Download without a Laptop


Today’s Question: I am preparing to spend 4 weeks in Japan. In the past, I used portable external hard drives. I do not use a laptop. Is there a 5TB unit that you recommend that can be charged from a wall outlet and can load CompactFlash cards?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There isn’t a standalone option that provides a perfect solution. In the absence of a laptop, I recommend using a mobile device (such as a smartphone or tablet) to transfer from media cards to a hard drive.

More Detail: A somewhat ideal solution here would be a portable storage device that enables you to download directly from the media cards out of your camera. There have been various such devices over the years, none of which have been particularly ideal. The most recent drive like this that used to be a good option is the Gnarbox ( However, the company appears to have gone out of business even though the units are still available for sale from some outlets.

Without any great options for standalone storage devices that can download directly from a media card, I think the best approach is to use a smartphone or tablet. You will need appropriate adapters for the card reader and the hard drive and may need power to the connector for the hard drive depending on the device you’re using.

Once you have the necessary adapters, you can use the smartphone to transfer photos from the media card and to the hard drive. Depending on the approach you use, you may need to download to your mobile device and then transfer to the hard drive. For Android devices this process is relatively straightforward, as Android offers relatively broad support for simple file transfers.

For iPhone or iPad users you will likely either want to use the Files app for transferring photos from a media card and to an external hard drive. There are also other apps, such as options from hard drive manufacturers intended to expand your mobile device storage capacity.

Admittedly, none of the available options for downloading photos without a laptop represent what I would consider an ideal solution. For this reason, I prefer to travel with a laptop, both for photo downloading and other uses. However, it is possible to use a mobile device in place of a laptop for this purpose.