Many handhelds these days are coming with Bluetooth built right in. The situation is different with desktop and laptop systems, however. With those, you usually have to add on Bluetooth functionality. The easiest way to do that is with a Bluetooth radio module that plugs into your desktop or laptop USB port. There are many manufacturers that make these USB Bluetooth modules. You would probably think there isn't much difference between them. That is where you would be wrong. Bluetooth is all about "profiles." Profiles determine which types of devices your computer can connect with. For instance, if you want to use your computer with your cellular phone, you need the Dial Up Networking, the File Transfer, and the Information Synchronization profiles. If those are not supported, you will not be able to do as much with your devices as you would otherwise be able to do. It may surprise you to know that the profile support differs widely from one USB Bluetooth module to the next. In the case of desktop and laptop Bluetooth, more supported profiles is, without fail, better.
The Bluetake BT007Si is one of a pair of adapters from Bluetake Technologies. The BT007Si (which we used for this review) supports a 100 meter range while the BT009Si supports only a 10 meter range. The two are colored differently to show that difference, but, otherwise, they have identical features. These Bluetake modules supports Serial Port, Advanced Audio Distribution (high-quality audio), (cellular/PDA) Headset, Dial Up Networking, LAN access, Human Interface Device (for keyboards and mice), Basic Imaging (picture transfer), Hardcopy Cable Replacement (printing), Personal Area Networking, Synchronization, Personal Information Exchange, File Transfer, and Fax profiles. It uses frequency hopping and spread-spectrum technology to work around interference. The software is compatible with Windows 98SE, Me, 2000, XP and Macintosh OS X. The firmware and drivers are also user-upgradable to add future support for new features. The BT007Si/BT009Si comes with IVT Corporation Blue Soleil software. This software is highly configurable but still very easy to navigate. In addition to providing the breadth of services noted above, Blue Soleil also provides depth. For instance, instead of supporting just one pair of COM ports (for incoming and outgoing serial data), Blue Soleil supports three pairs. Instead of supporting just one Personal Area Network connection, it supports two.
Setup is a two-step process: You install the software...
First, you select which of the six supported languages should be used for the user interface.
Then, install the software, view the manual or setup guide, or visit the Bluetake web site.
To complete the installation, you will be asked to restart your computer.
Once you have re-booted the computer, you simply plug the module into any available USB port. The module is "hot-swappable." You can remove the module to use the USB port for other purposes and, when you plug it back in Bluetooth functionality will restart automatically.
The box is just large enough to hold (clockwise from top-left) the module, the software CD-ROM, the warranty card, and the Quick Setup Guide.
The module itself is very small and takes up very little extra space when plugged into your laptop or desktop USB port. When active, the blue side panels flash every second.
The main screen of the Blue Soleil software shows the services at the top. (Look at all of them!) Placing the cursor on any service with display its name. The laptop/desktop is shown as the "sun" in the center. Placing the cursor on it will show its name and Bluetooth MAC address. "Orbiting" around the sun are any discoverable devices. These first appear, labeled with their Bluetooth MAC address as shown.
Double-clicking on any device will query the device. It will switch to displaying the device name and highlighting any services which can be used by that device. The screen above shows that my hx4700 iPAQ is set up to use the Personal Area Networking, Serial Port, File Transfer, and Object Push services. Note that it is also displaying the desktop's Personal Area Network IP Address at the bottom right.
You can start a connection through one of the services by right-clicking on the service icon to pop up an options menu (shown above) or by double-clicking on the service icon to start the default option.
When the service is connected, a dotted line connects the device and the laptop/desktop icons.
You will also see pop-up messages indicating connections, disconnections, and other service event-related information.
The Blue Soleil program also has a Service display mode which shows each of the services the computer can provide to other devices. The services that are currently active (started), are highlighted in yellow. When a service is connected to another device, it is highlighted in green.
Double-clicking on a service icon will call up the Service Properties dialog. Each of the available services has a tab in the dialog with options for that service. In some cases, like the Bluetooth COM port shown above, the only option is whether the service is automatically started when Bluetooth starts (when the module is inserted or when the computer is re-started.)
You can also connect to services using your Pocket PC. In this case, you will see a list of services that the Bluetake module provides that are supported by your Pocket PC's Bluetooth implementation. You can select different services for different uses.
The Ad-hoc Network Service can be used to browse or stream data from a networked resource on your desktop/laptop.
