The Android Phone computer (Part 2) - The world of OTG & Big screen entertainment

5/7/2012 6:08:19 PM

The world of OTG

USB On-The-Go allows the phone to operate in host mode, rather than as a peripheral.

At the simplest level this allows you to plug USB flash memory modules into the phone, which then sees them as storage, as long as they’re in the FAT32 format.

Description: The simplest level allows you to plug USB flash memory modules into the phone

The simplest level allows you to plug USB flash memory modules into the phone

You can also plug low-power devices in like this classic Microsoft Mouse, and keyboards too, but to use both you’ll need a USB hub.

Description: You can also plug low-power devices in.

You can also plug low-power devices in.

On the Samsung Galaxy S2, plugging in a mouse causes a pointer to appear on the screen, which you can then control just like a PC. A Bluetooth mouse will also make this happen.

Description: Plugging in a mouse causes a pointer to appear on the screen.

Plugging in a mouse causes a pointer to appear on the screen.

The OTG cable: You can make one yourself, but they’re so cheap that it’s hardly worth the time and effort, if your phone supports this mode.

Description: The OTG cable

The OTG cable

Big screen entertainment

It’s all well and good getting the mouse and keyboard to work with the phone, but I can’t see many typists would want to do much keying with a 3.7” or 4” monitor.

What you need ideally is a phone that can connect to a monitor or TV, but are such things available? Amazingly, lots of the latest smartphones will do this trick with the right cables, although most of them don’t actually come with them. I picked up the official AC M490 MHL adaptor for my HTC Sensation XE for around $30, although I’ve since seen generic MHL cables for half this price.

Description: AC M490 MHL adaptor

AC M490 MHL adaptor

Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) is a new standard that the mobile industry is trying to adopt for getting displays out of phone and tablets. The beauty of this technology is that it’s not tied to any particular connector, although most of the implementations we’ve seen so far use the micro-USB port that all European phones with the exception of Apple’s use. Apple evaded that particular directive by releasing a conversion adapter for its proprietary port, intentionally missing the point of the phrase ‘European Standard’.

Description: Mobile High-Definition Link

Mobile High-Definition Link

A quick search of your phone model and ‘MHL’ should determine if yours supports this technology and if it’s worth investing in the cable. It’s a reasonably safe bet that new high-end phones entering the market are likely to include this feature, in particular tablets, as it allows them to play video on TVs without having any other media playback devices or a smart TV.

To use the MHL adapter is simplicity itself. One end goes into the USB port, and at the other end is a through cable for USB, so that the phone is powered, and an HDMI port, which you connect to the TV/monitor. There’s no software switch you need to throw on the phone; it just works. And, magically, whatever is on the screen appears on the big display.

As marvellous as this is, I immediately spotted some issues that are mostly seen with Gingerbread and, in my case, with HTC Sense not really bring ready for this sort of activity. The HTC Sense interface doesn’t use landscape mode, so the first screen you’ll probably see looks odd, and disappointing. However, once inside an app or part of the interface that’s landscape capable, things look much better.

However, it’s worth pointing out that while MHL mode did exploit the full screen of my monitor, using 720p resolution, what it didn’t do was actually create a high-resolution interface. Instead what it did was produce a scaled up version of the interface as seen on the phone.

This is understandable, I guess, but I don’t think it would take much effort to have a second resolution mode that it uses once MHL is active. Perhaps we’ll see this in a revision to Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) or even in Jellybean, aka Android 5.0.

What it’s brilliant for is anyone who needs to demonstrate a phone feature or software to more than one other person, because you can attach it, as I did, to as big a TV as you have access to. This can make gaming on the phone a whole lot more fun too, as you don’t have your fat fingers obscuring the action.

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