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How to connect an external drive to your phone via USB

Whether you are using your Android smartphone as a game console, a multimedia server, or a camera, most of us will, at some point, maybe required to connect it to external peripherals like hard drives, USB sticks, or even a keyboard/mouse. For most of these functions to work, your smartphone needs to support a standard known as USB OTG. In this article, we explain how to use USB OTG on your Android device.

In case you weren’t aware, the USB OTG standard has been around for quite some time. As a USB standard, it allows your smartphone to connect to several peripherals. Over the years, USB OTG has been used for several purposes like flashing ROMs stored on a USB drive, or even trying to connect external hard drives to your smartphone.

USB OTG also lets accessories like mice and a keyboard be connected to your phone. This could be useful in scenarios where your screen becomes unresponsive and you may be required to connect your phone to an external display.

Is your smartphone USB OTG compatible?

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

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

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 a USB OTG Checker app for the same. 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.

The app that Nextpit recommends for verifying USB OTG Support is called the USB OTG Checker. It is a free app and you can download it from the Google Play Store

A word about power for larger capacity drives

When you connect an external hard drive to your laptop or PC, the drive itself is powered by your computer. The same is true when you connect your storage to your Android phone. However, most smartphones are not capable of pushing out quite as much power as a computer, and this can lead to problems.

Most smartphones can only provide about 0.5A of power. If your external drive requires more than this, it will simply not work. Hard drives need a bit more juice when starting up. This is because of the motor inside. If you find that your 1TB drive keeps disconnecting, this is probably your issue.

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You might need a USB OTG that allows you to connect a power bank. / © Amazon

You can solve this problem by adding an additional power source. You’ll need to get hold of an adapter that will allow you to connect a power bank as well as the connection to your device. Do this, and you should have no problems connecting your external storage to your Android smartphone. Just make sure you connect the power bank and phone first, then the external drive last.

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 your Android smartphone, 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.

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 buy an OTG cable of good quality. It is always a good idea to read some of the reviews before you purchase one online. Beware of cheap quality products and avoid them as much as possible.

Ideally, you should opt for an angled cable like the one shown in the picture below. Do note that you should also pay attention to the type of USB cable when purchasing: if your phone uses a USB Type-C port, the OTG cable should also be on the same type.

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An angled cable is more suitable for most smartphones. Also, check your port type before buying one / © Amazon

Connect your USB drive or accessory to your tablet

Connecting a USB Drive or even a portable hard drive is a very easy thing to do. Connect the OTG cable to your smartphone and plug in the flash drive or hard drive to the other end. In the case of hard drives, most phones should have no problems recognizing them. If you do end up facing issues, it could be because the phone isn’t supplying enough power to the drive. In such scenarios, please try the aforementioned power bank technique and try again.

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 phone you are using. You may also be asked to grant a one-time permission to access the hard drive. 

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Once connected, you can move files to and from your device easily. / © NextPit

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.

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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.


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