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How to Connect Your Android Tablet to a Computer through USB

The most direct way to connect an Android tablet to a computer is by using a wire — specifically, the wire nestled at the core of a USB cable. You can do lots of things after making the USB connection, but everything starts with connecting the cable.

How to connect an Android tablet to a PC

Upon successful connection between an Android tablet and a computer running Microsoft Windows, a number of things happen. Don’t let any of these things cause you undue alarm.

First, you may see a connection screen on the tablet. That screen indicates that the tablet is attempting to synchronize files with the computer. The screen may describe the connection, using acronyms such as MTP or PTP, or it may not show anything at all.

Second, you may see some activity on the PC, some drivers being installed and such. That’s normal behavior any time you first connect a new USB gizmo to a Windows computer.

Third, you may witness the Windows AutoPlay dialog box. That dialog box helps you deal with the tablet’s storage, to transfer music, pictures, files, and so on. Choose an option from the AutoPlay dialog box, such as Sync Digital Media Files to This Device. From that point on, use Windows or a specific program chosen from the AutoPlay dialog box to work with the files on your tablet.

  • The AutoPlay dialog box may not appear when you connect the Android tablet to your PC. It’s possible to configure Windows not to display that dialog box.

  • Even if the AutoPlay dialog box doesn’t appear, you can still access media and files stored on the Android tablet from your computer.

  • Tablets that feature a microSD card are mounted twice into the PC’s storage system, once for internal storage and a second time for the removable storage card. You'll see two AutoPlay dialog boxes, one for each storage location on the tablet.

  • If you’re nerdy, you can open the Android tablet’s icon in the Computer window; press the Win+E keyboard shortcut in Windows to see the Computer window. You’ll find the Android tablet listed as either a Portable Media Player (MTP) or a Digital Camera (PTP) connection. Open the Android tablet icon to browse the tablet’s storage.

How to connect an Android tablet to a Mac

The USB connection between an Android tablet and a Macintosh computer can be straightforward: After making the connection, the tablet’s storage appears as a generic drive icon on the Mac desktop. When that doesn’t work, you’ll have to use an alternative connection method, the Android File Transfer program.

Download the Android File Transfer program from the Android website. Install the software. Run it. From that point on, when you connect your tablet to the Macintosh, you’ll see a window listing all the folders and files on the tablet. Use that window for file management.

If the Mac still fails to recognize your Android tablet, you’ll need to configure the USB connection as an MTP device.

How to configure the USB connection on your Android tablet

Some Android tablets connect to a computer as a removable storage device, similar to plugging in a thumb drive. Other tablets may connect and pretend that they’re a portable media player or a digital camera. These options are set by the tablet’s manufacturer or, in some happy cases, you can choose how the computer sees the tablet after the USB connection is made.

The easiest way to configure the USB connection is to summon the Notifications shade and choose the USB item. You’ll see a menu from which you can choose how the tablet presents itself to the computer — for example, as external storage, a digital camera, or a portable music player.

When you can’t choose a USB notification, you’ll have to trudge through these steps:

  1. At the Home screen, touch the Apps icon.

  2. Open the Settings app.

  3. Choose Storage.

  4. Touch the Menu icon, and then choose the USB connection command.

    The command’s title differs from tablet to tablet, such as USB PC Connection or USB Computer Connection.

    Two common options are MTP and PTP.

  5. If the MTP option is available, choose it.

    The only time you need to choose PTP is when the computer doesn’t recognize the tablet configured as an MTP device.

    If MTP isn’t available, choose the option that configures the tablet as a removable storage device, hard drive, or thumb drive.

  6. Touch the Home icon to return to the Home screen.

MTP stands for Media Transfer Protocol. PTP stands for Picture Transfer Protocol. Do not bother memorizing these definitions.

How to disconnect the Android tablet from a computer

On a PC, the disconnection process is cinchy: When you’re done transferring files or music, close all the programs and folders you have opened on the computer, specifically those you’ve used to work with the tablet’s storage. Then you can disconnect the USB cable. That’s it.

On a Macintosh, you have to be more careful. Eject the tablet’s storage just as you would any removable storage: Drag the tablet’s storage icon(s) to the Trash. Or, in any Finder window, click the Eject button by the tablet’s storage icon. Only when the icon is removed from the desktop is it okay to disconnect the USB cable.

  • If you’re using the Android File Transfer program on your Mac, quit that program before you eject the tablet’s storage.

  • It’s a Bad Idea to unplug the tablet while you’re transferring information or while a folder window is open on your computer. Doing so could damage the tablet’s internal storage, rendering some of the information kept there unreadable.

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