Monitor a Bluetooth Device’s Connection Strength in Mac OS X
Those who use external Bluetooth devices with a Mac, whether it’s a keyboard, mouse, headset, or anything else, are probably aware that connection strength between the device and the computer is going to directly impact how usable the device is. The next obvious question then is, how do you check the strength of such a connection? Regular readers may recall a previous tip that allows Mac users to quickly check the signal strength of a connected Bluetooth device, but we’ll expand on that greatly and get a bit more advanced, revealing a live connection monitoring graph that updates the RSSI (received signal strength indicator) of a connected Bluetooth device. This allows for easy troubleshooting when trying to find out if, and help to determine why, a Bluetooth accessory may have a poor connection to the Mac.
Symptoms of a Bad Bluetooth Connection
Symptoms of a weak or bad connection for Bluetooth headsets are audio that cuts out, inappropriately fuzzy audio or bad audio quality, or even no audible sound at all. For things like a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, a bad connection may range from key presses going unnoticed, mouse movements being imprecise, and erratic cursor control. Gamers and graphic designers in particular are sensitive to shoddy Bluetooth signals since the imprecision of cursor control can make the difference in their activities.
Monitor Bluetooth Device Connections
The connection monitor will only be available to OS X if Bluetooth is enabled and a device is connected to the Mac.
- Open System Preferences from the Apple menu
- Choose “Bluetooth” and select the device you want to monitor the connection for
- Next, Option+Click the little gear icon and from the pulldown menu choose “Monitor Connection RSSI” to bring up the connection monitor window
With the connection monitor visible, it’s time to check and perhaps troubleshoot the devices connection to the Mac.
With the signal graph now visible, let it gather data for a few seconds before jumping to any conclusions. The screenshot up top shows a device reading in the -40 range, which is quite good, and even though it moves around a tiny bit, that is not indicative of an issue.
Reading the Bluetooth Connection RSSI
RSSI can be a bit weird to read, but essentially a higher number means a better connection, and a lower number means a worse connection. Note however that the numbers are negative, so that may read opposite to what you’d expect. For example, a connection of -45 is significantly stronger and better than a connection of -100, which is weaker and more likely to have issues. The rough guidelines below may help read the connection, though the precise signal you get is going to vary on other factors we’ll discuss below:
- -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
If some of this looks familiar to you, it’s probably because the same RSSI scale applies to those who have enabled iPhone Field Test Mode before, where the numbers seen in the corner that replacing the standard cell bar signals are read the same way.
Taking Action on a Weak Bluetooth Connection
The two most likely reasons for a bad Bluetooth connection are low batteries and heavy interference from something in the environment. Batteries are easy to test, all you need to do is swap in a new set of batteries or charge the device in question and see if the RSSI increases and if the device becomes more stable. Environmental factors can be trickier to track down, but using the live connection monitor can make worlds of difference as you move a Bluetooth device around and watch the graphs response. If you see a huge drop in the RSSI when you move a headset behind a fireplace for example, you can surmise that something in the wall is causing the interference and you should rearrange the equipment accordingly. It’s also vaguely possible that the device itself has a defective antenna, though that’s fairly rare for most quality devices.