If you’ve got a Pocket PC with a Compact Flash (CF) slot, there are an increasing number of Bluetooth cards to choose from. Anycom, Armadillo, Socket, Sunderland, Pretec and Brainboxes (the card under review here) all make Bluetooth CF cards. It’s a competitive, undeveloped market, so expected something special from Brainbox, especially as they don’t have quite the exposure of Socket, for example.
The packaging of the card is almost identical to that of its sister PC card: functional. Inside the box are the unassuming little card, a driver disc, quick-start guide and mini-brochure. The card itself, again like the PC card, has no LED to indicate activity. It also has a substantial aerial. However, on the plus side, the aerial is fairly small and neatly curved to minimise damage and improve the aesthetics of the device. It also may contribute to the claimed 50m range. The Brainboxes CF card is a Type I card, good news for Jornada owners. Regrettably, the card does poke out about 1.5cm from the top of the iPAQ, making most cases unusable. As a bonus, with an inexpensive PC card adaptor, the CF card can be used in a laptop, flexibility that not all Bluetooth CF cards provide.
Driver installation, predictably, was straightforward: Activesync installed the drivers and everything was good to go. A taskbar indicator allows access to the Bluetooth software — from here radio status can be seen — it’s automatically on. The usual range of options is available: device name, discoverability options, etc. However, the Brainboxes software allows much more customisation and control than the TDK Systems sleeve. One would expect this to come at the expense of ease of use, but the card worked fine straight out of the box. Individual profiles (such as file transfer) can be switched on or off, and other options such as encryption or authentication can be set for each profile separately — a feature missing from the BluePAQ. No dialling and SMS is available directly from the Contacts application, but contacts can be sent via Bluetooth. Another advantage for this device is the amount of feedback it gives you. When I was unable to send a contact to my desktop, it told me the exact stage of the operation at which it failed. If the TDK fails, it simply doesn’t work. The extra detail could become annoying, and the software is less streamlined than that of the BluePAQ, but if I were troubleshooting the connection I’d choose the Brainboxes. Fortunately, I didn’t have to, which says a lot in itself.
Hidden in the General tab of the Bluetooth tray icon is a Bluetooth manager. This shows all incoming and outgoing connections (including favorite connections) and allows a whole range of operations. From here, business cards can be sent, received and exchanged, but even more exciting than that, new connections can be established to do the following:
– Check what profiles another device supports
– Connect to the Internet in a number of ways
– Partner with a cell-phone and find exactly what its features are
– Setup Bluetooth Activesync
– and, most exciting of all, browse the files of a remote device
The wizards on the TDK device, although useful, don’t have the range of these functions, nor do they let you know what is going on in quite the same way. I really like the software provided by Brainboxes, it keeps you informed at every stage, is powerful and ergonomic.
The only major downside of this solution is undeniably the form factor. The CF format inevitably has issues: a slot is taken up, and the card protrudes, stopping a case from being used. This is the big advantage of the BluePAQ, instead of taking a slot it adds one, and instead of spoiling the lines of the device it enhances. Obviously, for those without an iPAQ, this isn’t a problem – a card is the only choice. For those lucky users, I can totally recommend this card; it worked as flawlessly as the BluePAQ, while providing more features and options. If Brainboxes keep this up, it should make headway in the market.