I know exactly what you were thinking when you read that headline. “Who the hell has a Windows Phone and doesn’t use a Windows PC?”
I’m glad you asked. The answer is probably no one. While just about every Windows Phone owner also owns a Windows PC, there’s a solid chance that they might also have a Mac or that they might be experimenting with Linux.
Whatever the problem might be, there’s a real problem that needs to be solved here. Personally, when I record videos for YouTube, I edit them in iMovie on my Mac. This works great when I record with an iPhone or an Android phone, but now that Lumias support 1080p 60 fps, I’d like to use it.
So how do you transfer photos or videos from a Windows Phone to a Mac?
The answer is, with enormous difficulty.
From what I can tell, there are four ways to do this: 1) SD card transfer, 2) cloud backup, 3) transfer to USB drive through Windows and then to Mac, and 4) Bluetooth.
NOTE: The principles of Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile are generally the same here. If there’s anything here that’s version-specific, I’ll annotate appropriately.
What won’t Work
Here’s the facts. When you plug your Windows Phone into a Mac, it’s not going to recognize it, so a wired file transfer is out of the question.
Linux machines natively recognize Android phones, Windows machines natively recognize Windows Phones, Macs natively recognize iPhones.
Google has an app called Android File Transfer that allows you to do a wired file transfer on a Mac. They don’t have the app for Windows because the phone’s file system natively shows up on Windows.
Microsoft used to have an app called Windows Phone for Mac and it was available in the Mac OS App Store. It’s not available anymore, keeping with the long and proud Windows Phone tradition of stripping out basic features in favor of adding new basic features that were missing before.
What will Work
SD Card Transfer
- A Windows Phone with microSD support
- A microSD card
- A Mac with an SD card reader or a USB SD card reader
- A microSD to SD card adapter, which should come with your microSD card upon purchase
If you’re using a Microsoft Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL, or any other Windows Phone with an SD card slot in it, you’re in luck. If you’re using a Nokia Lumia 1020 or Lumia 930, move on to the next section.
Also, most modern MacBooks have SD card slots. If yours doesn’t, move on to the next section. In other words, if you’re phone doesn’t support microSD or your MacBook doesn’t (and you don’t have a USB SD card reader), move on. There’s plenty of methods here.
An SD card transfer is the easiest way to move files from a Windows Phone to a Mac. If you’re already using an SD card and you have your photos set to automatically save to the card, all you need is a microSD to SD card adapter (which should have come with your microSD card). Remove the card from the phone and pop it in the side of the Mac.
If your Photos aren’t Already Set to Save to SD Card
OK, so you may be reading this, wishing you could transfer files to your Mac, thinking, “Man, I’m going to go buy an SD card so I can do this!” You’ve now purchased a microSD card but sadly, only photos you take going forward will automatically save to the SD card.
First, if you wish to have all of your photos going forward saved to the SD card, do the following.
- On your phone, go to Settings -> System -> Storage, or Settings -> Storage Sense on Windows Phone 8.1.
- Set new photos to save to the SD card
Of course, you’ve still got a problem because you recorded a video and you want to get that on an SD card. This can not be done within the storage settings; however on a side note, you can move apps to and from the SD card in the storage settings.
Luckily, Windows 10 Mobile has a File Explorer app.
- Open the File Explorer app
- Navigate to This Device -> Pictures -> Camera Roll (or wherever your photo is located)
- Select the photos you want to move
- On the bottom, expand the menu so you can select the “Move To” icon
- Go to SD Card -> Pictures -> Camera Roll (or wherever you want to move your photos to)
Now that you have your photos on an SD card, pop the SD card out of your phone, place it in the adapter, and pop the adapter in your Mac’s SD card reader. Once there, you can open the SD card on your Mac and transfer anything you wish.
Cloud transfer is probably the easiest option and requires the least amount of prerequisites. All you really need is, well, a Windows Phone. While it is the easiest, it may be the most time consuming.
Most of us have photos and videos being automatically backed up to OneDrive. If you’re anything like me, your OneDrive Camera Roll folder is way too much of a mess to find anything, but if you want to venture into it, go ahead.
Here’s the method:
- Open the OneDrive app
- Create a folder for the specific files you want to copy
- Click the + icon to select files to upload
- Select the files to upload and confirm
- When done, navigate to OneDrive.com on your non-Windows machine
- Select the folder and click download
It’s that simple. The reason that I don’t put cloud transfer first is because it’s a pain in the ass. If you’re transferring photos, the process should be short enough, but if you’re transferring videos, it can take a very long time and you might get an error if you try to upload a file that’s too big.
Note that the official OneDrive file size limit is 10 GB; however, in most cases, it will only accept a 2 GB file. It might ask you to use the File Explorer on your PC.
Of course, you can do this by plugging your Windows Phone into your PC, copying them to your OneDrive folder, and waiting for your files to sync.
USB transfer might be the least easy option, but it’s probably the most reliable.
- A USB flash drive capable of holding the total amount of content you want to transfer
- A Windows PC
- A micro-USB/USB C cable (whatever data cable you use for your device)
I say that this is the least easy option because it requires you to have a second PC to transfer your files from your phone to media that your Mac will recognize. It is a bit time consuming because you have to transfer the files twice, but you’ll get there.
- Plug your Windows Phone into your Windows PC via data cable
- Plug your USB flash drive into the same PC
- In File Explorer, right click on the flash drive and click “Properties”
- Make sure that your drive is in the FAT32 format. If it is NTFS, your Mac will not recognize it
- If your USB drive is not FAT32, follow these instructions
- In File Explorer, right click the flash drive and click “Format”
- Select FAT32 from the dropdown list and click Format
- NOTE: this will erase everything on that USB flash drive, so if you want to save anything, copy it to the PC first
- In File Explorer, navigate to your Windows Phone -> Internal Storage -> Pictures -> Camera Roll
- Copy the files you wish to transfer
- Navigate back to the USB flash drive
- Right click on it and click paste
- Once the files have transferred, insert the USB flash drive into your Mac
- Copy the files as needed
NOTE: There actually is a way that you can transfer your photos to a USB flash drive without a Windows PC in between. If you have a Microsoft Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL and a Display Dock, you can do it through Continuum. After all, at this point, your Windows Phone is the PC, right?
Bluetooth transfer is also one of the easier options because it doesn’t require any prerequisites, but it’s also the least reliable of the four. Like cloud transfer, this will work fine for photos but you might run into some problems transferring larger files such as videos.
- Make sure Bluetooth is on on both your Windows Phone and your Mac
- On your Mac, click the Bluetooth logo in the menu bar and click “Open Bluetooth Preferences”
- On your Windows Phone, go to Settings -> Devices -> Bluetooth or Settings -> Bluetooth on Windows Phone 8.1
- In the Mac’s Bluetooth settings, locate your Windows Phone and select Pair. Theoretically, you can do this from the Windows Phone as well, although I wasn’t able to initiate the pairing from the Windows Phone
- Once the pairing begins, confirm on the other device that you wish to pair
- Now that your Mac and your Windows Phone know each other, things should work fine, right? No. Next, go to System Preferences -> Sharing
- Make sure Bluetooth Sharing is checked
- Next, head over to the Photos app on your Windows Phone, select the files you want, and click share
- Select Bluetooth and select your Mac
From my experience, Bluetooth file transfers from Windows Phone to Mac transfer at a rate of around 50 kb/s, which is painfully slow. Like I said in the very beginning of the article, there’s no easy way to do this.