Android supports mice, keyboards, and even gamepads. On many Android devices, you can connect USB peripherals to your device. On other Android devices, you may need to connect them wirelessly via Bluetooth.
Yes, this means you can connect a mouse to your Android tablet and get a mouse cursor, or connect an Xbox 360 controller and play a game, console-style. You can even connect a keyboard and use keyboard shortcuts like Alt+Tab.
USB Mice, Keyboards, and Gamepads
Android phones and tablets don’t have standard, full-size USB ports, so you can’t plug a USB peripheral directly into it. To actually connect a USB device to your Android device, you’ll need a USB on-the-go cable. A USB OTG cable is an adapter that plugs into the Micro-USB port on your device and allows you to connect full-size USB peripherals. These cables can be purchased for a dollar or two online.
A USB OTG cable may also allow you to use other USB devices with your Android. For example, you can connect a USB flash drive to your Android phone or tablet.
Important Note: Not every Android device supports peripherals with a USB OTG cable. Some devices don’t have the appropriate hardware support. For example, you can connect USB mice and keyboards to a Nexus 7 tablet, but not a Nexus 4 smartphone. Be sure to Google whether your device supports USB OTG before purchasing a USB OTG cable.
Once you have a USB OTG cable, just plug it into your device and connect the USB device directly to it. Your peripherals should work without any additional configuration.
Bluetooth Mice, Keyboards, and Gamepads
A USB OTG cable isn’t the ideal solution for many devices. Wires add a lot of clutter to what should be a portable device. Many devices also don’t support USB OTG cables.
If your device doesn’t support USB OTG or you just don’t like wires, you’re still in luck. You can connect wireless Bluetooth mice, keyboards, and gamepads directly to your phone or tablet. Just use your Android’s Bluetooth settings screen to pair it with your device, just as you’d pair a Bluetooth headset. You’ll find this screen at Settings -> Bluetooth.
If you’re shopping for a mouse or keyboard to use with your Android tablet, you’ll probably want to purchase Bluetooth devices for convenience and compatability.
Using a Mouse, Keyboard, or Gamepad
Using your peripherals is surprisingly easy. All of these input peripherals should “just work” — no rooting or other tweaks required.
- Mouse: Connect a mouse and you will see a familiar mouse cursor appear on your screen. The cursor can be used to navigate through Android’s interface, clicking on things you’d normally tap. It works just like it would on a computer. Of course, you can also still reach out and touch the screen while the mouse is connected.
- Keyboard: Your keyboard should just work when typing in text fields, allowing you to type at a reasonable speed on a mechanical keyboard and see more of the screen by removing the need for the on-screen, touch keyboard. Many keyboard shortcuts work like they do on computers, including Alt+Tab for switching between recent apps and Ctrl + X, C, or V for Cut, Copy, and Paste.
- Gamepad: The gamepad can be used to navigate through Android’s home-screen interface and launch apps, but that’s not the ideal use. You’ll need to use the gamepad with games that support controllers. Some games (like the Sonic platformer games for Android) beg for one and work much better with a controller than with the standard touch-screen controls.
We have also covered the opposite process — here’s how to use your Android device as a mouse, keyboard, or joystick for your 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 06/5/13