Hands on review of TetherBerry (plus free license giveaway!)

 

Thanks to the folks at TetherBerry, we have been putting its latest software solution for BlackBerry tethering through the paces over the past week or so in preparation for today’s official launch. For those unfamiliar with the product, TetherBerry allows you to use your BlackBerry to access the Internet from your computer anywhere you have a cellular signal. It uses the data connection on your handset and does so without incurring additional tethering fees imposed by your wireless carrier. Now that you know what it does, let’s get on with the review and see if TetherBerry is indeed a viable on-the-go mobile tethering solution.

Hardware and Carrier Information

Before we begin with the software, let’s take a look at the hardware we used for the purposes of this review. Here is a rundown:

  • ThinkPad Z61t with Windows XP
  • Dell Inspiron Mini 9 with Windows XP
  • Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Curve 8330 with OS 4.5, EV-DO Rev.0
  • Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 9530 with leaked OS .109, EV-DO Rev.A
  • Verizon Wireless EV-DO connection

TetherBerry was tested using a BIS-based BlackBerry connection and was not tested with BES. This review will not discuss various IT policies and any challenges BES users may face while using TetherBerry.

Setup and Installation

The installation of TetherBerry is a straight forward process. The software consists of two components: a desktop application and a mobile application — both applications are needed to establish and maintain the internet connection. The desktop component is for Windows PCs only, though a Mac version is currently in the works so all you Mac users out there who have gone crazy without tethering since updating your Bold with OS 2XX can breathe a sigh of relief.

TetherBerry installs both a TetherBerry Ethernet adapter into your network connections folder and a desktop application that you launch when you want to tether. The desktop component also requires you to have BlackBerry Desktop Manager installed on your computer. If Desktop Manager is not installed, TetherBerry will install a non-Roxio version for you as part of the setup process. A nice touch so you don’t have scour RIM’s website looking for the proper software. The PC install went smoothly and without error on both the Thinkpad notebook and the Dell netbook.

The BlackBerry Component is installed over the air from a .jad file from TetherBerry’s website. Once again, the application was installed without error on both BlackBerry handsets. With the Curve, the application appeared as an icon within the applications folder while on the Storm, the application appeared as an icon within the downloads folder.

Usage and Performance

Before you initiate a tethering session, you must disable your other Internet connection options (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc) on the PC. No other configuration to your computer is needed, which of course is a nice bonus. To initiate a tethering session, you need to connect your BlackBerry to your PC via USB and launch both the desktop application and the handheld application. When you launch the handheld application, it prompts you to connect to TetherBerry.com and you must respond “yes” if you want the application to launch. If you click “no” the TetherBerry application will run but the components necessary to establish the Internet connection will not load. We queried the company about this requirement to connect to TetherBerry’s servers and were told that it is necessary both to validate the software license and to determine which server you should use. The representative elaborated further by saying the “connections are routed through Tetherberry’s servers to get around some limitations of BlackBerry devices” and assured us that TetherBerry does not monitor or inspect the packets as they pass through its servers. One problem with this configuration however, is that your IP is served up from San Diego, CA so any location based Internet services that use your IP address to approximate your location will place you in San Diego rather than your actual location.  A minor drawback with the method used by the software to establish and maintain the data connection.

Once the connection between the PC and the handheld is established, you can browse to your heart’s content. The desktop component keeps track of the packets sent and received, volume of data sent/received and the status of the connection. The handheld component monitors the connection and will list any errors encountered during the tethering session. It initiated without a hitch and Verizon Wireless did not pick up on the tethered connection. When in a tethering session, you could browse the web with the mobile browser and use almost all (see the next paragraph for the exception) of the functions of the phone without a disruption in the tethering connection. The connection was rock solid and did not drop, even while in a moving vehicle.

There were only two times that we encountered a disruption in service. First was when we received an incoming phone call. The internet connection remained active while the phone rang, but came to a screeching halt when we answered the call. The pause in the connection is most likely due to the inability of CDMA devices to support a simultaneous data and voice connection. Despite the pause in the internet connection, the application remained running in the background and the connection was resumed as soon as the call was ended. The only time the handheld application threw an error was when we let the connection lay dormant for about 10 minutes. When we tried to resume browsing, we received 3-4 “couldn’t write in receive: java.io.IOException” errors before the connection was re-established and we were off browsing again — something we hope is resolved with a future build.

Connection Speeds


Establishing a connection is one thing but the connection speeds will make or break the browsing experience. Overall, TetherBerry maintained decent connection speeds but we did see a marked difference between the EV-DO Rev.0 Curve and the EV-DO Rev.A Storm of course. In an area with a strong signal, connection speeds with the Storm averaged 800kb/s down and 250kb/s up while the Curve managed 400kb/s down and 100kb/s up. Connection speeds also varied based upon signal strength, with areas of low signal signal showing a degradation in speed. The lowest speed recorded was 200kb/s down and 42kb/s up. TetherBerry did not appear to cap speeds and seemed to establish a connection at a speed optimized for the device and the signal strength. Basically, it looks like TetherBerry can cope with whatever speeds your carrier can throw its way.

We even pushed the limits and attempted to watch some streaming video — YouTube streaming worked well but Hulu and Netflix were way too choppy to watch.

Conclusion

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of setup and the steady performance of TetherBerry. For those who don’t mind carrying around a USB cable, TetherBerry provides an excellent and inexpensive tethering solution. TetherBerry is available now at Tetherberry.com for $39.99 – not bad at all when you consider how much a tethering plan will run you. For those who prefer to get things for free, TetherBerry has given us 30 complimentary copies for BGR readers — so the first 30 readers to respond in the comments and request a copy will be the lucky winners. You must indicate that you want a copy, comments like “I’m first!” are not eligible. Please be sure to use a valid email address in the email field when you submit your comment as we will use that address to contact the winners.

Pros:

  • Easy to Install without the need for any advanced network configuration
  • Provides tethering anywhere you have a wireless signal without any additional carrier-imposed tethering charges
  • Connection speed was excellent (though the actual speed you experience will depend upon the hardware used, network used and signal strength)

Cons:

  • Only works on a Windows PC (Mac version is in the works)
  • Requires a USB Cable (though Bluetooth support is expected in the future)
  • Packets are routed through TetherBerry’s servers, which will impact LBS
  • As with any third-party tethering solution of course, use it at your own risk and definitely use some common sense to avoid potentially massive data bills.

TetherBerry product page

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