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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
You’ll need to grant root access to StickMount. The process will fail here if you aren’t rooted.
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.
Open the ES File Explorer app on your device and tap the usbStorge folder.
You’ll see at least one folder inside the usbStorage folder. These folders represent the different partitions on your connected devices.
Tap the folder and you’ll see the files inside it. Tap or long-press the files to open them or manipulate them normally.
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.
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.