A minor geek out session

A Jabra FreeSpeak 250 headset arrived a few days ago, and you, dear reader, have had the misfortune of having a conversation with me about the gadget.

“What’s that?” you ask, pointing to the Borg-like device hanging from the side of my head.

“Oh, it’s one of those wireless headset doohickies that you can use to talk to people on your cell phone,” I answer.

“Huh. Really. So what? Can I use try it out on my phone?”

“Well, um, maybe. Do you have Bluetooth on your phone?”

“My teeth are blue??! Be right back…” You start to turn away, muttering something about using the wrong toothbrush this morning.

Backpedaling quickly, I implore you to stay. “No, no, I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. Does your phone have a wireless radio that you can use to talk to other devices that support the Bluetooth standard?”

“Oh, well, why didn’t you say so in the first place? I, um, think so. Here, take a look.” I take the offered handset and inspect it.

“Sorry, but your Nokia 5185 really won’t work. Your wireless provider doesn’t have a single Bluetooth-equipped phone available for it. In fact, almost nobody has a phone with Bluetooth that’s designed for CDMA networks.”

You grimace. “What good is that doohickey anyway, then? If nobody can use it, what’s the point?”

“Au contraire, mon ami,” I answer. “Many people can use it. Some of the biggest wireless providers in the world are operating networks based on the GSM standard, which is used in most industrialized nations on the planet, save Japan. There are several GSM phones with built-in Bluetooth. See, I can use my Bluetooth-equipped handheld to dial people, too.” I whip out my Palm handheld to demonstrate.

“Great! I’ve had my phone for only a couple years now, so while I hate to think that I paid $80 for it and it’s obsolete, I suppose that’s not so bad. How much can you get one of those GMS phones for anyway?” you enthuse.

“GSM, you mean,” I chuckle. “Some wireless providers are selling them for $150, others are giving them away after accounting for a rebate. And look, they have this useless little built-in camera too. Just don’t take it to the health club.”

“Right,” you nod, understandingly. “So how are the dropouts in this G…SM network anyway? Could I drive from Appleton to, say, Marshfield?”

“That’s the real catch. GSM isn’t deployed all over Wisconsin yet, and hardly at all in Upper Michigan. You pretty much have to stay on the major thoroughfares or near the bigger cities in Wisconsin.”

“Oh, so what you’re saying is that you have a useless phone that’s required to make your headset work, then, right? Cooool.” Sarcasm drips like butter from Barbiere’s Villa Capri garlic bread.

“It’s getting better, though,” I shoot back. “Up in the northern parts of the state we just discovered that one of the other carriers is putting up GSM towers for rural users. It won’t be long before they expand into Michigan, too, I bet.”

“Right. How soon?”

“Well, uh, well… I don’t know. Maybe next year.”


“OK, so I don’t know,” I admit.


“But it’s cool!”

“Riiiiiight. So, you can dial up your friends using your handheld thingy and talk to them through your headset, but only if you’re in town. Sounds special to me.” By now I’m registering a healthy “Uber” on my skept-o-meter.

“Um. Well, the truth is, I’d like to be able to. But I can’t. The phone can only talk to one Bluetooth device at a time.”

You get a wry smile on your face. “Riiiiiiiiiiight.”

Desperate, I say the only thing that comes to mind: “I feel happy! I feel happy!

Editor’s notes:

• The AT&T Wireless next generation GSM network is actually quite big, and roaming agreements with Cingular (who incidentally is in the process of acquiring ATTWS) give very, very good coverage in most population centers in the U.S. and overseas. Unfortunately, being somewhat near the edge of the earth, much of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan will only see this technology as the carriers upgrade their old TDMA networks to GSM. It’s happening – just don’t hold your breath while you’re waiting.

• In reality, the FreeSpeak 250 is a nice unit. The battery performance is great, as far as I can tell. The audio quality is nothing to write home about; it’s not so impressive when listening to music, for example, but it does an adequate job with conversations, whether in the car at freeway speeds or at home. Really, the only serious limitation is that you can’t dial via Bluetooth on a Palm handheld when you’ve got the headset connected to your phone. That’s the fault of the phone, though, and not the headset. At least this limitation is somewhat mitigated with voice-activated dialing.

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