BlueTooth – Review

My BlueToothed Life! – Okay, I gave in and bought the laptop with all the bells and whistles, more connectivity than you can shake a stick at and I’m happy with that bit and the performance of the laptop.

Now there’s this little matter of Bluetooth the new short range wireless communications protocol, originally mooted by Ericsson a few years back and now devices are starting to appear.

It so happened that those nice people at Orange wanted to give me a handset upgrade and the T68 immediately sprung to mind but it was going to cost me £178 and the screen leaves a bit to be desired. They didn’t have any in stock anyway so I chose a T39, based on the old T28, which has GPRS, IR and Bluetooth all built into a nice little discrete package. To be honest, I couldn’t justify paying for the T68 just to get a colour screen and the T39 seems to achieve more or less what the T68 does only it came free, as in zero cost to me, and that was the deciding factor.

Bluetooth your printer – When I bought the laptop Sony had an offer on whereby I got a Troy Bluetooth printer adaptor for free too, I thought I was doing well on the free stuff but consider the cost of the laptop! You can see more details of this here Troy Bluetooth.

My first impression of this product was not too good, it looked more like it should be £50 rather than four times that price, it has the cheap “I want to belong to an i-MAC” feel about it with the translucent blue case. You also realise at this point that this is no small plug in either! Also required is a 5V DC in supplied by the included power pack, again negating the wire-free appeal and adding to the weight! It was at this point I realised that this product was going to have a very limited appeal.

What can you say, after installing and mucking about getting it to work it prints.

Phone fun! – Getting the phone to see the laptop was a breeze, switched on the laptop’s Bluetooth, tell the phone to search for Bluetooth devices and inside thirty seconds the phone was paired with the laptop. Now, for some reason, the laptop could see the phone but not communicate with it using Ericsson’s software at first then after a quick hunt through the manuals I discovered why this was. When a Bluetooth device is close the laptop will recognise it and, on opening “Bluespace” Sony’s Bluetooth management package, you can see the device fine. What has to be done is a kind of binding operation where the communications session is held open, this has to be done manually and is not an automatic process. I had assumed that it would work like Wi-Fi and simply work without my intervention but this is sadly not the case. On a reboot or disconnection you have to re-initialise the links between devices which is a royal pain in my opinion.

Once the devices are connected it works very well indeed, far faster than IR with the phone but not as quick as I had hoped for. So far as I can tell there is no way to monitor the amount of data sent or the speed but I can live with that. Sony, clever beggars, even have a setting in the software for a Bluetooth headset, nice for voice over IP or gaming, not that the laptop is a games machine but you get the point.

Now for the downside, enabling Bluetooth on the phone does some serious damage to the battery life! Typically the expected standby time will drop to about a third of the normal time you would get without it enabled, which is fine where the phone is charging, for example in the car, not so good if you have not a lot of charge left and need to use it totally wire-free. That said however, the trade off is acceptable in the case of the T39 as, on a full charge, there is ten days or thereabouts worth of standby time. It also hurts the laptop battery but not just as drastically as on the phone so definitely a case of switch off the Bluetooth if you are not using it! I would imagine, for my own usage that this is not a huge problem as generally it would be used in the car so charging is readily available.

GPRS is a blast for anyone that has ever used WAP but still not anywhere near what the newer 3G services will provide! Well worth it if you need mobile access to email and the web, if you don’t or you will only use it occasionally then you’d probably be better off sticking with the GSM network and living with the lower speeds for the moment. It is billed as “always on” but the phone seems not to want to accept calls when it is connected, something I must investigate when time allows. Just don’t expect to be browsing the web with the same impunity that you would from a land line.

Home In On The Range! – The obvious question is “what is the range of the devices?” and its’ a good question. I got a maximum of about 15M through walls, but I honestly think that was a fluke and I wouldn’t recommend trying it. The specs state that 10M is the range and I can say that you would probably be more or less safe enough taking that as the maximum distance from the device but, as with all wireless devices, the range in one home or office could be entirely different in another location.

So is Bluetooth really any good? – Well yes and no!  For small devices such as an iPaq or a cell phone then it is definitely the way to go, allowing reasonably fast access without those pesky wires but, on larger appliances, I would stick with WLAN (802.11/Wi-Fi/Wireless LAN) as it is infinitely more versatile and transparent in its use. The beauty of Bluetooth being that it can be built into appliances cheaply, using little space and without huge power drains on battery operated equipment.

However the value on full sized items, like printers is dubious at best particularly if you do have access to a wireless network. It could be argued that Bluetooth would allow the likes of a palm PC to talk to a full sized peripheral but I do think that’s a weak argument except in the context of a Bluetooth access point to access a proper LAN and, to me, this would be a far cheaper option than individual adaptors.

For instance a printer the Bluetooth adaptor costs well over £100, the one I used retails at £170 *EXCL* VAT!! Now for that kind of money I can buy a SIM free Bluetooth mobile which is far more useful to me than being able to print a document via a Bluetooth connection. My opinion is that if you have a WLAN available then the Bluetooth option is redundant where that service is available, given that you can access a printer easily from that and I really do not see the point in this at all. Even if you used this on the road as it were, you still need drivers for the printer or a full printer running in the car, I suppose there may be some use to be found there but it is an expensive option. Remember that you also need to power the adaptor and the printer! In a corporate environment this may well be a clever and potentially very useful option, in a domestic situation I would have to say no, I wouldn’t pay the money for it.

The fact that Bluetooth is, or seems to be, being built into a large percentage of the current crop of mobiles will inevitably make it a popular choice and, let’s face it, a lot of the kit is just so damned sexy! So for small devices over a small area then yes, Bluetooth is probably the best solution. In a network situation then, in my opinion, it’s not as flexible and easy as Wi-Fi.

Now the Home Automation bit – Can it be used for HA? Well I would think so yes. How useful it would be is open to debate in that, as far as I can see, you cannot have an unlimited number of devices connected so I think it would be impractical at best to control, say a lamp, using just a direct Bluetooth connection. But what about a Bluetooth enabled HA controller, like HomeVision or Comfort? Bluetooth controlled PCTV? The list could go on and on.

For short range wire-free applications Bluetooth is absolutely ideal for HA being that it can be built in something as tiny as a mobile phone!

If the technology drops in price enough it could be a boon for those of us with an eye on the HA scene to link major parts of the system with virtually direct control over major local devices and I think it will be used at some point once it becomes financially viable.

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