You know you can surf the Net on your Android phone--but did you know that the same phone can also enable you to surf the Net from your PC?
We're talking about something called tethering. In a nutshell, tethering allows you to use your smartphone like a wireless modem: You connect it to your computer, then use its 3G connection to get online.
Editor's Note: If you're phone is already running Android 2.2 (as of 7/27/10, its release is limited to the Google Nexus One only), you already have tethering built in to your phone. If you're running 2.1 or lower, read on.
Before you start thinking about tethering with your Android device, you should check with your carrier to learn about its policies and conditions. Some carriers offer their own fee-based tethering services for certain phones; others forbid the practice altogether or assess penalties if they discover you're doing it.
As long as your carrier doesn't object, the only other consideration is data usage. While tethering, you'll be harnessing your phone's 3G connection to use the Internet from a computer, so you will be consuming a potentially sizable chunk of data. If your smartphone plan includes unlimited data, you should be fine; but if your plan allows only a certain amount of data per month, be sure to keep that restriction in mind.
First Steps to Tethering
Carrier-provided options aside, there are numerous ways to tether your phone to your laptop or desktop PC. Many of them require tinkering with advanced configurations on your Android device; we won't be getting into those here. The option we'll be explaining involves little more than installing a couple of programs and clicking on a couple of basic settings.
Let's begin with your mobile phone: Open up the Android Market and search for an app called PdaNet. Download and install it to your phone (it's currently available free of charge).
Once the app is installed, you'll need to download the companion program to your PC. Click over to June Fabrics (that's the name), and select the edition that's right for you. As of this writing, the program supports 32-bit versions of Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7; 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7; and versions 10.5 and 10.6 of Mac OS.
Before you move on to the next step, you need to adjust one setting on your Android phone. From the home screen, tap the Menu key and select Settings. From there, select Applications, and then Development. Now check the box that says USB debugging. When the confirmation dialog box appears, press OK.
This setting allows the PdaNet app to stream data directly from your phone to your PC. It is a setting frequently used by developers. In theory, however, as the confirmation box explains, it could be used maliciously. For your protection, you should go back into this menu and disable the USB debugging setting whenever you are not actively using the tethering function.
Starting Your Connection
Take a deep breath--you're almost done. Plug your Android phone into an open USB port on your PC. Run the PdaNet app on your phone and select the Enable USB Tether option. The app will confirm that you've downloaded and installed its PC-based cousin; click Already installed to continue.
After verifying the connection, the app will tell you that it's on and running as a background service on your phone. Now, go to your PC and look for the PdaNet icon in your system tray--it's a rectangular box that looks like a cell phone. Right-click the icon and select Connect from the pop-up menu that appears.
At this point, everything should be all set (woo-hoo!). The PdaNet PC program should pop up a confirmation that you're connected, and a notification should appear on your desktop informing you that the PdaNet modem is up and running. Your computer is now online through your phone's data connection; you can open a Web page, check e-mail, and do practically anything else you could normally do while connected to the Net.
One final note: You may have noticed that the PdaNet Android app has a second option on its main screen: Enable Bluetooth DUN. If you're using a computer that has Bluetooth functionality, you can connect your phone to your PC wirelessly using this option instead of the Enable USB Tether option discussed above.
For comprehensive tips about Android and reviews of the best apps and devices to help you get the most out of the mobile operating system, order PCWorld's Android Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.