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Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter

  • Editors' rating
    7.6 Very good

Pros

  • Compact
  • good integration with Windows.

Cons

  • Form factor isn't ideal for mobile users.

Belkin's Bluetooth USB Adapter adds comprehensive Bluetooth functionality to any desktop or notebook PC. It's easy enough to use, although there's a balance to strike between security and usability, and it's also affordable.

The adapter itself is quite compact at 38mm by 57mm by 13mm. However, plugged into a USB port on the side of a notebook it would be quite precarious and easy to dislodge. We'd recommend using the supplied USB extension cable and securing the adapter to a solid surface, such as a wall or your notebook's lid using a Velcro pad or something similar. This is also useful for desktop PCs where the back of the system unit may not be the best place for the adapter.

Your interface to the world of Bluetooth is the Bluetooth Neighbourhood, which appears as both a desktop and a system tray icon. Unfortunately you can't configure this to be just one of these -- you're stuck with both. This works in a similar way to the Network Neighbourhood that's part of Windows: opening it up gives you a view of any Bluetooth devices you're already connected to, and options to search for further devices. You can also look at the services your own PC offers, and configure them. A control panel applet is also added to your system for Bluetooth configuration, although you can access the same applet by right-clicking on the system tray icon.

The Bluetooth USB Adapter supports the serial port, fax, network access, dial-up networking, file transfer, business card exchange and information synchronisation profiles. All of these services can be used, or provided by your PC. You can choose which of these services you provide, and what level of security is needed for each individual service, in addition to the general security level.

The Bluetooth USB's firmware can be updated, so new profiles can be added to it as and when they're created. There are other relevant profiles being developed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) -- the body in charge of the standard -- and so the ability to add new ones to the Bluetooth USB is essential.

Using two Bluetooth USB Adapters we were able to move files between PCs, exchange business cards and use the other services provided. We could print through a Bluetooth printer adapter, and query other Bluetooth devices such as phones, even if they didn't provide a service we could use. We found the radio range to be higher than expected -- over 20m through walls, and in an electrically noisy environment. The Bluetooth USB Adapter does allow you to turn down the maximum transmit power if you're only going to use devices in close proximity.

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On an machine using APM rather than ACPI power management, we noticed that after a period of inactivity the adapter would go to sleep; didn't appear to wake up again, either -- it disappeared from the list of Bluetooth hardware in the configuration. Unplugging the adapter and plugging it in again solved this, and we never lost a connection during a data transfer, but Belkin should look into this, even if it's a Windows problem.

The real problem is -- and this isn't confined to Belkin's product -- that support for the various Bluetooth profiles varies dramatically across different devices. A Bluetooth-enabled handheld may be able to use the network access service provided through the adapter, but not support the business card exchange profile. It's also conceivable that the cordless telephony profile could have been supported in the Bluetooth USB, as long as a suitable voice modem was installed in the PC. Things will change over time, but we're still at a relatively early stage of Bluetooth development.

General issues with Bluetooth technology aside, this is an excellent product. The integration with Windows' existing networking is good, and the interface will be familiar to most people. The form factor of the adapter may not be the best for mobile users, but a PC Card or CompactFlash card version is going to cost more. If you have other Bluetooth-enabled devices and would like to be able to use them with your PC, this is a great way of doing it.

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