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5 min read 114 comments

How to connect an external drive to your phone via USB

Whether you are using your device as a game console, as a multimedia database or simply to take a lot of pictures, most of us will at some point want to connect our device to something else via USB. Here's how to connect a hard drive, USB stick or accessory to an Android tablet and smartphone.

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Check that your device is compatible

To connect a hard disk or USB stick to an Android tablet or device, it must be USB OTG (On The Go) compatible. How do I know if it is compatible? It's simple, just check the manufacturer's website or the box of your device.

And that's not all USB OTG can do. 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 use additional hardware such as storage, keyboards or even musical instruments together with your handset.

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Connecting a USB device to your smartphone is easy with the right equipment. / © AndroidPIT

If your smartphone is really old, if you no longer have the box or if you are not sure of its model number, you can use Chainfire's app, USB Host Diagnostics, to check. That said, USB OTG is natively present on  Android since Honeycomb (3.1) so it is more than likely that your device is already compatible than not.

  • App version: 1.3
  • App size: 467 KB
  • App Compatibility: Android 2.3 or higher
  • Economic model: Free

Advantages and disadvantages of USB OTG

You might already be familiar with USB OTG without knowing its name. Anytime you connect a keyboard or mouse to Android you use OTG technology, and it's no more complicated to connect a hard disk to your smartphone than to connect a mouse to it. That said, there are a few conditions to be sure that your external drive will be recognized.

All USB-compatible devices can be used as long as they do not require an external power supply. In addition, your storage device (hard disk or USB stick) must be in FAT32 format. NTFS media will not be recognized. If your disk/key is not in this format, you can of course format it and put it in FAT32 but you will lose any data on it before the reformatting, so be sure to save it somewhere else beforehand.

Your device must be in FAT32 format.

Buy an OTG USB cable

Once you have determined that your device is OTG compatible, you can continue and go to your preferred store and purchase a USB OTG cable. Try to opt for a sufficiently solid connection, there are many cheap offers online but the quality is not always there.

Ideally, you take an angled cable like this one shown in the picture. It's very simple, but it can avoid problems with the USB port, which is unfortunately common with the use of connectors. You can grab one for a few bucks on Amazon. Of course, you must pay attention to the type of USB cable when purchasing: if you have a Type-C USB port, of course your accessory will have to be of the same type.

comment brancher usb otg tablette smartphone
An angled cable is more suitable for most smartphones. / © AMAZON

Connect your USB drive or accessory to your tablet

No need for tutorials to connect a hard drive to your tablet or Android smartphone: simply plug them in using your brand new OTG USB cable. 

To manage files on the hard drive or USB stick connected to your smartphone, simply use a file explorer. When the device is plugged in, a new folder appears. It is called USBDriveA in general, but this may vary depending on the system versions and interfaces. 

If you're having trouble finding it, simply tap the slash button ("/") to return to the root of your smartphone. What's the difference from a cloud, you might say? No need for an internet connection, for one.

What other things can I do with USB OTG?

Connect a mouse or keyboard

This is one of the most typical ways to use USB OTG. It's possible to couple your smartphone or tablet with peripheral devices, such as a mouse or a keyboard, which you can then use to control it. 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.

Just plug in a USB mouse and you will automatically see its cursor appear on your display. This is also a great way to use your device if the touchscreen is broken. Alternatively, connect an external keyboard to turn a tablet into a laptop.

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Connect a mouse for plug-and-play cursor action. / © ANDROIDPIT

Connect a MIDI keyboard

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.

Connect a game controller

Enjoy mobile gaming but yearn for a bit more control? Why not connect a gamepad to your smartphone? Using a wired Xbox 360 controller is an easy way to do this: just connect it to your phone with a USB OTG cable, launch a game and it should work right away, no configuration required.

What is your favorite use for USB OTG? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Sorin 5 months ago Link to comment

    I used a wireless mouse and connected the adapter to the smartphone via an OTG cable and went perfectly. I also copied photos from an SD memory card from the camera via an SD reader. I did not try, but even the Internet can be accessed by using a NET to USB adapter, the connection speed being much higher than Wi-Fi. Also, using an OTG cable, you can charge the battery to another phone!


  • Wow, rehash of a VERY OLD article.


    • At least it brings the article back up to the top and it's relevant if not much has changed. Saves me from having to search for it. And this is something I'm interested in looking into. Just saying.


  • thanks works for me


  • I just made a mistake, I hope it's not huge and without consequences.

    I bought a USB hub 3.0 with OTG function, the main unit has a USB plug that connects to the computer and on the same cable a OTG microUSB 2.0 plug.

    Without reading the manual I connected the usb plug to the computer and the OTG microUSB plug to the phone, of course it didn't sync or charge with the computer. The producer mention that in order to work you have to not connect simultaneously, but only one a time ( pc or phone ).

