Long ago, the best tool for slapping two pieces of technology together was the mighty Roll of Duct Tape. It brought us such wonders as Flashlight Taped to Gun, Cardboard Taped to Broken Car Window, and even the ever-popular Command Module Carbon Dioxide Filter Taped to Lunar Module Receptor.
In these more enlightened days, the USB drive has risen as the primary mode of integrating two forms of disparate hardware. Unfortunately, Android devices come equipped with the far less-ubiquitous micro USB drive, so all that USB-ready technology lies just outside of reach. Except it’s not, really.
Even though it’s not being marketed or sold by any major phone manufacturers, a tiny little cable called the USB On-The-Go adapter can let you have a lot of USB-related fun with your Android device.
What is this thing?
USB On-The-Go is really just a micro USB cable that runs out to a female USB port. You plug it into your Android device, and it effectively gives your device a USB port. Now you can use a slew of different gadgets that weren’t necessarily designed with Android interface in mind.
So, does it work on just about everything?
No, unfortunately. Compatibility is actually extremely hit-and-miss, because not a lot of Android device designers were really working with USB functionality in mind. Figuring out whether devices work with USB OTG has been a matter of trial and error, with some devices only having partial functionality and others taking to it like ducks to water. It seems like Samsung has the most USB capability overall so far.
Although Android devices have been USB-host-mode ready since Android 3.1, the problem is that hardware manufacturers have to enable that feature. If they don’t, then your device will just be mystified if you try to plug a USB drive into it.
How do I make it… do things?
Time to break out the hyperactive, tinkering little kid inside you, because there aren’t really any established instructions or best practices for USB OTG. You might as well just grab one and see what works with your device, but so far we’ve discovered some pretty awesome uses.
Move pictures and video from your professional camera over to your tablet or phone with ease. If you’re someone who uses Adobe Lightroom on a regular basis or are an avid photographer, this might be a killer setup for you. No longer will you have to go through your computer as an intermediary; you can zip those photos right over to your phone for on-site review or retouching.
If you’re someone who does a lot of writing, this is certainly an attractive capability. I’ve done some lengthy writing on my phone in a pinch situation before, and I can tell you it wasn’t the best time. Having the ability to write as freely and quickly on a phone as you can on a PC or laptop is a pretty awesome feature.
With a USB OTG, you can attach your Android device to your digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. This can let you use apps like DSLR Controller to give you full command over the camera from your Android.
It’s a little bit odd that even the most compatible devices would have this functionality, but it seems like you can connect a mouse on most of them and have a pointer materialize on your screen. Use it just like you would on your computer. Doesn’t seem terribly practical, but it’s definitely interesting. Maybe you could use it to play old-school first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D or DOOM.
Speaking of games…
With emulators and roms becoming increasingly popular, one of the only downsides to playing them on your phone has been the inherent clumsiness of using a touch screen to mimick something as complex and alien as the N64 controller. I mean, who designed that thing?
Since retro gaming has gotten so popular, you can now buy USB retro controllers relatively inexpensively. Plug one of those guys into your USB OTG, and suddenly you’ve got nostalgia in your pocket whenever you need it.
As a plus, the PS3 controller, which has a USB end, is compatible right out of the box with a handful of devices including the Samsung Galaxy S III.
External hard drive
Although your Android device’s power output isn’t stout enough to keep an unpowered hard drive operational, you can use a plug-in-the-wall powered hard drive to move some files around. Great if you’ve maxed out your phone’s hard drive and want to make some more room.
Because your Android powers whatever device it’s connected to, a portable (not powered) hard drive won’t work. However, a powered hard drive will, since it relies on energy from an external source. With the hard drive connected, you can read, write, and transfer any stored files.
Although this won’t work for some devices, you can plug a thumb drive in and most compatible Android devices treat a USB thumbdrive just like your computer does. Check some files on the go or tuck others away for safekeeping.
Connect to the internet through your USB port with an ethernet adapter. This is a great option for someone who struggles with spotty WiFi reception. With this adaptor-on-adaptor setup, you can jack right into the wall for some of that Grade-A, primo internet. Delicious!
Yep. If you want to do more than one of the above at once, like have two video game controllers or a mouse and a keyboard, then grab a USB expander and give them both a whirl. Who knows what you can come up with?
So those are some of the more useful things we found we could do with the USB OTG adapter. Do you have any creative favorites? How do you put USB OTG to work for you?