With the introduction of OS 3.0, Apple enabled A2DP capability on the iPhone, making it possible to use Bluetooth stereo headsets with the device. Unfortunately, there are performance issues associated with Bluetooth stereo, causing the audio to skip when you use another app while listening to music. You may also have problems with the audio getting out of sync when playing a video.
The problem seems to be associated with the operating system’s priority scheduler, which allows the OS to allocate time to different tasks. It appears that the iPhone’s interface has a higher priority than A2DP, and anytime a user tries to interact with an iPhone while it is playing music over Bluetooth, the audio can skip. It would be nice if Apple would add a setting that would give Bluetooth a higher priority and included better video/audio synchronization in a future version of the OS. (My iPhone Life colleague Werner Ruotsalainen has an in-depth post on this subject. To read it, go to iphonelife.com/blog and do a blog search on “A full compliance & test report” to find it.) Fortunately, Apple has a track record of enhancing their products and I fully anticipate these performance issues will be addressed.
Even with today’s Bluetooth implementation, there are some diverse Bluetooth stereo accessories worth checking out. I’ve been playing with some of them for the past few months and will give my impressions of them.
Motorola S9 earbuds
The MOTOROKR S9 is Motorola’s current generation of Bluetooth stereo buds. Their small, lightweight form factor makes them easy to wear for longer periods of time and are especially well suited for running, bicycling, and similar activities. However, the control buttons on the headset were a little too small to make this a practical choice for me.
$ varies; available through third-party online vendors
I actually prefer using Motorola’s previous generation device, the HT820 Bluetooth Stereo headphones. The HT820 has an over-the-ear design with larger buttons that are easier to locate and press. In addition, it can be connected to a standard audio jack with a cable that comes with the device, which comes in very handy if you want to avoid the $2-$5 airlines charge you for headset rentals. Motorola has discontinued this model, but it’s still available through a number of online retailers, discounted in some cases to under $40.
Insignia Portable MP3 Speaker
This nondescript rectangular box looks a little like an iPod speaker dock. There is a recessed slot on the top of the cube where you can rest your iPhone, but it doesn’t function as a dock for charging or syncing. All music is transmitted from the iPhone to the speaker via Bluetooth. I wish the slot on the top were a little wider, so you could rest the iPhone in a horizontal mode while watching a video.
Insignia is Best Buy’s house brand and you can only find this through them. The good news is that it’s on clearance and has been reduced from $60 to $30. It’s available through Best Buy stores and their Web site, until they run out. So if you’re interested in this, check it out soon. While the design is nothing to write home about, it does a good job of pumping out sound.
Trispecs Bluetooth Sunglasses
Trispecs Sunglasses make you look like Kanye West and let you listen to his music at the same time! Available in a variety of stylish colors, Trispecs serves two purposes. First, they can be used as a wireless headset with a Bluetooth-enabled phone. Second, they can be used as stereo headphones with a Bluetooth-enabled MP3 music player. Used with the iPhone, they can do both of these tasks.
Trispecs can function as regular sunglasses, or you can have them fitted with prescription lenses. As with the Motorola S9, the control buttons are small and take some getting used to. But they are somewhat easier to find and press on the Trispecs. It might be wise to set either device to auto-answer so that you don’t need to press the buttons very often.
Enhanced Bluetooth stereo performance
As Apple enhances the Bluetooth capabilities of the iPhone, stereo performance will improve with video and in situations where you want to listen to music while you’re using another app. As it is now, if all you’re doing is placing a phone call or listening to music, these accessories work just fine.