Sony PCGA-BA1/A Bluetooth USB Adapter


I’m a relatively early adopter of Bluetooth and I’ve lived through the aches and pains of this technology over the last two years. The idea behind Bluetooth is the personal area network or PAN. This is basically a 30 ft. (10m) area around you in which all of your Bluetooth devices are aware of each other and can interact with each other. Some examples would include:

  • Send or receive a phone call and simply use your headset without actually needing to handle your phone.
  • Dial contact on your phone using your PDA
  • Synchronize your PDA, phone and computer wirelessley
  • Send files to other devices
  • Print wirelessly
  • Dial-up to the Internet from your PDA or notebook wirelessly

There are actually many many more potential applications for this technology but these are only some of the possibilities. Bluetooth operates in that same crowded 2.4Ghz frequency range as Wi-Fi networks, cordless phones and your microwave oven. Additionally, version 1.1 of specification has a top bandwidth of 723kb/s.

While Bluetooth is well conceived, the reality of the implementation has been less than ideal with slow acceptance and some unnecessary complications. Despite all of this, I have managed to use the technology and it’s been terrific when it’s working well. I was extremely disappointed with the lack of built-in Bluetooth in my recent purchase of the Sony TR1. In the Asian and European markets, Bluetooth support was built-in; however, North American users were snubbed and Bluetooth was left out for some reason. My guess is that Sony left it out because they felt that Bluetooth wasn’t as widespread in North America and that they could reach a better price point without adding it. That’s all fine and dandy but it’s ironic since Sony sells a number of Bluetooth equipped devices such as video cameras, PDAs, cell phones, and even digital cameras.

At any rate, Sony does offer a solution for users who want Bluetooth functionality for their PC or notebook.

Sony’s PCGA-BA1/A

The Sony PCGA-BA1/A is a diminutive 0.1 oz. (5.0g) USB Bluetooth device that adds Bluetooth abilities to VAIO notebooks. Although Sony only markets the product for its Sony Notebooks, the adapter installs on non-Sony PCs as well and offers the same functionality. The only pre-requisite for using this device is having Windows XP with Service Pack 1 installed.

The device really is pretty small especially when compared to the previous D-Link DBT-120 Bluetooth adapter I was using. Here’s a comparison shot.

Also, as you can see above, the device comes with a nifty little case that protects the device when you’re on the go. The case also has a loop hole so you can attach it to a lanyard or something of the sort so you don’t lose it too easily. It’s a nice touch for the device since many competing products don’t offer the little case. It’s so very Sony.

Once plugged into any available USB port (1.1 or 2.0), the adapter glows blue to let you know it’s working. Also, the device is hot-pluggable so you can plug it in and take it out without needing to interact with the operating system.

Of course, this little device would be nothing without adequate software and Sony ships the device with with own proprietary softwre for dealing with Bluetooth devices. Despite the inclusion of proprietary software, the device can be used with Windows XP’s built-in Wireless Link and Bluetooth facilities.

Bluespace NE

Bluespace NE is Sony’s control center for Bluetooth operations. It’s used to search for and view available Bluetooth devices. Additionally, it’s used to query devices for available services. Although I’m not a huge fan of Sony software, Bluespace NE is very user friendly and extremely easy to use. I was able to quickly find all of my Bluetooth enabled devices with a few clicks in a matter of minutes.

There are a few steps involved when getting your devices hooked up. The first step is to discover your devices. This may require you to “turn on” the discovery mode of your device. I had to do this with my phone (Sony Ericsson T68i) and mouse (Microsoft Bluetooth Intellimouse Explorer). In some cases, devices need to be paired to the PCGA-BA1/A. This involves creating a authentication key that the two devices will use to talk to each other. Once the devices are discovered then you must query each device for which services it provides.

Once completed, Bluespace NE will show different icons next to each device to inform you of available services for each device. For instance, my Sony Ericsson T68i phone shows that it supports a file transfer mode and a coml port mode. This indicates that I can send files to and from the phone (such as vcards or pictures) and that I can use the phone as a wireless modem from my notebook.

Above is an example of sending a vCard contact to my phone. The phone senses the file and allows it to be transferred and then the phone recognizes the file as a contact prompts me to accept or decline the person.

Another example shows a file being transferred from my notebook to another Bluetooth enabled computer. In this case, it takes a 1.15MB file a little less than 30 seconds to transfer. This isn’t the fastest transfer in the world but it’s very convenient as the Bluespace NE software integrates with Windows Explorer and allows you to right-click on files and send them to Bluetooth enabled devices.

Another nice feature I mentioned above is that all of the devices you add via the Bluespace NE software show up when you’re using Windows XPs built-in Bluetooth software.

This is helpful when some devices need more intervention to setup.

The Bluespace NE software runs in the system tray and it’s interface can be opened from there and is automatically opened whenever you plug the PCGA-BA1/A into the system. You can configure the software to periodically check for Bluetooth devices or you can manually search for devices.


I was pleasantly how “compatible” the Sony PCGA-BA1/A was with my Bluetooth devices and accesories. I tested the adapter with the Jabra Freespeak BT200 wireless headset, Sony Ericsson’s T68i mobile phone, Sony T615C PDA with Memory Stick Bluetooth adapter, Microsoft’s Bluetooth Intellimouse Explorer, and computer systems with the Microsoft Bluetooth Transceiver and D-Link’s DBT-120 Bluetooth Adapter.

While many of the devices could see each other, not all of the devices played well together. Part of it has to do with what services are offered with each device. Not all transceivers are alike. The PCGA-BA1/A, D-link’s DBT-120 and Microsoft’s Bluetooth adapter are all transecivers but they don’t all offer the same services. For instance, Microsoft’s transceiver allowed the systems to see each other however, it offered no services (most noticeably file transfer) whatsoever. Oddly enough, Microsoft’s Bluetooth mouse played well with the Sony and D-link adapters and in some cases, worked better than Microsoft’s own product.

Even D-link and Sony’s own implementations, while much more compatible, were sometimes a headache. D-Link’s product offers a lot of services but not all of them are compatible with Sony’s. In the end, Sony’s implementation so far is the most elegant that I have seen so far. It may not offer the most services but the ones they offer work well.

The moral of the story is that if you’re going to play with Bluetooth, then you’re better off sticking the the same branded stuff as much as possible for maximum usability and least amount of hassle.

Final Thoughts

Despite some of the issues I encountered during my usage of the PCGA-BA1/A adapter, I’m extremely pleased with this product.

The size is right (it’s the smallest one I’ve seen so far) but perhaps the biggest win so far is the included software that simplifies the discovery and use of Bluetooth devices and accesories. Even though most USB Bluetooth adapters sell for $39-49, I would recommend getting the $99 (MSRP) Sony adapter to even users of non-VAIO notebooks and PCs. Actually for most notebook users who don’t have built-in Bluetooth, this is one of the better products around since it’s very portable.

As I mentioned before, If you’re setting up a Bluetooth network in your work area then I recommend sticking with similar branded products to get the most out of your investment. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run.








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