slider button to the right, so it turns green. Enter a password you want to use in the first edit box and then confirm the password by entering it again in the second edit box. Click the “OK” button when you’re done.

Now, any time you connect to this wireless stick, you will have to enter the password to access its content.

NOTE: Even if the wireless stick is connected to a known Wi-Fi network, you still have to enter the password to access the wireless stick.

In the Settings for the drive, you can also change the drive name, set a time period for the power save timer, and backup and restore contacts. In the Android version of the app, you can also select a different drive in the Settings. For more information about using the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick, see their Support Information Page.

How to Use the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive

If you don’t want to have to charge your USB flash drive, the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is a good alternative. The drive has a lightning connector to connect to your iPhone or iPad and a USB 3.0 connector to connect to your PC or Mac. This allows you to transfer content from your computer to your mobile device without an internet connection. You can also access files directly on the drive and stream music and video. The iXpand drive should fit over most cases. We tested it with a Speck Presidio Grip case and it fit just fine.

The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive provides up to 256GB of extra storage, and the prices range from about $30 for 16GB to$250 for 256GB, as of this writing.

Connecting the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive

The SanDisk iXpand flash drive connects to your PC using the USB connector on the back. You can transfer files to it just like you would any other flash drive.

Once you have files on there, you can connect the drive to your iPhone or iPad. First, download and install the iXpand Drive app from the App Store. Then plug the drive into the lightning connector on the device. The iXpand Drive dialog box displays, asking you to allow the drive to communicate with the iXpand app. Tap “Allow” to open the app.

Another dialog box displays giving you the option of taking a tour of the app or setting up the iXpand Drive app. You can take the tour at any time by tapping on the gear menu and going to Help > Opening Walkthrough. We’ll set up the drive now, so tap on “Set up my iXpand Drive” to get started.

You can choose to turn on Auto Backup to automatically backup your photo library every time you connect the drive to your device. You can also turn on Auto Backup from within the app, so we’re going to tap “Skip for now”.

You’ll see a couple of “What’s New” screens. Tap “Okay! I Got It.” at the bottom of the second screen to continue.

The iXpand Drive app allows you to save photos and videos directly to the Camera folder on the iXpand Drive when you use the in-app camera. Tap anywhere on the screen outside the callout at the top to access the main app screen.

Accessing Files on the iXpand Drive

To access and view the files on the iXpand Drive, tap “View Files” on the main screen in the iXpand Drive app.

To open a folder or file, just tap on it. For example, to view a photo on our drive, we tap the Photos folder to open it…

…then we tap on a photo in the folder.

The photo displays directly in the app. You can also tap the right arrow icon at the bottom of the screen to start a slideshow using all the photos at the same level (the root of the drive or in the same folder). The iXpand Drive supports viewing .bmp, .tif, .tiff, .jpg, .png, .xbm, .ico, and .tga images.

You can stream videos to up to three devices from the drive the same way. Simply tap on a video file to play it directly in the iXpand Drive app. The iXpand Drive app can play .wmv, .avi, .mkv, .mp4, .mov, .flv, .mpg, .rmvb, .m4v, and .ts video files.  (Note that some DRM-protected content cannot be played, however.)

You can also play music files in the form of .mp3, .aif, .aiff, .wav, .m4a, .wma, .aac, .ogg, and .flac, as well as view Microsoft Office documents (.doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, and .pptx) and PDF files.

Backing Up Photos and Videos from Your Device to the iXpand Drive

To copy photos from your device to the iXpand Drive, tap on the “Copy Photos From Phone” box. (The “Copy Files From iXpand Drive” box at the bottom allows you to copy files from the drive to your device.)

The first time you copy files, the iXpand Drive app will ask permission to access your photos. Tap “OK” on the dialog box that displays.

The photos in your camera roll display. You can also click the Albums button to access other albums.

Once you’ve located the photos you want to back up to the wireless stick, tap on those photos. Then, tap the “Copy to iXpand Drive” button at the bottom of the screen.

Now, you’re prompted to select a destination on the drive. You can select any existing folder by tapping on it, or you can tap “Create New Folder” to create a new folder to contain the copied photos. Once you have selected your destination, tap the “Copy Here” button at the bottom of the screen.

Once the selected photos have been copied to the drive, you’ll be asked if you want to delete the items from your device. The dialog box informs you how much space will be freed up if you delete these items. Tap the “Delete” button to remove the items from your device, if that’s what you decide to do.

You can easily back up the entire camera roll to the drive, either manually or automatically, by tapping “Back Up and Restore” at the bottom of the main screen in the iXpand Drive app.

For more information about using the SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive, see their support information page.

How to Use the Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive

The Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive is a USB flash drive that connects to iOS devices, providing extra storage. The drive has a lightning connector and a USB 3.1 connector, just like the SanDisk iXpand. You can copy files to it, connect it to your iPhone or iPad, then view or stream that content on your device. The Leef iBridge 3 drive should fit over most cases. We tested it with a Speck Presidio Grip case and it fit just fine. You can also back up content from your device to the drive and protect the entire drive using the iBridge 3 app.

The Leef iBridge 3 claims to provide up to 256GB of extra storage, but the 256GB version doesn’t seem to be available. The prices range approximately from about $42 for the 16GB model on Amazon to about $100 for the 128GB model on Amazon, as of the writing of this article.

Getting Started with the Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive

The Leef iBridge connects to your PC using the USB connector on the back. You can transfer files to it just like you would any other flash drive.

Then, you can connect it to your iPhone or iPad to view those files. First, download and install the iBridge 3 app from the App Store. Simply plug the drive into the lightning connector on the device. The iBridge 3 dialog box displays asking you to allow the drive to communicate with the iBridge 3 app. Tap “Allow” to open the app.

