“There is not enough available storage to take a photo.”
Hands up if you’ve ever seen this message, or one like it, on your phone or tablet. We use our mobile devices for so many things while traveling these days, it’s way too easy to run out of space. By the time you’ve added your favourite apps, saved some maps, and shot a few days worth of photos and video, eight or 16GB of storage simply isn’t enough.
Fortunately, if you’d prefer not to spend a few hundred dollars on replacing what is otherwise a perfectly good piece of technology, there’s much cheaper option. Whether you need more space on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, there are a bunch of simple, inexpensive accessories that can help you do just that.
The Dedicated Gadget
For many people, the simplest approach is the best. Dozens of companies make flash drives that plug into a phone or tablet, typically with an accompanying app. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with up to 256GB of storage that should satisfy even the keenest phone videographer.
These are our current picks.
Leef iBridge 3
Leef has been making small, attractive flash drives for ages, and expanded into the mobile market a couple of years ago. The third version of its iBridge device is the best so far, with a USB 3.1 port on one end, and a Lightning port on the other, in sizes up to 256GB.
This makes copying files easy, whether you’re sending them between the iBridge and your phone or tablet, or to and from a laptop. The gadget is very small and light (0.5oz / 12g) , with a smart, durable design that wraps behind the phone, fits on a key ring, and shouldn’t get damaged by a few knocks in your bag.
The simple app works well, at least for moving photos — oddly, if you’re copying videos, you’ll need to do so one at a time rather than in bulk. The included camera mode lets you save photos direct to the iBridge if necessary, rather than using up that valuable phone storage.
RAVPower Extended MFi Lightning Plug
We’re always a fan of multi-purpose travel gadgets, as long as they do everything well, and this little RAVPower device fits the bill. As well as offering 64GB of storage to iPad and iPhone owners, it can also act as a charging cable. It’s probably a little too short to be your main charger, but is ideal as a spare.
The thin, flexible cable is a smart idea, allowing it to fit inside bulky protective cases rather than needing to remove the phone first. Laptop transfer speeds are quick, and the bundled app lets you directly stream video files in most popular formats — there’s no need to copy files back to the phone or tablet first.
Reasonably-priced for the capacity, and doubling as a power cable, it’s a solid buy for travelers.
Sandisk Ultra Dual Drive m3.0
Android owners haven’t been forgotten, with companies like Sandisk making a small range of storage options for those devices as well. Any phone or tablet with OTG (“on-the-go”) support can use these types of gadgets, but it’s worth checking the compatibility chart before you buy.
The Ultra Dual m3.0 drive is the best of the bunch. The retractable design keeps the drive super-small, with a speedy USB 3.1 port for connecting to a laptop, and a micro-USB port that’s compatible with most Android phones and tablets. If you need a USB-C version instead, check out this similar, although larger, model.
The no-frills Memory Zone app works well, although you can use any Android file management app to move your photos and videos around. Write speeds could be better, but you’ll likely only notice if you’re copying hundreds of photos at once.
Overall it’s an inexpensive, easy to use, and reliable way of freeing up much-needed space.
The Cheapskate Approach
Speaking of OTG support, if you’ve got a compatible Android phone or tablet, you can connect it to pretty much any USB storage you can find. Plug one end of an OTG cable into the phone, and the other end into a flash drive, portable hard drive, or SD card reader, and you can move files around to your heart’s content using a file manager. I’ve used OI File Manager for years.
It’s a bit clunky, and by the time you add storage, not always much cheaper than buying one of the dedicated devices mentioned above. If you’ll be carrying a hard drive, memory stick or card reader for your laptop anyway, though, this is a cheap way to also use it with your mobile device. Just be sure to get one that has the right connector (micro-USB or USB-C), and you’re good to go.
The Wireless Drive
Looking to share your extra space between a bunch of different gadgets? It’s time to grab a wireless storage device.
Sandisk Connect Wireless Stick
This little accessory looks like an ordinary flash drive, and it can act as one if you need it to. The smarts, though, come when you put the plastic cap back on the end, and fire up the built-in wireless network. You can set it to create its own hotspot for other devices to connect to, or tell it join an existing network if you’d prefer.
