How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone

otg   How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android PhoneWhile I’m a big fan of Swype, SlideIT, and other advanced Android keyboards, there’s something to be said about a keyboard with keys on it. I mean the physical-type keyboards – you know, the clunky ones that go clack-clack-clack as you frantically type your next great novel. I wouldn’t want to have to use one of these every time I have to reply to a quick text or email on my phone, but when I decide to go out to the neighborhood café to get some serious writing done, it’d be nice to be able to take just my phone and a run-of-the-mill USB keyboard – if only for the weird looks from the other patrons.

But how can you hook up an ordinary USB keyboard to your Android phone?

Three Magic Letters: Oh, Tee, Gee

otg3   How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone

Above is the simple cable that makes the magic happen. It’s a USB OTG cable, which, expanded, really means USB On-The-Go. One its far, blurry end, you can see a Micro USB plug that fits into my Samsung Galaxy S II, the same way any other USB or charger cable fits. The near end, in focus, has a regular-sized USB jack in it – the same type you can plug a keyboard into, or a USB key, or anything else really (just because you can plug it in, doesn’t mean it’ll work with your phone, as you’ll see later on).

This is the single most important piece of hardware you’re going to need to connect a USB keyboard to your phone, and there’s no real way around it. It’s a bit tricky to get: Your neighborhood computer store may not have it, but Amazon sure does. The good news is that it’s tiny (so you won’t pay much for shipping, even if it’s international), and it’s really cheap, selling for around $1 (a single buck yes).

Once you get the cable (and the keyboard), it’s time to discuss software.

Root Not Required

Ideally, you should be able to plug the cable into your phone, plug a keyboard into the cable, and start typing. For my phone, that’s exactly how things went:

typing1   How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone

This obviously isn’t perfect, though, because a large software keyboard is still taking up a lot of screen space. A quick tap on the phone’s Back button fixes that, though:

otg connected3   How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone

And this is another look of the same setup, this time from the outside (i.e, not a screenshot of the phone). You can see the OTG cable snaking into my phone, and in the middle of the frame you can see it plugging into the cheapo Logitech USB keyboard I used. After hitting the Back button, I was able to just keep typing smoothly.

If You’re Using a Weird Layout

colemak   How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone

As you may recall, I use an alternative (read: better) keyboard layout called Colemak. When I connected an external keyboard before, it suddenly went QWERTY on me, which was very disorienting. If you have the same problem, you can get and install a $2.50 app called External Keyboard Helper. This app lets you set your own layout (and includes Colemak), and can also make your software Android keyboard disappear in case it doesn’t go away on its own (not a problem if you’re using Swype, as shown above).

USB Thumb Drives, Or: A Matter Of Luck and Circumstances

Originally, I was also going to cover mounting USB thumb drives using the same system. After all, if you can stick a keyboard onto the end of the OTG cable, why not plug in a USB thumb drive? There’s a free app called StickMount (requiring root access) that can help. But alas, no matter how much I fiddled with my USB thumb drive, I just couldn’t get it to work. The device is rooted, it’s running Android 4.1 (not 4.2, which StickMount is currently incompatible with), the thumb drive is operational, and yet, nothing useful happened when I plugged in the drive.

I guess this goes to show that with Android, your mileage may always vary. This does not mean you won’t be able to plug in a USB drive using this exact same system – it just means I was unable to. If you already have an OTG cable and have plugged in a keyboard, you might as well give it a go with a USB drive and share the results in the comments – I would be curious to hear how you fared!

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

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71 Comments -

0 votes

juan david gil

“As you may recall, I use an alternative (read: better) keyboard layout called Colemak” thank you sir that made my day. colemak users unite!

0 votes

Nohl Lyons

This is awesome! What phones has people tried?

0 votes

Austen Gause

that is the coolest thing ever TABLET + KEYBOARD = AWESOME

0 votes

Julian Altshul

Why not use a bluetooth keyboard for this?

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

1) Price: The cable costs $1, and many people already have a regular keyboard lying around somewhere.

2) Battery (although that’s not such a sure shot, depends on the keyboards really).

0 votes

Julian Altshul

Fair points!

0 votes

Shmuel Mendelsohn

It’s not just tablet + keyboard; it’s smart phone + keyboard which = doubly awesome!

0 votes

Anonymous

It would be good to try it with a phone as you did. With many Android Tablets, OTG Cable is almost standard and yes, most of them support both the keyboard and USB Drives. A few support hard disks also when the tablet is connected to the AC mains power. A few Tablets come with a regular USB port and the connection becomes straightforward…

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

I think OTG does not work on too many phones, actually only a very limited set in which Samsung Galaxy s2 is the king. Do anyone with the cheaper/lower end Android devices got it working .

