Turn your An­droid phone into a per­sonal file/me­dia server

Old An­droid phones don’t die, they get repur­posed. Dar­ren Yates shows how to turn your left­over An­droid de­vice into a per­sonal web-based file server with free soft­ware.

APC Australia - - Contents -

Pre-paid An­droid phones now are just su­per cheap — walk into a Coles su­per­mar­ket and you can of­ten walk out with a quad-core An­droid phone for as lit­tle as $29. The cheap­est phone I’ve ever pur­chased was a Boost Indy, a pre-paid re­badged ZTE B816 4.0-inch dual-core An­droid 4.4 phone for just $19. Sure, it’s not an earth­shat­ter­ing de­vice and I don’t make phone calls with it, but a bat­tery­pow­ered dual-core com­puter with screen, Blue­tooth and Wi-Fi for $19? That’s bet­ter value than a Rasp­berry Pi 3! Think of your phone as a com­puter and the in­stant change of mind­set opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ties for press­ing even cheap bud­get phones into many other ap­pli­ca­tions. One ex­am­ple we’re look­ing at this month is turn­ing your phone into a per­sonal file server.


There’s a num­ber of apps on the Google Play store that al­low you to re­motely ac­cess your phone via a sep­a­rate de­vice, whether it’s an­other phone or a PC. We’ve fea­tured the Samba File­shar­ing app in the past, but it has al­ways re­quired your de­vice to pro­vide root ac­cess. The fact it also uses SMB/ CIFS may be enough to give se­cu­rity en­thu­si­asts the jit­ters as well.

How­ever, there’s an al­ter­na­tive that doesn’t re­quire root or SMB/CIFS — and that’s AirDroid ( tinyurl.com/ y8tx75zw). It al­lows you to ac­cess your phone — even your SMS and call logs if you wish — via any com­puter any­where in the world by sign­ing up for an AirDroid on­line ac­count. How­ever, as we’ll show you, you can also just use it in ‘lo­cal con­nec­tion’ mode, which makes it ac­ces­si­ble to de­vices on your lo­cal net­work only via a web browser, avoid­ing any on­line sign-ups or giv­ing AirDroid ac­cess to your call and SMS logs. We’ve tested it suc­cess­fully on the old dual-core ZTE B816 phone we menti­noed ear­lier, so it should work on any­thing newer.


Grab AirDroid from the Google Play store. Dur­ing in­stall, your An­droid de­vice should in­di­cate that AirDroid is seek­ing ac­cess to your SMS and call logs. Choose to ‘re­ject’ this re­quest. Once in­stalled, it’ll take AirDroid a few sec­onds to launch, but then run you through a multi-screen in­tro. On the last screen, you’ll be en­cour­aged to ‘Sign in or Sign up’. Do nei­ther of these op­tions — in­stead, click on the ‘Sign in later’ hotlink un­der­neath. This switches AirDroid into ‘lo­cal con­nec­tion mode’ — you’ll only be able to ac­cess the phone us­ing a web

browser on de­vices con­nected to your lo­cal net­work.

Once the main AirDroid app screen ap­pears on your An­droid de­vice, you’ll have three op­tions — AirDroid Web, My com­puter and Add de­vice. Tap­ping on ‘AirDroid Web’ launches the web server in the back­ground and you’ll be given two con­nec­tion op­tions for other de­vices. The first is via your on­line ac­count (which you don’t have), so ig­nore that one. What you do is ‘Op­tion 2’ — launch a web browser on an­other de­vice and type in the IP ad­dress shown in green on the AirDroid app screen. In our test case, it was the lo­cal ad­dress ‘’.


At first, your web browser will tell you to go and ac­cept the new de­vice con­nec­tion on your AirDroid de­vice — if you don’t do it within 30 sec­onds, it’ll be re­jected au­to­mat­i­cally. There’s no pass­word pro­tec­tion — AirDroid seem­ingly fig­ures if you’re us­ing lo­cal con­nec­tion mode, you should have a fair idea of who’s try­ing to ac­cess it, and if you don’t recog­nise the IP ad­dress, the auto-con­nec­tion-re­ject will fix that any­way.

