Getting to the Root of extra storage for the Nexus 7

When I ordered the Nexus 7, one thing that nearly made mechange my mind was the lack of external storage on the device. While a lot ofother smartphones and tablets had a microSD slot for extra storage space, theNexus 7 seemed content to rely on the cloud for all of your additional storageneeds.

True, I’ve begun to rely on cloud-based storage options likeDropbox over the last year or so.  And forsmall files here and there, sure, it’s an okay solution. But when it comes tolarge files, like a full-length movie, it’s a bust.

For one thing, you’re not always going to be in a Wi-Fihotspot. But even when you are, you may end up with a creaky connection. Theidea of trying to stream a movie over a hotel Wi-Fi network gives me the fear…you’remore likely to spend your time watching the video stuttering and bufferingwhile waiting for bits to come down the line. And, ironically enough, forgetabout the cloud altogether if you’re on an airplane.

The Nexus 7 already natively supports a technology calledUSB On-The-Go (or USB OTG). Using a cable that converts the micro-USB port to afull-sized USB port, USB OTG allows you to attach external USB devices toAndroid devices, like keyboards or mice. In theory you can attach externalstorage, but it requires in-baked driver support, and on the Nexus 7 that’s notincluded.

So, it’s come to this: I’ve had to root my Nexus 7.

Now, this isn’t necessarily the course of action foreveryone – rooting your Nexus 7 is fairly quick and easy, but it doespotentially void your warranty and open you up to threats that don’t exist onan un-rooted Nexus.

For example, unlocking and rooting the device makes it a loteasier to run malicious code that would have otherwise been blocked by theoperating system. And in the worst case scenario, you could totally brick yourNexus 7. So if you decide to try this, be forewarned that you’re doing so atyour 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 forums. While it brings up a scary-looking command shell on Windowsmachines, it stepped me through the process without incident, and about fiveminutes later I was running on a freshly-rooted tablet.

A word of warning though: performing the unlock and root processwill wipe your tablet. So that means backing up your tablet to the cloud, ifthere’s anything you can’t stand losing.

(You can always go to after you’re finishedrooting the Nexus 7, and use the list of previously purchased apps to re-pushthem back to your tablet. They’ll still need to be set up again, of course, andyou’ll lose your progress in any games you had on the device, but at least youdon’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 storagedevices; I chose StickMount. This will recognize external storage devices andallow you to mount them.

It also helps to have a file manager, so you can lookthrough the files on your external storage, as well as the files on the tabletitself. 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 insidethat app). I went with Astro File Manager.

Then, of course, you’ll need the external hardware necessaryto make it all work. If you can’t find a USB On-The-Go cable at a localcomputer shop, they’re fairly inexpensive on sites like Amazon and eBay.

You’ll also need external storage. You can use a USB thumbdrive if you like, but if you want to go small you may want to look at ahigh-capacity microSD card that comes with its own USB adapter. You can evenhook up full-sized external drives, so long as they can connect to an externalpower source; it kind of defeats the purpose of an “On-The-Go” cable, but ifyou want to use the Nexus 7 to view something at your desk at work, hey…it’s anoption.

So, there you have it. Even though it’s a less elegantsolution than having a microSD slot, it ispossible to use external storage on the Nexus 7. So long as you’re willing tosacrifice your warranty in the bargain.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers
Sean Carruthers is a freelance writer, video producer and host based in Toronto, Canada. Most recently, he was a Senior Producer at, where he was responsible for the conception, writing, production and editing of a number of web video shows, including Lab Rats, How Do I?, Status Update, The Noob, and more.

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