Bluetooth is popping up on PDAs, cameras, and even printers these days, but what about your PC? Actiontec's tiny USB Bluetooth adapter plugs into a PC's USB port so that it can interact wirelessly with other devices. You can also use this adapter to connect your PC to a Bluetooth audio headset or to transfer files from another PC. In this adapter's case, unfortunately, a faulty setup and other quirks make it hard to recommend.
The small USB dongle is about the size of your thumb. It comes with a three-foot USB extension cable, so you can reposition the dongle for a better connection.
Before you plug in the adapter, you must first install the driver and the software--a common process for USB devices. This installation, unfortunately, has some issues. After running the included CD and following a few prompts, a dialog box appears, asking you to plug in the adapter. Next, Windows' Add New Hardware wizard appears and guides you through the rest of the process. After we installed the adapter's driver on our testbed running Windows XP, the software claimed that the adapter was not connected. Clicking Cancel in the setup program was the only way we could complete the process and move on to the adapter's configuration. Windows' Network Properties also claimed, "Network cable is unplugged." Actiontec support says that it will look into these errors. The adapter does not come with a user manual that could help you steer through such problems on your own.
During the installation, My Bluetooth Places icons are placed on Windows' Desktop and in its System Tray. Clicking one of the icons lets you see other Bluetooth devices nearby and access the adapter's setup and configuration details. Transferring files from PC to PC is a simple drag-and-drop affair, but sharing an Internet connection is more complicated; neither the help files nor the adapter's documentation show you how. Actiontec says that it plans to post instructions on its Web site. Connections between PCs are encrypted by default, and Actiontec suggests that you enable encryption between all of your Bluetooth devices. One caveat: Bluetooth and 802.11b/g share the same 2.4GHz band of the radio spectrum; if you operate a mix of such devices in close proximity, they may conflict with each other.
Bluetooth is obviously not as fast as a 10/100 wired Ethernet or an 802.11b/g wireless connection, but it's fast enough for synchronizing PDA data, transferring the occasional file from PC to PC, and casual Web browsing. In CNET Labs tests, the Actiontec adapter mustered a throughput of 600Kbps. This is a decent showing for a Bluetooth adapter, and it's faster than
3Com's wireless Bluetooth PC Card
. File downloads from the WAN over the shared Internet connection were every bit as fast as transfers across the Bluetooth personal area network. The Actiontec software misreports throughput, calculating kilobytes while declaring kilobits, a spelling error which Actiontec plans to correct in the near future.
The Actiontec USB Bluetooth adapter comes with a one-year limited warranty. Support is available by e-mail through the company's Web site or its 24/7, toll-free phone lines. Considering the sparse documentation and the lack of adequate instructions, you just might need to call.
CNET Labs throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Actiontec USB Bluetooth adapter
|3Com wireless Bluetooth PC Card
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