SEARCH

How-To Geek

How to Use a USB Flash Drive with Your Android Phone or Tablet

usbphone

Ever want to watch a video on your phone or tablet without wasting its storage space? Or maybe you just need to view a file your friend gave you. Most modern Android devices support standard USB drives, so you can plug in a flash drive just like you would on a computer.

Modern versions of Android have improved support for external storage devices, but on some older devices, this process may require rooting. So we’ll discuss both methods here, starting with the easy, non-root method for newer phones and tablets.

First: Get a USB OTG Cable

otgcable

RELATED ARTICLE
How to Connect Mice, Keyboards, and Gamepads to an Android Phone or Tablet
Android supports mice, keyboards, and even gamepads. On many Android devices, you can connect USB peripherals to your device. On... [Read Article]

You’ve probably noticed that your phone doesn’t have a normal USB port. In order to connect the flash drive to your phone or tablet, you’ll need a USB on-the-go cable (also known as USB OTG). These cables can be had for $5 or so on Amazon. It’s a short adapter cable with a small MicroUSB connection at one end and a larger USB connection at the other end.

Unfortunately, this may not work on some devices. Your Android device needs the ability to function as an OTG host. Some smartphones and tablets may not have this ability, so you may want to perform a web search to see if your device is compatible before purchasing a cable.

Once you have it, just use the cable to connect your Android phone or tablet and USB drive together–that’s it. This cable can also be used to connect other types of USB devices to your Android phone or tablet, including USB keyboards, mice, and gamepads.

Supported File Systems

RELATED ARTICLE
What’s the Difference Between FAT32, exFAT, and NTFS?
Whether you’re formatting an internal drive, external drive, USB flash drive, or SD card, Windows will give you the choice... [Read Article]

Your USB drive should ideally be formatted with the FAT32 file system for maximum compatibility. Some Android devices may also support the exFAT file system. No Android devices will support Microsoft’s NTFS file system, unfortunately.

If your device isn’t formatted with an appropriate file system, you’ll be able to format it after connecting it to your Android device. Formatting the drive will erase its contents, however, so you should ideally make sure it’s in the correct format when you first transfer files to it.

The Non-Root Method: For Most Newer Devices

On modern versions of Android, you’ll get a notification saying the drive is “for transferring photos and media” after you attach it. You’ll see an “Explore” button that will allow you to browse the files on the drive, and an “Eject” button that will allow you to safely remove the drive.

If you’re running an older version of Android, you may need the root-only StickMount app to access the files instead.

RELATED ARTICLE
How to Use Android 6.0’s Built-in File Manager
Android includes full access to a file system, complete with support for removable SD cards. But Android itself has never... [Read Article]

Tap the “Explore” button and Android’s new file manager will open, displaying the contents of the drive. You can browse and manage the files like you normally could. Just long-press one or more files or folders to select them.

If you have videos, music, or movies on the drive, you can tap them to open them in the media viewer applications on your device. This would allow you to watch videos stored on a USB flash drive on your phone while travelling, for example.

Of course, you could also install a third-party file manager app and use that instead of Android’s built-in file manager.

img_56cbb6700183a

You can also open Android’s Settings app and tap “Storage & USB” to see an overview of your device’s internal storage and any connected external storage devices. Tap the internal storage to see the files on your device using a file manager. You can then use the file manager to copy or move files to the USB flash drive.

Some apps also allow you to save files directly to any storage device you like, or open files directly from a storage device. You can use these apps to save files to and load them from the external drive.

Eject the drive when you’re done and you can connect it to a computer or another Android device, allowing you to transfer files back-and-forth.

img_56cbbe21ea158

If you want to adjust more options, you can tap the menu button in the file manager while browsing the contents of the USB drive and tap “Settings.” There’s an option to “Format” the drive here, allowing you to erase its contents without taking it to a computer.

The Root Method: For Devices That Won’t Mount USB Drives

Some devices may support USB OTG, but for some reason don’t support mounting a USB drive (usually devices running an older version of Android). In those cases, you’ll need to root your phone and use an app called StickMount to read your flash drive. If you don’t have a version of Android with the new built-in file explorer, you’ll also need a file explorer app like ES File Explorer as well.

We’ve tested this process with our old Nexus 7 running 4.1 Jelly Bean, but there’s no guarantee it will be the same on every device. THe older your device is, the more likely you are to run into driver and other issues. So your mileage may vary.

