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Tap to Send: NFC or Bluetooth, and what’s the difference?

nfc-991 I am an early adopter when it comes to some technology, very notably my smartphone in the last 2 itterations.  I got the HTC Surround on the first Windows Phone 7 release day, and I got my new Nokia Lumia 920 also on the Windows Phone 8 release day.

My husband, not so much. You could say he has more patience than I. You could also say he simply isn’t as … obsessed? in to? … smartphones as I. Right after Thanksgiving, I’d heard that Amazon was selling the Lumia 920s for a penny! Well, THAT should excite him, I figured. After we went through the hoops, the truth came out that the $0.01 price was for new AT&T accounts; BUT they were selling to upgraders for $19.99. That was better than the $79.99 deal I got, and better than the $49.99 deal we’d heard about (and were looking for) that ended up being only in some Western US states. Amazon only had the black, and it was backordered, but heck! $20? He went ahead and ordered it.

They’d given him a ship date of early January. Well, he could wait. We were surprised, then, when he got a shipped notification on Monday, December 3. It arrived late Wednesday, December 5.

As he was setting it up, I thought, “Hey! Let’s give the NFC a test.” Here’s what we found:

First I decided to share a photo of our son. We both turned on “tap+send” in the Settings. I went to Photos, selected the photo, selected the menu (“…”), selected Share, then Tap+Send. Suddenly I got a “You need to turn Bluetooth on” message?  Say what? This is the not-so-obvious part of all this, and really the only jarring issue.

I’ve got one of the charging plates, and it doesn’t need BT on. I went to How Stuff Works to read up on NFC and BT, and basically what I got out of it is that both are radio-frequency standards. BT has a range of about 10 meters (32 feet for those of us on the Imperial standard), while NFC has a range of a mere 10 centimeters.  All I can figure is that BT must have a faster transfer rate, and so is better to use to transfer files from device to device. (I didn’t think about that until today, when we’re both at work. I will test with just BT on and NFC off tonight.) So the best I can guess at the moment is that the Lumia is using NFC to give the commands, and BT to transfer the file.

Anyway, back to the experiment. Once we turned BT on, and initiated the transfer, we held our devices back-to-back (that’s where the NFC chip on the 920 is – near the camera). My husband got a “Someone is trying to share something with you. Accept/Ignore?” message, choose Accept, and voila! Success!

Next up: music. The procedure is the same for photos. You can sent individual songs, but not albums. They’re probably too large. At first he couldn’t see the album information (the picture), but after backing out of the Music hub and going back in to the song, it was there.

Last up was sharing a contact. This proved to have a couple more steps. The sender chooses a contact, but NOT a Facebook-only one (those can’t be shared, and frankly I’m glad of that). Go to the menu, share contact, then the contact screen seems to basically refresh, except that at the bottom you have a check bubble to confirm this is the contact you want to share. Select the check mark, then pair up the devices. The receiver gets a notification, Accepts, then has to select the Save icon at the bottom of their screen to save the contact to their contact list.

So Tap+Send isn’t quite as straightforward as it is advertised to be, but it’s still a handy thing to have. I’m still at a bit of a loss as to why it needs to be paired with BT: why not just transfer data over BT alone? Maybe a more technically-knowledgeable reader can answer.