0 votes

Anonymous

For this to work it requires ICS or newer. that is pretty much the only hitch.

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

No. I have seen it working on Samsung galaxy s2 with Gingerbread even before ICS came .

0 votes

Drew Butler

To elaborate. My comment was wrong to a degree, Android has supported standard HID devices since froyo but to an extremely limited capacity. Only a handful of devices will work with keyboards or mice without having ICS and my comment was an attempt to steer people away from spending money on something that wouldn’t work for them right out of the box. ICS brings the capability to use all sorts of peripherals and plug and play use for keyboards, mice, and game controllers on all devices running 4.0+
A lot can be done too mod anything, I modded my last Moto Photon 4g so that I could dual boot Ubuntu or an unofficial version of Jellybean. When you used that with a usb hub and an hdmi cable I always had a pc with 1 terra of storage wherever I went…My backup Photon is completely Gingerbread and will not run a KB or mouse via USB but will using Bluetooth Anyways… I have pretty much gotten out of the scene, too busy working and that phone was submerged in a 5 gallon bucket of water by my 3 y/o son(“It was dirty daddy!!”).LOL Anyways.. not trying to argue with you or rant on and on.. just sharing some of my experiences. Again I want to encourage anyone interested in android development or that just has questions about their specific device to checkout http://www.xdadevelopers.com. It’s been an extremely long day, everyone have a great night.

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

So if you could get an unofficial ICS or Jelly bean on any of those normally-not-supporting devices, they will start supporting OTG feature ? what about their hardware USB charging port, does all of them provide output voltage and current to power the connected device up ? please clarify .

0 votes

Drew Butler

stock Gingerbread* 2.3.5

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

What does this comment mean ? lol .

0 votes

Drew Butler

1. The above comment was a correction to my previous comment.(it just means my Motorola Photon 4g is the stock version of android that my phone came with which is Gingerbread version 2.3.5)
2. I first want to warn anyone without extensive knowledge to read about the processes of rooting and installing a custom ROM onto your specific device before attempting it. THIS WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY and if done incorrectly can “Brick” the device(turn it into an expensive paperweight LOL). This is partly why I didn’t bring this all up earlier. I don’t want to be responsible for someone messing up their phone. If you are still interested you will need to go to the site mentioned above and search for your device and see what is available in terms of custom ROMS & Kernels for the device in question, pretty much any question that you can think of will be answered in the forums. I am here to help if you or someone else is stuck on a specific part of the process but I do have a busy schedule so you will need to do the research.
3. To power most devices besides keyboards, mice or game controllers you will need to connect the devices to a powered usb hub and then connect the hub to the phone. Basically even though/if the phone/tablet can communicate with the device it cannot power them.

I hope this comes across correctly. While I am here to help people must be willing to take time to learn. I do not know everything but am pretty good at figuring things out. I just use past experiences, deductive reasoning & google and youtube to fill in the gaps LOL hope I don’t sound like a jerk :D. As I offered earlier if anyone needs help shoot me an email at drewbutler44 at gmail.com In order to help I need details for example: Device make and model and OS version. I can help with PC issues as well as Android issues just please be patient because I have a pretty hectic schedule. Have a great day

0 votes

Jorge Yort Rosal

Nice info. I better have one of those connectors. Can anyone help me where I can find those? thank you.

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Ebay or Amazon (I’ve linked to it in the post).

0 votes

brawdon

First, why not try a bluetooth keyboard? Second, not a problem with windows 8 devices! windows phone 8 also supports most devices via usb otg!

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Bluetooth keyboards are more expensive, basically. That’s the only reason I think.

0 votes

John Vale

Works great on my Sony S tablet. Nice tip.

0 votes

Matjaz Mirt

That’s good one. Must try!

0 votes

Anonymous

If you bother to bring a keyboard, why don’t you bring a laptop?

1 votes

Kan Cacham

This is a relatively OLD post, but anyways, some people don’t own a laptop, but a tablet only, or have a desktop and happened to find a extremely cheapo tablet, or got one as a present, etc, etc….

Having a OTG cable means going mobile, even tossing a small little wired keyboard, etc, into your travel bag and getting some serious typing done while OTG(on the go)…

0 votes

Prasanth Mathialagan

I’m thinking about buying it. Will it work with Samsung Galaxy tab 2?

0 votes

Anonymous

The Galaxy Tab 2 has a proprietary usb connector so what you need to do it would be a usb male to female converter used in conjunction with the usb data cable that came along with your tablet. Have a good one :)

0 votes

Anonymous

Wow, this is really cool! I love my iPhone but Android based phones seem extremely versatile.

