[Android] Best free tethering (and WiFi hotspot) app

Tethering is the ability to share your mobile device’s (phone or tablet) internet connection with other devices, whether that be a computer or another mobile device. Being able to tether (and create a WiFi hotspot) is a native feature of Android. However, unless you are using a Nexus One, Nexus S, or Galaxy Nexus or running a custom ROM, chances are Android’s native tethering features have been disabled on your device. You can unlock tethering features on your devices by paying your carrier more money. Or, if you are someone who rarely uses tethering and cannot justify paying extra money for something you only do once in a while, you can use a free tethering app that allows you to tether for free.

This article explores the best free tethering/WiFi hotspot app on Android. It looks at both the ability to do wireless tether (via WiFi and Bluetooth) and wired tether (via USB).

[Note: Carriers have clever ways of detecting if you are tethering or not. Most carriers, once they detect that you are tethering, will prompt you to purchase their tethering plan. However, some carriers may automatically enroll you into their tethering plan without telling you if they see you are tethering. So be sure to monitor your phone bill to ensure you aren't being charged. dotTech and Ashraf are not responsible for any charges you incur by using a tethering app.]

This article is part of our Best Free Android Apps repository. Drop by to learn more about the best free apps across a variety of categories!

Table of Contents

Best Free Tethering App (and WiFi Hotspot) App

App Name: Wireless Tether for Root Users

Developer: Müller, Lemons, Buxton

Download Size: 401 KB

Version Reviewed: v2.0.7

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Pros

  • Allows users to do wireless tether via WiFi and/or bluetooth.
  • Creates a WiFi hotspot so multiple devices can be tethered at the same time.
  • Gives users the ability to password protect/encrypt WiFi using WEP/WPA/WPA2.
  • Has the ability to strictly control which devices are given tether access via “Access-Control” list.
  • Displays the total download/upload bandwidth consumed during each tether session.
  • Very easy to use — literally one tap required.

Cons

  • Requires root access.
  • Does not have the ability to do wired tether via USB.
  • Doesn’t have the ability to save download/upload bandwidth data for all sessions to get a total over the day, week, month, etc.

Discussion

Wireless Tether for Root Users is an easy-to-use, minimal hassle, open source tethering app. Literally all you have to do is launch it, click the large WiFi button on the app’s homescreen, give it root access, and start tethering. Best of all, Wireless Tether for Root Users does not restrict any Internet traffic like PdaNet and EasyTether Lite do. Of course if you want to customize the settings you need to do a little more than one tap, but my point is Wireless Tether for Root Users is very easy to use.

Wireless Tether for Root Users allows users to tether via WiFi and/or bluetooth; and when doing WiFi tether it creates a WiFi hotspot so multiple devices can tether at a time. For security purposes, users are given the ability to password protect/encrypt WiFi connection with WEP/WPA/WPA2; and there is an “Access-Control” list which shows all devices that are trying to tether. The first time a device connects via Wireless Tether for Root Users, you have to manually grant it access via this Access-Control list; every time after the first connection, access is remembered so unless you manually ungrant access, that particular device will be able to connect automatically.

Other useful aspects of Wireless Tether for Root Users are

  • It shows a notification every time a device connects. If the connecting device has already been granted access via the Access-Control list, the notification is in green; if it hasn’t already been granted access, the notification is in red. You can, of course, disable these notifications.
  • The download and upload bandwidth consumed during a tether session is displayed. This helps make it easy to track how much data was consumed. Unfortunately this download/upload bandwidth data is session-to-session — there is no way to save the data to get a total number over a day, week, month, etc.

The biggest downside to Wireless Tether for Root Users is it requires root access. If you have not rooted your Android device, Wireless Tether for Root Users is useless. You need to either go root your device before downloading Wireless Tether for Root Users or look at using other tether apps that don’t require root access.

Overall, Wireless Tether for Root Users is excellent.

Runner Up

App Name: Open Garden WiFi Tether

Developer: OpenGarden, Inc.

Download Size: 850 KB

Version Reviewed: v2.1.1

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Discussion

Open Garden WiFi Tether is literally the exact same app as Wireless Tether for Root Users. (Open Garden WiFi Tether still requires root access and cannot do wired tethering.) You see Wireless Tether for Root Users is an open source app, so Open Garden WiFi Tether took their app, slightly modified it (there are no major feature differences as far as I can tell — only major difference I noticed is Open Garden WiFi Tether asks for fine (GPS) location app and read phone state and identity permissions whereas Wireless Tether for Root Users does not), rebranded it, and republished it. Now, Open Garden WiFi Tether is also open source and gives credit to Wireless Tether for Root Users; so OpenGarden, Inc. is doing nothing “wrong” per se — it is abiding by the GPL license. I just thought this is worth mentioning.

