Have you ever yelped in pain when you ripped the smartphone ear buds out of your ears by catching the cord on a cabinet knob or door handle? I have. I’ve also almost had a car accident while trying to get that same ear bud cord untangled from the seatbelt so I could answer a call or listen to an audio book.
I always knew I could hook up my phone to headphones or a speaker wirelessly through a Bluetooth device, but like all recovering technophobes I tended to scoff at Bluetooth. First of all, the name. Who came up with that silly name? Whoever came up with Google probably, but that’s no excuse.
Then I realized it was me who was being silly. I wouldn’t think of using an Ethernet cable to attach my computer to my modem when wi-fi is available, so why should I use an annoying cord to attach my phone to earphones or a speaker. I also took a close look at the way lightweight Bluetooth headsets were designed and realized one would fit nicely over my hearing aids since they don’t go in your ears, but on them.
What Is Bluetooth?
A lot of people still don’t know what Bluetooth is and how it differs from wi-fi, so here’s a basic explanation: Bluetooth technology is built into electronic gadgets and allows them to connect directly with each other wirelessly. Bluetooth devices transmit data using low-powered radio signals. Wi-fi is often referred to as “wireless Internet,” because that’s what it’s most often used for – accessing the Internet. When you see people surfing the web in a cafe, they’re probably using wi-fi.
Bluetooth technology is in lots of the devices that you already have and can be used to connect tablets or computers with speakers, headphones, printers, keyboard, mouses and more.
This means you can pair a Bluetooth speaker to your tablet or computer and get louder, clearer audio when you’re watching videos; you can even use a wireless keyboard and mouse with your laptop. Bluetooth allows wireless communication with standalone speakers for cellphones and tablets, for laptop keyboards and mice, for printers. It works for both voice – like talking hands-free on a headset or speakerphone – and data, like pictures, music and documents. It can even be used with a printer to print photos you’ve taken on your phone. See more info on the Bluetooth website
Even if your laptop or printer doesn’t have Bluetooth built in (mine doesn’t) you can buy an inexpensive Bluetooth USB adapter so you can use your laptop with a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, or your printer with a phone or tablet.
Pairing a Bluetooth Device With a Phone or Tablet
Bluetooth devices can be had very inexpensively, so I think the main reason people avoid Bluetooth is the pairing problem. You do have to use your device’s menu to do the deed, but it’s way – and I do mean way – easier than pairing a computer with a wi-fi printer, which can be a genuine nightmare. Many Bluetooth earphones talk you through it.
There’s also a new invention called Near Field Communication, or NFC, that’s supposed to do it for you automatically (here’s an explanation of how NFC works), but it didn’t work with my new Bluetooth headset and my phone, even though they both have NFC built in. Don’t ask me why it didn’t work for me, but it’s hardly necessary, pairing is so simple.
What Are Some Good Bluetooth Headsets?
Even though I was freaked out when I first saw people wearing these because it looked as if they were talking to themselves, I decided we’ve all gotten so used to the sight that I wanted one. These lightweight Bluetooth headsets fit over one ear and are good for both audio books and phone calls, allowing you to hear what’s going on around you. And as I discovered, because they are placed over the ear, not in it like wired earbuds, they even fit over hearing aids. After trying one brand from Amazon that was too heavy and one from Staples that didn’t pause and play audio, I returned both. I’m now waiting to get three more to try out from Amazon, all highly rated:
- The Plantronics M165
- Plantronics M50
- Mpow® Edge Wireless Bluetooth 4.0
I’ll let you know which one I like best.
Bluetooth stereo headsets are very popular for music since the sound is powerful. You can spend hundreds of dollars on these if you’re looking for really high quality, but lower-end ones sell for under $50. They come in two basic styles: Big headphones or smaller earbuds with cords or a solid piece that rests behind your head. Here’s a Kinivo stereo Bluetooth over-the-head style device for $24.95 at Amazon that has great reviews, and an HDMX behind-the-ears style that looks good from Wal-Mart for $41.35.
What Are Some Good Bluetooth Speakers?
Since most phone, tablet and laptop speakers suck, Bluetooth is a perfect addition.
I bought two little speakers that pair with my phone so that I can listen to audio books. I use one in the bedroom and one in the car. My tiny night table speaker is a Bauhn that cost $20 at Aldi. If you have an Aldi nearby, pick one up. I bought a longer, heavier speaker for my car at Amazon, the HDMX Rave, perfect for my dashboard on a sticky pad (another great gadget) so it stays in place.
The Bauhn isn’t sold online, but here’s an inexpensive one that looks similar and got great reviews, a Mocreo for $15.99 at Amazon.
Acouple more that got great reviews:
- Amazon Basics $59.99
- MPow MBox $49.99
If you want higher-end, powerful hi-fi stereo speakers, they can be had for more money, but are still a great buy when you compare them to what wired stereo speakers used to cost. In a previous column I recommended these Damson Jet speakers for $110.00 from Amazon which I found at the Consumer Electronics week show. They have a right and left channel and can be placed as far as 30 feet apart; they communicate with each other to deliver in-sync stereo audio.
Here are a couple of other highly rated higher-end speakers:
- Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker $199.00
- Jawbone JAMBOX Wireless Bluetooth Speaker $84.00
- Creative Sound Blaster Roar $149.99
I’m really looking forward to driving to Florida this winter with my Bluetooth devices. Last time I was untangling cords from the seat belt the entire way.
What’s your experience with Bluetooth? Have you tried it? Have you had any problems pairing it with your phone, or any other issues?