Socket’s Bluetooth CompactFlash Card

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Socket has built a sterling reputation with its WiFi CF cards (along with its wide range of other portable connectivity products), and it’s consequently considered the benchmark for the field. So, how does its Bluetooth offering stack up against the new challenger from Brainboxes?

The first thing I noticed about the Socket card was that it had no protruding aerial. That’s right: uniquely, it is the same size as a type I CF memory card. The second thing I noticed was that Socket was thoughtful enough to provide a PCMCIA adaptor in the box — an inexpensive but much-appreciated touch. The only visible downside to the setup is, again, no LED. (I’d like to know what’s going on in this regard.) The card, helpfully, has a very low power usage rating, which should help keep you running all day. Obviously, turning the radio and other options off should help too.

The only manual comes on CD, along with the drivers for Windows and CE. I decided not to uninstall the BluePAQ drivers, to see whether the Socket drivers could co-exist with them on the iPAQ. (Obviously, I didn’t have the BluePAQ actually installed alongside.) Installation finished and automatically started a Wizard, which immediately offered me more setup options than the two devices I had previously tested: Socket encourage you to “choose the 4 ports and services that you plan to use the most frequently.” It was nice to see in here Bluetooth print support along with the usual profiles.

After a soft-reset and insertion of the card, the now-familiar Bluetooth icon appeared in the system tray. Annoyingly, this little icon jumps around and even disappears sometimes. Still, keeps one on one’s toes. Socket have provided the quickest (short of the Fujitsu LOOX’s hardware switch) solution to turning off the radio for power saving — it’s directly in the pop-up menu.

As impressed as I was by the Brainboxes software, the Socket setup was even better. Everything is customizable (even down to how long device discovery lasts, or which icon is used for each device), and yet almost always the default options work fine. My Sony-Ericsson T68 cellphone was bonded fine, and the Socket card discovered its available profiles on its own. The “Get Connected!” menu item simplifies, via informative wizards, the process of setting up a phone. After setting up my T68, I managed to connect to GPRS from Pocket PC’s Connections tab, but couldn’t do anything with it: no data could be sent. Hmmm.

Similarly, I had initial difficulty connecting to the Brainboxes PC card. The PC could detect the PDA, but couldn’t poll its services. The Socket card couldn’t discover the PC. This made Activesync rather difficult, to say the least. It is difficult to apportion blame, however, the only PDA the Brainboxes card could poll was its own CF card (it managed fine with the T68 too though); the BluePAQ seems to have difficulty accepting connections from PDA or phone; and the Socket card didn’t seem to like the Brainboxes setup. After a pause for thought, I tried again, and this time managed to get Activesync as far as “connecting” on a virtual COM port through Bluetooth. Because the laptop is not my primary PC, Activesync threw up a message that it didn’t recognise the connecting device. At least the connection is possible, though.

The next step, of course, is to try the BluePAQ with the Socket card, this time in its desktop role. Installation proved smooth, and, after a little fiddling to get the BluePAQ and PC to kiss and make up, I had a Bluetooth Activesync session fully functional on COM 5: the holy grail of Pocket PC Bluetooth communication.

I’m not a fan of the desktop software for the Socket card, finding it unintuitive, but it clearly did the job, and I was browsing websites through the connection right away. As we will find in the review of the Siemens blue2net, the Socket did fall down later on.

All in all though, the Socket card is a very solid performer. Its hardware is well-designed, and its software is polished (at least for the PDA version). A versatile and recommended solution.

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