It has never been as easy to share photos, links, files, and more with others nearby on Android as it has been on iPhones. Apple users have AirDrop, which lets you seamlessly send almost anything to other nearby Apple devices with just a few taps. Now Google, the company that develops Android, is finally taking steps to make sharing easier with a new feature called Nearby Share.
Nearby Share searches for devices in close proximity, then it chooses a protocol to use depending on what you’re sending and what your connectivity is like. For example, it will use peer-to-peer Wi-Fi if you’re completely offline, but other sharing protocols include Bluetooth, Hotspot, WebRTC, and more.
We might not be near other folks as much these days, but Nearby Share will work if you’re sending stuff to your roommate, partner, and even when you’re standing six feet apart from your friends and family (provided they have Android phones). Here’s how to use it.
Does Your Phone Support Nearby Share?
Android has long had a sharing feature called Android Beam, which lets you bump the back of two phones together (if both devices had a near-field communication sensor) to send photos, files, and more. It never became as well known as AirDrop (which launched the same year), not to mention bumping phones is so 2011. Google killed it in 2019 with the intention to replace it with Nearby Share.
Nearby Share only works with phones that support Android 6.0 or higher, which is a version of the operating system released in 2015. If you have a phone from 2015 or newer, there’s a very good chance your phone will be able to use it. To check, head to your phone’s Settings menu, scroll down to About Phone, and you should be able to see Android version. If the number is 6 or higher, you’re good to go.
At the moment, Nearby Share is available for select Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones, but Google says that because the feature is a part of Google Play Services, you do not need to wait for an over-the-air update from your manufacturer or carrier to get it. In fact, most Android 6.0+ phones will have it over the next few weeks.
If you want to keep checking whether your phone has it, you can manually force Google Play Services to update. Head to your phone’s Settings app, click on Apps & Notifications (you might need to expand your app list here). Find Google Play Services, tap Advanced, and scroll all the way down to App details. You’ll be taken to the Google Play Services page on the Google Play Store. If an update is available, you’ll be able to force it to install.
Note: Some of our instructions might not be the exact same on your Android phone, as manufacturers like Samsung and LG tend to tweak the Settings menu to look a little different from stock Android.
How to Turn on Nearby Share
The easiest and universal way to find Nearby Share is to head to your phone’s Settings menu, scroll down to Google, tap on Device connections, and here you should see Nearby Share. If it’s not there, you most likely do not have the feature yet. The other way to find it is through Settings> Connected devices> Connection preferences> Nearby Share, but this is where the menus might look different based on your phone.
Sticking with the first approach of finding it in the Google section of your Settings menu, tap on Nearby Share. Toggle it on, and in the process, you can change your Device Name and choose your Device Visibility. If you don’t want to share your name when sending files or photos with other nearby devices, then it’s a good idea to change your device name to something more nondescript. You can use Nearby Share only with people in your contacts list.
In terms of Device Visibility, you have three options: All Contacts, Some Contacts, and Hidden. Choosing the first option means your phone will be visible to your contacts that have Nearby Share turned on, and you’ll see devices near you with Nearby Share open. Some Contacts, as the name suggests, lets you toggle select people in your contacts list to use Nearby Share with. And Hidden means no one nearby will be able to see your device, but you can still see your contacts’ devices if they are trying to share something nearby.
There is a big caveat with Nearby Share. To use it, you’ll need to have the email addresses for all your contacts (the one they use for their Google Account) stored in their contact information. Alternatively, if your contact has verified their Google Account with a phone number, you’ll be able to use Nearby Share with them. To connect your phone number to your Google Account, head here on your phone and toggle on your device. It might take some time to authenticate.
Back in the Nearby Share settings, you can also choose whether you want to send stuff via Data, Wi-Fi Only, or Without Internet. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, it might be a good idea to choose the latter two options.
How to Use Nearby Share
Whenever you want to share something with a friend or family member nearby, whether it’s an address in Google Maps, a photo, a file, or a web link, simply tap the share button, and from the Share Menu, find and tap on Nearby Share. Your phone will start searching for devices nearby you can share with.
The person you’re sharing with will need to be relatively close, and they may need to tap on a pop-up notification to become visible to you. You and the person you’re sharing stuff with may get a prompt to turn on Bluetooth and Location if they aren’t on already.
Once they’re visible, tap their device name (they will need to accept), and that’s it! The sharing process will begin and should take only a few seconds, depending on what you’re sending.
Eventually, Google says Nearby Share will work on Chromebooks, allowing you to quickly send stuff from your phone to your ChromeOS-powered laptop with just a few taps.
More Great WIRED Stories
- How courthouse break-ins landed two white hat hackers in jail
- Tips to make your video calls look and sound better
- How to spot—and avoid—dark patterns on the web
- The fantasy and the cyberpunk futurism of Singapore
- Mad scientists revive 100-million-year-old microbes
- 🎙️ Listen to Get WIRED, our new podcast about how the future is realized. Catch the latest episodes and subscribe to the 📩 newsletter to keep up with all our shows
- ✨ Optimize your home life with our Gear team’s best picks, from robot vacuums to affordable mattresses to smart speakers