Will Richardson

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Bluetooth is Great, Until it's Not

October 27, 2016Will Richardson

Did you hear that Apple removed the headphone jack from the latest iPhone? Oh you did, well that’s a relief. What do you think? Have you sworn to never use an Apple device ever again? Well I thought I would care - but I don’t any more.

Let’s rewind a bit. Most of my time listening to audio on my phone since 2013 has been podcasts. All the great shows. I had been using a beat-up pair of Apple Earpods, as they fit my ears better than any other in-ear headphones. However having to wiggle the cable every few minutes gets old fast, and I was on the lookout for a replacement.

I ended up looking at the Urbanears Plattan ADV, and the Marley Positive Vibration headphones. Both are fairly reasonably priced and look good. When I went to buy them, I found that because of a sale the Marley Rebel BT headphones were the price that I was expecting to pay for the OTHER MARLEY phones.

So I am now the proud owner of some bluetooth headphones, and the lack of a cable is liberating. I am no longer concerned about how my phone sits in my pocket, or if I leave it on my desk when I jump up to get something, or how the cable will tangle with the strap on my bag. I am a satisfied customer.

Of course it’s not all good. Bluetooth pairing is a scary business. Bluetooth devices don’t like sharing. Connecting headphones that are paired to my phone connect to my tablet is a recipe for disaster. If I did, then they would start auto-pairing to my tablet when I turned them on. Then I would have to venture into the settings each time I used my headphones. Having a cable for does make this easier - if I’m using my tablet or laptop then it’s unlikely that the cable will get in the way, so limiting the bluetooth to my phone is not a big deal.

What would be ideal would be a pair of headphones that could accept a few different inputs and either combine them all or select the most recent one - so you could be listening to a podcast on your phone, then play a video on your tablet, and the phone would be told to pause while the video plays. That would be ideal, although it would mean that the headphones would either have to be in constant pairing mode to connect to new devices as they come in range, or require some button-press to look for a new device.

Of course, all good things must come to a saddening end - the more technology you add to something, the more ways it can break. So when I turned my headphones back on in preparation for the skate back home, instead of making the comforting “boo-doop” to indicate they are on and paired, they went “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep booooooooooooooop zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero…” (yes, they literally had a computer voice saying “zero” over and over. Plugged in they worked fine. But any sign of bluetooth working was gone. Back to the shop to claim that return policy!

So now I have a new pair and right now they are working fine (I’m listening to some Mutemath as I write this - playing via my phone while I write on my tablet). But they weren’t without their own issue - for a few days they decided that they would only connect to my phone if I manually told my phone to connect to them. They then completely out of the blue (heh) started to connect automatically. Great for me, but damn weird.

Overall I am happy with the fact that my “daily driver” headphones are wireless - I will still use my Sennheiser over-ears if I’m working on my laptop at home. The ability to leave my phone sitting on a table, to have it facing whichever way in my pocket, and to get rid of the possibility of the cable catching on things makes wearing headphones more seamless in almost all situations. However while bluetooth is great when it’s working, it has plenty of opportunities to stop working and become less convenient than just plugging in a cable. And of course this means another device that needs charging - meaning I now have six devices that require charging regularly.


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