BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone

BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone Paired With an iPhone 5s

BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone Paired With an iPhone 5s

These days it’s not uncommon to see a business professional using their cell phone as their primary or only phone number.  This is particularly true with traveling consultants.  And while I work in the same office every day, for the past two years I too have chosen to list my cell phone number as my only number on my business cards and in my signature block on outgoing e-mail.

Despite my relatively analytical mindset and preference to avoid small talk, I somehow end up talking on the phone a lot.  AT&T reports that I racked up 15,176 voice minutes on my aging iPhone 4 in the past twelve months.  If converted to 8-hour business days, this represents 31.6 days spent on the phone out of roughly 260 business days per year.  Thank goodness for unlimited talk and text.

The transition from a traditional business desk phone to cell phone was made practical in my case largely by another device similar to the one we’ll talk about today.  That other device, the iFusion SmartStation (reviewed here), gives my iPhone 4 a traditional telephone handset and speakerphone whenever I’m at my desk.  Having that traditional handset linked to my cell phone has allowed me to participate in long conference calls or troubleshooting sessions without tying up one hand, or having to crane my neck at a particularly awkward angle to sandwich a thin cell phone between my shoulder and my ear.  Given the amount of time I spend talking, I also take comfort in knowing that my cell phone isn’t directly irradiating my head.  And while the first-generation iFusion works great with iPhones up through the 4s, what about everyone else?  What if you want the ergonomics of a business desktop phone while using your Android phone, Windows Phone or BlackBerry?

The Answer
It turns out that the answer has been lurking in the land down under since 2010.  The “Australian designed and developed” BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone, pictured above, looks at first glance like a no-frills business desk phone of the sort that blends in with the monitors and other gear on your desk, to be mostly ignored except when it’s ringing.  The distinction, as its name implies, is that this handset pairs with your mobile phone via Bluetooth in order to make and receive calls.

Initial Setup
After a one-time pairing exercise explained in the manual, I also enabled ‘Auto connect’ so that the BlueSIM will try to reconnect with my phone every half minute when I’m away, anticipating my return.  The display actually says “iPhone” when I’m connected, and “Auto connect” when my iPhone and I have left the vicinity.  The BlueSIM can be paired with up to eight devices, though with only one active connection at a time.

First Time Use
Dialing calls via the BlueSIM is a matter of punching in the ten digit number, and then picking up the handset or pressing the speakerphone button to initiate the call.  I made my first outbound call to my favorite sister, who indicated that the call sounded crystal clear on her end.  I found the volume to be a little low on my side, until I rotated the silver scroll wheel to raise it to comfortable level.  The phone kept my desired volume level on subsequent calls.  When initiating outbound calls from the BlueSIM, the paired iPhone doesn’t light up at all, conserving energy.  Both the BlueSIM and the iPhone light up and ring on inbound calls.  My first half-hour long call was a complete success as well, with no issues to report.

The BlueSIM has a jack for a wired RJ11 corded headset of the of the type that call center employees might use.  Though I’m thinking that frequent headset users might just get a Jawbone or similar and skip the BlueSIM altogether.  The regular coiled handset cord that comes with the BlueSIM is perhaps not as long as would be ideal, but that could be replaced for around $10 locally.

While the appearance of a phone is far from the most important thing, most of us are visually oriented enough to consider it.  The finish of the BlueSIM is, well, blueish, when compared to something that’s a true black.  The BlueSIM also has a bit of surface texture, which, while not uncommon, isn’t glossy smooth like some phones.  The handset feels solid enough, in a practical though non-luxury sense.  The button travel feels just a little bit long, especially on the number keys, but they’re easy to use.  And the LCD display, while highly readable, feels a little dated compared to the devices that you’re likely to sync with it.  Were this a standard telephone for use with plain old telephone service, you would expect it to cost no more than half the price.  The premium is justified only by the relative uniqueness of this Bluetooth pairing solution.

Cost And Purchasing
There’s no electronic shopping cart on the BlueSIM web site at this time.  So I reached out via e-mail to in late December.  After exchanging a couple of messages, I received a PayPal invoice for the list price of $299.00 AUD, or $273.86 US at that day’s exchange rate.  There’s no shipping or tax added to US orders, despite the fact that the AirMail charge turned out to be a relatively hefty $56.55 AUD, representing 18.9% of the overall cost.  My BlueSIM was shipped shortly after the New Year, and arrived at my office in Connecticut ten days later.