You can also do ActiveSync over a Bluetooth Serial port. In order for this to work, you will also have to setup ActiveSync on the desktop/laptop to receive data via the incoming Bluetooth serial port (COM6 above) of the Bluetake module. Bluetooth ActiveSync is faster than wired serial or USB syncing but slower than WiFi or wired network synching.
With this combination, you can easily connect your desktop/laptop to virtually any Bluetooth device available. The only case where you would need anything else is with the portable keyboards that use the Serial Port profile and an extra driver. You would need that extra driver for any Bluetooth implementation.
The BT007Si comes with a printed Quick Setup Guide as well as a full User Manual in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format on the CD-ROM. The Quick Setup Guide is sufficient to get the software and hardware properly installed. The setup software guides you through the process well. The User Manual is very complete and well-written. It includes such information as which services act as clients, servers, or either. It also has a thorough explanation of each service, how it is used, and examples of connecting and using devices with it. In addition to the Setup Guide and User Manual, the CD-ROM includes a link that will take you directly to the Bluetake web site. From the web site you can download the latest software and drivers for your module. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section on the web site, but it does not currently have any FAQs for the BT007Si product. The FAQ page does, however, have a link to directly query the Bluetake Technical Support staff.
As mentioned elsewhere the BlueTake USB module comes in two varieties: The BT007Si operates at distances up to 100 meters (about 300 feet). The BT009Si operates at a shorter maximum distance of 10 meters (about 30 feet). Pocket PCs only operate at the shorter 10 meter distance so, if you are getting the Bluetooth module just to connect with your Pocket PC, there isn't any reason to go with the longer range. Get the BT009Si. If, however, you have other Bluetooth devices that operate at the greater range, the BT007Si is the module to get. The range is the only difference between the two models. The software and profile support is identical.
The BT007Si/BT009Si support Bluetooth version 1.2 and USB version 1.1 (or higher). The CD-ROM includes drivers that work with Windows XP/2000/Me/98SE or Macintosh OS X 10.2.6 or later. The hardware is driven by Apple Bluetooth software on the Mac and can be driven either by the Blue Soleil software or Windows XP SP2 Bluetooth Stack on the PC. These combinations support the Bluetooth Serial Port, Dial up Networking, File Transfer, Human Interface Device, Hardcopy Replacement, Object Push, and Synchronization profiles. In addition, the Windows combination also supports the LAN Access, FAX, Personal Area Networking, Advanced Audio Distribution, and Basic Imaging profiles. (Those last are not supported on the Mac.)
BUGS AND WISHES
The only issue I had with the BlueTake product is with the Blue Soleil software. As stated elsewhere, the software is terrific in almost every way. The one issue is that it implements Bluetooth in a way that is partially invisible to the Windows operating system. This is only an issue with Windows XP SP2, where Microsoft has added support for Bluetooth devices. Blue Soleil implements several Bluetooth Serial Ports that are visible within the Soleil program itself and also appear as available serial ports for ActiveSync and other serial operations. They do not, however, appear in the operating systems list of Bluetooth COM Ports. This may seem like a minor issue, but one repercussion of it is that, when you make use of the multiple user capabilities of Windows XP, the Bluetooth Serial Ports are only available to one user. I would have liked to be able to set up one Bluetooth port for my Pocket PC to connect and another for my wife to connect, each within our own user space. To be sure, I can not do this with any other Bluetooth implementation that I am aware of, because they lack the ability to pre-select a device/COM port connection as you can do with Blue Soleil's "Quick Connect" option. However, Blue Soliel can not do it either as it does not allow more than one user access to the Bluetooth COM ports at the same time. You can, of course, use the Windows XP SP2 Stack to control the module, but then you lose the great user interface of the Blue Soleil software. In addition, the CD-ROM installs both the software and the drivers. There is no option to install just the drivers if you wanted to use only XP SP2's built-in support. I took points off on the "Ease of use" score for these issues.
- Support for the widest variety of profiles
- Small size (easily transported)
- Easy installation (both hardware and software)
- Very affordable price
- Not entirely integrated with Microsoft's Windows XP Bluetooth support
The Bluetake hardware and IVT software is, collectively, the best Bluetooth implementation I have seen. The breadth of Bluetooth profile support and the depth of multiple services in the same profile make this the Bluetooth implementation to meet or beat. Couple that with the easy installation and the competition really has their work cut out for them. The only issue I had with the product was the difficulty in using the provided software with multiple users in Windows XP. That is something to be aware of, but it is certainly not a "stopper" in my estimation. If you are in the market to implement Bluetooth on your laptop or desktop system, you owe it to yourself to check out he Bluetake BT007Si/BT009Si adapter.