Bluetooth wireless networking connectivity has become a way of life for consumers and businesses alike. Unfortunately, its reliability issues can be a drawback.
I recently experienced a problem with my Samsung Galaxy S5 when playing MP3s stored on a micro-SD card over a Bluetooth connection through my Toyota Venza's stereo system. Even though the phone was very close to the stereo, some songs would skip so badly they were unlistenable, whereas other times they would play with nary a glitch.
I researched the problem and found a lot of tips:
- Move the MP3 files to internal storage
- Replace the micro-SD card with a faster model
- Turn off the screen timeout
- Turn off the "developer options" function
- Clear the Android Cache partition
- Remove the SIM card
- Reboot in safe mode
- Load another ROM (operating system) onto the phone
- Perform a factory reset
- Unfortunately, none of these tips worked and the problem continued unabated.
When troubleshooting technological mishaps, it can pay to take a step back and look at the basics before tinkering with devices and making mass changes. While the phone was often indeed close to the stereo, it occurred to me that the audio quality was only a problem when it was attached to my vent-mounted smartphone holder, against which cold air has been consistently blowing this summer. Once I put the phone in the cup holder, the problems disappeared entirely.
This seemed to be an environmental rather than a technical issue. Perhaps the temperature change, noise or vibration associated with the vent adversely impacted the Bluetooth signal quality. However, that got me thinking about other common Bluetooth maladies and what can be done to resolve them. Just in case the fix above was merely a fluke, I did a little research to help arm myself in case the problems reoccur, and here's what I came up with:
Check your distance
Bluetooth works best when there is a "line of sight" connection between devices, and it is advisable to have them no more than 30 feet apart. People who pace while talking on a headset connected to another Bluetooth device will quickly be able to tell the available range of connectivity. Obstructions such as walls, furniture or other objects can also play an adversarial role by reducing Bluetooth signal quality. I still experience occasional skips when playing music even while driving with my phone clipped to my belt if it ends up at the small of my back so my body interferes with the "line of sight" principle. Keep things simple.
Check your environment
If you're satisfied that the distance and devices are working as they should, there may be other elements afoot, such as the air conditioning vent that was the source of my audio woes. Other network/wireless devices, cell phones, remote controls, microwaves, or cables may be interfering with your Bluetooth connection, so check for these elements and try disconnecting them to see if the issues are resolved. A good test of your environment would involve taking the devices elsewhere to see if they connect normally; if so, scrutinize the affected area to isolate the culprit.
Check your devices
This is probably where the bulk of the Bluetooth problems occur. I suspect there was some superstition associated with a few of the obscure tips I referenced above for resolving Bluetooth issues, but some more clear-cut (and basic) tactics are:
- Toggle Bluetooth on/off or reboot the device(s)
- Check battery strength to ensure it is sufficient
- Re-pair devices to re-establish connections
It's worth pointing out that there are different functional parts of the Bluetooth protocol known as "profiles" which are represented by abbreviations. Some examples of profiles are:
- A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, used for streaming music or recording sound with a wireless microphone)
- FTP (File Transfer Profile, for sending and receiving files)
- HFP (Hands-Free Profile, for sending and receiving calls)
- HID (Human Interface Device— for keyboards, mice, and other peripherals)
- MAP (Message Access Profile, for notifying users about or reading text messages/emails)
- PBAP (Phone Book Access Profile, for accessing user contacts and phone call history)
- PAN (Personal Area Networking Profile, for network connectivity between devices)
On that note, there are actually two versions of Bluetooth in the same standard. The first is Classic, which is an across-the-board "kitchen sink" implementation which supports every Bluetooth profile. This is handy for compatibility purposes, but it places additional energy and storage burdens on the devices involved.
The second version is Smart (also known as Bluetooth LE for "low energy") which is a customized version whereby manufacturers or vendors have selected only certain profiles depending on their needs, which helps reduce resource consumption. This permits streamlined apps which can then be easily updated easily.
Generally speaking, connectivity problems are rare when pairing a single Classic device with a Smart device. However, when one of the devices is handling several Classic and Smart connections at once, the potential for snags can rise. Newer, smaller devices may not be able to provide sufficient power to handle these multiple connections. It may be a good idea to turn some of the existing connections off to see if this improves connectivity.
Another solution might be to assess the age of the devices involved since older and newer devices may have conflicting Bluetooth versions. See if there is a software or firmware update for either (or both) - or determine whether a recent update has introduced the problem. For instance, Android 4.3 added support for Smart Bluetooth but contained a flaw which caused connectivity to fail if the device discovered too many Smart devices over a period of time.
A couple of other Android tips that may help involves de-selecting Bluetooth profiles and clearing the Bluetooth cache, however these don't apply to all phones (iOS and OS X don't appear to provide these and neither does my Samsung Galaxy S5). To de-select profiles on applicable Android devices, go to Settings, Bluetooth, tap the gear icon and uncheck unwanted profiles. To clear the Bluetooth cache on applicable Android devices, go to Settings, Application Manager, Bluetooth and tap "Clear cache."
If you're experiencing Bluetooth problems with your devices, hopefully one of these tips may help. And if you know of any others, please feel free to add them to the Comments section!
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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.