How to Use A USB Flash Drive with Android (and Even Read NTFS Formatted Sticks), No Root

Image credit: Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr

One of the things that tablets and smartphones do better than laptops is being lightweight. Hence, you may have already forgotten when was the last time you took a laptop on a vacation or a road trip. But if you want to carry a lot of movies and music to go along with the ride, you may face a storage limitation, even if your SD card is super-duper. No worries, you can connect your USB dongle to your Android smartphone or tablet just like you would with a laptop. Well, almost.

You will need to have an USB OTG Cable (USB on-the-go cable), which is fairly cheap, you can get it for around $5 in any tech store, or on Amazon. But wait. Before you rush to buy the OTG Cable, you need to check whether your device is compatible with it. You can, of course, browse the web manually and try to find the specs for your device to know it supports USB OTG capability before you buy the cable.

Or else, you can install USB OTG Checker and run the test hassle-free. Mind that all this app does is check your device for the USB OTG capability. It does not require root and is free. It can also let you explore the contents of your USB flash drive, but we suggest you check out this list of awesome Android file explorers. My personal favorites are ES Explorer and Total Commander, always and forever.

Once you make sure your device has the USB OTG functionality, you can connect the OTG cable and your USB flash drive in the corresponding ports.

Most newer Android operating system versions don’t have any problems reading the contents of your flash drive while the older versions might require rooting. By the way, this is how you connect any other USB device to your Android, such as external keyboards, gamepads and mice.

USB OTG cable

Note 1: Supported File Systems

Android devices do not support Microsoft NTFS file system. Some file explorers like Total Commander have third-party plugins that allow you to read NTFS formatted sticks. If that’s what you need, scroll all the way down.

To be compatible with your Android host, your USB flash drive must be formatted with a FAT32 file system. Some Android devices also support exFAT file system. In case your flash drive is not formatted with a compatible file system, you should be able to format it directly from your Android device once you connect it. Do keep in mind this process will erase all the files you stored there.

Note 2: Navigating

Once your Android host device is connected to the USB flash drive via USB OTG cable, there should not be a problem navigating it provided you have a comfy and intuitive file manager at hand.

When the flash drive is connected you should see a notification saying the external drive is ready for transferring photos and media, and get an “Explore” and “Eject” options.

Tap “Explore,” and provided you don’t have any third-party file explorers, a stock file manager app will open the contents of your USB flash drive. If you have a third-party app to do that task, you will simply choose the option in the pop-up window suggesting the number of apps that can perform the task.

From there, nothing is different from your regular Android experience. You can move files to and from your USB flash drive, launch movies and music using your media player. The reason I stick to Total Commander is its indispensable two-panel view that makes transferring files and finding your whereabouts easy.

paragon uSb on the go

If you go to Settings → Storage and USB, you will see a breakdown of all the device’s storage units like internal storage, SD card and the said USB flash drive as long as it is connected. From there, you can also access the file manager that will open to the files stored on your internal and external drives, so you can perform the copy and move functions from there, too. It’s just going to use the native file manager app.

From the same window Settings → Storage and USB you can format the drive and eject the drive safely. You can also eject the USB flash drive from the Notifications bar.

Total Commander Plugins

Older devices unfortunately require root access and an app StickMount, provided they do support the USB OTG capability. Alternatively, you can try a combination of Total Commander and Paragon USB Plugin for Total Commander. It’s a non-root app that lets your Android device read the contents of your NTFS, FAT32 and HFS+ formatted drive or memory stick. This app only works in pair with Total Commander app via USB On-The-Go.

TC plugins

Total Commander has one more third-party plugin USB Stick Plugin-TC that has a free trial of 30 days of unlimited functionality, and after that you can buy it for life for $0.99. It does not need root access, and allows you to work with FAT12, FAT16, FAT32 and exFAT formatted sticks, as well as read NTFS formatted sticks.

Total Commander

There you go. Watching movies and having the access to your files and transfer photos is easy when you can do it directly from your smartphone or tablet to your USB flash drive. If you don’t find the idea of uploading your private files to any cloud service, a handy USB dongle can solve the problem of regularly transferring your personal files away from your smartphone.