What is OTG? USB On-The-Go

what is otg
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With so many acronyms being thrown around in the specifications of new Chinese Android phones and tablets it’s easy to get lost, never fear though as we are here to help. First up: What is OTG?

Many of the newer Chinese Android phones and tablets are listing OTG as one of their main features. Of the top of my head I can list the Xiaomi Mi2, JiaYu G4, Neo N003 and the new iOcean Elite as phones with OTG, so what is it?

What is OTG?

OTG is actually short for USB OTG or USB On-The-Go. Phones with OTG support allow users to be able to connect additional devices to their phone via the micro USB port for added functionality.

What can OTG be used for?

Having OTG support on any phone is great, but it really comes in to its own on phone with no SD card slot and limited on-board storage. In this case a USB thumb drive can be connected to your phone (via a special OTG cable) allowing you to browse the thumb drive and move files to and from your phone (you may also need to download file manager app). In addition to thumb drives you can also connect to SD card readers, cameras, and even external hard-drives.

usb otg cable

Moving files and adding storage aren’t the only way OTG can be used, you can even connect a mouse or keyboard to your device allowing you to be more productive on the go. This is especially useful for Android tablets.

We have even seen people connect USB powered vacuum cleaners and hand cleaners to their USB On-The-Go equipped phones!

Watch OTG in action on a Xiaomi Mi2

What do you use OTG for?

What do you use OTG for? Is OTG a make or break feature when buying a new Android device? Let us know in the comments below.

  • burnt_52

    With it being hard to get accurate specs on Chinese phones it would be a good idea for uses to update which phones actually have this. With some like the Jiayu G4 its difficult to find out if current models being sold have it as half the time the shops don’t understand and reply with “Yes this phone has USB” or that no phones have OTG and only tablets have OTG port.

  • hamsteyr

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nh2NSLgaII

    May or may not be related, but it reminded me of this :3

    • http://www.gizchina.com Andi

      WOW!!!!!

  • BrianJackson

    Why do I want OTG? I have a very particular requirement…I want to watch BBC Iplayer (ITV Player etc) in Spain via my HD TV. Cant get them through my Humax Freesat box as it knows I am not in the UK but connect the phone via a USB OTG to HDMI cable to my TV (needs extra power), Set ‘Allow Mock Locations’ in the Developer Options and use an App (there are a couple) to change my devices location to my UK address….Bobs your uncle..at least I hope it will work?

    • allavalabala

      So did it work?

      • BrianJackson

        No.on three counts. Not got OTG, OTG to Hdmi needs MHL and even though I can change the location with Mock Location and Google Maps and other Apps think they are in the UK BBC iPlayer must get its location from the wifi and still says ‘Only available in the UK’…next step investigate a proxy server (which is what others do in Spain)

        • http://www.gizchina.com Andi

          Try Astril or Strong VPN, Overplay were good to when I used them.

          • BrianJackson

            Thanks will do!

  • Jan Bouvrie

    USB On-The-Go (also known as USB Host) ports on a phone differ from ‘regular’ micro-USB ports in that they can ALSO provide power to attached devices. Having this feature-set in your pocket basically converts your phone into a slimmed down laptop device; provided there are drivers and apps for the devices you’re hooking up to it, you can use all kinds of USB devices.

    Ideally (for starters), I want a phone that’s capable of reading a movie from an OTG-attached storage device, *while* outputting the video to a HDTV through MHL or (mini/micro)HDMI. Preferably, the phone would be hooked up to a charger while doing so too.

    However, it’s my understanding that MHL (Mobile HD Link, outputting video to a TV) uses 5 pins of an USB port. Most devices go with USB ports with a 5-pin connector; only selected Samsung (Galaxy) devices sport 11-pin connectors. Having a 5-pin connector means that the port can be EITHER usb OTG OR MHL at one point in time as the number of pins, whereas the 11-pin connectors can potentially support both functions SIMULTANEOUSLY. However, I’ve yet to find proof of this as some sources mention they couldn’t get it working ( http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1958511 and http://www.gottabemobile.com/2012/06/29/galaxy-s-iii-new-mhl-connector-also-enables-usb-on-go/ ) and some suggest the Samsung devices require a special dock to allow said simultaneous functionality ( http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=nl&tl=en&js=n&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fgathering.tweakers.net%2Fforum%2Flist_messages%2F1530648#39488821 ).

