While I've known about bluetooth phones for the past few years and heard you could do cool stuff like use it as a modem, control your pc, and sync your computers with your phone, I didn't really give it a try until I got back from Etech this year. In the few months I've been playing with it, I can say one thing's for sure: it's like living in the goddamned future.
What it isUnderstanding bluetooth is pretty easy, it's just a name for a low-range networking standard. It's essentially "personal area networking" meaning you can connect a phone to a wireless headset or a mouse with a computer, all without wires. There are a bunch of bluetooth enabled phones and PDAs out now, and thanks to USB adapters, powerbooks and PCs can play too. My current setup entails a Sony Ericcson t68i phone on t-mobile, paired with a 12" aluminum powerbook. The follow's a run down of how to set it up and what you can do with it once it's in place.
The setupI started by swapping the sim card from my old phone (a samsung I bought specifically to take photos and post online) into my partner's t68i and vice versa. I was surprised that this Just Worked, but it did. Once it was my phone I called t-mobile customer service and dropped my t-zones service for transferring photos and signed up for their unlimited GPRS internet service for $20/month. I asked for setup help, and they forwarded me to a tech that helped me figure out how to setup the account on my phone and what the CID settings were. I got an SMS a few minutes later with all my settings automatically stored onto the phone as well. I fired up my powerbook, updated bluetooth to the latest firmware, then ran the "Setup a new bluetooth device" option in the bluetooth menu. I left everything on the defaults then when it asked for an access number to get online, I simply entered in *99***(your CID value)# where (your CID value) depends on your phone but is simply a number. That should add a bluetooth modem to your network preferences and I added the icon to my menubar so I could connect whenever I needed to. And just like that I had a permanent backup connection whenever wifi was not available. No more worrying about which hotels have network connections and how much they cost. No more getting lost while traveling because I forgot to print a map. I just pop open my powerbook, start the bluetooth connection to my phone, and I'm connected. In the 20-30 hours I've gotten to use my phone as a modem I've enjoyed a connection that seems to run right at the reported 20kbps speed. It's just a tad slower than a 28.8 modem, but is entirely serviceable for email and web browsing. Reading weblogs with lean code and CSS and RSS feeds is easy as well as reading email on the connection. Bluetooth does seem to suck some battery life out of the phone. I went from a full charge to about 50% left after a couple hours of bluetooth'd connection at an airport recently. The time to connect is fast, only taking a few seconds to establish a connection and bluetooth seems to work fine if I leave the phone in my pocket. There's something impressive about leaving the phone in your pocket and getting a connection just fine (though you do have to fight the urge to yell "Hey everyone! I've got the internet in my pants!"). WiFi is revolutionary but I take it for granted. Playing with data connections over bluetooth, it feels like the first time I tried WiFi. It's almost magic that I can stand almost anywhere in the US, and pull down data from the air, via a wireless local connection to my phone.
While operating heavy machineryYou know how you can talk on your cell phone while driving at a high rate of speed? If you've got a good cell connection, you can transmit data as well. I'll give you a second for that to sink in. This means while you're (or better yet, someone else is) driving down the freeway at a high rate of speed, you can connect and browse the web and download email from your laptop. I don't know why, but at first I figured this was impossible to do reliably. I've had tons of calls drop off in the last ten years I've used cell phones and voice quality is often less than 100%. If I want to downlaod 50kb of email, at some level I thought every byte is sacred and less than 100% perfect service would result in an unreliable data connection. In practice however, driving across the country at 70mph while downloading email and browsing the web works just fine. It even worked perfectly fine when I tried it on Caltrain, the commuter train line in the Silicon Valley.
Connected via bluetooth on the Caltrain, my laptop near the window as the houses roll byThis recent revelation that you can connect on freeways and trains has really opened up the possibilities. There's little stopping someone from doing a 2004 version of Travels with Samantha, but using a cellphone to post stories and photos from the road along the way.