The Wi-Fi tethering feature built into your Android phone is a great feature that shares your connection with devices that might not have cellular capabilities. Now Google is making it a little easier to get it up and running.
A new feature called Instant Tethering is currently rolling out as part of the 10.2.91 update to Google Play Services. First reported last month by Android Police, the feature should be live on a select few phones, namely Nexus and Pixel handsets running Nougat 7.1.1.
Phones that can share their data connection include the Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P. On the receiving end, the only currently supported tablets are the Nexus 9 and Pixel C tablets running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or later. That said, the service could eventually make its way to more devices, possibly as part of Android O.
How Instant Tethering works
Omri Amarilio, an associate product manager at Google, explained Instant Tethering in a post on the Pixel User Community forum: “When you unlock a tablet such as the Pixel C, it will notice if there is no internet connection available, and will ask your Pixel phone if it has internet and battery life. If it does, we will give you an option to enable a secure hotspot and pair automagically, without even taking your phone out of your pocket. When you are done, if you don’t disconnect, we will notice that you stopped using your tablet and we will disconnect the hotspot for you to save your precious battery throughout the day.”
Where previous connection required pairing codes, passwords, and several steps to get set up, the new method works similarly to the way automatic Wi-Fi connections work today. The two devices need to be within Bluetooth range and linked to the same Google account to start the connection, but other than that, there aren’t any toggles to flip or passwords to enter. Basically, your tablet will instantly connect to your phone’s hotspot (hence the name) whenever it needs a connection.
To find the feature, head to the Settings app—just don’t look for the option under the Tethering & portable hotspot tab. Instead, scroll down to the Google tab under the Personal heading and tap Instant Tethering. You’ll see two toggles, one for Provide data connection and another for Get data connection (they’ll both be on by default). Below the switches, there will be a list of any available devices that need to use your connection. If your Pixel to Nexus phone or tablet needs a connection, they will appear there, and a pop-up window will ask if you want to connect. Tap Connect and you’ll be on your way.
In my testing, the feature worked flawlessly, and my Internet-challenged phone connected quickly without any fuss. But be warned, as with any portable hot spot, Instant Tethering can use excessive amounts of data and battery life.
The impact on you at home: While the requirements are pretty specific at the moment, Instant Tethering could be a killer feature down the road. It also could mean that Google is finally serious about Android tablets. Apple introduced a similar feature in iOS 8 called Instant Hotspot designed to tighten the integration between its phones, tablets, and laptops, and here’s hoping Instant Tethering is a step toward creating something similar with Android.