A few days ago us PhoneDoggers were talking about doing a little article about transferring photos from your cameraphone to your PC.  Seems a bunch of readers want to know: How do I Email that picture that's in my phone?  Can I get my cameraphone photos off the phone and onto my computer so I can print them or post them to Web albums?  That sort of thing.  Since the answer differs according to your phone, service provider, and (sometimes) service plan, the topic seemed worthy of an article and not just an Email reply or two.

Seems Alltel's been thinking about this subject as well, as they announced PhotoCopter, a service aimed at getting those photos out of your phone and onto your computer, printer, or Web album.  Cool.  But maybe you're like me and can't get Alltel service where you live.  Don't fret - you CAN free your photos:

If you've got a Bluetooth-enabled phone and computer, you may be able to beam your photos wirelessly from handset to desktop.  Most current cell phones are Bluetooth capable, but some service providers lock down all but the basic voice-only Bluetooth profiles, preventing users from transferring files like photos using this wireless protocol.  Why?  The service providers would prefer that you use their online services to post photos from your handset to Web-based albums, often at the expense of hefty data charges.  But if you've got an unlocked handset or a carrier that hasn't crippled the Bluetooth file exchange protocol on your device, you should be able to move those photos to your PC or Mac without connecting a cable.

While the details are a little different for each phone/carrier, here's the basic method for sending a photo to your computer using Bluetooth:

  1. Turn Bluetooth on on both your handset and computer.  On your phone, you'll probably find Bluetooth settings within a menu called "Settings," "Tools," or  "Connectivity."
  2. You'll need to pair your phone to your computer - "pairing" means establishing a Bluetooth link between the devices.  If you know how to do this from your computer, try that first.  Otherwise, your phone's Bluetooth settings menu should have an option for pairing or connecting to a device.  You'll probably be asked to designate a passcode as part of this process.
  3. From your phone, navigate to the photo you want to send.  Usually this is done from inside of your phone's photo gallery or photo album application.  While looking at a photo, you should see some sort of options menu - it might be labeled "Options," or "Send."  What you're looking for is a menu selection that lets you "Send Photo via Bluetooth," or something to that effect. 
    If you have an unlocked phone - i.e. one that doesn't have a carrier's logo on it - you should be able to find this option somewhere.  Try consulting your owner's manual if you can't locate it.
    If you have a phone that's branded and locked to a carrier and you can't find Send via Bluetooth (or something similar), odds are your carrier has crippled this functionality on your handset.
  4. When you've successfully sent a photo using Bluetooth, you'll see a message come up on both your handset and your computer indicating that the file is being transferred.  You may have to click an "Accept File Transfer" button on your computer in order to receive the file.  Bluetooth is a little slower than some other forms of data transfer, so it may take a minute or so to transfer a photo - especially if you have a 2 Megapixel or better cameraphone. 
  5. Once your transfer is complete be sure to turn off Bluetooth on your handset.  Leaving Bluetooth on while you're not using it will drain your phone's battery, and also poses a (minor) security risk.

Memory Card
Many current feature phones and smartphones use removable memory cards to store photos, music, and other files.  Virtually all manufacturers with the exception of Sony Ericsson use the industry standard microSD or miniSD format (SE mainly uses their own Memory Stick cards).  Removable memory cards are easily read by personal computers by way of an internal or USB-based card reader, and many higher end phones now come with PC/Mac software that aids in transferring files to and from your computer via memory card. 

If you don't have a card reader but do have a computer with a USB port, you can pick an external card reader up for $20 or less from a consumer electronics retailer (try Amazon or Buy.com online).  Different readers support different types of memory cards, but adapters are available for all forms of SD memory as well as Sony Ericsson's different types of Memory Stick cards.

I use a Mac for most of my work and find that almost every memory card I take out of a cell phone shows up on my Mac's desktop just like a USB drive or DVD would.  Once the memory card is on my desktop, my computer's iPhoto application usually recognizes that it contains image files and automatically launches and prompts me to import the files from the card.  PC users should be able to enact a similar process within Windows XP or Vista.

Newer phones are starting to come with built-in mini or micro-USB ports.  You can connect these phones to a computer just like you'd connect a printer or external hard drive, though the phones use a different type of USB cable.  Often the proper cable is included with the phone - if not, you can get them easily and cheaply online. 

As with Bluetooth and Memory Cards, some phones support easy transfer of photos and other files - in this case using what's called "USB Mass Storage Mode."  Connect the phone to your computer and the phone's memory shows up on your desktop just like a USB drive, allowing you to drag and drop files or use a program like iPhoto to import your pictures.  Some network operators limit USB functionality on their phones, often to only support the use of a USB-based AC adapter for charging.

If your phone has a USB port and you have a cable that fits it, try connecting your phone to an open USB port on your computer.  If the computer recognizes the phone as a device, it should automatically show you the content of your phone's memory - or memory card - and/or open a program to help you import photos from the phone.  If not, try installing any computer software that may have come in the packaging when you bought your phone.  If that still doesn't work, you can always check your phone's owner manual, go to the Website of your network carrier or phone manufacturer, or call customer service to see if they can help.

Web-based Transfer
Many feature phones now support Web-based Emailing of photos or posting to an online photo album service.  Nokia's latest unlocked phones are made to easily post photos to Flickr or Nokia's own Lifeblog site, while some Verizon-branded phones connect with the carrier's pay subscription photo album service.  Generally speaking, if you use a smartphone or high-end unlocked device and have a data plan with your carrier, you should be able to transfer photos from your phone either via Email or a Web-based service.

Carrier-branded (locked) phones are different, and much more beholden to the features and service terms set by the carriers themselves.  Usually you have to pay for data and even an extra monthly subscription to use a carrier's online photo site, so be sure to investigate the fees and terms of the service before logging in for the first time.  Also beware that phones are often pre-configured to resize photos before attaching them to MMS or Email messages - that 3 megapixel cameraphone may well send out 0.3 megapixel photo attachments by default.

If you're really interested in using your camera as a phone and posting the images to a Web album or printing them from your computer, definitely look for a handset that uses removable memory.  If you're on a GSM provider (AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S.), I'd also recommend looking into an unlocked cameraphone.  Sony Ericsson's Cyber-Shot series and Nokia's N-Series are my personal favorites.  The SE K790a can be had for $200 or less unlocked and features an excellent 3.2mp camera with autofocus and a true Xenon flash.  Nokia's new N82 is pricey, but it's a full-featured smartphone with WiFi access and a 5MP camera with autofocus, Xenon flash, and near-DVD quality video capture.  Both models are available unlocked and support photo transfer via memory card, Bluetooth, USB data cable, and Email/Web posting.

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