How to Use Bluetooth to Transfer Files Between Devices

Send data, music, and photos without an internet connection

Bluetooth is a great way to wirelessly transfer files like photos to and from your mobile devices without the need for an app and without incurring data charges. To set up a Bluetooth file transfer between smartphones, tablets, and PCs, enable Bluetooth (and visibility), then send the desired files. If a desktop or laptop is involved, set up (or pair) the mobile device to the computer before transferring files over Bluetooth.

The directions below should generally apply to iPhone and Android, regardless of who made your mobile phone: Apple, Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Turn Bluetooth On

The steps to turn on Bluetooth on phones and other devices vary. Here are the general steps, with some examples.

  1. Open the Settings app (the icon resembles a gear). To access Settings on Android phones, swipe down from the top to display the notification panel. To access Setting on Windows PCs, go to the Windows Start menu.

  2. Tap Connected Devices on stock Android. Tap Connections on Samsung. Select Devices on Windows.

  3. Select Bluetooth. For quick access to Bluetooth, swipe down from the top of the screen to display the quick settings panel.

    Bluetooth has its own section in iOS Settings, toggle it on or off in Control Center.

  4. Turn on the Bluetooth toggle switch to display a list of Paired Devices (such as Bluetooth audio devices you’ve paired with before) and a list of Available Devices.

    Connected devices, Bluetooth, toggle ON in Android Settings
  5. The receiving device is visible (discoverable) to other devices. A timer may count down the duration of visibility, Bluetooth will turn off when it reaches zero. If there isn't a toggle switch, the device is visible while the Bluetooth settings are open.

  6. To send files from a smartphone or tablet to a desktop or laptop PC, make sure the mobile device is connected/paired to the computer (this action is performed on the computer).

Send Files from Smartphones and Tablets

To transfer files from a smartphone or tablet to a PC:

  1. Open the File Manager app. This also could be called Explorer, Files, File Explorer, My Files, or something similar. On Android Marshmallow or later, open the Settings app to find the file manager.

    If your device doesn't have a file manager app, download one from the Google Play store.

    Storage app on stock Android smartphone

    While iOS has a Files app, it doesn't generally allow Bluetooth transfers. Instead, it uses AirDrop for non-internet file transfers, which uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

  2. Go to the folder that contains the files you want to transfer. Camera photos are usually found in the DCIM folder.

  3. Tap the Menu icon and choose Select.

  4. Select the files you want to send.

  5. Tap the Share icon.

  6. In the list of sharing options, tap Bluetooth.

    Share button and Bluetooth icon when sharing files on a stock Android smartphone

    If the devices haven't been paired, it may take a few seconds to discover the receiving device.

  7. Tap the Bluetooth device you want to transfer the files to. A message that displays "Sending # Files to [device]" appears on the screen.

  8. A file transfer notification appears on the receiving device that shows the file name, file size, and the sending device. This window may disappear (nothing will be transferred) if no action is taken within 15 seconds. If this happens, send the files again.

  9. Select Accept on the receiving device to download the files. If the receiving device is a computer, choose a folder location. If you want to cancel the transfer, select Decline, Cancel, or Reject, depending on your PC.

Send Files from Computers

While macOS supports Bluetooth, file transfers with that system are managed by AirDrop. Windows PCs are able to send files to a mobile device (and vice versa).

  1. Open a file manager (on Windows, open File Explorer) and go to the folder that contains the file you want to send.

  2. Right-click the file.

    Only one file at a time can be transferred over Bluetooth.

  3. Select Send To and choose Bluetooth.

    Send to Bluetooth device right-click menu in Windows 10
  4. Select Next and follow the prompts to rename the file, choose the Bluetooth device, and send the file.

    Selected device to send Bluetooth file to in Windows 10
  5. After several seconds, a notification appears on the receiving device.

  6. Tap Accept on the receiving device to download the file.

  7. Select Finish when the file transfer is complete.

What Is Bluetooth File Transfer?

Bluetooth file transfer is a simple way to send files to another nearby Bluetooth device without the need for a separate app. Bluetooth is compatible with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Files can be transferred over Bluetooth using Android OS, Fire OS, Blackberry OS, Windows OS, Mac OS, and Linux OS.

Bluetooth isn't supported on iOS and Chrome OS. On iOS, you'll need to use a separate app such as Move to iOS or Apple AirDrop to transfer files and photos from the iPhone to Android over Bluetooth. Devices that are compatible with Bluetooth file transfer have a system setting that supports Bluetooth and is called Bluetooth Share (or something similar).

