With Android Marshmallow being available now for a couple of months, there has been plenty written on its impressive list of highlight features. My review of the release covered most of those and I have also posted that I think Doze and App Sleep are the true killer features of the release.
But there is another feature that Android users have long wanted out of the platform that has come with Marshmallow: Native USB On-the-go (OTG) support. For those who aren’t familiar with OTG, it allows you to plug in a small adapter to your device and then read things like USB memory sticks, run a USB based keyboard or mouse as if your phone or tablet were a PC. It gives you the ability for example to transfer files from your Android tablet to a USB key to share with others. In previous released of Android, OTG support was not inherently supported and effectively required that you have your device rooted even if your hardware technically supported it. That, it seems for Nexus devices, has gone away.
That last phrase is key as I explore this with you. Right now it appears that the only devices that this works on with Marshmallow are Nexus devices: Nexus 5, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, Nexus 7 (2013), Nexus 9 and Pixel C. I can confirm that I was able to connect a USB drive and a mouse successfully to my Nexus 6 and Nexus 7 while I was equally able to connect both to a colleague who as the Nexus 6P and Nexus 9. Based on information available, the Pixel C should have no problem supporting it either. Technically the Nexus 5 does support it but there have been reports of challenges getting it to work. At the end of the day, your mileage may vary so keep that in mind. Importantly, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to try this out on your devices – especially if you have a non-Nexus device – to see if it work.
Android Marshmallow Doesn’t Have The Best File Explorer Built In
Aside from a device running Android Marshmallow, you will also need to get yourself a USB OTG cable. The good news is they are super cheap. The one I have is made by Asus (the same folks who make the Nexus 7 (2013)) and it is $1.65 plus shipping from Amazon. One one end of the cable you will have a MicroUSB connector which will be how you connect it to your device. On the
other end is a USB 2.0 female connector where you can plug in a USB drive, a mouse dongle or keyboard.
If you are curious how an Android tablet does as a desktop replacement, I highly recommend reading Ron Amadeo’s post on Ars Technica on the subject. In that article Ron talks specifically about mice and keyboards with an Android device.
From this point, it is really a matter of what you want to do as to how to proceed next. If you want to use a USB mouse, just connect the USB dongle for the mouse into the OTG cable and plug it into your device’s MicroUSB connector and you should see a mouse pointer appear on your screen. The good news is you won’t need to load up any drivers or anything else to get things working. Android Marshmallow supports mice and keyboards with no additional software required.
Likely most users will want to connect a USB drive to their Android device to move files to and fro. Once you connect the OTG cable with the USB drive to your Android tablet, you will get a USB notification on your device which you can tap to access the drive. This will take you to the native Marshmallow file explorer which, to say the least, is pretty limited. In fact, moving files around is very difficult. I highly recommend getting EF File Explorer for your devices. It is free (although there is a Pro Version that is well worth the $2.99 price of admission) and will allow you to navigate to the folders on your device and move files to/from the USB drive. Your USB
drive will show up in EF File Explorer on the menu where you can tap to access it or you can eject it.
One common question that comes up with USB drives in Android is the formatting of those drives. Android Marshmallow can read exFAT formatted drives the best and that is the one I recommend. It cannot read NTFS drives nor can it read encrypted drives (like Bit Locker). Technically it can read FAT32 but sometimes there are challenges with permissions so I suggest sticking with exFAT.
All that I have outlined here, in Android Lollipop, pretty much required rooting your device. In Android Marshmallow, that isn’t required. As long as your device has the hardware to read a OTG cable, Marshmallow will read a USB drive and you can move files with ease.