8.17.2010

Droid X Tethering: A Review of PDANet

android_tethering2Image by doctorserone via Flickr
So, I don’t find myself without Internet access too often, but when I do, it’s usually during times when I’d say to myself, “Boy, I could really use Internet access right about now.”  And I’m not talking about access on my cell phone; I’m talking about full keyboard, full browser, and full USB flash drive access. This was one of the biggest reasons I jail broke my iPhone, and also one of the reasons why I love my new Droid X. With an Android phone, one doesn’t need to jailbreak (or root) in order to tap into the Internet through tethering. As Apple would say if it openly allowed such a feature, “there’s an app for that.” Today, I explore one such app, PDANet, as I experienced it on a recent trip to California.

Setup
Unlike MyWi (a jailbreak app for iPhone) which turns the phone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, PDANet and its main competitor (EasyTether) are apps that allow you to tether your computer to your cell phone. This enables you to connect to the Internet using your cell phone’s signal, but limits you to one device at a time, and only devices that have the prerequisite software installed. One immediate downside to this: one cannot tether an iPad to an Android phone, but if one springs $20/month for the Verizon mobile hotspot, or if Verizon allows Froyo’s built-in hotspot through (in one’s Droid dreams), then you’re back in business.
Although it was not completely painless, setup on both the phone and computer was pretty straightforward. A few tips I can give through my experience with a Droid X:
  • Make sure USB debugging is checked (Applications, Development, USB debugging)
  • Also, make sure that the USB mode is set for Mass Storage mode (From notification, USB Connection, USB Mass Storage)
  • After installing the PDANet program on your desktop, reboot the computer (When in doubt rule #1!)
Execution
Once I troubleshot the above and applied “when in doubt rule #1,” I was easily able to use PDANet for Internet access on my PC laptop (I will add an update after trying things out on my Macbook Pro). I was surprised at the speed at which the program connected, as well as for the actual connection itself. Granted, I was in a strong 3G area, but after 1 month of Verizon coverage, I’ve happily seen more 3G over 1x appearing in the notification area on my Droid X. I’ve now connected multiple times in 2 days of usage, all without as much of a minor hiccup.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Although it was cool that I was able to wirelessly connect to MyWi with the iPhone, I had to make sure that my phone was plugged into an outlet if I wanted any kind of long term usage. With PDANet, I plug the phone into the computer (a Bluetooth option is available for wireless), and thus, I can charge the phone while tethering. Overall, I felt that PDANet has been more stable and reliable of an app when compared to my experience with MyWi and the iPhone.

As mentioned above, PDANet has at least one competitor in EasyTether (at $9.99, it’s competitively priced at half of what PDANet costs - $19.99). Both apps offer a free option that works for a limited amount of time, and then only allow access for non-https sites after the trial period. I plan on springing for PDANet once I test the app on my Mac (as of this post, EasyTether is only for PC’s), though many users comment on how they will just stick with the free version. 


10/22/11 Update: I've been using EasyTether lately without a hitch.  I paid for the full version and have  used successfully on both PC and Mac.  


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