With netbooks becoming popular so fast over the last year, laptops are becoming more of an alternative to dedicated media devices for portable use. While they are still bigger than MP3 players, they now have battery life and pricing that makes them good choices. Having a netbook myself and also being a Bluetooth nut, I’ve been struggling to get stereo Bluetooth audio on my Acer Aspire One for months. Normal Bluetooth adapters are normally very unstable and the process is the least user friendly I can think of. The people at callpod knows this, and have released an amazing product called the callpod drone.
The drone is literally plug and play. It plugs into your computer, pairs with a headset, and works. It’s main feature is Bluetooth audio, and so it uses a whole other kind of process to get things going than normal adapters. Read on for the full review.
- Quick Look
- Range: 100 Meters (class 1)
- Compatibility OS X, Windows – plug and play
- Supported Profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, Headset – others via software install
The drone is pretty straight forward, being a medium sized USB dongle with a multicolor LED on top and a pairing button on the side. It does however look better than most USB Bluetooth adapters and the build quality is very good.
Being a straight dongle it does stick out a bit as you can see on the pictures. My solution to this was a DIY 90 degree USB adapter I made a while back which works wonders with the callpod. If you have some USB connectors lying around it’s a simply job to make one, otherwise there are commercially available solutions that’ll at least help a little. Callpod, if you’re reading this, please steal my angled adapter and mass produce one to go in the drone package.
How it works
Normally, Bluetooth adapters are only transmitters where the handling of everything happens on the computer. If you’ve ever connected a USB Bluetooth adapter on a Windows computer, it sits there for ages installing various drivers then whines about not finding others. That’s because Bluetooth uses various profiles for things like audio, keyboards, file transfer, modem use etc. Windows supports some of these by default, but to use all the features – including stereo audio – you need dedicated software meant for the chip set of your adapters, so called Bluetooth stacks. These are buggy and outright annoying to use, having crashed my computer several times. Bluesoleil is the worst and it’s more work than anyone should have to go through.
The drone works in a whole other way. Instead of acting as a Bluetooth transmitter, it acts as a USB sound card. When I plugged it into my Vista machine it automatically set itself as the in-use sound card with a designation as headset with mic. This is the same as plugging a USB headset into your PC and is completely automated. All i had to do was plug it in, hold the side button to put it in pairing mode and do the same on the headphones. They did their little pairing dance and after a few seconds it was all ready to go. the process was just as easy on my XP powered Acer Aspire One and according to callpod it also works on Mac (and possibly Linux because of how it works, but don’t take my word for it). Once it’s paired, the audio will come out the headset and you can use the controls on the headset to control playback. Works perfectly with Winamp and other mainstream software.
While the default way the drone works only allows for audio use, it can actually be used as a regular USB Bluetooth dongle using extra software downloadable from callpod. I didn’t try this as the whole point of this thing is to avoid having to do that, but it’s a nice added feature if you ever need normal Bluetooth features and don’t have another dongle.
Sound quality on this thing is great. I have a lot of Bluetooth devices and this thing is second, only beaten by my Sony A820, but also has a much greater range. I was able to move freely around the house while using this thing and it didn’t drop out once. 100 meter is not correct though; it’s the maximum range with compatible equipment, but with normal Bluetooth gear you’ll get anything from 5-30. It of course also depends on your headset, but if you have a good pair like the Jabra BT620S I was using it is truly a good sounding device considering it’s Bluetooth.
The reason there’s little to write about this thing is that it simply works. You plug it in, pair it, put on music, done. Great sound quality, great range. Out of all the Bluetooth equipment I’ve tried this is by far the one I’m most impressed with, especially since I know how normal Bluetooth dongles work. It does cost $50 which is easily 10 times what a normal adapter cost, but trust me it’s worth every penny. This paired with a netbook or small notebook and you have yourself a very nice portable media device.
The drone is available directly from callpod for $49.95.