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Bluetooth basics

By Michelle Hainer

Even if you didn’t realize it, you probably know someone who has a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone. They’re the people chatting away with no phone or headset cord in sight, and instead have a little wireless device inserted into their ear. But did you know that Bluetooth, a technology that transmits data using low-power radio waves, could also connect your computer, printer, keyboard and PDA device, all without a cable in sight, too?

This concept was life-changing for Deepika Gupta, a mom and bank analyst who often works from home. Armed with her Bluetooth-enabled cell phone and laptop, Gupta can move through her house freely to do laundry, keep an eye on her 17-month-old toddler, and conduct business all at the same time. “It’s wonderful because I can instantly transfer my address book from my phone to my computer,” she says. “And my hands are always free, which is important when you have a small child!”

Bluetooth allows you to connect to other Bluetooth-enabled devices that are within 30 feet of each other without a mess of wires. It works using a special chip that is compatible with virtually every brand of device out there (Sony, Motorola, Ericsson, etc.). Sounds like a dream, right? Here are a few steps to making Bluetooth your reality:

Step 1: Look for the Bluetooth symbol

If you purchased a product in the last year, it most likely came with Bluetooth. Look for the words “Bluetooth-enabled” on the box or in the instruction manual. (The Bluetooth symbol is usually blue and white and looks like the infinity symbol). If your computer or device is an older model, you can easily make it compatible by purchasing a Bluetooth dongle — a little wireless transmitter –which plugs into your USB port and retails for around $30 to $50. Some wireless keyboards and mice, like the Logitech Dinovo (approximately $210), even come with a universal dongle or hub. Keep in mind that in order for your keyboard, mouse, printer, digital camera, PDA or laptop to “talk” to one another, they all need to be Bluetooth-enabled.

Step 2: Make sure the Bluetooth is turned on

For Bluetooth to work, each device must have Bluetooth turned on. On your cell phone, you can usually find Bluetooth under the “Settings” menu. On your computer it may be under “Utilities.” A wizard or assistant on your computer will usually detect other Bluetooth devices and walk you through the set-up process. Your computer or device will ask you if you want to “pair” with another nearby device, which means they’ll be able to wirelessly swap data. “It’s so much easier,” says Lauren Weissman, of Bayside, N.Y., who loves taking pictures on her camera phone and then transmitting them to her laptop or her friends’ phones via Bluetooth. “I don’t have to worry about software or making sure my data cables are compatible with my phone and computer. With Bluetooth, you don’t need any of that.”  Still, not all cell phone plans allow you to transmit photos via Bluetooth, so check with your carrier first.

Step 3: Reconfigure your home office

Bluetooth can connect up to eight devices at once, but since each one is on a different frequency (just like radio stations), it’s unlikely that they’ll cross over. All of your Bluetooth electronics should be within 30 feet of one another in order to pick up a signal. Your Bluetooth doesn’t need to “see” your printer in order to send a document to it, so you can tuck it away in a closet to minimize clutter. Or if you feel like sitting on your couch while logging hours at the computer, just grab your wireless keyboard and mouse and get comfortable.

Step 4: Keep your connection secure

Like with Wi-Fi (wireless Internet access), hackers could potentially intercept your Bluetooth-transmitted data. However, you can set your Bluetooth to only recognize “trusted devices” like your iPod, Blackberry and laptop. Then, when an unknown electronic tries to pair with you, you have the option of declining. You can also set your Bluetooth to “non-discoverable” or “never visible” so it won’t pick up signals from other users.

Now that your office is clean and wire-free, you can concentrate on some of the fun things Bluetooth allows you to do. If you’re a fan of voiceover IP calling, you can use your Bluetooth headset (that little aforementioned device that you may have seen people talking into on the street or while driving) to chat hands-free. Or, if you have a GPS system in your car, you can transfer maps from your vehicle to your phone or computer. 

Michelle Hainer is a freelance writer and editor for popular national consumer publications and she is based in New York. She is also the author of Girl World Quiz Zone: 50 Quizzes to Unravel Your Future, Reveal Your Style, and Discover the Inner You.

Copyright (c) 2009 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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