Ask LH: Why Should I Buy A Hotspot When I Can Just Tether To My Phone?

Ask LH: Why Should I Buy A Hotspot When I Can Just Tether To My Phone?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve seen people using mobile hotspots for internet access on the go, but I don’t get it. Why would I ever buy a hotspot when I can just tether to my phone and use it instead? Is there a benefit to using another gadget that I’m missing? Thanks, Dubious Traveller

Photos by marimedi (Shutterstock), marimedi (Shutterstock), and Lorenz Timm (Shutterstock).

Dear Dubious Traveller,

Whether a mobile hotspot is right for you depends heavily on the type of travelling you do, your mobile carrier, and the plan you have. They’re not for everyone, but using a hotspot does have some advantages over tethering to your smartphone. Let’s take a look.

Simplifying your life usually means carrying fewer gadgets with you, especially if you have one item that can pull double-duty. However, a mobile hotspot does have some advantages over tethering to your phone. Here’s why you might consider one:

  • You don’t have a good data allowance on your phone. If you need to do any real, bandwidth-hogging work while tethered, you may catch yourself running out of data with your phone before you know it. Using a hotspot can help avoid that.

  • You spare your phone’s battery. Using a hotspot means never draining your battery just because you needed to get some work done. This comes with the benefit of better long-term usage, since you’re not taxing your phone just to stay connected.
  • You can reliably tether multiple devices. While you can tether multiple devices to your phone, the more you add, the worse the experience usually is. While most hotspots will put a limit on the number of devices you can connect (five is the most common limit in Australia), you can always connect more than one or two without performance problems.
  • You can diversify carriers. If you travel frequently — and let’s face it, the people who really need hotspots probably do — you now have the option of whichever carrier offers the better service where you roam. Even if you’re at home, you now have the option to pick the carrier with the best performance, or switch off when you need to. It’s also a way to choose a cheaper carrier for your phone needs, while having a better performer purely for data.
Why Should I Buy a Hotspot When I Can Just Tether to My Phone?

Of course, a mobile hotspot isn’t ideal for everyone. It’s another gadget to carry and keep charged, and you’ll have to pay for the data. Ultimately, it comes down to your use case. If someone tells you they know what’s “best” without knowing what your needs are, they’re full of it. Make your own call based on your own situation.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • also seems to be common for businesses to have ‘pools’ of hot spots, if you don’t have a company phone and travel it is quite easy to assign you one for a week.

  • The Optus $2 a day is much better than any hotspot deal you can get. It works out you get $60 a month for 15GB or $120 a month for 30GB. No mobile broadband play matches this.

  • Another reason: some carriers restrict data plans to phone use or PC use by blocking traffic from tethering. This affects android since jelly bean, can’t comment on apple or wp. Simple example: windows laptop tethered via jellybean phone gets no data, no such problem when same sim card used in mifi/WiFi router. Also not blocked if tethering android tablet over android phone. Imagine some carriers block traffic with identifiers containing mixed o.s. data. Another reason if tablet: WiFi only tablet + hot spot router may be cheaper than buying tablet with 3g capability

  • I just recently bought a mobile hotspot device, I know how to tether my iPhone, I’ve done it a few times before, and likely will again. But it wasn’t quite up to scratch for wanting to use my laptop online on the bus ride to work and on way home, some of the reasons above. Like limited data quota. And I find the mobile modem works much better too. I won’t be using it all the time. So I went pre-paid.

  • Number 2 is easily rectified by plugging your phone into your USB port and having your laptop plugged into a power point. Most places where you will be using your laptop (airports, cafes, etc.) will generally have power points available to customers.

    Another option is plugging it into a hefty power bank, they are quite cheap and portable.

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