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PdaNet Free Edition can save time and money

by Tim McLain

When major cell carriers recently began offering wifi tethering for an extra fee, I was tempted to go for it.

After all, tethering (using your Android phone as an Internet access point so your laptop and other devices can surf using your phone's data access) has the potential to save money and aggravation when we're on the road and away from free or for-pay wifi access points.

After conducting some research into my Internet-ready devices and the tethering apps available in the Android marketplace, I quickly narrowed things down to the (free!) PdaNet Free Edition app. After all, my laptops have USB ports, so skipping the wifi-sharing option was a no-brainer.

This small program is a wonder. It allows you to use the USB cable that came with your Droid to plug your phone directly into your computer, and then share the phone's Internet connection with your computer. No root access is required, no special modifications are necessary, and no tethering plan (read: additional fees) from your carrier is needed. Your phone even charges your phone's battery via your USB port while you surf.

Even better, PdaNet works under both Windows and Macintosh OS. In my case, both my Dell and Macbook machines have successfully surfed the web via my phone on numerous business trips via this handy app. (If you need to access secure [https] web sites, you'll need to pony up for the full version, which costs $15.95 for a limited time.)

The biggest surprise? Surfing the web and checking email on my Droid can be a little slow at times. Once I tether the phone to my laptop, I notice a considerable speed boost. What could be easier?

Before getting started, be sure to install and test both the PC software and the free app on your phone. You'll need to have both up and running before you head out on the road.

All of that said, if you truly need to tether a wireless device to your phone (wifi-only iPads, anyone?) you'll need to pony up for your carrier's wifi tethering service, which can run up to $20 or more per month.