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Yes, Bluetooth sucks, but it was good enough to kill the headphone jack on phones

Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy Note 9
Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy Note 9 (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

A smartphone not having a headphone jack isn't a noteworthy thing anymore. Even Samsung, the bastion of features and expandability, has given it up on its most power-user Galaxy Note line. While there are many reasons for the death of the headphone jack in phones — not the least of which being simplifying hardware design and internal complexity — perhaps the biggest driving factor is that Bluetooth is now good enough for a vast majority of people.

Yes, Bluetooth still sucks a lot of the time. Bluetooth is flawed. However, at this point, its flaws clearly aren't critical shortcomings for a people buying phones. As we all know, at least when we're looking at things critically, the headphone jack itself isn't perfect either.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

People clearly appreciate the upsides of Bluetooth far more than they hate the downsides. Removing the cord from the equation immediately opens up new experiences and lowers the barrier to listening to what's on your phone. You can listen to headphones from dozens of feet away, move freely without fear of snagging a cord, put a speaker where it should be for audio quality while you continue to use your phone comfortably, sit in your car and listen while your phone sits in your pocket or purse, and quickly switch your audio source between devices (or connect to two at once) all improve the phone audio experience over a wired connection.

Let's remember that even when every single phone had a headphone jack, Bluetooth audio was popular and preferable for many people. Sure it has lower audio quality than a wired connection, but it has other benefits. For many people, depending on their use-cases, those benefits exceed the utility of a wired connection overall. Most people care about dramatically higher convenience far more than slightly lower sound quality.

People clearly prefer the upsides of Bluetooth far more than they hate the downsides.

The latest developments in Bluetooth headphones and speakers have also made the lack of a headphone jack in phones much more palatable — even for people who were skeptical early on. Daily usability is getting considerably better thanks to more efficient Bluetooth standards, better battery tech, USB-C and Qi charging, and rechargeable cases for earbuds.

The ubiquity of Bluetooth tech, and chicken-and-egg juggle of headphone jacks disappearing from phones, has also led to a robust and diverse ecosystem of headphones and speakers of every style, size, capability level and price point. At one point, the market was limited and for those willing to break the bank, but that's no longer the case.

You can get high-end $350 over-ear noise-canceling headphones (opens in new tab), great neckbuds that range from $40 to $200, and speakers of every conceivable size. Thanks to the latest Bluetooth implementations we now have dozens of fantastic truly wireless earbud options that finally take cords out of the equation entirely — that in itself was enough for many people to give up the headphone jack.

A robust and diverse ecosystem of headphones and speakers made dropping the headphone jack simple.

So while smartphone makers have a big incentive to remove the headphone jack because it makes phones physically simpler to build, improvements in Bluetooth — and Bluetooth accessories in particular — brought mass market acceptance up to the point where companies could remove the jack without affecting sales. It also helped that the entire industry made this shift away nearly in unison, making it tough for consumers to find any phone with a headphone jack/ It was easy for accessory makers to know the future was Bluetooth and start rolling out such great diversity of devices.

Is Bluetooth a perfect replacement for a wired headphone connection? Definitely not. It has its own compromises and problems. But since companies started selling phones without headphone jacks, Bluetooth hasn't sat still — the protocol has improved, as has the variety and quality of Bluetooth headphones and speakers across the board. Using a phone without a headphone jack today is far better than it was in 2016 — to the point where we not only accept using Bluetooth audio, we prefer it.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

