USB drives are so convenient, aren’t they? But you can’t use one with your phone. Well, unless you have an Android and know what USB OTG is.
USB On-The-Go (OTG) is a standardized specification for USB connections that allows a device to read data from a USB connection without requiring a PC. The device is basically becoming a “USB Host”, which isn’t an ability every gadget has.
USB OTG is not an Android-specific feature, but that is its most popular use, so it’s what we’ll focus on. Some printers already support it, Microsoft is expected to bring USB OTG in Windows Phone 10, but there’s no sign of Apple allowing this. Yet another reason to choose Android over the iPhone, eh?
Check If Your Android Supports USB OTG
The easiest and most reliable way to check if your phone or tablet supports USB OTG is to check the box it came in or the manufacturer’s website. You’ll see a logo like the one above, or you will see it listed in the specifications.
If you can’t find the information there, try checking for your device on GSMArena.com. In the specifications list, scroll down to where it says “USB” and check if the entry lists “USB Host” — those are the magic words you’re looking for.
Another method is to download USB OTG Checker from the Play Store; it’s a free app that you can run to get a quick answer on whether your Android supports the feature or not.
Not every Android device supports USB OTG, it’s something the manufacturer has to enable. This setting is in the phone or tablet’s kernel, the conduit middleman software that lets your hardware talk to your operating system and apps. If your answer is a negative when you use USB OTG Checker, then you might want to consider using a custom Android kernel that supports USB OTG for your device.
What You Need to Use USB OTG
Your Android device has a standard micro-USB port. However, most USB devices require a full-size USB port. How do you resolve that? With a micro-USB-to-USB dongle, of course.
You need to specifically look for a micro-USB Male to full-size USB Female adapter — those “Male” and “Female” designations are essential. Hopefully, this confusion will resolve itself with the advent of USB Type C, but for now, you can find lots of such adapters on Amazon, like the popular UGreen OTG Adapter.
Once you’re ready with USB OTG for your Android, a world of opportunities opens up. There’s an entire Reddit thread dedicated to what you can do with USB OTG, but here are some of the most popular uses.
Connect Flash Drives and External Hard Drives
Obviously, external storage is at the top of this list. Just plug it in and you’ll be ready to go. USB drives are the easiest to connect, while external hard drives may or may not work. Portable hard drives that draw power from the Android won’t always work, but external drives with their own power source work just fine.
Android’s open nature makes it easy to connect just about anything to it. If you want to use your tablet as a laptop, a keyboard and mouse is integral to the experience. You’ll be happy to know that Android works well with most wireless and wired keyboards and mice.
I would recommend getting a wireless keyboard and mouse set with a unified receiver, since you will only have one USB connection — I haven’t seen a functional USB hub working over USB OTG. But make sure you stick with the standard stuff.
For example, you should buy a standard plug-and-play wireless set that is compatible with all platforms. However, make sure you don’t buy something that requires accompanying software, like the Logitech T400, which requires SetPoint custom software.
Much like keyboards, printers with a standard plug-and-play USB work darn well with Android devices, so you can start printing without requiring a wireless connection and without transferring anything to a PC first.
Weirdly, the “Mass Storage” mode didn’t work for me, but your mileage may vary. If you want to print photos and documents, you will have to switch to PTP (Photo to Photo) mode in your USB connection.
Control Your DSLR Camera
Photographers will love this one. Your Android device can be wired up to your DSLR camera and turned into a giant livescreen, complete with the ability to capture, focus, control shutter speed, and much more. It’s one of the most creative uses of an Android tablet.