That said, there is little reason to grab Open Garden WiFi Tether when you can grab the original Wireless Tether for Root Users. After all, Open Garden WiFi Tether app updates lag behind that of Wireless Tether for Root Users because OpenGarden must wait for Müller, Lemons, Buxton to release an update to Wireless Tether for Root Users before the update can be ported to Open Garden WiFi Tether. The reasons I feature Open Garden WiFi Tether as runner up are

  • It is a very good tethering app. It may be a copy of Wireless Tether for Root Users but it is still a very good app.
  • Some cell phone networks block their users from downloading Wireless Tether for Root Users, e.g. T-Mobile USA users cannot download Wireless Tether for Root Users. In the case that your network blocks Wireless Tether for Root Users, you can either try to use an app called Market Enabler to fool Android Market into thinking you are on a different network or you can just download Open Garden WiFi Tether.

Honorable Mention 1

App Name: Barnacle Wifi Tether

Developer: szym.net

Download Size: 130 KB

Version Reviewed: v0.6.7

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Discussion

Barnacle Wifi Tether is another root-required, wireless WiFi-tether app. (Barnacle Wifi Tether does not allow wireless bluetooth tether like the previously two mentioned apps.)

Barnacle Wifi Tether is slightly more complicated to use than the previously two mentioned apps. But once you get it to work, it works very well giving you free, un-restricted WiFi tether. Barnacle Wifi Tether may be inferior to Wireless Tether for Root Users and Open Garden WiFi Tether, but it is still a viable option for those that can’t get download or use Wireless Tether for Root Users/Open Garden WiFi Tether

Honorable Mention 2

App Name: PdaNet

Developer: June Fabrics Tech

Download Size: 117 KB

Version Reviewed: v3.02

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Discussion

PdaNet is a two-part tethering app that allows users to do wired USB tether or wireless bluetooth tether — all without root access. I say “two-part” because in order to use PdaNet you must download the app on your Android device and then download the PdaNet program on your Windows/Mac computer.

In addition to tethering features, PdaNet includes an “SMS Agent” which allows you to send text messages from your computer while you are tethered.

The free version of PdaNet restricts users to HTTP connections only. In other words, if you want to visit secured websites (i.e. HTTPS) while tethering, you need to purchase PdaNet for $15.95. (You purchase PdaNet from the developer’s website — not Android Market.)

Aside from not supporting wireless WiFi tether/WiFi hotspot, obviously the biggest drawback to PdaNet is being unable to visit HTTPS websites in the free version. The advantage to PdaNet, however, is you need not have a rooted device — PdaNet does not require root. So it is a matter of a rock and a hard place: If you don’t have a rooted device and won’t/can’t root, then PdaNet is a viable choice for tethering — you just won’t be able to visit HTTPS websites.

Honorable Mention 3

App Name: EasyTether Lite

Developer: Mobile Stream

Download Size: 117 KB

Version Reviewed: v1.1.1

Requires: Android 1.5 and up

Discussion

EasyTether Lite allows users to do wired USB tether without root access. (Wireless WiFi tether not supported.) Similar to PdaNet, EasyTether Lite is two-part and requires you to install the desktop program on your Windows/Mac/Ubuntu/Fedora computer. In fact, PdaNet and EasyTether are rivals and fight for the non-root-tether-app market share.

Compared to PdaNet, EasyTether Lite does not support bluetooth tether but it does support Ubuntu and Fedora computers whereas PdaNet doesn’t. Furthermore, EasyTether Lite doesn’t have an SMS agent that PdaNet has. Finally, EasyTether Lite restricts web access to tethered devices just like PdaNet — but EasyTether blocks more than just HTTPS. EasyTether Lite blocks HTTPS connections, instant messengers, and game console tethering. You need to purchase EasyTether Pro to get all those blocked features; EasyTether Pro also supports bluetooth tether. On the bright side, EasyTether Pro is cheaper than PdaNet — it costs $9.99 on Android Market or $4.99 on Amazon Appstore.

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27 comments

  1. vanierstein

    You can sideload these apps- Just because your carrier has blacklisted the app for your phone at Google Play does not mean you cannot find it at the Dev’s site,or elsewhere….Simply Google foxfi download, plenty of links !! I use ClockworkMod No-Root Tether;14-day free trial, $5.00 afterwards…..it works ! But every time the carrier updates the OS (4.1,4.2,etc) ,they will try and disable the app with the latest OS update….so I would be very leery of updating if you did not want to lose your tethering / Wifi ability…… I will also check out dottech’s recommendations,but CMNRT works for me !!!

