OTG cables are the class of USB to USB cables that plug into your Android phone or tablet through the Micro-USB port and allows other full-size USB cables to plug into it. The OTG abbreviation stands for On-The-Go. This little dongle allows your device to be in control of whatever is plugged in to it.
Fair enough, it doesn't work for all devices, but new hand phones released within these 2 years and all Nexus products from Google are usually safe bets. I've tested this with Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy S3, HTC Desire Z, and Motorola RAZR and they all work fine, so that should cover a lot of devices.
1. Keyboard and mouse
The first and easiest thing you can do is to plug in your keyboard and mouse. As simple as plug and play. Using this, you’ll save yourself from buying an expensive tablet-dedicated keyboard. Moreover, you can even utilize the popular shortcut keys like Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V etc. Similarly applicable for the computer mouse - when it's plugged in, an arrow will immediately appear on the screen, just like in your computer. The beauty of this method is the simplicity to which the accessories work with Android so seamlessly, as if it has always been designed to be.
This section of the text is written on my Nexus 7 using the Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse combination. Yes, if your cordless mouse and keyboard use the same receiver, they will both work just as well.
2. Game controller
I have to admit, this was my main reason of getting the OTG. I have had an Xbox 360 controller lying around, and for a long time I didn’t have any use for it as I was not playing anymore. The controller has a long wire with a USB port at the end, that’s when I knew it could be done. When connected to the tablet, the controller lights up at the centre, acknowledging the connection. A lot of games on the market have already included support for controllers, such as Shadowgun, Dead Trigger, GTA... However, some of my favourites like FIFA and Need for Speed titles are not compatible yet. Here’s hoping to that changing in the future releases.
I have tried Xbox 360 controllers, both wired and wireless and they have worked beautifully. There are also lots of reports of PS3’s Dualshock, Logitech, Razer and other controllers that have been paired successfully.
3. Access flash drives, external hard disks
This function requires a little investment from your side, but trust me – it’s worth it. A lot of devices are released nowadays without expandable memories, so getting that little extra from external source can be really beneficial. Similarly if there’s a choice of a same phone with 16GB and 32GB, but the price difference is $100, you might consider spending just $15 to get an OTG cable and a flash drive as large as you want.
The only app you’ll need to download is Nexus Media Importer ($3.99 in Play Store) to access all of this. You can even bypass this altogether and use external memory for free if your device is rooted, but that’s a different story. If you feel those tiny flash drives are a not big enough, try connecting to your external hard drive. I could access my Seagate 500GB drive and watch movies straight from there.
4. Operate a DSLR camera
This has been aspiring photographers’ unrealized wet dream for a very long time. Simply install the DSLR Controller app and the next time you plug in a Canon or Nikon DSLR, you will be able to use your tablet or phone as a viewfinder, or in other word, you see on the phone whatever is going on through your camera's lenses. All camera manipulations can be done through your phone: take picture, change aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus length, HDR steps and so on. And if you didn't understand what those words mean, just know this: remote shutter.
It doesn't really work with devices before the live view was introduced in Canon in Nikon cameras. Chances are, if you're reading this in 2013, your camera is supported.
In the case that your camera is not officially supported, you can always use the tablet as a gorgeous external photo viewer - it can access your camera's memory in real-time too. Just run the photos through the filters and you're ready to Instagram them right away.
5. Recharge your dying phone
I should have known this, and yet still so unbelievable. You can charge another phone through your main device. Don't you just hate it when your tablet is full of juice and your phone is drying up in the red? In this case you will have a Frankenstein-alike cable with 2 micro USB plugs from each side. Just connect the OTG end to your "mothership" device and it's ready to share the battery. Even though the charging is slow, this method has successfully resuscitated my phone numerous times before I got a power bank.
7. USB Hub
Here's a neat trick: with all these functions achievable by the little OTG connector, you can combine them all into a USB hub and connect all of the aforementioned devices in, provided it's within the reasonable limits. I had no problem concurrently using my keyboard, mouse, thumbdrive, memory stick and a camera on my Nexus 7. You can never have too many USB ports right?
7. Power up some low-energy consuming devices
Similar to charging up your phone, you can power other devices that require USB power as well. Now this might sound a bit ridiculous, but I've tried to plug in whatever USB devices I could find and they've all worked: a mini USB-powered fan, table vacuum cleaner, portable speakers, and even a coffee mug heater. Seems as though if there was a rice cooker running on USB, it would have worked too! Naturally, all this power-draining requires a lot of juice from your device, so consider getting the OTG Y-cable described below.
8. OTG Y-Cable
"With great responsibility comes great power"... or, well, you get the point. If you want to charge a fridge through your poor tablet, there's an option to consider the split variant of the connector. It will have an additional micro-USB hub for your regular charger to - you guessed it - charge your Android device.
Where to buy OTG Cables?
These cables are widely available on Amazon, Ebay and other e-commerce websites, simply type in "OTG cables" and they're a dime a dozen, well, almost. I've listed down below a couple of examples. Now, you can always get an expensive cable from famous brands, but even the $0.99 cable works just as fine, maybe it's not worth to spend that much more?
OTG Cables on Amazon
Hope this guide has helped you a bit with getting to know more about OTG cables and the possibilities you can achieve with Android devices.
By no mean this guide is comprehensive, I have been eager to test it with whatever I got my hands on. I have also heard lots of reports of other devices that might work as well, such as wireless webcams, piano keyboards, remote controlled toys, external monitors, Ethernet cable on the events of Wi-Fi outage and more. Come back here after a while, as I will update as I go along.
Tran Z (author) from Dublin on December 10, 2014:
Hi Berni, usually OTG should work right out of the box. If you plug your mouse in, the black arrow should appear on your screen right away, no special software.
You should check whether the cable itself is faulty - by plugging devices with light emitting elements (flash drive, optical mouse with red light, other phones...)
Berni on June 29, 2014:
Hello, great and comprehensive post! I've purchased the OTG cable and tried to make it work with my HTC Desire Z, but it's not working. It has the original ROM and Android 2.3.3. Did you use any special software to make it work on Desire Z? Thank you for your information.
Tran Z (author) from Dublin on May 19, 2013:
Thanks, greatstuff. It should work fine with your Galaxy Note 2, maybe with an exception of External hard drives - those require additional power.
Mazlan from Malaysia on May 19, 2013:
Wow this sounds great for my Samsung Note 2, it will work, right? Very comprehensive write here, but I got to admit I am not that familiar with some of the usage although I learn a lot from your article. Voted up and Shared.