0 votes

Anonymous

Most bluetooth keyboards will still work for your iphone :)

0 votes

Ellen Quinones

I will have to try this with my LG phone as soon as I can buy the cable for it :)

1 votes

Erez Zukerman

Actually, even before you buy the cable, you can Google your phone’s exact model together with “USB OTG” just to see if people have it working. It’s also hardware-related so not all phones may work — search before you buy. :)

Good luck!

0 votes

JC

I had a wireless (not Bluetooth) keyboard laying around, worked instantly on my Nexus 7.
Nice for long emails, thanks.

0 votes

Ron W.

I’ve been able to connect USB drives to my Galaxy S2 SGH-T989 via OTG – when it was running stock, unrooted (for T-Mobile) and now CM10. But the mount points are at different locations (I can’t recall what they are). I also may have been lucky with the cable – it’s an inexpensive one but maybe the capability depends on the cable.

0 votes

Anonymous

True, I connected a thumbdrive to a Note 2 and a Nexus 7 using the OTG cable but I did buy one of the more expensive $7-$10 cables, so that may be the problem if people are unable to connect to USB drives.

0 votes

Anonymous

Hey Erez, I was able to get StickMount working successfully on my 4.1 tablet but you may have to download it on another device and pull it out of TitaniumBackup (I could even email it to you if you want). Then the other thing you could try is reformating your thumbdrive to fat32. I know that alot of thumbdrives are exFat these days and that can be incompatible with some tablets/versions of Android.

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

Thanks Ben, I appreciate the tip! Maybe my thumb drive was NTFS, that could be actually.

0 votes

Hans

I can confirm that USB drives work with the S2 and OTG, but only FAT32 formatted drives are supported. Works with Gingerbread as well.
The mount point(s) on my ICS S2 are located in /sdcard/usbStorage/
e.g. /sdcard/usbStorage/UsbDriveA
On Gingerbread an USB mouse also worked, but did not work for me after upgrading to ICS.

0 votes

Anonymous

No problem! I hope you get it working because that would be a helpful article for a lot of people. I know that since I got a Nexus 7 without a microSD card slot getting this to work was very important to me. Fortunately it is working with me. I even got a nice little add-on for this project that makes the OTG cable with attached storage smaller than a thumb drive. I bought a USB adapter for a microSD card that is just the nub of the USB and the microSD goes inside the front of the USB adapter. Well take a look for yourself. It works well for me. It is the “elago Mobile Nano II USB 2.0 microSDHC Flash Memory Card Reader” on Amazon.com

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

That’s such a brilliant little device! So cool!

0 votes

Anonymous

Isn’t that cool? And it works perfectly with my Nexus 7 and my OTG cable. I was thinking about doing some DIY hacking to make this into an even smaller/flat cable that would plug into the Nexus 7, lay flat on the back of the device and provide another port to connect to power simultaneously.

0 votes

Ms Hanson

It’s called AirDroid.

0 votes

Mark

BUYER BEWARE: read the Amazon reviews!!!
Several buyers report defective products shipping, including some that ruin your device! I thought this sounded neat, but now, I think I’ll pass.

0 votes

Tina Sieber

Mark,

Which item are you referring to?

The good thing about ordering through Amazon, is that you can easily return or exchange goods. They usually extend the exchange period over the holidays.

0 votes

Mark

The link below is the first product listed when you click the Amazon link in the text of the original story. Overall, user ratings appear to be high, but if you scroll down about 3-4 reviews, one review said it bricked his Nexus 7 tablet. Like I said, buyer beware.

http://www.amazon.com/eForCity-Micro-USB-OTG-Adapter/dp/B005QX7KYU/

0 votes

Tina Sieber

Thanks for the heads-up, Mark!

0 votes

Mark

Tina, another comment: I like your articles on MakeUseOf. Keep up the good work!

0 votes

Drew Butler

+Erez Zukerman.. Nice article :). This requires ICS or newer to work and will not only allow keyboards but also other peripherals such as game controllers, usb thumbsticks, external hardrives etc. For pretty much any device other than a keyboard or controller it will require that you connect the OTG cable to a usb hub that is powered. If you or anyone else on here have any questions feel free to shoot me an email at drewbutler44 at gmail.com or read about it further by searching http://www.xda-developers.com/ .. sorry its been a while and I don’t have time to look up exact links right now.

