iOS 13 brought a long list of welcome changes to Apple’s mobile operating system, especially the division between different types of devices. While the iPhone retains the iOS name, we now also have tvOS and iPadOS to compete with. Of course, they’re all the same core system, and a great new feature across the board is support for external storage.
Sadly, on iPhone at least, you have to be pretty picky about your drive if you want to be sure that your iPhone’s external storage will work. So we’ve picked out some of the best flash drives for iPhone that plug and play right out of the box.
The most important things to know about iPhone external storage
Unlike iPad Pro devices (and like the standard iPad), the iPhone doesn’t have a USB-C port. There will certainly be a USB-C iPhone from Apple in the future, but for now, the Lightning port is your only port to external storage.
This means you either need to have a flash drive with a Lightning connector or you have to buy the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. Don’t let the name fool you, this adapter will let you connect any any USB device with your phone. As long as it has enough power and is supported by iOS.
Some devices, such as external mechanical drives or SSDs, will only work if you plug them into a power hub first, or if you connect the Lightning charger to the camera adapter.
While it makes sense for large external drives to require more power than the iPhone can integrate, you’d be surprised to learn that many regular flash drives are also too power-hungry for an iPhone. So, if you’re thinking of buying a non-Lightning flash drive and using it only with a camera adapter, confirm via Google that it will work without external power or make sure you A Lightning charger is available for use with the camera adapter.
The drives featured below are all original Lightning USB drives. So they are guaranteed to work as iPhone’s external storage. In general, however, these drives are not designed to function as standard mass storage devices via the lightning connector. Instead, they need an intermediary application. Depending on the application, you can move any files you like or only certain categories of files, such as photos or videos.
However, if you use the Camera Adapter and plug the USB-A end of the drive into your phone, you’ll be able to use them like regular mass storage devices. This means quick automatic backups via Lightning and fully open file access via USB-A.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the best flash drives on the market with Lightning connector support.
Honestly, the main reason this SanDisk drive is on this list is the price. For just $23, it’s a great companion to the iPhone SE or iPod Touch, which typically have less capacity. Of course, if you choose, they offer incremental size upgrades up to 256GB.
The iXpand drive uses a loop-style design. You get a standard USB-A connector on one end so you can plug it into a device like a desktop computer. The other end is a short cable with a lightning connector. This means you don’t need to remove the case to insert the Lightning connector into your phone.
These drives predate the advent of native external storage support in iOS. So it’s designed to work with an app, which also automatically transfers files like photos to the drive as soon as you plug it in.
According to SanDisk, you can still use the iXpand drive with the Files app, but the iXpand app must also be installed.
Like the loop-style drive from SanDisk that we just looked at, Go needs to be used with the SanDisk app. However, it uses a different physical design and may not work with some phone cases. Although the connector is narrow enough that this shouldn’t be an issue for most people.
This particular model comes with a USB A to C adapter, which means you can use the drive with your MacBook. And, when Apple finally adopts USB-C in their phones, you won’t have to buy a new flash drive to enjoy your iPhone’s external storage!
RAVPower iPhone 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive MFi Certified [no longer available]
This is another drive that requires the app to work, and we can’t find any indication that you can access it directly with the files app by any means. However, the iPlugMate app supports many different types of content.
The RAVPower drive has quite a bit going for it. Its price for 128GB memory is excellent. Though, as with any inexpensive flash memory, you should be realistic about long-term reliability.
Another compelling feature here is through-through charging. Yes, you can charge your phone with the drive plugged in. That includes cases where transferring large, time-consuming files, and cases where you’re viewing content from the drive, drains the battery.
The two ends of the cable also snap together, so you don’t have to deal with awkwardly long cables coming apart when not using both ends at the same time.
HooToo iPhone Flash Drive 256GB [no longer available]
We had never heard of the “HooToo” brand until now, but this drive keeps popping up in recommendations from users, so they must be doing something right. At 256GB, it represents phenomenal value, while HooToo has also opted to use iPlugMate apps, rather than their proprietary solution.
Design is probably the main reason why it is so popular. With its sturdy metal construction and sturdy cover to protect the Lightning connector, it’s less likely that you’ll remove the drive’s Lightning end. When the lid is on, it looks like any other flash drive.
Room to breathe
Without SD card expansion, and affordable models with so little storage, using a flash drive for your iPhone’s external storage can seem like a lifesaver. It doesn’t need a cloud connection, it’s the fastest way to backup and store files, and with the help of the right app, you can usually just plug it in to let it do its job automatically.
While the Lightning connector may be coming soon, devices using it will be in service for years to come. So if you are the owner of such an Apple device, you will want to have one of these flash drives for iPhone in your kit.