Unlike iOS, there are plenty of tethering options for Android, and most of them work well, depending on what you’re trying to do and the type of user you are. Some are wired, some are wireless, some require root, others don’t. We found that for most people not using built-in functions, PdaNet is the best tethering option because it’s reliable, accessible, easy to install and use, and easy to troubleshoot.
Australian editor note: Local carriers have generally avoided charging extra for using tethering features on phones, so most of you should be able to use the built-in functions. However, we’ve kept these posts as part of App Directory just in case that changes in the future.
- Offers wired tethering over USB or wireless tethering via Bluetooth to Windows and Mac OS systems
- Displays data usage in real time
- Does not require rooting your handset to work.
- Includes an SMS agent so you can send and receive SMS messages while tethered to your computer
- Attempts to hide your tethering from your mobile carrier so you don’t get in trouble for using it without a tethering plan.
- Free to use for 14 days, but after the trial expires, you won’t be able to access secure web sites (sites that use SSL or require a login) without purchasing a licence
PdaNet is one of the first real tethering apps that appeared for Android, and in our opinion it’s still the best. The 14-day trial is free, so you can get a feel for how well the app runs for you before deciding to purchase it, it supports Mac OS and Windows systems, and you have the option of tethering either wired via USB or wireless via Bluetooth. PdaNet is also one of the first apps that gets updated every time wireless carriers announce a new round of sniffing to see who’s tethering without a tethering charge added to their monthly bill, so you can thank the developers for keeping up the cat-and-mouse game there. It’s easy to use, easy to install on your desktop and on your phone, and it doesn’t require root access to run, which is a huge point in its favour. What makes PdaNet a real winner here though is that it’s easy to set up, easy to use, more reliable than any of the other tethering apps we’ve tried, and has support options available for you if you run into trouble.
Even though we really like PdaNet, it is not without its downsides. For example, it lacks the ability to tether to your device over Wi-Fi, which is a bit of a disappointment. Plus, the $16 price tag may be steep for some people, but we think it’s well worth the price of admission. Still, when put alongside other apps in the market that are free, it’s worth considering. Finally, PdaNet requires a desktop client to work — meaning you have to have the companion app installed on your Mac or Windows PC and they both have to be running when you want to tether. It’s not a big deal, but it’s definitely a pain if you’re on the road, need internet access and forgot to install the PdaNet client on the computer you want to get to the internet with.
Wireless Tether for Root Users (free) is PdaNet’s biggest competition. It’s free, it works well and it allows you to turn your Android phone into a mobile hotspot so other devices can connect over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can set up your own network, issue a password and encrypt it, control which devices have access and more. It’s a pretty powerful app for being completely free.
The trick with Wireless Tether is that you have to root your phone before using it — which isn’t a big deal for those of you who read Lifehacker, but if you have a less technically inclined friend who wants to tether their phone and doesn’t want to spend a ton of money every month to do it, it may not be the best option. Additionally, Wireless Tether is, as the name implies, wireless only and doesn’t support USB tethering. I’ve used Wireless Tether and PdaNet (and keep them both on my handset, actually) and find Wireless Tether bugs out a bit more often on me than PdaNet does, and I have to rebuild the binaries (Menu > Setup > Menu > Reinstall Binaries/Configs) to make it start working again. Could have just been my device, but your mileage may vary.
Barnacle Wifi Tether (free) is another great option that’s hassle-free and allows you to turn your phone into a mobile hotspot. It’s on par with Wireless Tether for Root Users, and it also requires root access to your device in order to work. It can also show you your data usage in real time. Barnacle is unique because unlike many of the other tethering apps available, it supports Linux. The only downside to Barnacle — and it’s a big one — is that when it works, it works really well. When it stops working and you have no idea why, you’re pretty much on your own, and there aren’t many ways to troubleshoot it and not many places to turn for help.
WiFi Tethering (free) by OpenGarden is another wireless option that operates much like Wireless Tether for Root Users and Barnacle. Like the others, it requires root access to work. It also supports Linux, and has a GetSatisfaction forum for support and setup questions. Still, in our testing we found the app works OK, but it’s pretty much the same as Wireless Tether. Aside from the pretty background, there’s not much feature-wise to make it stand out, but it’s a good alternative or option to keep in your toolkit if needed.
For a different take on tethering, there’s always EasyTether ($9.73), which turns your phone into a wireless hotspot, but not using your cellular data connection: instead it uses the internet connection from a Windows, Mac or Linux system on your home network to create a wireless network. It doesn’t require root access, and it’s not exactly tethering the way we think about it, but it’s worth mentioning.
Finally, if you have rooted your Android phone and you’ve gone even further and installed a ROM that you like, like Cyanogen or MIUI, many of those ROMs have their own built-in tethering application or features that eliminate the need for an app like these entirely. The only downside to those tools is that more often than not they’re pickier about what systems they connect with than others. When I talked to our own Whitson Gordon about his experiences, he noted that he hasn’t seen many that play nice with Mac OS, or Linux for that matter. Still, if you do install a ROM with a built-in tethering app, try it before anything else, it may work for you.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.