How To Discover & Remedy a Disconnecting Bluetooth Device for OS X

How To Discover & Remedy a Disconnecting Bluetooth Device for OS X

Gregory Han
May 28, 2013

It's funny to think just a few years ago many of us were still using wired keyboards and mice. But thanks to Bluetooth technology, most of us cut the cords long time ago, only left to worry about keeping our peripherals' batteries charged. I hardly ever stop to think about the wireless conversation happening between my computer and the wireless devices all day...except for those mysterious times when the connection cuts out. Here are a few tips for OS X users to help you discover what's messing with your Bluetooth mouse, keyboard, headset, or speakers...

Every blue moon, for whatever reason, my Apple Wireless Keyboard decides it's done taking the abuse of my busy typing fingers and completely disconnects the Bluetooth connection, leaving me with the keyboard equivalent of air-guitaring and the "Connection Lost" notification shown above.

Sometimes the warning is the keyboard doing the equivalent of clearing its throat and reminding you it's time to switch in some fresh new batteries. But other times the keyboard may reveal itself to be sufficiently charged and the sudden disconnection is a mystery, warranting further investigation.

I've been advised there are two things to check after going through the process of first checking your batteries levels and also turning on/off Bluetooth as a reset:

1) Check your device's signal strength: Did you know in OS X under the System Preferences and Bluetooth is the option to check any of your Bluetooth device's signal strength? Open System Preferences > Bluetooth, choose the wireless device you want to review, and hold down the “Option” key.
As you can see above, I've only got two bars (but actually a halfway decent numerical signal, 73, which is generally okay). No bueno. With just 1 or 2 bars shown, it's either going to be a battery-related issue or another device causing interference.

2) Finding Bluetooth Interference:
occasionally nearby Bluetooth devices can interfere with the ones you're actually using. Maybe it's a wireless Bluetooth speaker, or another mouse you forgot to turn off, or a nearby can even be interference from a brick wall or a microwave if you happen to work with one nearby. But you won't know until you do a little snooping use the “Monitor Connection RSSI” (received signal strength indicator), as advised by OS X Daily.

  1. Open System Preferences from the  Apple menu
  2. Choose “Bluetooth” and select the device you want to monitor the connection for
  3. Next, Option+Click the little gear icon and from the pulldown menu choose “Monitor Connection RSSI” to bring up the connection monitor window
  • -40 to -55 is a very strong connection
  • -70 and above represents a good connection
  • -100 and below represents a bad connection
  • -110 and below is almost unusable

After using the signal strength figures, try changing locations of surrounding elements or move your setup; one can move beyond surmising the cause of interference, and hopefully improve signal strength with "before" and "after" results.

I've used the monitoring option above to help improve Bluetooth wireless audio connectivity between my laptop and a wireless speaker (a load bearing wall of our old building was causing interference), alongside discovering another wireless keyboard I had forgotten to turn off was interfering with the one on my desk. I've even strangely seen just a foot distance can make the difference between a good signal and a great signal when it comes to my wireless Logitech mouse. You won't know until you play around and discover the sweet spot between signal strength and location (or the need to replace your batteries). Happy signal hunting!

(Images: Gregory Han)

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