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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.