When I ordered the Nexus 7, one thing that nearly made me
change my mind was the lack of external storage on the device. While a lot of
other smartphones and tablets had a microSD slot for extra storage space, the
Nexus 7 seemed content to rely on the cloud for all of your additional storage
True, I’ve begun to rely on cloud-based storage options like
Dropbox over the last year or so. And for
small files here and there, sure, it’s an okay solution. But when it comes to
large files, like a full-length movie, it’s a bust.
For one thing, you’re not always going to be in a Wi-Fi
hotspot. But even when you are, you may end up with a creaky connection. The
idea of trying to stream a movie over a hotel Wi-Fi network gives me the fear…you’re
more likely to spend your time watching the video stuttering and buffering
while waiting for bits to come down the line. And, ironically enough, forget
about the cloud altogether if you’re on an airplane.
The Nexus 7 already natively supports a technology called
USB On-The-Go (or USB OTG). Using a cable that converts the micro-USB port to a
full-sized USB port, USB OTG allows you to attach external USB devices to
Android devices, like keyboards or mice. In theory you can attach external
storage, but it requires in-baked driver support, and on the Nexus 7 that’s not
So, it’s come to this: I’ve had to root my Nexus 7.
Now, this isn’t necessarily the course of action for
everyone – rooting your Nexus 7 is fairly quick and easy, but it does
potentially void your warranty and open you up to threats that don’t exist on
an un-rooted Nexus.
For example, unlocking and rooting the device makes it a lot
easier to run malicious code that would have otherwise been blocked by the
operating system. And in the worst case scenario, you could totally brick your
Nexus 7. So if you decide to try this, be forewarned that you’re doing so at
your own risk.
While there are a few different unlock toolkits out there,
the one I ended up using was the Nexus 7 Root Toolkit from m.sabra, found at the
xda-developers.com forums. While it brings up a scary-looking command shell on Windows
machines, it stepped me through the process without incident, and about five
minutes later I was running on a freshly-rooted tablet.
A word of warning though: performing the unlock and root process
will wipe your tablet. So that means backing up your tablet to the cloud, if
there’s anything you can’t stand losing.
(You can always go to play.google.com after you’re finished
rooting the Nexus 7, and use the list of previously purchased apps to re-push
them back to your tablet. They’ll still need to be set up again, of course, and
you’ll lose your progress in any games you had on the device, but at least you
don’t have to write down a list of all of your apps before rooting.)
Next, you’ll need an app that can mount external USB storage
devices; I chose StickMount. This will recognize external storage devices and
allow you to mount them.
It also helps to have a file manager, so you can look
through the files on your external storage, as well as the files on the tablet
itself. A file manager also allows you to launch files using the proper app
(rather than having to open the proper app first, and then find the file inside
that app). I went with Astro File Manager.
Then, of course, you’ll need the external hardware necessary
to make it all work. If you can’t find a USB On-The-Go cable at a local
computer shop, they’re fairly inexpensive on sites like Amazon and eBay.
You’ll also need external storage. You can use a USB thumb
drive if you like, but if you want to go small you may want to look at a
high-capacity microSD card that comes with its own USB adapter. You can even
hook up full-sized external drives, so long as they can connect to an external
power source; it kind of defeats the purpose of an “On-The-Go” cable, but if
you want to use the Nexus 7 to view something at your desk at work, hey…it’s an
So, there you have it. Even though it’s a less elegant
solution than having a microSD slot, it is
possible to use external storage on the Nexus 7. So long as you’re willing to
sacrifice your warranty in the bargain.