  2. Ran Talbott

    Open Garden and Barnacle are now listed as “carrier blocked” for my Captivate. Even though it’s no longer on AT&T (I bought it used and unlocked it), Google apparently decided that, because it’s a Captivate it must be an AT&T device. So much for “Do no evil”…

  3. Carol

    I use Klink for wired usb tether. Two-part like EasyTether, no root required, trial limited to about a dozen specific sites. But full version is about $5 US instead of $10 US. Rooted LG Optimus.

  4. littlewhitedog

    @Ashraf: Thanks for your response. What if you use a Bluetooth connection between the Android phone and the Android tablet? The permutations of all the possibilities get pretty confusing with this stuff, dosen’t it :-)

  5. littlewhitedog

    Regarding your reference to “two-part” installation of PDAnet, one install is done on a Windows machine and the other on the Android phone. I assume you then use 3G thorough your phone to access the net via your Windows machine.

    Question: Can you use PDAnet or PDAnet Tablet to install PDA products on your Android phone and then tether to(i.e. install PDAnet Tablet(wi-fi only… no 3G on tablet) on an Android tablet using Android 3.x or does a Windows machine still need to be in the mix?

  6. Paige

    Keep your eyes on Open Garden as the use of WiFi tether app is just the beginning. Very soon the experience will be above and beyond your expectations… from opengarden.net: “To follow our mission, we are developing a protocol, ‘the Open Garden Mesh Protocol’ that optimizes communications between wireless devices and access to the Internet. Open Garden Mesh Protocol enables people to create their own network and to become an extension of the internet.”

    Think p2p wireless mesh network.

  7. tejas

    I read that using PdaNet, your carrier can’t tell if you’re tethering. I forget why, and have no idea if that’s true.
    I would love to know if that is indeed a fact, because sadly my phone is often faster than my home internet service, and I seldom use my data allowance on the phone.

  8. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Emrys: Ah, yeah that SMS Agent can be attractive for people that text a lot. Still, the price difference between EasyTether Pro and PdaNet is almost $10 (if you buy EasyTether Pro from Amazon Appstore). Just as a clarification, I wasn’t asking you to switch from PdaNet to EasyTether Pro — I was just wondering why you picked the more expensive one.

    @Ed: I don’t want to rain in on the parade but it isn’t a plus for HTC. HTC has nothing to do with the tethering on your phone. It is a plus for Google, who introduced native tethering on Android in Froyo, and a plus for Telus. It is phone carriers that disable native tethering features so they can charge their customers for it; apparently Telus does not do the same (yet).

  9. Ed

    My HTC DHD offers wired & wireless tethering probably as part of HTC Sense. It works flawlessly & my carrier here in Canada, Telus, does not block it or require any extra fees or extra connection. Worked as it was designed right out of the box. Of course access via my laptop, does chew through my data plan faster. On my phone I mostly use Opera Mini which seems to do a very good job @ compressing web pages & saving data vs. IE8 on my laptop. Too bad this is blocked on other people’s devices. One more plus for HTC !!!!

  10. Emrys

    @Ashraf: @ Ashraf…The SMS tool in Pdanet is really handy and is really easy to use. I never tried another tethering app, so it just became my go to since it does everything I need. Besides, I already paid for it. Call me cheap, but it ain’t broke, so I won’t fix it. Another feature of Pdanet is that it has versions for almost any mobile device. Sorry, Palm Pixie users might not be included. Older versions do work. Palm OS is dead. Long live the Droid….

  11. tnprabakar

    @Ashraf: I have unlimited broadband Internet both in my work place and at home (where bluetooth / WiFi are not available). 3g data transfer is a bit costly as on date and i want to use Internet from the computer. Yes, I went through searching Google. It seems it is possible with linux OS but if the solution is from dottech, that should proven and reliable.

  12. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @TNPRABAKAR: Interesting. For an intents and purposes you are looking to reverse tether, right? If your computer is connected using WiFi simply connect the Android mobile using WiFi too. If your computer is connected using a wired connection then I’m not sure. I’ll have to do research on it — have you tried searching Google?

  13. Emrys

    I have been using the paid version of Pdanet for months now and could not be more pleased. Sprint has no data cap and even at 3G speeds I can still stream Netflix. YouTube video buffers at different rates. Audio streams with ease. The SMS agent is handy and all in all well worth the coin. So take down that dish and wok up some stir fry with it!