    Once this kind of functionality works, I’ll probably use my phone as a portable desktop environment, i.e. connecting mouse,keyboard and a monitor to it to
    be more productive. :)

  • wolf

    Hi Andi,
    you list only Xiaomi Mi2, JiaYu G4, Neo N003 and the new iOcean Elite, only one exist, the others are only annunced!
    There are also:
    – Vowney/Verne V5
    – Zopo C2
    – Zopo ZP980 (B version)
    – ZTE V987
    Can you add this others that are already selling? Thank you!

    • http://www.gizchina.com Andi

      Cheers for that!! :)

  • Greg

    Good eh? At first when I heard that Samsung has changed to MHL Version 2 for the Note I thought it was an excuse to sell us all new adapters, but in truth being able to use MHL and OTG at the same time is so useful.

    I recently bought my mum a Hyundai T7s. Whilst setting it up for her I had a four port USB hub plugged into it via an OTG adapter with a hard drive and full sized wireless USB keyboard and mouse plugged into it. Using a mini HDMI cable I also had it plugged into a TV at the same time and it really was like a little PC. I almost kept it for myself!

    One thing to note for people using MHL is that the phone has to work even harder to duplicate the image a second time on a TV. This rally affects performance badly. It can be quantified by running a benchmark like Epic Citadel first just on the phone, then with the phone plugged into a tv – frame rates really fall.

  • John Doe

    I want to show movies, games from my phone on my TV. Does this require OTG? I saw a video of a NEO N003 that was hooked up to a TV with what I think was a USB to HDMI cable. I would like to do the same.

    • Greg

      John Doe. A USB OTG adapter does not allow you to connect your phone to a tv.

      If your device only has a micro USB port, and if it supports it, you need an MHL adapter to connect it to a tv. There ate currently two versions of MHL available, the most recent of which uses has more pins and allows simultaneous MHL and USB OTG. (Samsung’s Galaxy Note supports this latter specification by use of a special dock).

      • Jan Bouvrie

        1) I wouldn’t state that Samsung’s proprietary 11-pin MHL is a ‘more recent version of MHL': MHL as a specification is not tied to a specific type of hardware connector and Samsung’s design is something they came up with for themselves.
        2) A full-blown (powered!) dock is different from an adapter cable: I’d say if the Galaxy Note supported both MHL and USB OTG, it wouldn’t require a dock, but an unpowered adapter cable would have sufficed.

        • Greg

          An MHL adapter has to be externally powered for it to work anyway – do you use one?

          Also, some devices cannot provide power to via USB OTG and also, therefore, have to use devices that are externally powered (such as a powered USB hub).

          Some devices that can provide power to external devices via USB can only power things like a flash drive as opposed to a wireless keyboard and mouse/hard drive. Unless you’re just using a flash drive, based on my own experience I’d say it’s always best to plug a powered USB hub into the USB OTG adapter – things are much mote stable that way.

          • Jan Bouvrie

            I thought that USB OTG *requires* that an USB port is powered, and I assumed that OTG-enabled devices were able to provide the same level of power as a desktop PC (i.e. standard 5V USB power). Are you saying that this isn’t the case and thus some USB peripherals would require additional power added to the OTG-enabled devices, as opposed to a desktop PC?

            • BrianJackson
            • Greg

              One example of USB OTG is my girlfriend’s Galaxy Note. I bought a little OTG adapter that also combines a memory card reader (made by Samsung). The Note does indeed power it and it works well for memory cards, but when we plugged in a wireless keyboard and mouse it doesn’t work. If we plug a powered USB hub into the the adapter, and then plug the wireless keyboard into the hub, hey presto everything works perfectly. The same is true of a small USB hard drive I have that is in theory bus powered. The Note doesn’t seem to be able to power it properly.

