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Headsets

Bluetooth Headset Reviews Page

 

Keyboards

Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard

Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard

Access Points

Belkin Access Point and USB Print Server

Red-M 1050AP Access Point

PicoBlue Internet Access Point

USB Adapters

Anycom USB-220 Adapter

Asante FriendlyNet USB Adapter

Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter

IOGEAR GBU201

Bluetooth PDA Cards

Ambicom BT2000-CF

Anycom CF Card (and Printer Module)

Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter &
Belkin Bluetooth PDA Adapter Card

Palm SD Bluetooth Card

Socket Communications Bluetooth CF Card

Modems

ENR Technologies BlueGate 56k Modem

Printing Solutions

Anycom Bluetooth Printer Module (and CF card)

Gaming

ENR Tech Gamepad

 

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Bluetooth Networking Products

by Lisa Gade, Editor-in-Chief, July 30, 2002 (updated June 2005)

Forgive the pun, but with all the folks having trouble getting Bluetooth up and running, I was expecting to turn blue in the face evaluating these products. But happily, things went smoothly, and I was able to print, sync to my desktop, connect and dial using a BT phone, and transfer files to other PDAs. Different products have different configuration concepts and methods, and some user interfaces aren't the most friendly, and those were the only real challenges I faced. This is different from setting up WiFi/802.11b, where all the TCP/IP and encryption settings and concepts are fairly standardized and hence similar across brands and even platforms. Access points are the once exception, and are configured in a similar fashion to WiFi access points. But have no fear, all product reviews cover setup and use in detail!

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless Personal Area Networking (PAN) technology that allows devices to connect in a range of 33 feet (10 meters) or more depending on the radio's strength. Bluetooth, abbreviated as BT here, uses a wireless radio to transmit data and operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, as does WiFi. Despite the shared spectrum our BT devices and WiFi access point were in the same room but didn't interfere with each other. Bluetooth enabled phones are more common in Asia and Europe (the US continues to lag behind 2 years in cell phone technology), which means you'll find maybe 5 phones, spread out among different carriers here in the US. Bluetooth 1.1 devices communicate at a maximum of 1 meg/second. . . considerably slower than WiFi, but more than fast enough to pump the relatively slow data feed that comes from your cell phone. Bluetooth 1.2 is better at rejecting signal interference from other devices that use the 2.4 GHz band. Class 2 devices (PDAs, phones and headsets) have a 33 foot range while class 1 devices (access points and some USB adapters for computers) have a claimed range of 100 to 150 feet.

The most popular use of Bluetooth technology has been for wireless headsets used with mobile phones. There are a large number of headsets on the market, many of them reviewed here. You'll need a phone with Bluetooth to use these headsets. Bluetooth car kits are also popular, some of which require dealer installation and others simply popping into your car's cigarette lighter socket. These give you a hands free driving experience with incoming voice piped via your car stereo (for dealer installed models) or a speaker on the self-install units. Both solutions use a small mic to pick up your end of the conversation.

What is bonding or pairing? It's the process whereby two Bluetooth enabled devices create a secure partnership. If you bond your PDA to your cell phone, for example, you can connect immediately without an need to authenticate or share PINs again. It saves time for devices you use frequently. Once you've paired your devices, you can set Bluetooth to be On rather than Discoverable so no one else in vicinity can attempt to connect to your device. Discoverable means that the device broadcasts it's presence and availability for potential connections to other BT enabled devices. If you want to exchange information such as a contact or photo with a friend, or pair for the first time, your device must be in discoverable mode. Otherwise you can set it to "on" if you device offers that option.

Where did the name come from? Bluetooth was a Danish king from centuries ago.

What Can You do with Bluetooth?

