Tether for free via PdaNet

No Wi-Fi? No problem, if you've tethered your phone to your laptop. PdaNet makes the process remarkably hassle-free.

Just because the Moscone Center in San Francisco hosts a veritable plethora of techie conventions, that doesn't mean it offers Wi-Fi. If your phone can pick up a 3G signal, you might not care--and you might not have to pay for it, either. Thanks to PdaNet's phone app and laptop drivers, and the unlimited data plan that you're already paying for, you can use many of the major smartphones as your Internet connection.

After connecting your Android phone and running the PdaNet app, you'll need to finalize the connection from the PdaNet system tray icon. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

From the improbably-named software publisher June Fabrics, PdaNet is known for offering tethering solutions for PalmOS, but it also offers iPhone, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry versions. (Note that the iPhone version requires you to jailbreak the phone.) We'll be focusing on the Android version, which is available for Windows 32-bit and Mac. Its installation is surprisingly simple and doesn't involve rooting your Android phone.

There are two ways to install PdaNet. You can download it directly to your phone by connecting your phone to your computer, mounting the phone as a drive, and running the executable file from there. Or you can download it directly to your computer and run it. If you run it from your phone, the onscreen instructions will tell you when you need to disconnect your phone to complete the installation.

You'll be prompted again to enable USB debugging on the Android, and then to connect the USB cable. Once connected, it will install the PdaNet app on your phone. To create the connection, you'll need to connect the USB cable, run the PdaNet app on the phone, and then complete the connection by choosing "Connect" from the system tray context menu. If the Windows driver warns you that it's unverified, install it anyway.

PdaNet for Android has one limitation. After 30 days, it  will require you to buy a license for $23.95, otherwise it will block access to secure HTTPS Web sites such as Gmail. That's a tempting carrot, but for those who don't need access to secure sites, the free version should be more than enough to satisfy.

Making the connection was smooth and nearly flawless. Users can tether their Android phones with a USB cable, or they can connect their phones to their laptops via Bluetooth DUN. PdaNet warns users that Bluetooth connections can be hamstrung by baud rate, so browsing on your laptop can appear slower than on your phone. However, the company says that there should be no perceptible slowdowns if connected via USB.

I noticed occasional connection hiccups when waking the laptop from hibernating, but otherwise there were no problems. To get around those apparent connection loss situations, I disconnected and then re-established the tether. The program is light on your system resources, and is a strong choice for those who want the benefits of tethering without the risks involved in rooting their phone.