by Lisa Gade,
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!
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
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:
print to BT enabled printers.
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
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.
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.