Featured Android App Review: Open Garden [Communication & Tethering]

I had heard about Open Garden a while ago, but I never got around to actually trying it. If you haven’t heard of it before, it creates a wireless mesh network among all devices using the app. Think of crowd sourcing the internet. I think everyone of us dreams of the day where an internet connection is available virtually anywhere and that’s what Open Garden hopes to achieve. Open Garden allows you to share your data connection from your phone with your tablet, desktop, or laptop, but more importantly, with others around you. That’s where the difference lies from traditional tethering. In traditional tethering you share a data connection from one phone to one or more devices, but with Open Garden it could be many phones. They could even be phones from complete strangers. It’s about pooling data, which creates an open and stable network for all to use.

Sure you can root your phone or buy a tethering plan, but even that can be a pain. You have to turn on your mobile hotspot and most of the time you can’t even use your phone at the same time. What you really want is your device(s) to always be connected just like your 3G or 4G phones. With those devices you don’t have to think about it, they are always connected assuming you’re not in a bad signal area. Let’s put it this way: If everyone were to install and use Open Garden on their phone, we would literally be connected everywhere. It would almost be impossible to find a place that wasn’t connected. Now obviously we aren’t at that stage yet and the technology is continuing to improve, but I think the folks at Open Garden are on to something.

Now before you go screaming that not enough people are using it, don’t forget you can still utilize it for your own needs. If you have a tablet that is WiFi-only you can use Open Garden to share your phone’s data connection to your tablet or even your laptop. You can even pool together your friend’s or other family members phones to get an even better connection. It’s all done via Bluetooth.

It’s pretty easy to configure. Just download the app and install it on your phone and your tablet. Desktop and laptop users can download the software from the site (see below). Start the app on both devices. On your phone you will see an internet cloud with a line drawn to a red circle (your phone). On your tablet you will see the internet cloud and the circle (your tablet), but they won’t be connected by the line, assuming you don’t have a data connection. Just press connect on both your phone and tablet and they will connect after you agree to the privacy statement. On your phone, you will then see a circle for your tablet with a line drawn to your phone, which means it’s grabbing data from the phone. You can also see the amount of data that is being sent to the phone. If more devices are connected they will appear on the display as well. After connecting the devices for the first time, you don’t have to worry about connecting them anymore. From now on your tablet will always auto connect to your phone when away from WiFi. You don’t have to do a thing. Another interesting feature is the ability to connect others via NFC.

Open Garden works very well, but let me also tell you that it isn’t perfect. This concept is still at it’s infancy so there are going to be issues. The bottom line is if you don’t have a tethering plan and you don’t want to get bothered with rooting, Open Garden will get the job done, but there are some caveats. First, your data connection will be a little slower. That’s not usually a big deal. Most of the time when I am in the middle of nowhere, I am happy to get anything. It’s not awful 2G speeds, but it’s not LTE either. Now you can pool other devices, but for now that is just going to give you stability. At some point the app will allow users to get faster speeds as more devices are pooled.

The other thing is there are some limitations in what you can do. For example, certain apps that require a data connection to sync or get data won’t work. Dropbox was one of these. I was able to view photos that are stored in Dropbox, but I couldn’t upload any images. Another example is the Play Store. You can browse apps, but I wasn’t able to download or update any apps. In talking to the folks at Open Garden these limitations are being worked on with Google and will hopefully improve. On the flip side you can do all the Web browsing you want and you can still get your emails and Twitter feed. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, you shouldn’t have any limitations, but I wasn’t able to test it since none of my computers have Bluetooth.

Another issue is that if you frequently use your phone’s Bluetooth for other things, it will get in the way. So if you want to use a Bluetooth headset, you’re going to have issues. I also found that if I tried to stream music via Bluetooth, it would cut out at times and the data connection would also suffer.

The last two issues involve battery life and data. The word “Open” in Open Garden is there for a reason. It’s because the goal is to get as many people using the app as possible, which provides an “open” network that’s easily accessible. By allowing the app to run all the time, it keeps your tablet always connected so when you leave your house you don’t have to do a thing. It will be ready to go, and that’s what you want. It also means it’s ready to go for others around you. This means your battery could suffer. I don’t have any raw stats, but it will affect your battery. Everyone’s phone and usage is different so you will have to judge that one for yourself. What about data? Since Open Garden is about everyone and not just you, this means that others could connect to your device, which could possibly result in data cap issues. Of course, if many devices are available, the data will be pooled and in theory, it should be minimal. Again this is something that you will have to monitor for yourself based on your own monthly plan and allowances. The truth of the matter is you can use Open Garden for your own needs, but you will have to force close the application when you don’t need it if battery and/or data is an issue. I still think you should give it a shot the way it’s intended and see how things go. For Open Garden to be successful, everyone who uses it needs to have it running all the time.

Open Garden is absolutely free and I urge you to give it a try. Check out my hands on video below and hit one of the download links to get started. As always, let me know what you think.

 

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  • Frank

    If i download this will at&t bother me telling me not to tether? is it detectable?