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Bluetooth Headset Roundup

Thinking of upgrading your mobile and its hands-free headset? Do you work with a PC or notebook and play multiplayer games, make Internet phone calls or use speech recognition? If so, you have an extra reason for buying a Bluetooth-enabled mobile and Bluetooth headset. You’ll be able to use the headset to communicate not only with the phone, but with your computer as well.

Bluetooth is often seen as the poor relation to 802.11a/b/g-based wireless communication, as it’s slower and has a shorter range, but for some tasks it can be just what’s needed. The main advantage over an 802.11 link is its low power, meaning Bluetooth peripherals can be small and battery-operated. This is particularly important with headsets, the earphone and microphone combinations often worn by mobile phone users to keep their hands free when travelling and, especially, when driving.

In this group of Bluetooth headsets we’re looking not only at their usefulness when used with mobile phones, but particularly at their effectiveness when working with a PC. You can use a headset for multi-player games, cheap voice-over-IP phone calls, video conferencing and, with varying success, for speech recognition. This last application can be limited by the sound compression used to squeeze speech through the Bluetooth link.

Although Microsoft has its own Bluetooth stack – the software that controls the interconnection of Bluetooth devices around a PC – it isn’t bundled as part of Windows XP, though it’s promised for Service Pack 2. It is supplied with Microsoft’s Bluetooth keyboard and mouse product, but even then the stack is limited in comparison with some third-party products. It can only handle keyboard/mouse and printer connections and can’t be used, for instance, to synchronise a Bluetooth-enabled PDA, nor to transfer speech to and from a Bluetooth headset.

This is why you need a separate Bluetooth adapter, usually in the form of a USB to Bluetooth converter, complete with a more versatile third-party Bluetooth stack. Several manufacturers, including Orange Micro, sell these converters on their own and a quick Internet search should throw up a choice of suppliers.

Orange Micro bundles a converter with its Blue2 headset, which is why it appears more expensive than most of its competitors. With any of the others reviewed here, you need to add the cost of an adapter and its software (around £35) to that of the headset. That’s unless you intend to use your headset with a notebook that’s already Bluetooth-enabled, of course.

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