If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth accessory, there’s a good chance you should consider waiting until next year. The two biggest smartphone manufacturers — Samsung and Apple — are moving rapidly toward Bluetooth 5. The Galaxy S8 is already there and the next Galaxy Note and iPhone are also expected to adopt the technology.
When arguably the three biggest smartphones (I will hear your arguments for the Pixel over the Galaxy Note) make the switch to Bluetooth 5, the third-party accessory market will follow.
It’s not that the current devices on the market are obsolete — far from it. The Bluetooth 4-4.2 market will survive for at least a few more years. It’s that if you happen to purchase one of these newer smartphones, you’ll be stuck with slower peripherals that won’t take full advantage of the next generation of Bluetooth.
WHY SHOULD YOU WAIT?
Bluetooth 5 is capable of transferring data at double the speed of Bluetooth 4.2, and it can also work at much further distances. Theoretically, your Samsung Galaxy S8 paired with a Bluetooth 5 speaker can work up to 260 feet away from each other. Due to walls and general terrain, they probably won’t work that far apart — much like Bluetooth 4.2 devices don’t really work all that well at the current 66-foot limit. But it’s miles ahead of its predecessors.
Sure, you can buy that $100 Bluetooth 4.2 speaker today, but if you’re planning on getting the iPhone 8 (or whatever it’s called), the $100 Bluetooth 5 speaker you purchase in early 2018 may work across your entire home, instead of just in the next room. Or your Bluetooth headphones may work when you leave your phone in the office to grab lunch from the kitchen. There are a thousand different scenarios in which Bluetooth 5 will be an improvement over Bluetooth 4.2.
With a max range of around 800 feet, those improvements will extend to IoT devices as well, allowing Bluetooth 5 to essentially replace (or act as a backup to) Wi-Fi connectivity for smart home devices.
HOW LONG WILL YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR BLUETOOTH 5 GADGETS?
Likely until early 2018. Companies haven’t started building devices that support Bluetooth 5 yet, because the Galaxy S8 is the only phone that currently supports the standard. But that will begin to change over the next few months.
Anker says the earliest it will start selling Bluetooth 5 products is the end of this year, but more likely the beginning of 2018. “We’ll keep testing during the next months,” an Anker spokesperson said. “I would say the earliest we might have a Bluetooth 5 product would be either late Q4 this year or Q1 2018.”
Incipio Group, the company behind Griffin, Braven, Incase, and its eponymous brand says it won’t launch any Bluetooth 5 products this year, but Griffin does have some in the pipeline for the first half of 2018.
“We could not identify any significant feature to make us adopt it immediately at the risk of delaying development on certain products,” an Incipio Group spokesperson said. “To really take advantage of Bluetooth 5 features in an accessory, you need a handset or host device on the other end that also supports the new standard and those devices are pretty limited at the moment (with the exception of the GS8).”
If you absolutely need a Bluetooth device now, you shouldn’t hold off and suffer until the winter when we get an influx of Bluetooth 5 devices. But if you’re just browsing, you should wait. The next generation of Bluetooth accessories are on the way, and they will be a major improvement over what we currently have.