Menu

The Dongle blog

Designed in California*

Choose your poison: Bluetooth or dongles

The future is wireless, sure, but it turns out I am not the only person frustrated by the current state of Bluetooth. Chris Coyier gives an honest and refreshing review of his all new computer and accessories setup. It’s not all roses, even at the high end of the technology spectrum.

One of the themes of Chris’s post resonates with me: the battle between reliable wired connections (which often require dongles in our new beloved age of USB-C), versus wireless Bluetooth connections (which can be quite finicky).

Chris shares the common frustration with Bluetooth when describing his new Microsoft Surface keyboard, which otherwise is a gem:

  • I don’t love that it is Bluetooth only. I have a theory that my body gives off Bluetooth obstructing rays. Bluetooth never works flawlessly for me, and this keyboard is no exception. Several times I’ve had to go through the whole pairing process again since the connection seemed entirely forgotten.
  • When there is Bluetooth trouble, I also wonder about battery strength. It uses AAA batteries. It comes with “alkaline” batteries and claims up to 12 months of battery life. I had to replace them once, or at least I thought I had to because of connection trouble. I’m not entirely clear on what the best possible battery is for a device like this, so I bought the expensive lithium ones. They seem to be working, but maybe they are the cause of connection pains? There also seems to be no way to check the battery level.
  • The most pronounced problem with they keyboard is that it falls asleep. If you leave it alone for even a few minutes, it loses active connection. You can’t just start typing, as you’ll lose whatever you type. You need to press a key, wait a few seconds, then start typing. It doesn’t try to catch up with whatever you’ve started typing.
  • I’m so damn torn. I’m trying to get over my dislike of Bluetooth because it sure is nice not having so many wires around. On the other hand, if they just sold a wired version of it, it would solve all these problems and be just about a perfect keyboard.

For the devices I always want at the ready, and never want to cut out on me, wired still is my preferred connection method.

Of course, if you go wired, you’ll end up in Dongle land — and therefore on this blog. I’m typing into a five year old Apple wired keyboard right now, which is connected via a USB to USB-C dongle.

Eventually, the market will likely universally adopt USB-C, and all accessories will follow. And/or perhaps Bluetooth will improve in reliability. Either future sounds pretty good.

But right now, you have to pick your poison: reliable but annoying dongled/wired connections, or unreliable Bluetooth. Please don’t choose both. Most of the time, I choose dongles.

An Apple engineer talks about the new MacBook Pro and dongles

This happy fellow shares the scoop about how the Dongleicious MacBook Pro came to be.

Dongle tip: Size does matter

If you’ve purchased a USB-C to USB-3 dongle already, you may have made the same mistake I first made, and gotten one that’s too big. Yes, dongle size does matter. And smaller is better.

The standard USB-C to USB-3 adapter from Apple is too long. Unnecessarily long. Five and one quarter inches long. I measured.

Now, this may not be a big deal if you are dongling a wired device. But what if it’s a wireless connection?

No, this will not do.

Thankfully there’s a better way. At only 22.476% of the length of the Apple dongle, and for 69.9% of the price, you can can get 300% more dongle from third parties.

That’s right, you get a three pack for $6.99. The only downside is that logo, which is a sad state of affairs. I mean, really. Is that necessary?

Anyway, if you just can’t deal with it, there’s another option that’s much more Apple-ish — all Apple colors included — but at $10.99 for one, you pay for the luxury of design.

With either option, it’s obviously better than the Apple default USB-C to USB-3 dongle. Because like I said at the beginning: size matters.

I velcro’d my new multi-port dongle

Living the dongle life takes getting used to. I bought a new dongle the other day that basically replaces all the missing ports my old MacBook Pro had.

My new Multi-port dongle

The hard part is figuring out where to put it. Today, I had the bright idea to velcro it to the side of my external monitor. Now, I can take it off easily when I travel, but when I’m home and plugged in, my dongle’s not dangling off the side of my elevated laptop like the silly dongle that it truly is.

So far, this dongle has been pretty great. It’s got an SD Card reader (which I needed the most), an HDMI port, two USB-3.0 ports, a USB-C port (so it stays net neutral on USB-C), and even an ethernet port (on top in this picture) in case I need to plugin in directly.

I opted for this one because it has the extension from the main unit. I read reviews of some of the ones that connect directly to the side of the computer, but while they look really nice and clean, it turns out those can get unweildy when your laptop is laying flat on the desk (if the dongle is thicker than the computer) and they are less forgiving of bumps or other disconnection opportunities.

$65 was a little pricy for one dongle but when I have this one, it’s possible to get away with just one dongle, except in the most extreme dongle circumstances.

An opportunity for a new dongle

Fortunately, the iPhone 7 doesn’t have that hideous 3.5 mm headphone jack, and Apple® graciously provided a little dongle so I can still use my ancient headphones that didn’t have the good sense of having a lightning connection.

Then Apple® introduced the new MacBook Pro, which allows me to live that #touchbarlife, and while they made the visionary move to remove the USB ports, the thunderbolt port, ethernet port, the SD card port, and probably some other stuff that’s so unnecessary I can hardly remember them (like the MagSafe power connection), they left the 3.5mm jack for headphones.

Now I have some sweet new dongles from Apple so I can connect all my super old and not cool anymore accessories to those super new and sweet USB-C ports. However, it looks like I need one more dongle to add to my collection.

I prefer to carry my new and beautiful Apple® headphones with just the lightning connection. But it turns out, my new sexy headphones can’t be part of my new #touchbarlife without a reverse of the lightning to 3.5 dongle.

So now I get to add to my collection by buying a new dongle with a male 3.5mm jack and a female lightning connector. My dongle fanny pack is filling up quick and I couldn’t be happier.

Hello.

Let’s celebrate #beautifuldesign together. Ready?