              Some devices that do not natively support USB OTG can be made to do so via a kernel hack. My HTC Sensation is a good example. The problem here is that my phone cannot power the USB device, so I have to use either a powered USB hub or a splitter cable.

              Hope I’ve made sense, I’m posting from my phone which is very awkward and results in many typos :)

            • Jan Bouvrie

              No worries, you made sublime sense! :) Thing is, it seems hard to find in-depth proper information about some mobile tech (partially because some companies tend to modify and/or relabel it).

              Take the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 for example: both devices have ‘Infra Red capabilities’ (IR Transmitter), yet only the HTC One features an IR Receiver. This may be a deal breaker for when people want their phone to customize (learn) IR commands. Yet most sites never mention this, until customers post their complaints.

              Aside from the manufacturers, I’ve seen some phone hacks from the community, for example enabling OTG on Nexus 4 (by using powered hub, with modified kernel/ROM). So even though the manufacturer does not support it, a community might be able to (in select cases).

              I wonder why the Note wasn’t able to power some devices though – I’d say if 5V USB is a requirement of the standard, the bus should either be powered properly (5V) or not powered at all? Though I can imagine hooking up *multiple* devices to it would be more problematic.

  • Greg B

    Brian – Yes, I have two MHL adapters, one for my HTC Sensation (original type) and one for my deceased Note 2 (Samsung Version 2 with 11 pins). Both versions require external power. At home I use my standard charger, but on holiday I use an external battery pack – along with a small Bluetooth keyboard and an HDMI cable this makes for an excellent mobile PC/media player :)

    Jan: Yes, it’s annoying about the different IR specs and how little attention such things get.

    I have a couple more. Using the same MHL adapter, when I connect my Sensation to a TV it outputs at 720p @60hz which makes for a fairly smooth experience. My girlfriend’s Note 1, on the other hand, outputs at 1080i and only 24hz which makes for a very jerky experience.

    The same can also be said for how the same Bluetooth keyboard with built in mouse works when connected to the Sensation and the Note 1. On the Note the right click and mouse wheel buttons do different things to the Sensation. On the Sensation some of the media buttons work properly, but not on others while on the Note the reverse is true. None of this gets much attention in reviews. LOL.

    No idea why the Note can’t power either of our wireless keyboards. My mum’s Hyundai T7s managed without a problem.

    • Jan Bouvrie

      This is quite annoying. I not only learned that having the external power on a MHL adapter is a REQUIREMENT and not a feature, but according to a review on the Galaxy MHL adapter, “the only down fall is that even with the charger pluged in the battery will go dead”. So even if MHL is all set up with external power, the device will run out of juice eventually?

      Perhaps in that case, the Samsung dock alleviates that shortcoming, even though it’s not too elegant a solution IMO.

      I wish I could test devices in detail before I commit to one. Asking detailed tech questions to manufacturers seems to result in inconclusive answers, especially with Chinese companies. :P

      • Greg

        Whether or not the phone gains charge or drains while using MHL depends on exactly how much work the phone is having to do while it is connected to the TV. In my experience , anything intensive like playing a graphically intensive games doea indeed result in the battery slowly draining. This is because when charging via MHL, the phone thinks it is connected to USB and NOT a mains charger. This can be verified by looking under settings and battery.

  • Shaunuss

    Here’s a video of the Neo N003 being used with MHL, AND a mouse and keyboard all at the same time. Dope, this is why I want one.

    I want to be able to take my phone and a repurposed empty protein tub containing my silicon roll up waterproof keyboard, wireless mouse, micro USB hub, and a range of other handy gadgets with me into the field so I can have a little mobile computing platform available at all times.

    I think OTG is fantastic!

