Tethering your smart phone's broadband connection to your laptop via Bluetooth or a USB cord is always easier said than done, and it lets you share your phone's data connection with only one device. TapRoot aims to solve both issues with its WalkingHotSpot software, which turns Windows Mobile- and Symbian-powered smart phones with Wi-Fi and 3G connections into a Wi-Fi router. The application installs easily, and getting your laptop connected to your phone's broadcasting connection is a snap. However, we wish TapRoot worked with more of our favorite Wi-Fi-enabled smart phones, like the iPhone and BlackBerrys, and that it didn't use so much battery power.
To take advantage of WalkingHotSpot you need a supported smart phone that has built in Wi-Fi and preferably an unlimited data plan (any data plan will do, though you run the risk of overage fees). Loading WalkingHotSpot onto a Windows Mobile HTC Tilt and Nokia N81 was a simple process. You can opt to visit the mobileWeb siteand download the application to your phone or input your number on the Web site and have a download link sent to your phone via SMS. Downloading and installing the relatively small 115K application to the N78 took 35 seconds over AT&T's 3G network; the 515K Windows Mobile build took 45 seconds on an AT&T HTC Tilt.
Simple Connection and Security Configuration
The WalkingHotSpot interface isn't flashy, but it's intuitive enough to make turning your phone into a Wi-Fi router a breeze. To turn on the broadcasting capabilities you simply hit the start button; the software creates an SSID, a combination of letters and numbers (you can change the name of the network in the settings menu) that is open for connecting a laptop or any Wi-Fi-enabled device. We were able to connect a Lenovo ThinkPad X200 notebook to the HTC Tilt seconds after it started broadcasting. No adjustments were necessary on the laptop; we found the Wi-Fi network through the Windows Network manager and connected.
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When a device attempts to join the network, a default pop-up window appears on the phone's screen; you can allow or deny that connection. The interface displays five circles to represent each connected device and lets users monitor which devices are sharing the bandwidth. Setting a WEP password on the phone is another way of limiting those who can connect to your network.
In a side-by-side comparison with an AT&T 3G laptop connect card, the WalkingHotSpot delivered slower but tolerable speeds. With three bars of 3G service on our phone, the X200 via the Tilt loaded NYTimes.com in 14 seconds; using the connection card, the X200 took just 9 seconds. Gmail.com loaded in 7 seconds versus 5 seconds on the connection card. We struggled, however, to upload a 25MB file to an FTP server over the WalkingHotSpot connection.
Bring the Charger
In testing we noticed that our HTC Tilt's battery drained very fast. Watching the battery meter was like watching a stopwatch; the amount of juice remaining dropped about 2 percent every 3 minutes or so. When the phone's battery dropped to 30 percent the application automatically shut off the wireless connection. We suggest those that are planning to use their phone as a wireless router keep a charger handy if they plan to use the application for long periods of time.
With carriers like AT&T charging $20 per month for a DataConnect plan to tether your phone to your laptop, WalkingHotspot's one-time price of $24.99 seems like a deal if you are already paying for unlimited data for your smart phone. However, since the application utilizes your phone's wireless connection to broadcast the signal, the phone's battery takes a hit. Plus, the speed is not as good as a dedicated notebook connection card. If sharing your smart phone's data connection with more than one device is important to you--including other phones and laptops--WalkingHotSpot makes sense. Otherwise, you may want to consider a less power-hungry connection card.