Sometimes the most useful things have the dullest names, and that's definitely the case with USB OTG: it's in stacks of devices, including the Nexus 5, it can do some really clever things and many people have never heard of it. If you don't know your OTG from your OMG, let's discover what it is and why it's so great.
What is OTG?
OTG is short for On The Go and USB OTG is a standard that enables devices to talk to one another. For example, instead of connecting to a PC to transfer files, USB OTG enables devices to connect directly and swap stuff; instead of sending your photos to your printer via your PC, you can connect directly do it, and so on.
That's not all USB OTG can do, though. By enabling your device to act as a USB host – that is, to be the boss of other devices that you connect to it – you can add additional hardware, such as storage, keyboards or even musical instruments.
USB OTG has its own logo, shown below, which will be on your device's packaging if it's supported. If you don't have the original packaging to hand, it's easy to find out if your phone supports the standard: just Google the device name plus 'OTG' or 'USB host', or download the free USB Host Diagnostic app from Google Play.
How can you use OTG on your smartphone or tablet?
If your device is OTG compatible, you’ll also need a suitable OTG cable for your device. You can grab one for a few bucks from a few online portals, including Amazon.com. To connect storage devices such as a USB flash drive or a hard drive, you may also need an app such as USB Host Controller or Total Commander.
What can I do with USB OTG?
When you know how to use USB OTG it's possible to couple your smartphone or tablet with peripheral devices that can be made to control it, like mice or a keyboard. There are some restrictions – for example gaming mice with a billion buttons might not be fully compatible – but for the most part the basic operations are enabled, and that means it's easy to turn, say, a tablet into a laptop by sticking an external keyboard into it.
Even the connection of storage devices such as USB sticks or external hard drives can be achieved with USB OTG. Using a file manager on your device, you can directly access data on an external storage device and play movies or music without having to store them on your device. Alternatively, you can use it as a non-cloud based back-up storage for storing your photos, music, and other files from your smartphone.
If you fancy making music on Android, USB OTG enables you to connect devices such as MIDI keyboards and controllers, audio inputs for instruments and vocals and various controllers that can turn your phone or tablet into a serious music-making machine.
Which devices support USB OTG?
Android has supported USB OTG since version 3.1, but the standard wasn't always supported by manufacturers. Now, though, USB OTG support is widespread. If your phone is one of the ones listed below, or a more recent model, then it'll almost certainly support USB OTG.
- Sony Xperia Z, ZL, Z Ultra, Z1
- Samsung Galaxy S2, S3, S4, Note 1, Note 2, Note 3
- LG Optimus G, G2
- HTC X, One, One mini, One max
- Google Nexus 5
Are you connecting anything exciting via USB OTG? Let us know in the comments.