Need an internet connection for your PC or laptop, but don’t want to use public Wi-Fi? The solution is simple: tether your smartphone’s connection.
Using tethering with your laptop or tablet may be faster than the public Wi-Fi in your favorite cafe, but it isn’t without problems. Here’s what you need to know about mobile tethering with an Android smartphone.
What Is Tethering?
Tethering is the term for connecting your phone to your computer via USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi and using the phone’s internet connectivity to provide a connection for the computer.
In the pre-iPhone days, this meant using an old-style feature phone to call a number that gave internet access anywhere. Some cell phones could share their internet connection, enabling you to get online via the device network’s APN.
Following the release of the iPhone in 2007, cell phone networks began charging for tethering plans. Fortunately, this money-grabbing practice has since been phased out almost completely, and these days, tethering is usually free.
Android Mobile Tethering Options Explained
Android owners have three tethering options to share an internet connection with their PC, laptop, or tablet:
- Connect via Bluetooth
- Use your phone as a wireless hotspot
- Hook your phone to your computer via USB
Below we’ll look at each of these and discover which method will drain your battery quickest, and which transfers data fastest.
Before proceeding, make sure you have enabled mobile internet on your phone. It’s important to note that mobile signal strength will impact speed. This can result in the battery charge decreasing quickly, as the phone puts effort into downloading less data than it might with a full signal.
We provide speed results from speedtest.net for comparison.
1. USB Tethering
Mobile phones have long had a modem feature, allowing you to hook up the device to your computer via USB. This lets you share the mobile internet connection over a wired connection, rather than the more widely used Wi-Fi.
It’s easy to do. Connect the USB cable that shipped with your phone to your computer, then plug it into the phone’s USB port.
Next, on your Android device, open Settings > Network & internet > Hotspot & tethering. Tap the USB tethering option. The Hotspot & tethering warning will appear, informing you that continuing will interrupt any existing data transfers between your phone and PC.
Click OK to proceed. A notification icon should appear to confirm that the phone is now tethered to your computer. In our testing, we found the following results:
- Speed: 97Mbps download, 2.02Mbps upload, with an average ping of 66ms.
- Battery Impact: 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 slowly charge.
Note: If your computer is running on its battery, your phone will potentially drain the computer’s battery, rather than its own.
2. Bluetooth Tethering
Another way to share your mobile internet connection to a PC, laptop, or tablet is to use Bluetooth. The short-range wireless technology has enough bandwidth to route data to and from your phone and a paired device.
Start by pairing your phone with your computer. First, make your Android phone discoverable by long-pressing the Bluetooth icon in the notification area to open Bluetooth settings.
We’ll assume you’re using Windows 10, which has a straightforward Bluetooth pairing tool in Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & other devices. Switch this to On and wait for Windows to detect your phone. If you run into problems, try our guide to setting up Bluetooth in Windows 10.
Once paired, on your phone, open Settings > Network & internet > Hotspot & Tethering and tap Bluetooth tethering.
Meanwhile on your computer, expand the System Tray to find the Bluetooth icon, and right-click it. Select Join a Personal Area Network, find your phone’s icon, and right-click this. In the resulting menu, choose Connect using > Access point.
Your phone should then display a notification that Bluetooth tethering is active. Our testing found:
- Speed: 35Mbps download, 0.78Mbps upload, with an average ping of 289ms.
- Battery Impact: Heavy Bluetooth use really puts pressure on your battery. Ten minutes of use ate up five percent of the charge on my phone.
3. Wi-Fi Hotspot
Combining the wireless benefits of Bluetooth with the speed of USB, using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot is perhaps the most popular tethering option.
Using your mobile internet and Wi-Fi connection, your phone creates a private network to connect your devices devices with a secure password. It’s easily the most convenient option.
Open Settings > Network & internet > Hotspot & tethering and tap Portable hotspot (Wi-Fi hotspot on some phones). In the next screen, switch to On, then use the Configure hotspot menu to set a name for the connection (or use the default, usually AndroidAP).
Tap the Show password box to view the password if needed.
On your Windows PC, press Win I to open Settings, then Network & internet > Wi-Fi. Click Show available networks and browse to find the network your phone created. (You can also do this by right-clicking the wireless internet icon in the System Tray).
Select the network, and click Connect. Then input the password as displayed on your phone (making any other changes as required) and the connection will establish after a moment. Here’s what we found from this option:
- Speed: 10Mbps download, 4.45Mbps upload, with an average ping of 55ms.
- Battery Impact: As with Bluetooth tethering, heavy use reduced battery by around five percent in 10 minutes. Standard usage seems to be better with Wi-Fi tethering, however, and could potentially last around 5-6 hours.
Once you’ve set up wireless tethering for the first time, it’s easy to activate again. Open the notification area and tap the Hotspot button, then wait for your computer to connect.
Mobile Tethering? Use USB for Best Battery Life
Wireless, Bluetooth, and USB tethering are all options for getting your laptop or tablet online. But which is best?
Our tests show that USB tethering is the option that drains your phone’s battery the slowest. Meanwhile, Bluetooth offers the worst speeds. Thanks to improvements in Bluetooth technology, its impact on battery is acceptable.
Stuck choosing between a Wi-Fi hotspot and USB tethering? Well, USB isn’t the fastest at everything, making Wi-Fi the best all-around option. But if Wi-Fi isn’t available, relying on USB tethering is your best alternative.
Concerned about the cost of tethering? Check these ways to reduce data usage.