The day it occurred to me that I could use my smartphone as a modem was the day I suddenly realised that I was in love with my phone. Years later, tethering is the most natural thing in the world for many people, either with USB, Bluetooth, or via WiFi.
For Android users, these options are simple to setup. Using tethering with your laptop or tablet will give you a massive advantage. The data connection may be faster than the public WiFi in your favourite café, and you’ll certainly be able to get you connected for some light reading in the countryside.
Probably the biggest problem with tethering — other than how it can eat into your data allowance — is how it can impact your battery life.
The Answer To Universal Connectivity For WiFi Tablets & Laptops
For those of you who might be unaware (there won’t be many, but bear with me), “tethering” is the term given to connecting your phone via USB, Bluetooth, or WiFi to your computer and using the Internet connectivity from the phone to provide an Internet connection to the computer.
In the pre-iPhone days, this meant using an old-style feature phone to call a number that gave Internet access. If you were fortunate enough to own a Windows Mobile device (the forerunner to Windows Phone), then you could use the phone’s Internet connection and get online via the device network’s APN.
Following the release of the iPhone in 2007, cell phone networks began charging for tethering call plans, although this money-grabbing practice has since been phased out almost completely, and these days, tethering is usually free. It’s also on pretty much every mobile platform, one way or another.
Android’s Triumvirate Of Tethering Options Explained
Android owners have a triple choice of tethering options to share a connection with their PC, laptop, or tablet. You can either connect via Bluetooth, use your phone as a wireless hotspot, or go old school and hook your phone to your computer via USB.
We’ll run through how to do each of these below, but that’s not all.
Along with the steps to setting up tethering on Android KitKat, we’ve also spent some time checking which of the three methods is likely to drain your battery quickest. To measure this I’ve used a Windows 8.1 tablet connected to a HTC One M7 (rooted and running OmniROM).
Before proceeding, make sure you have enabled mobile Internet on your phone. Note that signal strength will impact speed, which might result in battery charge decreasing faster as the phone puts effort into downloading less data than it might with a full signal. I’ve provided speed results from www.speedtest.net for comparison.
For the best results, use the USB cable that shipped with your phone, connecting the wider end to your PC and the smaller plug to the charging port on your phone.
Next, on your Android device, open Settings > Wireless & networks > More and find Tethering & portable hotspot. Here, check the USB tethering option. A notification area symbol should appear to confirm that the phone is now tethered to your computer.
6.97 mbps download, 2.02 mbps upload, with an average ping of 66 ms
The effect on your battery depends on whether your laptop is plugged in or not. If it is, battery decrease should be slow-to-non-existent as the phone will be on slow charge. On the other hand, if your computer is running from its battery, the phone is potentially draining this rather than its own cell (it shouldn’t, but be aware that it might), so be aware that both might discharge faster than usual.
For Bluetooth tethering to work, you must have first paired your device with your computer.
In the Settings > Wireless & networks > More > Tethering & portable hotspot screen, tap Bluetooth tethering. On your computer, open Control Panel > Hardware and sound > Devices and printers, right-click your phone’s icon and select connect Connect using > Access point.
Your phone should then display a notification that Bluetooth tethering is active.
0.35 mbps download, 0.78 mbps upload, with an average ping of 289 ms
Heavy use really puts pressure on your battery with Bluetooth, with ten minutes of use eating 5% of the charge on my phone.
Easily the most convenient option, this uses both your mobile Internet and WiFi connections.
Open Settings > Wireless & networks > More > Tethering & portable and check Portable Wi-Fi hotspot. (Your device may read Portable WLAN Hotspot.)
Meanwhile on your computer, ensure wireless networking is enabled and scan for your Android device, which is usually listed as AndroidAP. Input the passcode as displayed in the Set up Wi-Fi hotspot screen on your phone (making any other changes that are required) and the connection should be established.
16.01 mbps download, 4.45 mbps upload, with an average ping of 55 ms
As with Bluetooth tethering, heavy use reduced battery by around 5% in 10 minutes. Standard use seems to be better with WiFi tethering, however, potentially lasting around 5-6 hours.
Using Tethering? Use USB For Best Battery Life
So, three methods of tethering, each with a different impact on your phone’s battery life.
There will be differences between how your laptop or tablet uses the Internet, what background tasks you have running and so forth, but for the best results on your Android smartphone’s battery life, USB tethering would seem to be the option that drains your phone the slowest, certainly based on the hardware used.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the fastest, making WiFi the best all-round option.
Do you tether often, or do you prefer to just connect to public WiFi? Let us know how you get your computer connected to the Internet.