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Get the most out of Bluetooth on an Android device

The Bluetooth feature on Android devices can enhance your mobile computing experience. Learn how to manage Bluetooth on an Android phone or tablet.

Bluetooth is one of the nicest features on Android phones, and yet it's rarely used. The feature is most commonly used for the pairing of Bluetooth headsets (that's when the user to pair a tiny headset to the device), which allows for hands-free calling. Bluetooth can also be used for sharing files, pairing the mobile device to a Bluetooth-enabled automobile, and much more. This tutorial shows how to manage Bluetooth on an Android device. With this knowledge, you'll be able to use multiple Bluetooth devices and share files between Bluetooth-enabled mobile handsets and tablets.

Bluetooth settings

On an Android phone, you can see the Bluetooth settings by tapping Menu | Settings | Wireless & Network Settings. (Depending on the Android phone, the Bluetooth settings may or may not be in this exact location.) From that location, you can see the Bluetooth Settings menu entry (Figure A). Figure A

This should be a fairly standard location for Android mobiles.
If you're using an Android tablet (such as the Motorola Xoom), you can find the Bluetooth settings by tapping Apps | Settings | Wireless & Networks (Figure B). Figure B

The Bluetooth settings on the Xoom Android tablet. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Once you see the Bluetooth Settings window, it's time to prepare your device for pairing and using other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Pairing a headset

First, you need to enable Bluetooth, which you can do by tapping the Bluetooth entry in the Settings windows (if it is not already checked). Once Bluetooth is enabled, the phone is ready to scan for devices.

Before setting the mobile to scan for devices, it is necessary to know how the individual item is paired with the phone, as every device has a different process for pairing. For example, my Plantronics Discovery 975 is enabled by pressing and holding the primary button on the headset. When that button is pressed correctly, the light on the headset will flash from white to red, indicating that it is in pairing mode.

Once the headset is in pairing mode, tap Scan Devices from within the Bluetooth Settings screen -- this will list all Bluetooth devices your mobile device can see. Once the devices are listed, you need to tap the entry for the desired device, and the entry should go from being Paired to Connected. A device can only be used when it is listed as Connected.

More than one device can be Paired (and Connected) at once. This generally only applies to different types of devices (such as Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth ear pieces).

Sharing files

One feature I like to take advantage of is the ability to share files via Bluetooth; this requires the device to be discoverable by other devices. To do this, tap Menu | Settings | Discoverable (some devices, such as the Samsung line of Android phones, list this as Visible). Once enabled, the device will be visible for the next 120 seconds. A device can only receive files when it is visible. While the device is in Discoverable mode, files can then be transferred from another Bluetooth-enabled device from an application such as the Gallery (Figure C). Figure C

An image from the last Rush concert I attended to be shared via Bluetooth.
The only device that needs to be Discoverable is the device that will receive the file. Once the file is sent, the recipient has to accept the file. This is done by dropping the notification window, tapping on the Bluetooth share entry (Figure D), and accepting the file. Figure D

Incoming file notification on a Verizon Motorola Droid X.

Changing device names

It is also possible to configure a device name via Bluetooth; this is especially handy when more than one Bluetooth device is present, and you do not want to have to remember which device is, for example, SGH-1897. To change the name of a device, tap Menu | Settings | Wireless & Network | Bluetooth Settings | Device Name. A small window will pop up that allows you to change the device name.

Apps for Bluetooth management

If you do a search for "bluetooth" (no quotes) in the Android Market, you will find numerous applications to help with Bluetooth. Many of these apps are just toggles for the desktop (so Bluetooth can be turned on or off quickly), but some apps help with Bluetooth management, such as the ASTRO Bluetooth Module, which turns a device into an FTP server via a Bluetooth connection. If you take the time to look around in the Android Market, you'll find some real gems to aid in your management of Bluetooth devices.

Experiences may vary based on the device

In my experience, the Motorola and the HTC devices handle Bluetooth much better than the Samsung devices. While I was writing this article, the Droid X and the Xoom had no problems seeing one another, whereas the Samsung Captivate could be seen by the Droid X but not the Xoom.

In addition, the Verizon Droid X offers an Enhanced Stereo option for use with Bluetooth headphones, and the Xoom has an added option to list Bluetooth-received files.

Summary

Whether you are using a Bluetooth headset, sharing files, or turning your mobile device into a Bluetooth FTP server, you should not overlook Bluetooth on your Android device because it can make your mobile much more powerful.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

6 comments
adilnayab
adilnayab

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MasterBillyQuizboy
MasterBillyQuizboy

I've had laptops with Bluetooth since it came out, expecting I would be able to print to a Bluetooth printer (never happened), or use my headset for Skype calls and such (no laptop has ever recognized any headset as such). File transfer is ok, but how often do you really use or need it? Afaic, all it's good for is pairing a headset to my Incredible. Bluetooth never met its originally envisioned potential. P.S. Please post that Rush pic, as I won't get to see them this tour.

pivotmac
pivotmac

I am continually struck by the lack of progress made in hands free operation of phones. Windows has a far superior voice command application and using bluetooth and my HTC 6800 I was able to look up contacts, call them, start and control a number of programs all with my voice, and do so reliably. Unfortunately my HTC Incredible and Android are way behind when it comes to voice control. Just like a typical young child, Andoid - Bluetooth offers some wonderful functionality down the road, but it will continue to be limited until developers figure out how to make it listen...and to mind.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

Aside from headsets, the feature most wanted by Android users are external keyboards (and mice). The Android BT stack has no native support for the most common protocol, HID (human interface device), requiring a 3rd party device driver. But HTC's Android BT stack is particulary bad for supporting much more than headsets or limited FTP support.

n2iph
n2iph

I second your comments pivotmac. I find the Android BT lacking when compared to Windows based smartphones. My HTC Touch Pro was far superior to my HTC EVO 4G when it comes to voice control of the phone, making and taking calls, you name it.

Agave
Agave

My Thunderbolt and Motorola H730 pair nicely and there is a lot I can do with TTS and STT regardless of whether it's via Bluetooth or the built-in microphone. Yeah, always wish it would do more, but it does do basic stuff and so far I'm happy with that.