It’s easy for Americans to assume that the world revolves around us, but these days that’s often not the case.  The BlueSIM’s AC power adapter says that it supports 100 to 240 volts, but it bears Australia’s native AS3112 plug and includes no adapters for use in the US or Europe.  I needed an AS3112 receptacle to NEMA 5-15P adapter like this or this.  Since I was taken by surprise, I went with the one that I could get shipped in the next day.  Americans who order a BlueSIM should order the requisite power adapter from Amazon the same day, and you’ll be all set when your phone arrives.  The BlueSIM also has a space for a 9-Volt battery, which may run the device for an unspecified length of time.

The BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone combines a business desk phone experience with your modern Bluetooth-enabled smartphone whenever the two are in proximity to one another, without regard to your phone’s vendor or your telecom carrier.  While relatively expensive at $299.00 AUD, this tool makes it easier to live with a single phone and phone number, when regularly transitioning between your desk and on-the-go.  For some, the simplicity or the reduced cost as compared to maintaining two types of phone service over the long term may make the BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone an appealing accessory.
[In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, this article was inspired by an employee of our Federal Government who subscribes to the blog, and who, in fact, originally suggested adding the ‘Subscribe’ box that you see on the blog today.]

Which iPhone?

A friend sent me the following question a couple weeks ago: “We’re on the verge of jumping from dumb phones … to the iPhone.  I know there’s plenty of marketing hype and consumer comparison sites out there talking about the pros/cons of various phone platforms. … Should I wait for the iPhone 4 to come down in price? Should I go with the easy $50 opportunity to get a iPhone 3GS?”

As is the case in most areas where we have choices, the answer of course is, “It depends.”  This is especially true in the world of cell phones, where we have a lot of choices and they’re continually evolving.

Smart vs. Phone
While it’s easy to focus on the ‘smart’ portion of a smartphone – the applications – I tend to focus first on the original purpose: making phone calls.  Making reliable phone calls requires two things: decent cellular coverage and a well-functioning handset.  Of course cellular coverage varies widely based on your proximity to the nearest antenna, topography, and physical barriers such as dense walls.  It’s also been my experience that two different handsets in the same location on the same network can deliver noticeably different results.  So, we have to choose the network that’s best for our location and needs, as well as a reliable handset that uses the network effectively.

The Network(s)
Here in the United States, there is a long list of cellular carriers, however there are really only four that could be considered nation-wide networks: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile.  Most of the rest are mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) running on top of one of the aforementioned networks.  Depending on where you are or where you plan to travel, even some of the big four may be unavailable.

Where I grew up in Indiana, T-Mobile is non-existent.  I saw my brother-in-law make a call on Sprint’s network while outside once, though he’d never get a connection indoors.  AT&T can work OK indoors, but is somewhat handset-specific, with older 2G (EDGE) phones working better than newer 3G ones.  And Verizon Wireless can be crystal clear indoors and out, depending on the device.  Your locale may or may not similarly limit your choice of cellular networks to just one or two.

Can you hear me now?
You may have heard that as a blanket rule, Verizon Wireless has the superior network in the United States.  It’s used by General Motors for their OnStar services, for example.  However, Verizon isn’t always better, nor are they better with every handset.  I have an interior office at work in southwest Connecticut, where my company-issued Verizon BlackBerry is unreliable to the point that I’d rather never use it.  Conversely, I’ve used a Nokia N8 on AT&T for up to 20 minutes on a single call from my office without issue.  At the risk of thoroughly confusing the situation, I’ve also seen a person struggle to maintain calls from my office on an iPhone 3 on AT&T while my boss recently switched to an iPhone 4 on Verizon that worked fine in one test call that I made a couple of weeks ago.  It can start to feel like you have to discover a magic combination of network and cell phone that work together in your setting.  It always helps to solicit feedback from nearby peers as to what they’re currently using and whether or not they’re satisfied with it.

There’s one other important distinction between cellular providers.  AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM technology similar to, though at slightly different frequencies, as most other countries throughout the world.  AT&T likes to say that you can “Stay connected while traveling to more than 220 countries and on more than 140 cruise ships, and access email and the Internet in more than 195 countries.”  Verizon Wireless and Sprint use CDMA technology, effectively limiting your use to the North America and a much smaller set of other countries.  While both Verizon and Sprint offer some dual-mode phones that will roam on GSM when outside of a CDMA country, the current iPhone 4 offered by Verizon is not one of them.  If European travel is in your future, an iPhone on AT&T will work on your trip while the phone from Verizon becomes a paperweight.  This may not be the case with future editions.

[Less than 24 hours after posting this, I’m reading a rumor that the iPhone 4S may support both CDMA and GSM networks in a single device.]