Once those two apps are installed, plug one end of the USB OTG cable into it and connect the USB drive to the other end of the cable. You’ll see a StickMount prompt when the drive is connected. Tap OK and StickMount will make the files on the USB device accessible.

image

You’ll need to grant root access to StickMount. The process will fail here if you aren’t rooted.

image

If you agree to both dialogs and select the Use by default option in the first dialog, you won’t see any dialogs when you next connect your USB drive–this will all happen automatically.

You’ll see a notification indicating that StickMount successfully mounted the device under /sdcard/usbStorage.

image

Open the ES File Explorer app on your device and tap the usbStorge folder.

image

You’ll see at least one folder inside the usbStorage folder. These folders represent the different partitions on your connected devices.

image

Tap the folder and you’ll see the files inside it. Tap or long-press the files to open them or manipulate them normally.

image

In this case, I’ve used this drive to watch a video on my tablet, which doesn’t have a lot of free space right now.

image

When you’re done, you can tap the StickMount option in your notification tray to unmount (eject) the drive and then disconnect it. This notification also informs you when StickMount has successfully mounted a drive.


While the cable is a tad bit bulky, it’s still convenient for watching videos on an airplane or while sitting around your house. You can also use it to move files around for any other purpose, just as you’d use a USB drive on a computer.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 02/28/16
  • Greg S

    You can also buy USB thumbdrives with both normal USB connector and MicroUSB connector. Example: SanDisk Ultra 64GB USB 3.0 OTG Flash Drive With micro USB connector For Android Mobile Devices- SDDD2-064G-G46 (on Amazon).

  • Don't always need a OTG cable as some flash drives have integrated OTG support. Examples below (I own the first - works well):

    www.amazon.com/Samsung-Flash-Drive-MUF-64CB-AM/dp/B013UHK0TK

  • I've been thinking of getting a micro USB SD card reader so I can email pics from my Canon Rebel when I don't have my laptop with me. Anyone have any suggestions that will work with an Android device?

  • Greg S

    Lots of them on Amazon, just search "sd card reader micro usb"

  • Yeah, thanks, I just wondered if anyone here has one they recommend.

  • Greg S

    Stick with the major name brands, and be sure they list them as being compatible with Android.

  • Is there by any chance that my Android phone will get infected if I plug a USB stick with virus in it?

  • Don Harper

    OTG Cables work just great, but you cannot charge thru it, which means you cannot charge while accessing a USB Stick or other device. They're really handy for watching movies in flight or waiting at the gate for your flight. They're a necessity if you have a phone like a Moto x Gen 2 with 16GB.

  • Don Harper

    I buy them on EBay in multiples of 5 or 10 as they're really cheap. My favorites have multiple inputs.... Look at Item Number371466012230 most have free shipping. Delivery in 7-10 business days with no problems.

  • Or buy a USB/OTG flash drive

  • DMcCunney

    If you have a rooted device, it's possible to read external drives formatted NTFS.

    I have a USB drive intended as a backup drive and normally used with a XP based netbook. I have an OTG cable normally used for attaching an external keyboard. I plugged in a 4 port USB hub, and was able to attach both keyboard and a mouse and have them visible and working on the tablet. I wondered if I could access the backup drive as well.

    Paragon Technologie GmbH offers a freeware Android driver that adds NTFS and exFAT file system support. It requires a rooted device to work. I installed the driver and plugged in the USB drive through the hub. Android saw and could access it.

    Successful use required using a powered hub connected to an adapter and outlet. The drive expected to get power from the host via USB, but the tablet lacked the power to supply it. The drive would be seen and mounted but then drop off the system. With power provided by the hub, that limit went away and the drive could me mounted, read from, and written to.

    See https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.paragon.mounter&hl=en to get the Paragon driver.

    >Dennis

  • Pradip Shah

    There are OTG cables available that have type A connector also to power external port powered drives as well as charge the device. I own one. Search on AliExpress or DX.

  • Pradip Shah

    "No Android devices will support Microsoft’s NTFS file system, unfortunately." Not true. May be not in native mode. But that is no hinderance. Here is a link to freeware app that will do it.

    Https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.paragon.mounter

  • Greg S

    Just as likely you'll get a virus from web pages or email attachments. Android is based on Linux, which is pretty safe in general. Most viruses are targeted towards windows based computers, but not all.

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!