A little history
Before we delve into the different kinds of Bluetooth, it may help to know a little bit about Bluetooth itself. Even though the technology has been around since 1999, many consumers are still a little confused about what it is and how it works. Even its oddball name is somewhat mysterious; the technology was named after a 10th-century Danish king with an affinity for tooth-staining blueberries.
Though it may sound complicated, Bluetooth really is quite simple, inexpensive, and easy to use. In Bluetooth technology, two devices communicate with each other over low-frequency radio waves in the 2.4GHz range. No cables or wires are needed, and the only requirement is that both devices be Bluetooth compatible. Unlike infrared ports, the connected devices don't need to be in direct line of sight, but they do need to be relatively close to each other. And like a wireless Infrared transfer, Bluetooth doesn't cost anything beyond the initial investment in the devices. In addition to connecting a cell phone to a headset, Bluetooth is used to connect PCs to keyboards and mice, handhelds to other handhelds, and cell phones to computers. Many cars are even equipped with Bluetooth so that you can use the car's audio system for hands-free cell phone functions. For more information, check out our Bluetooth car compatibility wizard.
The process of connecting devices via Bluetooth starts with pairing, a procedure wherein a Bluetooth-enabled phone and another Bluetooth device search for and recognize each other. Once your connection is made and secured via a PIN (personal identification number), the two devices will "talk" to each other and exchange information. You can connect as many as seven devices simultaneously at speeds of 500Kbps and higher. Bluetooth does have limitations, however. Its range is limited to 30 feet, which makes it good for connecting a handful of devices but not appropriate for an entire network of computers--you're better off with Wi-Fi for a network. Also, you can connect only devices that have compatible versions of Bluetooth (more on this later).
Though Bluetooth itself may be easy to understand, choosing a Bluetooth headset for your phone isn't so simple. The number of Bluetooth headsets continues to grow rapidly. Styles, features, performance, and compatibility vary, so it's important to take the time to find a device that's right for you. CNET editors have tested a full range of headsets; here's a list of all the Bluetooth headsets we've reviewed, plus a list of our favorites.