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Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth vs. USB tethering: Which is best for you?

You have your laptop open and ready because you need to answer some emails or complete a work assignment, but there’s no Wi-Fi in sight. What could end up being a frustrating situation can be resolved with a simple workaround to get you back online.

All you need is a device, either Apple or Android, with a cellular connection. The connections are slightly different depending on the device you use.

The first thing you have to do is set up your personal hotspot. Apple and Android mobile devices can share their data connections just like a Wi-Fi hotspot. That means you can get your laptop online and enjoy working with a full keyboard rather than tapping with your thumbs. Your  personal hotspot feature can also comes in handy when you don’t want to use your computer on an unknown or unsecured Wi-Fi network.

On Apple:

  1. Go to Settings > Cellular.
  2. Tap Personal Hotspot, then tap the slider to turn it on.

On Android:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap Network & Internet > Hotspot & tethering.
  3. Tap Wi-Fi hotspot, then turn it on.

There are three different ways you can hook your computer up to your internet connection, a process known as “tethering.” Let’s take a look at all three possibilities: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB, and how to choose which method to use.


For most people, Wi-Fi tethering is the easy way to go. It’s simple and offers a fast connection.

In Apple:

  1. Verify the name of your phone or tablet and your Wi-Fi password. Go ahead and leave this screen open while you’re connecting your computer.
  2. On your laptop, open your Wi-Fi settings and look for your iPhone’s name on the list of available networks. Select it.
  3. Enter your hotspot password.

As far as your computer is concerned, this works just like a normal Wi-Fi hotspot.

In Android:

  1. Go to Settings on your other device.
  2. Open the device’s list of Wi-Fi options.
  3. Pick the phone’s hotspot name, enter the password and then click Connect.

Keep in mind that your laptop will eat into your mobile data plan, so be mindful of how much data you have to spare.

Here’s how to get free Wi-Fi almost anywhere.


While Wi-Fi tethering works very well and should be your first choice, you might consider Bluetooth instead if you’re concerned about battery drain. The trade-off is that you may experience a slower connection, so keep this option in reserve for those times when your battery is running down and there’s no outlet available.

In Apple:

  1. Go to Settings > Bluetooth and stay on the screen to make sure your iPhone or iPad is discoverable.
  2. Go to your computer and follow the directions to set up a Bluetooth network connection. It should be ready to go then.

Personal Hotspot supports Bluetooth connections with Mac, PC and other third-party devices. To connect another iOS device, use Wi-Fi.

In Android:

  1. Pair your phone with the other device.
  2. Set up the device to connect by Bluetooth with the instructions that came with it.
  3. Open Settings, then tap Network & internet, and then Hotspot & tethering.
  4. Tap Bluetooth tethering, and you’re set.


In Apple:

  1. Plug your iPhone or iPad USB cable directly into your computer. You will need to have the most recent version of iTunes installed on your laptop.
  2. If you see an alert that says “Trust This Computer?,” tap Trust. You’re good to go.

In Android: 

  1. Connect your phone to the other device with a USB cable. A notification that says “Connected as a … ” will pop up at the top.
  2. Open your device’s Settings.
  3. Tap Network & internet, then Hotspot & tethering.
  4. Turn on USB tethering.

While simply hooking up a cable can be convenient, there can also be a speed trade-off with using USB tethering. You may prefer to stick with a Wi-Fi connection unless you’re having a technical issue that prevents you from using Wi-Fi.

Some carriers will throttle mobile hotspot data after a certain amount of usage. Check your contract or talk to your carrier if you’re unsure of what your plan allows. With occasional light use, you probably won’t have to worry, but you may run into issues if you’re using it to stream lots of high-quality video, or for other data-intensive purposes.

Think of tethering as your internet pinch hitter. It’s there when you need to call on it, but it might not make sense as an everyday way to get your computer online.

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