This complete guide to Bluetooth will tell you all about what the technology is for, how to set it up, and examples of how to use it with your smartphone and other gadgets, like wireless headsets. Just tap the jump links below to have all your Bluetooth questions answered!
Bluetooth has been with us for twenty years and has marked wireless communications. Characterized by its ease of use and broad adoption, the tiny runic symbol has made its way to almost every smart modern device. From lightbulbs to smartphones and cars, Bluetooth allows for quick file sharing, music streaming, and much much more!
- What is Bluetooth?
- What do the version numbers mean?
- How do I know if my phone has Bluetooth?
- What is the difference between Bluetooth and NFC?
- How do I use Bluetooth?
- How to connect Bluetooth with another device: Pairing
- What can I use Bluetooth for?
- Why is my Bluetooth not working?
Bluetooth is a wireless communication standard that allows electronic devices to connect and interact with each other. It can be found in a number of gadgets, from smartphones to loudspeakers, to laptops and more.
Bluetooth doesn't rely on Wi-Fi, mobile data, or a cell network: as long as devices are Bluetooth compatible and in close proximity to each other, they can take part in the wireless, two-way communication.
Bluetooth has been through a number of major iterations since it was first introduced in 1999 and its first version (1.0) is difficult to find on any device now. The greatest difference between these versions is the speed at which they can transfer data, with the latest major iteration, Bluetooth 5, being the fastest and most efficient of these.
But since the adoption of Bluetooth 5 in 2017, the standard has received a couple of updates, namely the 5.1 and 5.2 versions, and 5.3 is still in the works. These offer important optimizations over the standard 5.0 version, like the ability to detect the approximate location of paired devices.
If you currently own any kind of smartphone, it is a guarantee it will at least support Bluetooth. This is a low-cost, widely applicable, and easy-to-implement component: unless your phone is extremely old or damaged, it should have Bluetooth. If you simply want to check if you have it, just search in the Settings of your smartphone for the word Bluetooth.
Bluetooth and NFC are in many ways very similar: you can even use NFC in conjunction with Bluetooth for faster connections. The key differences are:
- NFC doesn't require "pairing" – which means linking two Bluetooth devices together – so it's quicker to begin data transfer.
- NFC operates over shorter distances (usually less than 10 cm).
- NFC can be used for mobile payments, Bluetooth can't.
Bluetooth, on the other hand, is said to have a range of at least 200 feet, and it transfers data faster than NFC.
To use Bluetooth, you must first ensure it's enabled on your device. Go to Settings > Bluetooth and flick the switch to the On position.
Alternatively, pull down your notification shade by swiping downwards from the top of your phone and you will likely see the Bluetooth icon. Tap it to enable or disable it.
Pairing is a necessary step for connecting two Bluetooth devices. This is because, pairing acts like a virtual handshake between the two, linking them together. This means that even if someone else enters the room and has his Bluetooth open, he can not hijack the control of your devices or send you files without your permission.
To pair two devices is very simple. Switch the Bluetooth device on, and then from your smartphone's Bluetooth menu (the path to which you can find above) look for the name of the device you wish to connect to and tap on it. (By default, the name of the device you want to connect to should be very clear.) A few moments later, the devices should be paired.
Some Bluetooth devices require a PIN for the connection to be made: if you don't know what this is, consult the device's manual.
Pairing two phones with Bluetooth is again a fairly straightforward process. Pairing two phones together will allow you to quickly transfer files back and forth.
- Open Bluetooth on both devices.
- On one of the devices, locate the other device in the list and tap on it.
- If you do not see the device, make sure it is set as Visible.
- Tap on the device and when prompted, verify the pin.
Wireless earbuds may have slightly different connection rituals depending on the brand. But usually, for security reasons, headphones require you to make them discoverable by pressing the appropriate button. In earbuds, this is probably located somewhere on the case.
- Open Bluetooth on your phone.
- Turn on your device.
- If your device does not show up in the list, press the Bluetooth pairing button.
- Pair the device, and you are good to go.
If this did not work, consult the manual of your device.
For listening to music
One of the most common uses for Bluetooth is to connect your smartphone to wireless speakers or headphones. The advantage of this for headphones is that you don't need to worry about cables or wires becoming tangled or pulled; It is no wonder that Bluetooth has become the go-to means of connection with headphones, almost eclipsing the audio jack from smartphones.
You can also find thousands of small and powerful Bluetooth speakers to fit all needs and these can be put to great use at house parties when you may not want to leave your smartphone in one spot pumping out music along a cable.
For file transfers
If you're in close proximity with somebody who you wish to send files, you can use Bluetooth to do so. This is a good idea for when you need to transfer larger file types when you're out of a Wi-Fi signal's reach.
For hands-free in cars
You can also find Bluetooth in cars. Pair your handset with your automobile and you can take calls without needing to touch your smartphone.
Instructions for this setup will depend on the car and manufacturer, but on your phone, it should simply be a case of finding the car's Bluetooth ID in the Bluetooth devices menu.
Finding items using smart tags
If you constantly lose stuff, then you may want to check out Bluetooth smart tags. These ingenious devices can be attached to your personal items like a keyfob. Then if you misplace your backpack, for example, you can use an application to locate it within the detectable Bluetooth range.
Some solutions like Apple AirTags also update their location even if another user passes near the tag, allowing you to track your items even over longer distances.
Bluetooth Tethering: Sharing your internet connection with other devices.
Even though it is better to use a Wi-Fi hotspot instead, there are some instances where you may have to use the Bluetooth tethering function. Most importantly you could use this to troubleshoot connection issues with your Wi-Fi. Where this could be useful is when your PC has the ability to connect via Bluetooth but not via Wi-Fi (I know it is rare, but it has happened to me before.)
Whatever the case, Bluetooth can be your Deus ex Machina and offer you a solution.
- Turn on your Bluetooth in both devices and pair them.
- In your phone's settings, search for Bluetooth Tethering.
- Turn it on.
- Then you should set up the network on your device.
- For Mac and Windows, this is a two-step configuration through a notification prompt.
To control Smart Home devices
Smart Home devices utilize both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi standards, confusing new users. Some Philips Hue products, for example, can only be connected via Bluetooth while others only via Wi-Fi... Some devices support both! This means that in a modern Smart Home network you either have to strive for uniformity in your signals or have Smart Home Hubs that support both.
These smart home devices include smart switches, smart lightbulbs, LED strips, smart plugs and more!
The most common problem users have with Bluetooth is it failing to connect to devices. This could be caused by any number of factors, but it's usually down to proximity.
Despite claims of Bluetooth's 33-feet range, in practice, it's usually much less than this. Walls, surfaces and electrical interference can limit it. If you're having trouble connecting devices, first and foremost make sure that both devices have Bluetooth switched on and that they are near to each other.
If this does not work, try going to a room without any active Bluetooth emitters, like a bathroom. If the device works normally there then you probably have a network noise problem, where the wireless devices in a room interfere with each other. This is especially true with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connections since Bluetooth uses the same wavelength. The solution to this is to simply turn off some of the devices or to switch to another bandwidth for your Wi-Fi appliances that support it.
Another common issue is devices not being found or recognized. More often than not, this is cured simply by restarting the device or switching its Bluetooth function on and off. Another tip is to re-pair it with your phone. I know these sound too easy, but it's generally the most effective solution.
What do you use Bluetooth for? Let us know in the comments.
Article updated in March 2022 for clarity and layout. Older comments were kept.