Wednesday, November 28, 2012

[Review] EasyTether for Android

EasyTether banner
As smart phones get smarter and smarter, and have access to faster Internet speeds, sometimes the desire to use your phone's Internet connection for your personal computer is a thought. I'll give you a good example of when you might want to use your phone's Internet connection: you are traveling and you want to use your PC to go online but there is no WiFi and you only have your cellphone and your carrier's signal.

Even if your carrier has you locked into a capped data plan, the folks at Mobile Stream, the maker of EasyTether, believe that you should always have access to your phone's internet connection, and their app EasyTether does just that. EasyTether is a USB based tethering tool. It carries numerous advantages over WiFi and bluetooth competitors, with one reason being that some carriers who disallow tethering block the ability for your phone to broadcast a WiFi signal instead of recieving it. Some laptops don't have bluetooth connectivity, for example the older laptops. USB tethering, from my standpoint, is the most solid (due to the hardware connection) tether option available and it is also the hardest to block.

EasyTether Lite app listing on Google Play (Android app)
EasyTether can be downloaded from the Google Play store, either as the full version or the lite version. EasyTether Lite is the free version of the app and does retain it's core functionality, which is to let you access the internet using your phone's internet connection. The free version does, however, block HTTPS connections over port 443, instant messaging, and online gaming from consoles such as the PlayStation 3. Some methods of virtual private networking might also be blocked, but it depends on type of VPN.

Before I go further I would like to say that I did get a code for the full version, but some of the shots were taken when the app was not activated, on purpose. Mobile Stream kindly gave me a review copy of the app (just an activation code).

To the left you can see EasyTether Lite's page on the Google Play store. You can activate this version of the app by using a code, or just uninstalling it and then buying the full version for a one-time payment of $10.

USB Tethering Setup
Installing the app is fairly easy. You can download the app by going to Google Play. When you first install the app, you are offered a tutorial on how to download the EasyTether client for your PC operating system, so you can use EasyTether. Right now supported systems are Windows, Mac, and Linux. For Linux, there is already pre-built packages for some of the distributions of Linux out there. Since I use Ubuntu, I was already covered as there is a pre-built package you can install using GDebi, the Ubuntu Software Center or your favorite package manager.

If you use Windows, you might have to download a driver to use your phone. If you are one of those that need to download the driver, you'll have instructions on how to do that inside the app as well. Basically, this app is very easy to install and is very user friendly to set up. Especially if you use Linux, I've noticed that it's easier to use. Assuming you are running a mainline distro, there are pre-built packages and you do not have to compile, unlike competitors like Clockwork Tether.

DNS Resolver Settings: Google DNS or OpenDNS
When you install the app, you already have default settings set for you, and usually you don't have to mess with these unless you want to. There are some USB connection settings that you can change. Well, the first is not really a setting but it is the setup guide for EasyTether, and the other is the setting for the DNS resolver. You can choose from Google DNS (which I wrote about a while back), or OpenDNS. The default setting is Google DNS.

USB Tethering Setup: Choose your platform
As for setting up USB tethering, instructions vary depending on your platform. The system where I tested this truly was Windows and Ubuntu. Depending on your phone, you might have to install the Android driver. You can get more info on this inside the app itself if it concerns you or you have a having an issue with connecting your phone to your computer and get nothing outside of access to your SD card. From the picture above, you can tap your button for your platform. You can download the package directly to your phone to transfer to your computer, or you have links that you can use to download the drivers from your computer.

After downloading the driver, install them. If you are installing on Windows you might get warning about the driver's not being signed, or something similar to what I got when trying this on Windows XP. If you do not want unsigned/certified software to be on your system then don't install this. There is no issues while installing on Linux, probably because you don't get warnings about installing third party software.

EasyTether activation via code methodActivation
Activating EasyTether can be done in two main different ways. You can use the Google Play Store to download the full version of the app, or you can buy a code from Mobile Stream to activate the lite version of the app. If you need to order activation codes on a larger scale then you should visit their website for that as they offer discounts for buying bulk activation codes.

Activation via a code requires that you supply Mobile Stream with the MEID for your phone though their app.

Using EasyTether
Using EasyTether is a breeze. To get your computer connected to the internet, first make sure USB Debugging is turned on for your phone, and make sure that you have your drivers already installed. To enable the actual tether functionality for your phone, just tap the check box to enable USB tethering. Connect the phone to the computer and if you are on Linux open the terminal and type "easytether connect" into the box, or you can connect via Windows by right clicking on the icon in the system tray/notification area.

Once connected, you should be able to use the internet. If you have the lite (free) version of the app you will not have access to HTTPS websites, most instant messengers, and online gaming with your gaming consoles. Running the full version is really worth it as, once again, it is a one time payment and you will be able to use your phone's internet connection fully.

I am sorry, but I can not offer any kind of opinion for connecting via Apple computers as I don't own one. If you do own an Apple machine and have used EasyTether, then you can offer your opinion below.

While tethering keep in mind this:
One of my home screens on my Android phone showing the EasyTether icon
  1.  Keep in mind your data cap if you are on a data capped plan. If you need a data monitoring app I recommend Onavo Count. Any data monitoring app should do.
  2. Your internet connections are being routed as if it was being conducted by the EasyTether app. If your carrier has a method of trying to sniff out tethering via apps this could be a dead give-away
  3. Your cell signal will affect the speed of your browsing experience.
  4. If you are on a phone that can't do both data and voice calls at the same time your data connection will be temporarily lost while a phone call occurs.
  5. Keep in mind the temperature of your battery!!! I can't stress this enough. Some batteries heat up very quickly when 3G or 4G is being used heavily. This app is sure to cause at least some heat to your device. I'm not saying that everyone will have the issue, but keep in mind the temp of the battery. If it overheats that could damage your phone and/or your battery. If your batter does get hot easily then I recommend you set your phone with the back off with the phone (battery side down) placed on the leg. It might be a bit warm. If you are in an area where a desktop fan is around, blowing air on the battery can help. If you have something cold that does not condensate well you can use that to cool your battery.
While connected the app doesn't so a visual difference other than an ongoing notification that USB Tether is running. If you do not want this then turn off USB tethering when you are not using it. This was a common question by users and I just wanted to point that out.

The Verdict
EasyTether is a very useful little app that can be very handy. It is one of the easiest to use tethering solutions by far, and the pre-built Ubuntu and Fedora packages just make the experience even greater. It is worth getting the full version, as it is just a one time payment and you are supporting future development. There are no trials with this app, so even if you stick with the lite version you can still use basic websites over normal HTTP connections without usage limits or a trial cutoff period like already mentioned.

I honestly couldn't find an issue while using this. Mobile Stream does however want you to try the lite version on your phone's first to see how the app works. If it works perfectly, then you could decide to get the full version.

Techman's World Rating: 5 out of 5 stars