Android adjustments 1: Using your phone as a USB drive

You can do some cool things with your Android phone.

As I get more accustomed to my fancy new phone, I’m learning some of its capabilities and limitations, plus a few tricks on the side. i will share some of these over the next few entries. So if you have an Android phone, read on. If you want an Android phone, this is still for you.

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I originally planned to use my smartphone to make calls and work on the Web, all those things that tie in with running a business. I’m getting all that, plus a whole lot more.

I’m using this phone as a pocket-sized editing terminal, and am using it to write this blog entry. It is being saved on the SD card, and I’ll work on it later from a home computer.

No trick. No smoke or mirrors. No Internet connection necessary. Not even any surgery on phone or computer.

Using the phone’s SD drive works just the same as plugging in any other USB thumb drive, so there’s no great mystery there. If your phone came with a USB cable that hooks it up to the computer, you’re in business. Add a few (free) software tools through the Android Market, and you’re really cooking.

Understand, I have a Windows-free house. All my computers are Linux, meaning my tests and instructions are Linux-centric. But my newest laptop does have Windows 7 that I keep on there for research purposes, and everything tests out fine there too. It’s just the same as plugging in a USB drive; your computer can’t tell the difference.

OK. Cool thing to know. But so what?

This configuration gives me wonderful flexibility. Wherever I go, I have an editing terminal with me. I can pull up a text file, work on it when I have a couple of minutes to do so, save it, put it away, and work on it some more when I get to an actual computer. I’ll grant you, typing with thumbs is not near as quick as using a full-sized computer (especially when you’re used to using all 10 fingers to type like I am), and the screen is not really suited for geezer eyeballs. So it’s not a perfect solution, but it is an elegant one.

It’s simple enough to work this, though:

– Connect your Android phone to your computer, with the provided cable.
– You will be asked to choose whether you want to just recharge the phone or access the SD card on your Android screen. Select USB drive.
– Select “Always ask.”
– Select “Turn On USB Storage” in the next dialog box.
– And you’re in business. See how easy that was?

A couple of caveats here: Only one system can use your SD card at a time, so while your computer is using USB storage your phone can’t access the memory card. This gets crucial when you move most of your apps to the card to save on internal storage space as I do. But when you’re hooked up to the computer (especially when you’re using it to go online) you’re not going to need your apps anyway. You will still be able to make phone calls and send text messages while the computer is using the SD card; hopefully that will be enough. If you need to use another app, bite the bullet and move it from the SD card to the phone’s internal memory.

Try to keep your files relatively small and simple (for writing, .txt is perfect).

Stay out of the phone’s system directories when you’re using the computer, and when using file management tools. There’s really little need to go there; for my work I created directories on my smartphone card for active writing and for business files. Again, it’s just like doing them on a USB drive.

Although you can edit your files without further doctoring, a couple of Android tools will make the process easier:

Ghost Commander: This is the best file manager I’ve found via Android market. If you’re a Linux user or are old enough to remember computers before Windows came out, this will look familiar. My favorite real-life Linux file manager is Midnight Commander, and this is almost a dead ringer for that. When viewed in landscape mode you have two lists of files on the screen, and you can move from directory to directory fairly easily. Select “edit” and Ghost Commander’s internal text editor comes up. It’s not a fancy one, but it will work just fine.

Jota: Another text editor, white screen, black text. It has a few more bells and whistles than Ghost Commander’s internal editor, and if the thought of a console editor (think vi or emacs here) scares you, this should be a bit easier to swallow.

As far as tools on your computer, no special ones are really necessary. Any word processor (be sure to save in .txt format) or simple text editor (such as Notepad, Wordpad, or Notepad++) should handle any text files you keep on your phone. Your usual plethora of programs should work with any music or graphics files you’ve downloaded.
There’s no guarantee on how long an SD card will last, expecially when you’re using it in this manner — and you may put additional strain on it by using it like this — so I highly recommend backing everything up. Use your computer’s hard drive or a thumb drive as a backup target, or even going geeky with online storage such as Dropbox will work.
If you’re a Linux type using Dropbox for backup, pull together a shell script to copy the files in one smooth operation. Here’s mine:

#!/bin/sh
rsync -rv /media/6BA2-16ED/active-writing /home/eric/Dropbox

Or something like that. On my computer, the Android drive identifies itself as 6BA2-16ED. Customize your own shell script to fit.

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