    • Shaunuss

      Whoops how about I remember to actually link the video this time? :P

      • Jan Bouvrie

        Funny, based on that video I’d say the MHL output is unpowered. But I guess they hid the power cable behind the TV? :P

        • Greg B

          Jan: I think there is another option for you which is Slimport. I have not used this yet. The Google Nexus 4 uses Slimport (instead of an MHL adapter) to connect to a TV. The adapter looks very similar, but if I have understood correctly you don’t have to provide power to it via a charger (although there is a micro usb port in the side so that you can if you want to). It sound like what you want is a device with a Slimport compliant micro USB port rather than one which is MHL compliant. It’s all a bit confusing though, eh?

          With regard to the Neo in the video, you are right, I can’t see a source of power going to the adapter (I can’t see an adapter at all). This makes me wonder if the new Neo is using Slimport rather than MHL, OR, is there a mini HDMI port in the phone in addition to a micro usb port (like many tablets have)? I don’t know anything about the Neo N003 so I’m just surmising ;)

      • Greg B

        Shaunuss, I think you are confusing MHL and USB OTG. The two are different and stand alone.

        What you see in the video is not USB on-the-go as far as I can see. The keyboard and mouse look like they are connected wirelessly via Bluetooth as opposed to being plugged in via USB.

        With the first generation of video out using MHL, you cannot connect to a tv AND connect a hard drive or keyboard via USB as the same time. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note can connect to a TV using an MHL adapter and an HDMI cable (with power provided by a mains charger or a battery pack/bank). It can also connect to a mouse, keyboard, USB hub, hard drive or game controller via a USB OTG adapter. It cannot do both at the same time (much to my girlfriend’s annoyance!)

        • Greg B

          By the way, I can’t read the text along the bottom of the video, so if I’m completely wrong, please tell :)

        • Shaunuss

          Fair points, even so, at least you can still use mouse and keyboard even if it is with bluetooth! I wonder if MHL and OTG would work at the same time if you used a micro usb hub, and ran the MHL adapter off the hub at the same time as USB mouse and keyboards?

          • Jan Bouvrie

            I think the port can do MHL or USB exclusively as both require exclusive access to 5-pins? Interesting reads on this topic are: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1741583 (MHL with USB OTG?) , http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1953061 (diy smart dock for galaxy s3 ) and http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2142357 ([HW MOD][UPDATE][JB] USB OTG + Charging on the Galaxy S3) but as far as I know those mods so far would work only on the 11-pin port devices Samsung made.

          • Greg B

            I tried that, it doesn’t :(

            Jan’s right – there’s loads of info on XDA developers. Wading through it can be a bit awkward though.

            I use MHL TV out and a Bluetooth keyboard with built in mouse all the time, it’s awesome, especially on holiday if there’s free wifi available (and a tv in your room of course).

  • Andy R.

    the new iHTC One also has OTG, its a 1:1 Copie of the One with Logos.

  • Chinese

    请问,OTG是否支持 USB分线器,就是让一个USB接口扩展成更多的USB接口,能插更多的东西,电压是否足够???

    • Jan Bouvrie

      I think that depends on the devices: If the USB devices require more power, a *powered* USB hub might be required to provide additional power.

      Each Linux- (Android-)based OTG device should come with a Targeted Peripheral List (otg_whitelist.h) that mentions the products that should be supported officially. The device is only required to provide enough power for those devices, additional devices may or may not work.

  • sandy

    hi,is it possible to connect 4G data card to phones with USB OTG……and use it as a modem for future upgrades?
    I mean if my phone is a 3G device with OTG and i want to have a 4G speed using 4G data card connected to phone’s using OTG…..is this possible?

  • Paul

    Of course it is, to be able to shoot a home movie or download a movie or sitcom or music straight to your phone then transfer or copy straight to a usb flash drive, then put into the usb on a big screen telly is a deal breaker if a device dosent support this. Hence why i will not buy an iphone as it dosent support this. I couldnt see apple leting people put music they just bought on a device to be shared so freely around for free.!