The main screen of the iBridge 3 app displays. Here you can transfer photos and videos to and from the iBridge 3 drive, take photos and videos and save them directly to the drive using the Leef Camera, view photos and stream videos stored on the drive and locally within the app, and access and manage the files on the drive.

The lock icon at the top of the screen provides a way to secure the files on your iBridge drive using their LeefLock feature. Note that once you’ve enabled LeefLock on the drive, you will not be able to access or edit your files on a PC or Mac until you unlock the files on the drive by tapping the lock icon in the iBridge 3 app again.

The circular arrows icon next to the lock icon allows you to back up the entire camera roll manually or automatically.

Accessing Files on the iBridge 3 Drive

To access your files on the iBridge 3 drive, tap “Manage Files” on the main screen, as shown above. To open or view a file, simply tap on the file. For example, to view a photo on our drive, we tap the Photos folder to open it…

…then we tap on a photo in the folder.

The photo displays directly in the app. You can also share the photo using the share icon at the lower-left corner of the screen, copy the photo to another location on the drive, or copy it to a cloud service (see the “Setting up Cloud Services on the Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive” section below). Tapping on the three horizontal dots brings up a menu that allows you to delete, rename, duplicate, or move the photo.

You can also copy it to the app’s “local storage”. This puts the file on your iPhone or iPad’s storage instead of the flash drive’s storage, which allows you to view it without the drive connected.

The iBridge 3 Drive app supports viewing .jpg, .tiff, .gif, and .png images.

You can stream videos from the drive the same way. Simply tap on a video file to play it directly in the iBridge 3 app.

The iBridge 3 Drive app can play .mp4, .m4v, .mpv, .mov, .mpg, .mkv, .wmv, .flv, .3gp, .gif, and .avi video files. (Note that some DRM-protected content cannot be played, however.)

You can also play music files in the form of .wav, .aac, .aif, .aiff, .caf, .m4a, and .mp3, as well as view Microsoft Office documents (.doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, and .pptx), PDF files, web pages (.htm and .html), Pages documents (.pages), Numbers documents (.numbers), Keynote documents (.key), text files (.txt), rich text format files (.rtf), contact information (.vcf), and calendar inforamtion (.ics).

Backing Up Photos and Videos to the iBridge 3 Drive

If you want to back up photos and videos from your camera roll to the iBridge 3 drive, make sure you’re on the main screen in the iBridge 3 app and then tap on the “Transfer Photos” icon.

To copy photos from your device to the iBridge 3 drive, tap on the “From Camera Roll to iBridge” box. (The “From iBridge to Camera Roll” box at the bottom allows you to copy files from the drive to your device.)

The first time you copy files, the iBridge 3 app will ask permission to access your photos. Tap “OK” on the dialog box that displays to allow the app to access your photos.

The photos in your camera roll display. You can also click the Albums button to access other albums.

Once you’ve located the photos you want to back up to the iBridge 3 drive, tap on those photos. Then, tap the “Copy X Items to iBridge” button at the bottom of the screen.

A dialog box displays asking if you want to delete the copied items from the camera roll. If you need the space and want to delete the items, tap the “Delete” button. Otherwise, tap the “Keep” button to leave the items in the camera roll.

A message displays at the top of the screen when the copy process is complete, and you’ll see checkmarks to the left of each file name. Tap “Done” at the bottom of the screen to close this screen and return to the main screen.

NOTE: The iBridge 3 app does not give you a choice where to copy the photos on the drive. They are automatically copied to the “iBridge Photos” folder. You can select them and move them if you want them in a different location.

If you want to back up the entire camera roll to the drive, tap the backup icon at the top of the main screen in the app. From there, you can automatically or manually back up your full camera roll.

Setting up Cloud Services on the Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory Drive

One cool feature of the iBridge drive is the ability to copy and move files between the drive and cloud storage services, without having to put the file on your device first.

To connect a cloud service to your drive, tap “Manage Files” on the main screen in the iBridge 3 app.

On the file manager screen, tap the “Cloud” icon at the bottom.

If you’re logged into your iCloud account on your device, it’s available by default in the iBridge 3 app, and you cannot disable it. To add another cloud service, tap “Edit” at the top of the screen.

Currently, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box are available in the app. We’ll add our Google Drive account, so we tap the “Google Drive” slider button.

Log in to your cloud account.

Then, tap “Allow” to allow the iBridge 3 app to communicate with your cloud account.

You are returned to the Manage Clouds screen and the cloud service is now enabled. Tap “Done” to return to the Clouds Selection screen.

Now, you can open any of those cloud storage services, select a file, and copy it to your device file from our cloud account to the iBridge 3 drive, so we tap the “Google Drive” option.

Navigate to the folder on your cloud account containing the file you want to copy, and then tap “Select” at the top of the screen.

A selection circle displays to the right of each file. Tap the circle for the file you want to copy and then tap the copy icon at the bottom of the screen.

Tap the destination where you want to copy the file. You can copy files to the drive, to a local folder within the app, or to another cloud service (or another location on the same cloud service). We’re going to copy the file to the drive, so we tap on the “iBridge” option.

You can select any folder or subfolder on the destination and the path you’ve selected displays at the top of the screen. Then, tap “Copy X File Here” at the bottom of the screen.

The file is copied and the status displays above the file list. Tap “Done” to return to the selected folder.

The file has been copied from our cloud account to the drive.

For more information about using the Leef iBridge 3 Mobile Memory drive, see their help center.

Lori Kaufman is a writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.