Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thinkpad with Bluetooth Headphones

When it comes to writing code, I'll often use the phrase "head down, headphones on."  This is how I prefer to work when the time comes to crank it out.  The problem I'm been having at work is that with corded headphones, I am constantly either moving too far from my desk and strangling myself, or else running over my cords.

Well for Christmas I did my research and got the Plantronics 590a Bluetooth headset.  I liked this set in particular for a couple of key features.  First they're rechargeable (can you believe some wireless headphones still expect you to load up on AA's every 10 hours or so??).  What's cool is that you can recharge them both by their own docking station (to leave on the desk at work when I go home for the night), or else directly via USB port for travelling.  There's even a bonus cable for using them on an airplane, but I don't expect to get too much use out of that. 

Second, they come with a transmitter as well as the headphones.  What's that mean?  Well, if you have a Bluetooth capable machine like my Thinkpad, not much.  But if you don't, then what you can do is plug this little disk into your audio-out jack and presto, your headphones work the same as they would have.  That's actually pretty cool.  One obvious use there would be to plug that into iPod, put iPod in pocket and not worry about it for the commute across town.  But that's not really why I bought them.  For walking across town I much prefer the earbuds approach and can live with a single wire sticking out of my coat.

Anyway, though, that's not the point of the story.  Getting them working is the point.  This took a little while on the ThinkPad (T60p, if that matters).  Here's three crucial things I've learned to making them work:

  • this laptop has a physical switch that controls the wireless radio (which covers both Bluetooth as well as 802.11).  If you didn't know that, you could spend hours pulling your hair out.  It's right on the front of the machine, down under where your left thumb would go. 
  • if you change the status of your audio device, you'll often have to restart the application you're running.  So if you've got iTunes up playing through the speakers, and then you switch on the Bluetooth headphones, iTunes won't magically know to switch.  You'll have to get out and back in again.
  • If you don't hear anything and you think you've done everything right, make sure you've hit the "off the hook" button on the earpiece just as if you were answering a phone call.  The sound won't just magically start coming through them until you tell it to.
  • I'm having a bad problem with my signal just dropping out a couple of times a day.  For no good reason I'll get silence, and then just the steady low beep that means no connection.  All attempts at forcing a reconnection via software are met with disaster, as Windows gets into a state where it seems to think that it's still connected even though it's not.  So you can't disconnect, but you can't connect either.  Solution?  Hit Function+F5, turn off the bluetooth and turn it back on again.  When I did this the headset automatically reconnects itself and I'm back in business.  I can live with doing that once or twice a day if it happens.  Beats rebooting the machine!

Supposedy these headphones are smart enough that you can pair them up with your cellphone as well as your laptop, and when a call comes in you can switch.  I haven't tried that yet.  Not sure I need that.


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Anonymous said...

Hey Duane,

I have a T60p but can't seem to get audio out of my Plantronics 590's. I can get the laptop and headphones to pair up but the services show up as blank and even after changing the default audio output, still nary a whisper.

Any thoughts?

D-tach said...

Hi, and thanks for a nice post. How do you experience the sound and how far can you actually go fram your computer?

Thanks in advance!
Marcus, Sweden