Why Use Bluetooth File Transfer?

Illustration of Bluetooth transfers to tablets, phones, and computers
Lifewire / Miguel Co

There are several ways to transfer files from smartphone to smartphone, Android to Android, or from one OS platform to another. Bluetooth isn't the fastest method, but it has the fewest requirements — no app, no cable or hardware, no Wi-Fi network, and no 3G/4G data connection.

When you want to share photos between smartphones, here are the advantages of using Bluetooth:

  • Bluetooth vs. USB Cable: If you don't have the USB charging cable for your device, turn on Bluetooth to transfer files. If you do have the USB cable, it may be the type that plugs into a standard USB port instead of into another mobile device.
  • Bluetooth vs. OTG Cable: OTG cables will transfer files between devices, but both devices must support USB OTG and have the right connections for the cables.
  • Bluetooth vs. OTG Flash Drive: There are flash drives that have dual connectors for use with computers, smartphones, and tablets. While more convenient than OTG cable, OTG, and connector compatibility between devices is required.
  • Bluetooth vs. Personal Hotspot: Not all devices have an option set up and use a personal hotspot (tethering) on iOS or Android. A person hotspot requires a fee and a strong 3G/4G signal.
  • Bluetooth vs. Portable Media Hub/Hard Drive: Some portable media hubs and hard drives broadcast their own local wireless network for devices to connect to. The mobile device needs the companion app to transfer files and the drive needs its battery charged.
  • Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi Direct: Transferring files over Wi-Fi direct is similar to transferring files over Bluetooth. But Wi-Fi direct isn’t as universal as Bluetooth, not many devices support the feature, and may require an app to use it.
  • Bluetooth vs. Cloud Storage/Email: Cloud storage and email work well for saving and sending files. However, each device needs a strong data or internet connection to transfer files or access email.
  • Bluetooth vs. File Transfer App: The Google Play Store and the Apple App Store have apps that transfer files from one device to another. Some of these apps only work when both devices have the same app and some may need a wireless or data connection.

Types of Transferrable Files

Most any type of file can be transferred over Bluetooth: documents, photos, videos, music, apps, and more. If a file is stored in a folder on a computer or smartphone, you can send it. The receiving device needs to be able to recognize the file type to open it (for example, if the sending devices transfer a PDF document, the receiving device needs an app that reads PDFs).

The limitation of using Bluetooth to transfer data is the size of the files versus the transfer rate. The Bluetooth transfer rate depends on the version:

  • Bluetooth 2.x has a maximum data transfer rate of 2.1 Mbit/s (about 0.25 MB/s).
  • Bluetooth 3.x has a maximum data transfer rate of 24 Mbit/s (about 3 MB/s).
  • Bluetooth 4.x has a maximum data transfer rate of 24 Mbit/s (about 3 MB/s).
  • Bluetooth 5.x has a maximum data transfer rate of 50 Mbit/s (about 6 MB/s).

To use Bluetooth to send an 8 MB photo from one smartphone to another, and both smartphones have Bluetooth version 3.x/4.x, the photo transfers in about three seconds. A single 25 MB music file takes about nine seconds. A 1 GB video file takes about seven minutes. These times reflect the maximum speed, actual data transfer rates are less than the maximum specified.

Compared to other ways of transferring data, Bluetooth is slow. For example, USB 2.0 has an effective throughput of up to 35 MB/s, 11 times faster than the Bluetooth 3.x/4.x maximum rate. USB 3.0, which is the most common, is around 600MB/s. Wi-Fi speeds range from 6 MB/s to over 25 MB/s (depending on protocol version), which is anywhere between two to six times faster than the Bluetooth 3.x/4.x maximum rate.

Tips for Bluetooth File Transfer

To get the best speed and results when transferring files, follow these tips:

  • Disconnect smartphones, tablets, and computers from other Bluetooth devices (for example, wireless speakers and headphones).
  • Some devices may limit the number of files that can be transferred at a given time, so it may be necessary to transfer files one at a time, rather than in batches.
  • Keep the sending and receiving devices as close to each other as possible with a clear line of sight. This maintains the best signal strength that won’t be interrupted by other wireless signals and physical obstacles.
  • Close other apps until all files have transferred. Bluetooth does the sending and receiving, but the device needs processing power to write the data to storage.
  • Troubleshoot your Bluetooth devices if there are problems with pairing.