0 votes

Tina Sieber

Thanks for offering your expertise, Drew. Much appreciated! :)

0 votes

Jeff Brown

I got a thumb drive to work with my phone using this set up. Found the drive using @jrummy16 ROM Toolbox Pro
VZW GNex Liquidsmooth RC9 ROM, Trinity Kernel

0 votes

Mark Ryan

I tried an OTG cable with my Nexus S phone and it did not work. I have Gingerbread however so ICS or JB may produce a very different result. Whenever AT&T gets around to updating its base of Nexus customers, I hope to see better results.

0 votes

Jared

You can also connect a wired 360 controller, and a wireless 360 controller dongle to your phone as well. Lets you navigate your phone and great for games.

0 votes

Yuja

I’ll wait till the price drops. Its a bit expensive here. I mean, still not worth buying it unless its ultra cheap.

0 votes

Din One

Haha its great if we can get this too… :)

0 votes

sam michaels

One of my class mates has something like this that I saw him use on his HTC tablet with a USB thumb drive. I don’t know what he was doing, or what HTC tablet it is, I just know that it wasn’t much larger than 8in.

0 votes

Rick Puleo

When I connect a thumb drive to my non-rooted, AT&T Galaxy S3 (ICS, no Jelly Bean, yet) using a Samsung branded and inexpensive USB OTG cable the thumb drive is instantly recognized as an external drive via the default MyFiles application which opens on screen. I’ll connect a USB keyboard next, just to see if it works.

0 votes

bushra

I’ve been using an OTG cable for Samsung Galaxy Note to access USB drives for quite some time now. Sadly my keyboard was not detected so I figured it doesn’t work for keyboards. I should probably check again!!!

0 votes

Erez Zukerman

It might also be the specific OTG cable you’re using — try with another cable, or try another keyboard (some keyboards need too much power).

0 votes

bushra

Probably, I suspect my keyboard because I could use a mouse on my phone with the cable as well. In any case, it’s a much cheaper solution to bluetooth keyboards (which I was planning to buy).

0 votes

Jim Spencer

Well, a nice article, but it would seem to me that someone would have developed a plug in keyboard by now, designed to mount right up to the micro USB port. Maybe articles like this will spur interest in doing just that!

0 votes

lance burn

am going to try and get a lead. I dont put my bank details into any computer so a shop has to do

0 votes

Abba Jee

I’m going to try it :D, will feed back later only in case i get failed, thanks for sharing though :)

0 votes

Anonymous

wow.. nice post!! :D

0 votes

ardie

WiFi Keyboard @ play store http://bit.ly/YA24zJ

0 votes

Gerald Huber

i would do this just to show my friends what a total geek i am. I can just see their faces when i tell them I need to send a text message and get out my phone. THEN a regular keyboard and spend a minute getting it going. HA

0 votes

Sebastian Hadinata

I have an OTG cable but I never know that you could plug in a USB keyboard nor the thought of plugging in a USB keyboard came into my mind before. Nice article!

0 votes

Sonia

I bought a keyboard/case for my gingerbread tablet but sadly it didn’t work. I tried the keyboard on Icecream Sandwich and Jelly Bean devices and it works.

0 votes

Sanjay Kumar

that was amazing, but not available in india

0 votes

Frimpong kwasi

I like it, it was amazing to hear that, thanks to you all.

0 votes

Ted Leonard

I connected an OTG device and a USB keyboard first to my Samsung Prevail and then to my sister’s Samsung Galaxy S2. Neither would recognize the keyboard or work at all. Anyone have and idea why?

0 votes

erez

One option could be due to the keyboard’s voltage draw. Is it a completely regular, garden-variety keyboard? Or is it fancy/unique in any way?

I would suggest trying with a different keyboard. I don’t know if the Prevail supports OTG but I’m pretty sure the S2 does.

0 votes

Tim

An obvious question would be whether you are using a genuine OTG cable. In a post on 28 November, Drew Butler suggested, “The Galaxy Tab 2 has a proprietary usb connector so what you need to do it would be a usb male to female converter used in conjunction with the usb data cable that came along with your tablet.” That is initially what I had thought also, but was unsuccessful. As soon as I got hold of a genuine OTG cable (ordered online for under $2.00) I could connect both the keyboard and the thumb drive to my Galaxy S II – although obviously not at the same time. Incidentally, hitting the back button did not get rid of the Swype keyboard, but I did find that if I rotated the phone the Swype keyboard would disappear and I could still type on the USB keyboard.

0 votes

Huzefa MS Shakir

I ordered for and got this OTG cable online for around $5. I was very excited as it meant I could watch videos directly from my flash storage on my phone. However it turns out I had the same fate as Erez. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get it to work. A little researching told me that my phone doesn’t have the necessary module in the device kernel. Others may try this app called “USB OTG Helper”. Like Erez said, your mileage may vary. I haven’t tried connecting a USB keyboard though. Will try now.