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Bluetooth got more powerful when I wasn't looking
My new toy came in the mail the other day: a Pebble watch. I was one of the roughly 22 zillion people who backed this and made it one of the highest-funded Kickstarter projects ever. (Goal: $100,000. Pledged: over $10 million.) It's basically the modern equivalent of a Dick Tracy watch: a wristwatch that is actually a computer with an e-ink screen, which is in constant communication with your smartphone. It lets you control your music, see your emails as they come in, and stuff like that.

(Yes, it's a silly toy, and for now mostly has the effect of confusing people because every time my phone beeps, I look at my wrist to see what the message is. But my bet is that it's going to prove to be the leading edge of wearable computing for the masses, and it's not *crazy* expensive.)

I did have one concern, though, which was how effective the radio would be. The watch talks to the phone via Bluetooth, which is famously short-range. I confess that I haven't had too many Bluetooth devices, so I'd taken the traditional description at face value: that it's intended for uses of 3-10 feet. That seemed good enough that the phone in my left pocket would reliably talk to the watch on my right hand, but I wasn't entirely sure.

So much for that worry.

I'm sitting here at my computer, where the watch is plugged in overnight. And it is buzzing every time the phone -- plugged in one story, at least thirty feet and a *lot* of walls away -- gets a message. I've seen Wifi get worse range than that. Is this normal for modern Bluetooth?

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IME, it depends entirely on the devices in question. We're testing a Droid app at work, and sometimes 3 feet is a bridge too far. Meanwhile, six years ago, I worked in the center of 12 cubes surrounded by offices with proper walls. My bluetooth headset had perfect range throughout the office and most of the way down the hall to the bathroom.

My experience is limited, but from what I've seen it depends very much on the device. I have a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and there are zones where one will work and the other won't. And I have a Bluetooth-to-cellphone videocamera which seems to have been designed on the principle that the devices will never be more than ~3 feet apart[1] - when I separate them by 8-ish feet with nothing but open space between, I get *atrocious* latency (on the order of 3-30 seconds).

[1] = Which in all fairness is how they advertise it - as a wearable-over-the-ear camera. I was hoping to use my cellphone as a "look at myself from the side" viewfinder for improving my handstand alignment, which isn't exactly a normal usecase.

Highly variable. Here at work, there are Mac keyboards that will work in the office next door from the machine they are controlling, and others that have problems at the far end of a conference table.

You've gotten Jack Harkness's wrist device! Receives communication, functions as a phone and radio, shows you information about the world around you, keeps track of what you're doing...

Yeah, but nobody's written the time-travel app yet...

The Doctor disabled that and the teleport functions with the sonic screwdriver.

Face value of Bluetooth is 30 feet, per the spec. I have a bluetooth speaker that I pair with my iPhone and play music or podcasts through, and I can easily end up separating the two by a whole room, sometimes even on separate floors.

I have a set of G-Grip Bluetooth speakers (highly portable, super durable. Like them a lot). I left my phone in the bathroom, on the first floor at the back of the house, and took the speakers with my to my bedroom, on the second floor at the front of the house, and they worked great. Anecdotal, certainly, but supports the "Bluetooth has improved" theory. (I also have Bluetooth speakers in my motorcycle helmet for music and GPS instructions, and they work well too, though the distance there is 12-18" at most. :-D )

Mike's been in the cellar talking on the phone, and I go out and start the car in the garage (at the other end of the house and a floor up)--and pick up the phone call on the car's bluetooth. Maybe twenty-five to thirty feet . . .

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