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Why is Bluetooth Still Such a Headache on Android?

by Eric Frederiksen | December 29, 2018December 29, 2018 6:30 am PST

Using Bluetooth on Android sucks. It’s just miserable. It doesn’t have to be, so why is it?

Before we dive in: I’m not an iOS guy. I haven’t owned a iPad since the iPad 2, and I’ve never owned an iPhone. My first Android phone was the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1 (or HTC Dream). I’m an Android fan.

But Bluetooth on Android still sucks.

It’s not a matter of signal quality, either. Bluetooth hardware did suck for years. It was slow, tough to pair, and provided unsteady signals with subpar audio. These days, though, that stuff is solved. There’s a lot of stellar Bluetooth hardware out there, and the codecs that transmit audio have gotten way better. Once you’re paired up and playing, Bluetooth can be an absolute pleasure to use.

It’s just using the software that gets in the way.

Now, I’ll admit, I have more Bluetooth devices than a lot of people thanks to reviewing headphones, speakers, and soundbars. I have two pairs of headphones, three speakers, and a car stereo that all link up to my phone, as well as a Daydream controller that doesn’t get as much use as I was so sure it would when I bought it. So this might annoy me more than it does a lot of users.

When I open my Bluetooth screen on my Pixel 3 XL, here’s the screen I’m greeted with. Even allowing for smaller phones, this is empty.

If I’m not connected to anything, I have to drill down into “Previously Connected Devices,” and then find my item in a list. Why do I have to drill down like that?

If I’m connected to a device already – say I’m switching from my bedroom, where I connect to my alarm-speaker-noisemaker, to my kitchen to make breakfast – it’s even worse.

I pull up the Bluetooth screen, drill down into the Previously Connected Devices menu and select my device. Because Bluetooth is still finicky, though, sometimes I also have to disconnect from the previous device, which requires that I click on the gear icon and hit disconnect.

Companies like Google and Apple like to go on about how intuitive their menus are, but the Bluetooth menu seems like a throwback to that G1.

Why isn’t the phone smart enough to have a “Frequent Devices” list filling the bottom part of that wide-open screen? Or maybe a self-curated “Favorite Devices” list?

And why am I tapping down 3 or 4 levels to disconnect from a device? I should be touching and holding to bring up a context-sensitive menu.

In fact, I shouldn’t even be drilling down into the full-screen Bluetooth menu. Holding that Bluetooth button should be bringing up a quick-connect list. Other menus don’t work that way, so I’ll forgive it for now – even though app buttons absolutely do, and it seems silly that menu items wouldn’t.

Why isn’t Google’s base operating system using its own features? At the very least, I should be able to put quick-connect widgets on my screen. I’ll admit that last one may be possible through third-party apps, but a lot of time spent searching Google and the Play Store have yielded lots of old posts asking for this and a lot of widgets for just turning Bluetooth on and off – which is not difficult enough to warrant its own widget these days.

I’m not surprised that menus on our smartphones are inscrutable and mysterious. My phone can tell me what music is playing, make calls for me, play high-def video, act as a computer, and also send memes. There’s a lot of stuff in there. But why are basic functions we’ve been tangling with for years still such a headache?

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Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...

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