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How to connect an external drive to your phone via USB

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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





USB Host Diagnostics
Install on Google Play

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.

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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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