Q&A: What is USB OTG and how do I use it?

usbotgQ: What is USB OTG and how do I use it?

A: OTG stands for “On The Go” and it’s a special type of USB port that works in both directions – you can use it as a host port to connect up USB flash drives, printers and the like. But it’s also a sync port, meaning you can connect it to your PC and your PC will see the USB OTG port as a peripheral device.

USB OTG ports are available on most smartphones and mini PCs. There’s no specific shape port – you’ll find OTG ports are usually either the standard phone-type MicroUSB port or they can the slightly larger miniUSB port as found on most mini PCs. But in order for the device with the OTG port to recognise other devices, you need a special USB OTG cable that has a USB Type-A Host port on the other end. It has an extra internal connection that tells the OTG port that it’s an OTG cable and to get ready to accept an external peripheral device. That allows you to connect up standard USB devices to your OTG port.

You can get these from eBay for around $2 including shipping. The only thing to be aware of is that for peripheral devices that only get their power from the USB port, they may not work if you’re plugging them into a mini PC, tablet or smartphone. These OTG ports usually have limited power to provide to an external USB device. So if you have a USB flatbed scanner for example that is ‘host powered’, don’t expect it to fire up on your smartphone. Apart from a probable lack of driver software, the phone just won’t have the power to run the scanner.

USB flash drives however are low-power devices and we’ve not come across a device with an OTG port that can’t power a USB flash drive.

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