Mac Skeptic: Is Bluetooth Better on the Mac?

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Although I tend to be a late adopter of technology, I began to think that Bluetooth might be worth the hassle when I saw my first demonstration of it--on a Mac. And late last year Apple added an elegant wireless mouse and keyboard to the growing number of Bluetooth-capable devices cropping up in the landscape.

So you could say that when I decided to try Bluetooth myself, I harbored a pro-Mac bias. But being the Mac Skeptic, I intended to root out that predisposition and replace it with, er, informed opinion. My hunch starting out was that using Bluetooth on a Mac would be much easier than on a Windows PC since Bluetooth support is built into Mac OS X, whereas on Windows you buy your Bluetooth software along with Bluetooth hardware.

I reasoned that, on the Mac, you could expect to have a Mac-like experience with Bluetooth, whereas with a PC you'd have whatever experience the hardware maker felt like giving you. When Apple's people demonstrated their wireless Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for me on a PowerBook, it did look really simple. So I put my bias to the test by setting up Bluetooth peripherals on my IBook and my Compaq Presario with Windows XP Home.

The Windows Version

Logitech DiNovo Media Desktop

My experience with Logitech's $250 DiNovo Media Desktop was mixed, but reasonably painless on the whole. The package consists of a wireless keyboard; a wireless "Media Pad," a numeric keypad that works as a stand-alone calculator and can control your PC music; and a bulky wired base station, which contains the Bluetooth radio and also charges the batteries in the mouse.

Once I'd plugged in the base station and pressed a few buttons, the keyboard and mouse were both functional, even before I had installed any drivers. But when I did install drivers and restart, things started to get strange: On three different startups, I had three different experiences.

The first time, Windows XP took over to install the hardware drivers, but the Logitech wizard didn't start up. So I used My Bluetooth Places (installed along with the Logitech software) to pair the base station with the keyboard, mouse, and media pad. I thought I'd finished setting up, but I was wrong.

The next time I restarted, the Logitech driver popped up and required that I go through the pairing routine all over again. And on the next restart, a mysterious screen popped up, forcing me to press F1 before the system would continue to boot. Everything's been working pretty predictably since then--startup just takes about 20 seconds longer, while Bluetooth services and the Logitech driver load.

The Mac Version

My experience with the Mac went more smoothly. I just plugged in the D-Link DBT-120 USB Bluetooth Adapter ($40) and opened the Bluetooth dialog box in the Mac's System Preferences. The adapter was already recognized, and there was no software to install.

The setup choices were all clearly explained on screen, and the defaults seemed reasonable, so I proceeded to add Apple's wireless keyboard ($69) and mouse ($69). The Mac wasn't any faster at recognizing or pairing devices than Windows, but the process was much easier to understand, and just one setup routine did the job. And I haven't noticed that starting up takes any longer.

Windows, Phone Home

The differences between the Mac and the PC were most pronounced when I added a wireless phone to my little Bluetooth networks. In both cases, it was a fairly simple process to discover and pair the Sony Ericsson T610 that I borrowed from T-Mobile.

In Windows, I used the "My Bluetooth Places" utility to add the phone, because the "Connect Device" button in Logitech's SetPoint software didn't work on the first try. Then I looked around for a way to sync my Palm Desktop contacts with the phone, and quickly gave up. My Bluetooth Places informed me that the Bluetooth services available for this device included (among others) Serial Port 1 or 2, or IrMC. None of them sounded like synonyms for "Transfer all my contacts to my new phone."

The Mac's Bluetooth setup routine assumes that phones and PDAs are two of the device types you're likely to want to connect to your system, and they're both listed on the setup screen. Once I had paired the phone with my IBook, the Mac OS X informed me that I could use ISync to send my contacts to the phone. Finally, a little help.

When it comes down to it, there are still too many seams showing in Bluetooth on Windows. Sure, if you're a savvy user you can make it work. But unless you're really phobic about a few cables, why spend the time? And in this case, the Mac mystique has some substance behind it. Setting up my whole Bluetooth network on the Mac was quick and painless from start to finish--and truly wireless, unlike the Logitech DiNovo set.

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