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More Than Headsets: 5 Things You Can Do With Bluetooth

bluetooth-keyboard-and-nexus-7[3]

Your laptop, smartphone, and tablet probably all have integrated Bluetooth support. Bluetooth is a standard that allows devices to communicate wirelessly. Most people are familiar with Bluetooth headsets, but there are more things you can do with Bluetooth.

To make two Bluetooth devices work together, you’ll have to “pair” them. For example, you can pair a Bluetooth mouse with your laptop, pair a Bluetooth headset with your phone, or pair your smartphone with your laptop.

Transfer Files Wirelessly Between Mobile Devices and Computers

You can pair a smartphone or tablet and a laptop or Bluetooth-enabled PC together and use Bluetooth to wirelessly send files back and forth. If you don’t have your USB cable with you or you just like to use wireless file transfers, this can be useful. It’s probably not ideal for transferring a large amount of music, but it can be convenient if you want to send a few pictures back and forth.

You’ll have to make both your mobile device and laptop discoverable so their Bluetooth radios can see each other. After you’ve paired them with each other, you can use the Bluetooth File Transfer wizard tool or select the Send a File and Receive a File options from the Bluetooth icon in your system tray to send files back and forth wirelessly.

Note that we’re focusing in Windows here, but other operating systems like Mac OS X and Linux also include Bluetooth support.

bluetooth-file-transfer

Transfer Files Wirelessly Between Computers

Two Bluetooth-enabled computers can also be paired in the same way, allowing you to send and receive files wirelessly via the Bluetooth connection just as you could between a computer and a smartphone. If your two computers are in the same area and you don’t want to use a cable, you can transfer files between them — even if they’re on separate networks.

bluetooth-pair-computers

Tether a Computer to a Smartphone

“Tethering” is the act of sharing a device’s network connection with another device, which connects to the Internet through the other device’s connection. Tethering is commonly used to access the Internet on a laptop via a data-enabled smartphone. People normally use Wi-Fi to share their smartphone’s connection, but they don’t have to. You can also tether over Bluetooth. Bluetooth tethering will consume less battery power than Wi-Fi, so it may be the ideal option in some situations.

android-bluetooth-tethering

Connect Peripherals Wirelessly

Bluetooth is most commonly used for connecting wireless peripherals to smartphone, tablet, or laptop. To do this, you’ll need a Bluetooth-enabled peripheral. A variety of different types of wireless Bluetooth peripherals are available:

  • Headsets: Bluetooth headsets are the most iconic Bluetooth peripherals. Pair your headset with your phone and you can use it to receive calls wirelessly. Because the Bluetooth specification allows for more than just simply receiving audio, buttons on the headset can be used to answer and hang up calls, as well.
  • Other Audio Devices: Headsets aren’t the only available audio device. You could have Bluetooth headphones paired with your computer, speakers, or even a Bluetooth audio receiver that plugs into your home stereo system and allows it to receive audio playing via Bluetooth.
  • Mice: Mice are another common type of Bluetooth accessory. Bluetooth mice work with most modern laptops as well as tablets and even smartphones. Many wireless mice for laptops use USB dongles instead of Bluetooth, but Bluetooth mice are ideal for tablets and similar devices.
  • Keyboards: Keyboards can also connect over Bluetooth, which is particularly useful for tablets. Even if you could use a USB OTG cable to connect a single mouse or keyboard to a tablet, you would want Bluetooth so you could connect both the keyboard and mouse at once — you wouldn’t be limited to one input device by the single USB port.
  • Gamepads: Gamepads are another type of Bluetooth input device. You can connect wireless controllers to your tablet or smartphone via Bluetooth. Even Nintendo’s Wiimote and Sony’s PlayStation 3 controllers communicate with their consoles over Bluetooth, so you could use some tricks to pair them with your computer or other devices.
  • Printers: There are also Bluetooth-enabled printers, which allow you to connect and print documents over a Bluetooth connection instead of standard Wi-Fi or wired network connections.

bluetooth-keyboard-and-ipad

Add Bluetooth Support to a Desktop

If you have a computer without integrated Bluetooth hardware, you can cheaply add Bluetooth support to it. Most newer laptops come with Bluetooth radios, but desktops often don’t. You can buy cheap Bluetooth dongles for as little as $1.50 from online stores such as Amazon. Plug the dongle into your computer’s USB port and it will give your computer a Bluetooth radio, allowing it to communicate with Bluetooth devices.

bluetooth-dongle


Bluetooth does have some significant downsides. Most importantly, Bluetooth causes devices to use additional power. It’s a bad idea to leave Bluetooth enabled on your devices all day, especially your smartphone — this can drain the battery. You should only enable Bluetooth when you actually want to use it.

Image Credit: flexbox on Flickr, kawaiikiri on Flickr, Clive Darra on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 06/24/13

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