Enhancing Your Local Signal
If you’re interested in using a cellular network that generally has good coverage but happens to have poor coverage inside your home, three of the big four carriers now offer reasonably-priced femtocells.  Think of a femtocell as your own personal cellular repeater in your living room, that leverages your broadband Internet connection to backhaul phone calls to your carrier’s network.  These devices are marketed under various names such as the AT&T 3G MicroCell, the Verizon Wireless Network Extender and the Sprint AIRAVE.  I just deployed an AT&T 3G MicroCell at home over the Memorial Day weekend, and one of my IT peers is looking into the Verizon Wireless Network Extender for several of our offices.

Another Reception Technique
We all likely heard of ‘antennagate’ in the wake of Apple’s iPhone 4 release.  This referred to a phenomenon where the iPhone’s signal strength would fall off – sometimes dramatically – when the phone was held in the hand in a particular way.  Apple’s response was to reprogram the algorithm behind the signal strength display and to hand out free ‘bumpers’ to encase the phone’s metal antenna band in an insulating layer.  Steve Jobs also noted, correctly, that the iPhone isn’t the only phone that loses signal strength when held in the hand.

Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth EarpieceI typically fire up a Plantronics Discovery 925 bluetooth earpiece when I’m making calls from a fringe reception area.  This allows me to leave my phone lying down, sometimes near a window, while walking around carrying on a conversation.  My phone’s limited reception in that particular area isn’t further degraded by my holding it.

iPhone 3GS vs 4
Transitioning into an iPhone discussion, the original question asked whether a $49 iPhone 3GS with 8 GB of flash memory was worth considering as an alternative to the $199 iPhone 4 with 16 GB.  We should note that the iPhone 3GS is offered only by AT&T, so that will have to be your network of choice if you are to make this selection.  Rather than limit our thinking to the initial cost of acquiring the phone, let’s consider the total 2-year cost between the two.  A hypothetical 2-year contract from AT&T featuring 450 rollover minutes, 2 GB of data per month and unlimited text messaging is going to cost $89.99 /month plus taxes and fees.  Adding together the cost of the initial phone, a one-time activation fee of $36.00, and two years of service, that iPhone 3GS will cost you $2,244.76  (plus tax) while the iPhone 4 will cost $2394.76.  That’s a distinction of 6.2 % over the life of the contract.  For my money, I’d pay the extra 6.2% for the latest phone with twice as much flash memory.

iPhone 4, AT&T, Verizon, White, Black
As noted previously, the iPhone 4 is of course available via AT&T or Verizon Wireless.  If you’ve already made a decision about which network is right for you, then you’ve still got a few remaining choices.  Do you want 16 GB of flash memory, or 32 GB for an extra $100.  (That’s only another 4% over the life of our earlier hypothetical 2-year contract.)  Do you want a black phone or the recently-release white version, which will put you in a relatively exclusive club for at least the next few weeks?

Android Alternative?
So far we’ve conveniently ignored the largest-selling smartphone platform of all – Google’s Android OS – which accounted for 36% of all smartphone sales in Q1 2011 according to Gartner.  By contrast, Apple’s iOS platform accounted for 16.8% of smartphone sales in Q1, behind 2nd-place Nokia.  As someone who regularly uses Linux at home, one might expect that I’d lean toward Android, which uses a Linux kernel.  On the contrary, I feel like Android is fairly fragmented at this time, with no consistent operating system updates or security patches from one handset and carrier to the next.  On the other hand, users who prefer the maximum flexibility may be well advised to look at Android.

One Opinion
White iPhone 4When I began answering my friends question, I stated, “It depends.”  It’s probably fitting to end with what I’d choose, were I making the choice today.  In relative civilization here in the East, I’d probably start by picking AT&T for the simple fact that all of their higher-end phones will roam globally.  While I’m far from affluent when compared to some in Connecticut, I’m also single.  A plane ticket for one from, say, New York to London, could conceivably be well within my means at some point during the life of the phone contract.  It doesn’t hurt to dream, nor to keep my passport current.

Next, I’d go with the iPhone 4 for it’s broad ecosystem of apps on a consistent, well supported platform.  I’d go with a white one, not because my vehicle and furniture are all white, but due to a particular idiosyncrasy within my personality.  When a large enough crowd runs in one direction, I sometimes want to run the other.  While strictly a cosmetic difference, going white is about the only way to be different with an iPhone at the moment.  [Photo courtesy of Apple.]

Finally, I’d go with the 16 GB model versus the 32, as I still want to use my phone as a phone and not run the battery down while watching feature-length movies.

[Update: On June 14th I put my money where my mouth is and purchased this exact phone.  So far, so good.]

Now It’s Your Turn
Given the many options and personal motivations behind selecting a phone, I’d expect each of us to reach a slightly different conclusion.  Thankfully we’ve got some compelling options to choose from.