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A handheld wireless device can be any kind of personal electronic product designed to communicate with other electronics using either radio frequency (RF) waves or infrared technology. This eliminates the need for cabling, making it easy to interface two or more devices together to share information or to relay signals. Wireless headphones can be considered a handheld wireless device, as can Bluetooth® headsets, cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) like the Blackberry®.
Wireless headphones come in two basic flavors of wireless operation: RF or infrared. In both cases headphones come with a separate transmitter that is cabled to the sound source. For example, the transmitter would be connected to a home entertainment surround sound receiver using RCA audio cables. The transmitter can then relay the audio signals wirelessly to the headphone set, which houses a mini receiver.
The main difference in the two technologies, RF and infrared, is that infrared requires a clear line of site between transmitter and receiver. Traditional TV remote controls use infrared technology. RF signals can travel around objects and through walls, making it more robust. However, RF is also subject to interference from other RF frequencies, whereas infrared does not have this problem.
A very common handheld wireless device is a Bluetooth® headset, used for hands-free cell phone operation. Bluetooth® is also an RF technology, not requiring line of site to communicate with a paired device. A Bluetooth® headset is worn on one ear, and includes a microphone and speaker. It interfaces with a cell phone to allow the user to answer or to make calls without touching the cell phone. Operation depends on headset and phone features, but voice commands can be used to dial numbers, collect messages and to perform other functions.
Another type of handheld wireless device is a Bluetooth® headset used with a laptop to have Voice Over IP (VOIP) conversations. VOIP technologies like Skype® allow subscribers to make phone calls over the Internet, free of charge. A headset provides more convenience and in most cases a clearer experience than using the laptop's built-in microphone and speakers. The laptop must also be Bluetooth®-enabled, but if this capability isn't native, a Bluetooth® adapter can be used in an available USB port.
The most common handheld wireless device is a cell phone or PDA. These personal electronics commonly connect to the Internet through a wireless local area network (WLAN). The WLAN might be a home or office network, or a public hotspot such as an Internet cafe, bookstore, campus or city-supplied network. Some cell phones and PDAs use cellular broadband instead, acquiring an Internet signal from cell towers rather than from hotspots. This is more flexible but usually more expensive.
Cell phones and PDAs might also have Bluetooth® networking built in, allowing them to wirelessly connect to other personal devices to pass data and to synchronize applications. For example, one can send print jobs to a Bluetooth®-enabled printer, pass downloaded music to a computer, send pictures and data to other Bluetooth® devices, or update/backup a calendar.
There is no shortage of handheld wireless devices, and the list continues to grow. When shopping for new wireless products, they buyer should check to make sure the products support the newest wireless standards and that they are compatible with one another. Products that only support yesterday's standards will usually be cheaper, but the savings might not pay off in the long run.