If you have a Bluetooth enabled PDA, you can surf the Internet and check/send emails. How? There are a few ways:
1) Your PDA can pair with a BT enabled mobile phone and use the phone as a wireless modem.
2) You can connect via BT to your PC that's equipped with a USB or PCMCIA Bluetooth card and use the pass-through Internet connection feature of Windows networking to share the connection with your PDA. You can also ActiveSync and HotSync wirelessly this way!
3) You can purchase a BT access point (there are several reviewed here). BT access points work just like WiFi access points, broadcasting a wireless Internet connection to PDAs and computers equipped with BT. Class 1 access points typically have a range of 70 to 100 feet or even more depending on walls in your environment.
4) You can buy an external wired modem with BT that connects to a phone jack for dialup Internet access, and connect to that modem using your PDA and BT (see the ENR Tech BlueGate modem review).

You can also:
1) print to BT enabled printers.
2) use BT headsets (this depends on whether the PDA has the appropriate driver for headsets).
3) use a BT GPS with your PDA.
4) use a Bluetooth folding keyboard such as Think Outside's excellent Bluetooth Stowaway keyboard and the Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard.

When User Interfaces Hurt

BT user interfaces and configuration have been simplified over the past few years, thank goodness. The Widcomm/Broadcom software used on HP iPAQ Pocket PCs is an example of friendly Bluetooth software with a useful wizard to help you along. Palm, known for the simplicity and intuitive nature of their software, also has easy to use Bluetooth software. Still, setup/usage/presentation of key concepts varies way too much between several brands and devices (which leads folks to think that BT is buggy or unreliable). But we've come a long way and now the average user can get Bluetooth working.

What devices have Bluetooth

Right now, there are cell phones, many PDAs, some notebooks, PC cards, CompactFlash cards, printer modules, access points (that serve and route Internet connections to BT clients such as your PDA), headsets, GPS and some printers and printer add-on modules with Bluetooth. So many Palm and Pocket PC PDAs have Bluetooth that we can't list them all here. Most all HP iPAQ Pocket PCs, several Dell Pocket PCs, Palm Tungsten T series models such as the Tungsten T5, Palm's LifeDrive and the Tungsten E2 are some. Check out our Pocket PC comparison matrix to see which current models have Bluetooth built-in.

Printing with Bluetooth

This is one of the coolest uses of BT: you can print wirelessly from your PDA and desktop. We reviewed the Anycom Printer Module here, but there are other solutions including the HP 995c ink jet printer and Epson's BT print server. You will need Pocket PC or PAlm software to print to a BT-enabled printer however, and PrintPocketCE from Field Software is the best solution we've found for Pocket PC and PrintBoy is the best for Palm.

PrintPocketCE has been around for a few years and is an excellent printing app for the Pocket PC. It supports Epson, HP PCL printers, Canon BJ, the popular portable printers, various dot matrix generic standards, Citizen and even the Seiko LabelWriter. Not only does it do BT, but also IR, Network shared and IP printers, and iPAQ built-in Bluetooth. You can specify color or mono printing, portrait vs. landscape, custom paper sizes, margins and more. If you need to print from your Pocket PC, this is a killer app! You can purchase it from Handango for $39.95.

For Palm OS, there's PrintBoy, and excellent application that supports printing over Bluetooth to a Bluetooth enabled printer (along with IR, WiFi and serial). It's available from Handango for $39.95.

Bluetooth Product Reviews:

Headsets and Car Kit:

Bluetooth Headset Reviews (car kits too)

 

Bluetooth PDA Cards

Ambicom BT2000-CF

Anycom CF Card (and Printer Module)

Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter &
Belkin Bluetooth PDA Adapter Card

Palm SD Bluetooth Card (OS4 only)

Socket Communications Bluetooth CF Card

Modems

ENR Technologies BlueGate 56k Modem

Printing Solutions

Anycom Bluetooth Printer Module (and CF card)

 

 

Keyboards

Think Outside Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard

Freedom Bluetooth Keyboard

Access Points

Belkin Access Point and USB Print Server

Red-M 1050AP Access Point

PicoBlue Internet Access Point

USB Adapters

Anycom USB-220 Adapter

Asante FriendlyNet USB Adapter

Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter

IOGEAR GBU201

 

 

 

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