10 great Bluetooth gadgets

Go ahead, cut the cord. These cool and useful Bluetooth devices help you phone, print, present and more -- all without wires.

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In your ear: Aliph New Jawbone earphone

If you're like me, using most Bluetooth earphones is nothing short of torture. Aliph's second-generation Jawbone ($130) is a pain-free way to chat on the phone while leaving your hands unoccupied to do more important things, like driving, cooking or taking notes on an important call.

Weighing 0.4 ounce and measuring 2.0 by 0.5 by 0.5 inches, the new Jawbone is half the size and weight of Motorola's HS850 and other popular Bluetooth headsets. Stylish and comfortable to wear for hours at a stretch, the Jawbone comes with an AC charger and a variety of earplugs and rings to suit different heads.

Aliph New Jawbone earphone

Aliph New Jawbone

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Connecting to my phone was a snap and took less than a minute; its 15-foot range was plenty. The device's Achilles' heel is its hidden switches, which take a little getting used to. But before long I was able to use Jawbone to adjust the volume, accept and reject calls. Its battery was good for four and a half hours of calling.

The audio was generally echo-free, although the unit's microphones (it has two for more accurate audio) didn't pick up all my words until I started using a smaller earplug, which held the device more securely in my ear. At that point, calls came through loud and clear without weighing me down.

Robot parade: Lego Mindstorms NXT robot kit

If there's one Bluetooth accessory that can show the potential of this wireless technology while providing lots of fun, it's Lego's $250 Mindstorms NXT. Basically, it's a bunch of motors, gears, cams and electronic parts that can be put together to create various robots that respond to programs you create and transmit via Bluetooth.

Lego Mindstorms NXT robot kit

Lego Mindstorms NXT

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At first, it's a bit daunting to face the hundreds of tiny plastic parts to be snapped together. There are also sensors for distance, touch and sound, as well as three motors to breathe life into your robot. The robot's brain is the NXT controller box, which has a 32-bit ARM processor, 512KB of memory, a small screen and a Bluetooth module. Don't believe the promise that it takes 30 minutes to create your first robot; two hours is more like it.

Once it's together, you can wirelessly tell the robot to move, make noises and even pick up a ball with its claw. You program it using software on your Mac or Windows XP computer: Just drag activities into the interface and customize the action. The programs are transmitted to the robot in a few seconds from up to 25 feet away. My robot connected on the first try, and a set of six AA batteries lasted for two hours.

Don't like your creation? Take it apart and start over. The only constraint on the variety of robots that Mindstorms NXT can create is your imagination.

Price check, aisle anywhere: Baracoda D-Fly bar code scanner

Baracoda D-Fly bar code scanner

Baracoda D-Fly

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Whether you're a salesperson needing to check whether a part is in the warehouse or a shopper looking for a bargain, Baracoda's $350 D-Fly bar code scanner can help. It weighs only 1.5 ounces, accurately scans bar codes on the first try, and connects with a notebook, handheld or smart phone via Bluetooth.

The D-Fly can't tell you the price of an item. What it does do is retrieve an item's inventory number and paste it into any open application. From there, you can use the data to comparison-shop on the fly.

After I loaded the required software on my notebook, the D-Fly made the Bluetooth connection and was ready for action in a couple of minutes. I turned into a super-shopper when I went to my local Circuit City with D-Fly and my notebook looking for a deal on a wireless router.

I scanned the code with the D-Fly (it beeps to confirm that it got the data), and it was pasted into Google's entry window. The search engine found my router online for $30 less, with no sales tax and free delivery. A bargain, yes, but you'll have to buy a lot of stuff to make up for the scanner's $350 price tag.

The scanner worked up to 25 feet away from my notebook, and its battery lasted for hundreds of scans over two days.

Brian Nadel, former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine, is a frequent contributor to Computerworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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