A USB OTG adapter allows you to connect devices like keyboards, external USB hard drives, and even gaming controllers to your Android smartphone or tablet computer.
The iPad Camera Connection Kit already allows you to connect a number of unexpected USB devices, like an MIDI keyboard, to their iOS iPads. But what can I use for Android? Even though it isn’t really advertised or sold by any of the big Android phone manufacturers, the solution is an inexpensive usb cable called a USB On-The-Go Adapter.
A USB On-The-Go (OTG) adapter is basically a female USB port that plugs into the Micro-USB port on your smartphone or tablet computer, and lets you connect devices to it that use standard USB 2.0 or 3.0 connections. In other words, this adapter lets an Android device become a “USB host,” powering and communicating with your connected device.
Thus far, it has been a bit complicated to figure out exactly which Android devices are compatible with the USB OTG adapter. We have found however, that most Samsung Android smartphones and tablets are able to connect to the device successfully.
Even though the USB host mode is technically available in all devices running Android 3.1 or higher, the hardware manufacturers must first enable this option – which not all do. For commercial reasons, manufacturers sometimes limit the types of USB devices that an Android phone or tablet supports.
So far, we’ve been able to successfully connect the following Android devices to the USB OTG adapter:
- Samsung Galaxy S2
- Samsung Galaxy S3
- Galaxy Nexus
- Nexus 7
- Droid RAZR
- Samsung Galaxy Tab
- Acer Iconia Tab A200
- Acer Iconia Tab A500
- Archos G9
- Notion Ink Adam
- Motorola Xoom
- Toshiba Excite 10
- Sony Tablet S
As a quick note, keep in mind that although the Galaxy Nexus may support many USB accessories, they do not support mass storage devices, like external hard drives and usb flash drives.
It is possible that some additional devices might become compatible with future Android software updates, namely Android Jelly Bean, but until that time, those of you who want to hook up your USB accessories to your unsupported Android devices will have to root.
Unfortunately, there is no included manual or set of instructions on how to use the USB OTG adapter. It also does not include any list whatsoever on what kind of USB accessories are compatible with it either. But that’s why we’re here.
When you plug your OTG adapter into your Android device, a quick notification will let you know that your smartphone or tablet has recognized the adapter and is ready to be a USB host. From that point, you can begin testing out your various USB accessories to figure out which ones work.
Here’s what I found worked on the Samsung Galaxy S3:
USB Drives – When you plug in a USB drive, your Android will quickly display its contents. You can then play movies or music, view photos and open documents. The interface also lets you move or copy your data on the USB drive to your phone’s micro SD card. I found this to be the most practical use of the USB OTG adapter, and a quick way to transfer files onto your phone.
Keyboards – If you need to do some heavy writing on your smartphone for some reason, you could attach a standard computer keyboard, both wired and wireless, to type on your Android phone or tablet’s notes app. Even traditional shortcuts like Ctrl-C and Ctrl-A will work just fine.
Mouse – Now this is cool. You can connect a computer mouse, wired or wireless, and use a traditional cursor that pops up on the screen to navigate through your Android device.
USB Hubs – With a USB hub you can actually connect both your keyboard and mouse and use them at the same time. Using your USB OTG adapter, not only can you do this, but people will think that you have the world’s smallest desktop. Keep in mind however, that your Android device’s battery will drain pretty quickly.
Powered Hard Drives – Since your Android device charges whatever is connected to it, a self powered hard drive will not work. However, you can use a powered hard drive, since it relies on energy from an external source. And just like with USB drives, you can read, write and transfer files right onto your Android device.
PlayStation 3 Controllers – Now we’re ready to have some fun. The USB OTG adapter can also connect your PS3 controllers to your Android device. Right when you connect it, you can navigate the interface using the analog stick. Even better though, the controller works with some Android games.
Card readers – Photographers will love this little icing on the cake. The USB OTG adapter is also compatible with card readers. Basically, you can shoot photos on your camera and then upload them on-the-go using your Android smartphone or Tablet. This could be great for professional photographers to show their clients previews of their work or share some RAW files of photo shoots through apps like Instagram and Facebook.
USB to Ethernet Adapters – Let’s say you don’t have Wi-Fi in your area, or you want to secure Internet connection, then you can connect a USB to Ethernet adapter to your USB OTG and connect your smartphone or tablet to a wired Ethernet connection.
With the Jelly Bean update, probably more Android devices will likely have support for USB hosting. If you find any additional Android devices that can support the USB OTG adapter, or other cool USB accessories that is compatible with it, let us know!