As I said last week in CNET's full review of the Samsung Nexus S, I was pleased to find that the handset supports tethering and it can function as a Wi-Fi hot spot. Such is the benefit of using a phone with the stock Android OS. Indeed, both features are increasingly popular among smartphone users, but some carriers have stood in the way of making them a reality.
Sprint and Verizon Wireless, for example, declined to add tethering to their Froyo-equipped handsets, even though the Android 2.2 update promised to add the feature. And though Sprint does offer hot-spot capability on its HTC Evo 4G, the carrier charged an extra $29.99 per month for the privilege.
The Nexus S, on the other hand, adds both features for less money.
We're still confirming with T-Mobile if there will be a separate fee. T-Mobile will charge an additional $14.99 per month to use them, but you're saddled with a few restrictions. I was able to play with both over the weekend, and I'm pleased to say that I was quite impressed with the performance on both fronts.
Though tethering has has been around since the days of the earliest cell phones, it's only in the last few years that the feature has become really useful thanks to high-speed 3G and 4G networks. If you don't know, tethering is using a cell phone as an Internet connection point for another device. The other device is usually a computer and the connection between it and the phone is made through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or a USB cable.
For the Nexus S you must use a USB cable, and it only works with Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Linux, but those are the only restrictions that you'll encounter. To get started, connect your phone to a PC and then switch on the tethering option in the "Wireless & networks" option under the Settings menu (the handset can't be in U.S. storage mode). When I tried it, my PC recognized the phone right away and I was browsing the Web within a couple of minutes. The connection over T-Mobile's 3G network (remember that the Nexus S doesn't support HSPA+) was quite good given the setup. Most sites loaded within seconds, and I only had a momentary pause when starting YouTube videos. But once the videos started, they played without interruption.
Wi-Fi hot spot
This feature allows you to use the Nexus S as an Internet connection point for up to five other devices (you don't need a USB cable). To activate the hot spot, just visit the same area in the Settings menu. The default Network SSID is "AndroidAP," though you can change it if you like. Also, you can choose to keep it as an open connection or you can secure it with a password.
After activating the hot spot, I found the appropriate connection on my PC right away. It took a few seconds to establish a link, though it was still very quick. And once I was connected I was online without incident. The connection was a little slower than on tethering--YouTube videos got stuck a few times, for instance--but it was satisfying given the circumstances. I was able to use it with a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G and an iPhone 4 as well, even though it won't work with the Mac OS on a computer.
As long as you stick to the basics such as checking e-mail, accessing social media, and simple research (news, weather, etc.), both features should serve you well. Uploading small photos shouldn't be a problem, but I'd avoid trying to upload video or download large files. I would have preferred a dedicated app over plowing through the menus to activate the features, but that's a minor point.
Updated on December 14, 2010, at 10:10 a.m. PT with T-Mobile pricing.