How­ever, as soon as you ac­cept the con­nec­tion on your AirDroid de­vice, the web browser on your sec­ondary com­puter is de­liv­ered a desk­top in­ter­face bear­ing a re­sem­blance to a macOS desk­top. In fact, it’s the clean­est, most well-de­vel­oped web desk­top en­vi­ron­ment we’ve seen with an app of this kind.

The ZTE B816 phone we grabbed for less than $20 has a mi­croSD slot, able to han­dle cards up to 32GB and AirDroid can give you ac­cess to that stor­age as well. The re­mote AirDroid desk­top dis­plays ads, but they en­able AirDroid to ‘keep the lights on’ and they’re not too in­tru­sive.

The built-in file man­ager (tap the ‘Files’ icon on the re­mote desk­top) is nicely done with a stan­dard look and feel Win­dows users will be fa­mil­iar with. There’s no hav­ing to drag-and-drop files — just dou­ble-click on them and they’ll open in your web browser au­to­mat­i­cally. To down­load a file, click on it to high­light, then press the ‘Down­load’ but­ton on the top-right of the Files win­dow and the file down­loads like a stan­dard web down­load. Up­load­ing files to your phone stor­age is sim­i­lar, ex­cept you se­lect the ‘Upload File’ but­ton next door, which opens an ‘Open’ di­a­log win­dow to se­lect a file to upload.


Go be­yond files and AirDroid has a few ex­tra tricks up its sleeve. For starters, it can re­motely fire up your de­vice’s cam­eras for a live feed. De­pend­ing on the age of your AirDroid-ed phone, the video frame rate might not be any­thing to write home about, but for snap­ping off stills re­motely (say, in a se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion), it’s clever. You can switch from rear to front ‘selfie’ cam­era, even turn on the rear LED light if your An­droid de­vice has one — all from your re­mote browser. You can also re­motely send and re­ceive SMSes via your An­droid de­vice if needed, or even find your lost de­vice.

AirDroid sup­ports stream-play­ing MPEG-4 video files over your lo­cal net­work — you don’t have to down­load first ei­ther, (al­though you can if you pre­fer), just dou­ble-click on the file and a video player win­dow launches in your browser, with play­back be­gin­ning al­most im­me­di­ately.

The max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion of video AirDroid will suc­cess­fully stream-play de­pends more on your An­droid de­vice’s CPU, your lo­cal net­work and the data trans­fer rate the two can main­tain. Our test dual-core ZTE B186 phone had no trou­ble stream-play­ing a 720p (1,280 x 720-pixel) movie stored on the phone over an 802.11n net­work to a quad-core desk­top, so that should give you at least a rough idea of what to ex­pect.


We’re call­ing this a ‘per­sonal’ web server be­cause the one draw­back with AirDroid is that it only sup­ports one de­vice con­nec­tion at a time in freemium mode — con­nect with a sec­ond de­vice to AirDroid and the con­nec­tion to the first de­vice is closed.

Still, over­all, AirDroid is a clean and ca­pa­ble app. If you need to ac­cess files on your phone, don’t have a USB ca­ble handy or you’re ready to re­pur­pose your old An­droid de­vice and give it a new lease of life, AirDroid is a de­cent way to go.

AirDroid gives your PC a macOS-style re­mote look at your An­droid de­vice.

AirDroid of­fers any­where con­nec­tiv­ity but sup­ports lo­cal net­work mode.

Ac­ti­vate AirDroid Web on your phone, launch the IP ad­dress on your browser.

You don’t have to sign up to use AirDroid — tap ‘ Sign in later’ and that’s it.

Make sure you ac­cept the lo­cal re­mote con­nec­tion on your An­droid de­vice.

Tap ‘AirDroid Web’ to launch the web server and ac­cess via PC browser.

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