    Any damages could appear after such a wrong connection, or there are safety measures/ mechanism in order to avoid damages to the pc, phone and the hub itself ?

    Best regards,
    Laurentiu


  • I just bought another OTG connector. THis one has the microSD card reader built in for microUSB and standard USB. As I have said earlier, the GoPro Hero 4 is very "hit and miss" to see the photos and stills that are on the camera and get them moved to tablet. But my Hawkeye S7 camera works every time. Why the difference?

    If I remove the SD card from camera and hook it to OTG cable, then I always get to see the photos and videos. So it cannot be a format (Fat32 vs NTFS) difference. There is something about the USB connection in the cameras that make one type work EVERYTIME and other camera software work SOME-OF-THE-TIME. Any hints as to what is happening here?
    tjcooper


  • Hi, I have managed to see the USB device contents connected to my Galaxy S2 where the total commander is installed.
    My question now is how to transfer data from the S2 to the USB device.
    Important to know: USB device volume information on top of the total commander: "[NTFS] (Readonly)..."
    So it looks like it wouldn't be possible to paste data on the USB device because it's not writable.

    And on the other hand you obviously can't copy folders on S2 (or other android phones), so you have to check all files in that folder separately (about 1000 in my case)...

    And when I click on a folder in Total Commander then the folder is checked and I can copy that folder to the clipboard
    but there's no "paste" under my "My Files" in order to transfer the data onto my S2.


    • go to Google Play and download USB Stick application. THat works with Total commander to give you both Fat32 and NTFS support on your device. Spend the $.99 to get the non-advertised version. Certain devices (GoPro camera Hero 4 are hit and miss with this setup. Other cameras work every time). tjcooper


  • If only it were that easy. Many devices that appear to have OTG support for things such as removable storage are utterly useless with respect to keyboards and mice. Some work, some don't. It is a very "hit or miss" proposition. I have kit kat devices where it works perfectly and marshmallow devices where nothing works. Much of the effectiveness of OTG seems to hinge on the vendor providing the Android build.


    • Patsy Dec 29, 2016 Link to comment

      so, can I try this cable and see if it works? Could something blow up if I do? ;-) Can I use another cable to connect the tablet with the computer? The one that connects my camera to the computer (if the connection fits properly)? (don't understand your kitkat and marshmallow references!!) thanks,,,,,


  • Patsy Dec 27, 2016 Link to comment

    I got myself a $40 fire tablet from amazon. An icon, "photo importer" says "To import photos and videos from your camera, connect it with an OTG cable." Think I could plug it into my computer? To transfer one picture at a time ?


  • Galera to com dificuldade em conectar meu controle xbox no meu smartfone J3. Ja baixei os app joystick center e o joy2touch so que quando aperto no botao j>t da erro dev/uinput como se nao conseguisse acessar a pasta. JA tentei resolver com o selinux mais nao obtive sucesso.


  • If someone could help that would be great. My Note 4 is locked and pin protected. My lcd screen doesn't work. I read a thread on another website saying he bought an usb otg cable and plugged it into a keyboard and his phone and allowed him to use his keyboard to enter his pin to unlock the phone then used Kies 3 to back it up. Is this actually possible? If I buy it, can I plug it into my computer and locked cell phone w a black screen and unlock my phone? Where would it tell me to enter the pin to unlock my phone? I need both audio and pictures off my phone.

    I have since figured out how to unlocked my cell. I had it registered through Samsung's Find my phone app, which unlocked my phone and allowed apps on my pc to back it up


    • Actually if the lcd is broken... stylus might be still working. You can use a usb to hdmi adapter to show content on a monitor or tv and use the stylus even above a destroyed lcd to unlock it.


  • Thanks, I've used for a thumb drive but wasn't aware it would work for a mouse or keyboard. I was able to use the same micro to USB adapter for a wireless mouse radio and voila. Will want to play with whether it works editing in various apps.


  • I bought one to plug a mouse into my android phone because my screen was cracked. I couldn't enter my password and get into my phone without that mouse. I'll be waiting 5 days until a new phone Is shipped out. What a little life saver the OTG adapter is!


    • In deed ... also a keyboard with attached mousepad worked... rescued me often


    • Hi - How did you do this ? I have same problem, cracked screen. Bought otg adaptor but when i plug mouse in at lock screen nothing happens. Tried it on a phone wuth unlocked screen and it works fine. Suspect the lockscreen is blocking other devices . I have a sony z5 compact. Any help would be ace.


  • i have been usisng my USB storage for a while now. i have a note 3 with an internal SD card. I hardly ever use the SD anymore I prefer my USB storage device I even run with it for the music. its so convenient to have all your files readily available across all device. In ny opinion its the way to go and the chances that you will loose the phone and the USB at the same time are less.


  • Very simple - I use otg to quickly send pictures from my camera (via an sd-card), without the need to bring my computer on the move.

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