For mobile devices, just download the accompanying app, connect to the right network, and you’re set. That app lets you automatically copy new photos, or you can move files backward and forward yourself as needed. For laptops and other devices, you just use a web browser to connect to the wireless stick, and copy files that way.
It’s also possible to stream video directly, which is useful if you’re short on space on your phone or tablet. Coming in sizes up to 256GB, it’s an easy way to store and share files among all your different devices.
Western Digital 1TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable Drive
If you need maximum storage space, hard drives still offer the most bang for buck, and a good wireless one will work with a wide range of other devices. There’s not much to choose between most models, but the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro is our pick for a couple of reasons.
To start with, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, simply and well. Copying and accessing files is straightforward, via the My Cloud app on mobile devices, or a web browser on anything else. Like the Sandisk Connect mentioned above, the drive can either create its own Wifi network, or join an existing one.
What pushes it above the pack, though, is the extras that come baked in. There’s a 6400mAh battery built in to the drive, which lets you run it for up to 10 hours away from a power socket, or charge your other devices as needed.
You can plug in a USB-enabled camera to copy files directly from it, and a rare added bonus is the inclusion of an SD card slot. Even if you’re not traveling with a laptop, you can quickly back up your camera’s SD card with the push of a button on the side.
A pro-level device like this costs more, and is much bulkier than a flash drive, but you get plenty for your money.
The Fancy Case
If you can’t be bothered carrying an extra gadget with you, Mophie’s Spacepack cases come with built-in battery and storage. There’s enough charge to top up your phone on the go, with a few different storage capacity options to choose from. There’s no need to remove your phone from the case while charging or copying files.
It all sounds like a great idea, but reviews are mixed. Some buyers love the convenience, others are frustrated by a badly-designed app that makes everything more difficult than it should be. Mophie doesn’t seem committed to this style of case any longer, either — while you can buy a Spacepack for the iPad mini, iPhone 5SE and iPhone 6/6+, the company didn’t release one for the iPhone 7 at all.
On the upside, prices have dropped recently. If you’ve got a supported device, and like the idea of an all-in-one protective case, battery and storage, the Spacepack is still worth a look.
Tech getting you down?
Get our free 5000 word guide, plus regular tips, discounts and the best travel tech advice.
The Combo Device
Finally, there are many wireless gadgets out there that let you plug in all kinds of storage, and share it among your devices. The good ones are combo units, with all kinds of other features as well, so if you’re in the market for something like this, it’s really a case of figuring out which aspects are most important to you. We particularly like these two options.
HooToo Wireless Travel Router
We’ve been regularly using this HooToo router since getting our hands on it, and it’s held up well to a year of solid (ab)use. You can plug a USB stick or hard drive into the socket on the top, accessing it via a web browser, or the ugly-but-functional mobile app.
It’s also a range extender, boosting wireless network signal to give you a better connection, and can turn a wired connection into a wireless one. There’s also a 10,400mAh portable battery inside, giving enough charge to keep your phone going on even the longest travel days.
There’s a full review here, but in short, it’s compact, durable, and does everything it’s supposed to, at a very reasonable price.
Kingston MobileLite Wireless G3
If you don’t care about extra wireless range, Kingston’s MobileLite Wireless G3 is a useful alternative, at a similar price. With both USB and SD card sockets, you can easily share whatever storage you have with you. Got a spare SD card? Hard drive? Flash drive? Just plug it in, and share away. As with the other gadgets mentioned here, you’ll use the included app for mobile devices, and a web browser otherwise.
The device also doubles as a portable battery, with a useful 5400mAh capacity that’s enough to recharge your phone once or twice. There’s also a Pro version, with 64GB of inbuilt storage and a slightly larger battery, but at double the price at time of writing, it’s not great value.
Save some money, and go for the base model.
Got any other mobile storage gadgets you like? Share ’em in the comments!
All images via manufacturers.