29 Comments
  • Has the use of bluetooth for location tracking had anything to do with it? I get the feeling that forcing people to use bluetooth was probably one of the larger reasons to do so, not that the tech was good enough.
  • I for one LOVE my headphone jack for one major reason. I plug in my headphones and they work. Bluetooth is a PIA. Like all wireless connections, they glitch out from time to time. Not to mention I have NO desire to charge my headphones.
  • You can of course still use wired headphones. Either with an adapter or by purchasing them with the correct connector. Both Lightning and USB-C support audio.
  • @Andrew, let's seem some statistics on what you're saying here, please: "Let's remember that even when every single phone had a headphone jack, Bluetooth audio was popular and preferable for many people. Sure it has lower audio quality than a wired connection, but it has other benefits. For many people, depending on their use-cases, those benefits exceed the utility of a wired connection overall. Most people care about dramatically higher convenience far more than slightly lower sound quality." I think audio quality is still #1 for most people followed by convenience. Emerging technologies, or technologies that tries to replace older tech, should not just be "good enough", but should exceed the older technologies. A resurgence of Vinyl seems to show that there is a good number of people out there that prefer audio quality even over convenience...or even cost. Wired headphone's superiority over bluetooth in the realm of audio quality is not just a slight difference, as you purport. @sd4f makes a good point that why Bluetooth is being accepted is not because of it being "good enough", but because consumers are not given a choice when purchasing the newest smartphones. I think your article could do with a bit of research and maybe a little more objective reporting. This is just my opinion though.
  • True audiophiles are rarer than you probably think. Between a quality pair of BT buds and a quality pair of wired buds, I would be willing to bet money that 99% of people either cannot tell a difference or don't find whatever small difference they can detect to be at all problematic.
  • That's because the people that are young enough to have hearing good enough to tell the difference don't listen to older music that would be worthy of the higher audio quality.
  • You are vastly over-estimating how much people care about audio quality. Just think back to when every phone did have a headphone jack, how many people just used the bundled earphones that were universally terrible? Most people really don't care about high quality audio I think you're also misrepresenting the resurgence of vinyl, which is much more nostalgia driven than audio quality driven. Granted some people have bought into the myths about vinyl audio superiority, so that's part of it (vinyl has it's perks if you get a good quality, well-mastered record, but it's also technically inferior in a number of ways, including dynamic range), but I still think that's a small number. People buying Crosley turntables or bottom-tier Audio-Technica models at Target don't care about audio quality, they just think vinyl is cool, and that applies to most of the people I know who own a turntable
  • You only have to look at the development of the MP3-AAC/streaming audio trends to see that people have never cared about audio quality as much as I wish they would. They didn't care about MP3 vs lossless, they didn't care about 128kbps quality, and they still don't care about Amazon selling sub-200kbps VBR. They don't care about DAC standards in their phones, and they don't care about headphones (cf the rampant success of Beats as alleged "pro-quality" headphones). And tbh, when I'm on my phone, I don't care. At work, I have extraordinarily expensive studio monitors and headphones and my every moment is spent ensuring the highest standards but when I'm listening to music on my phone, I accept that it's not the time or place for peak performance. The annoyances of cables from friction to snagging aren't worth it, and the many points of weakness in audio quality aren't worth worrying about. "Okay" will do.
  • Coffee-turtle - I don't think audio quality is number 1 for most people. If it was, Apple and Samsung would not be the top brands. The audio quality of iTunes is so bad I can't even listen to it, yet millions of people use it. Samsung has high quality playback options like Tidal and Qobuz, but I can still tell the difference between a Samsung and higher quality audio devices in a few seconds. Vinyl records have worse dynamic range, frequency response, signal to noise ratio, and stereo separation. Do you know who Bob Dennis is? Bob is the Motown legend that created the RIAA equalization curve used on vinyl records around the world. It's necessary to compensate for the reduced fidelity as the record player needle moves closer to the center, which is why we would put hit songs first or at least one of the first three tracks on LP's. Bob had reams of notes on adjusting for the limitations of vinyl records, and he loved the clarity of CD's enough to make his own studio digital after in 1984. He did keep his famous SSL analog recording console long after he parted ways with Berry Gordy though, the same one he taught me on.
  • [q]"I think audio quality is still #1 for most people followed by convenience. Emerging technologies, or technologies that tries to replace older tech, should not just be "good enough", but should exceed the older technologies."[/q] Audio quality is clearly not #1 priority for people. If it was, we wouldn't be listening to MP3 in the first place. And let's be honest, the resurgence in vinyl isn't about music quality for a lot of people, it's about being "hip".
  • It met its demise because of Apple and every manufacturer trying to chase their dominance.
  • What are you talking about. Apple isn't dominating at anything.
  • They're the most profitable tech company in the world, they're number 2 in overall smartphone sales and have the number one selling single model. But sure, not dominating anything
  • Only because Apple bought Beats. Apple should thank all other manufacturers for bigger profits.
  • Most requested phone lately when provisioning our employees: iPhone 8 Headphone jack and physical home button. It's not even close, couldn't tell you without looking the last time we provided an iPhone 10 or above.
  • The iPhone 8 doesn't have a headphone jack; Apple removed it beginning with the iPhone 7. Were you referring to the fact that it includes the Lightning-to-headphone dongle? I would say that where I work, the iPhone 8+ is the most requested company phone, too.
  • 6S was the last iPhone with a 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • I embraced Bluetooth technology since it's very early days on one of the first LG phones that included Bluetooth. That was way before android and iOS. I've always use because of convenience more than anything else. Today I carry 2 phone and use a Plantatronics earpiece that connects to both phones simultaneously and I can do almost everything by voice command while driving without touching either phone. For music I use an inexpensive dedicated music player from FiiO that supports FLAC files and other uncompressed audio files, and I use wired mid range headphones. I've never heard any better sound coming out of any phone I've ever owned or currently own, including from apple, Samsung, LG not even the ones with a hi-fi DAC. So for me sound coming out of a phone via headphone jack or Bluetooth don't make much difference, especially if your streaming from some streaming services as the audio is already limited by compression.
  • From hearing some of the music (entertainment) recorded today audio quality doesn't matter.
  • You have a valid point. A lot of music today does not have the attention to detail and quality. We used to spend a great deal of time getting things right and perfecting the mix, and I know I've done all nighters on a lot of songs in the studio. All they care about now is thump and sizzle, and engineers are short on experience AND knowledge.
  • Just like 128kbps MP3s were "good enough" to start the decline of CDs. I prefer quality, and the convenience of one less device to charge. The ONLY bluetooth standard I care for is LDAC. Its virtually (not 100 percent but very close) lossless for 16bit 44.1khz. I've used that streaming songs off my phone to my receiver and really couldn't tell any difference between it and my local FLAC copies. I was able to tell using aptX or below (though aptX isn't bad, but SBC sucked)
  • Bluetooth is an "adequate" alternative to wired headphones, but USB C and Lightning are also headphone jacks, with a different shape. Funny thing is, there are USB C headphones that are better than 99% of the 3.5mm headphones out there. My real headphones use 1/4 inch anyway ;) The other funny fact is that a lot of headphone adapters have DACs that are better than the majority of built-in headphone jacks.
  • I have NEVER used the 3.5mm jack (on phones) and yet I've been using my phone to listen to music since before iPhone 1 came out. I have always used Bluetooth Headphones simply because phones used to use weird proprietary ports instead of the 3.5mm jack back in the day, so Bluetooth was the most universal connection you could get... Then several years later OEMs started adopting 3.5mm... SO the way I see it. Bluetooth was there before 3.5mm (on phones) and will be there long after.
  • BT wasn't "good" enough to kill the 3.5mm jack. It IS a bet manufacturers are making in the HOPES to drive sales of co-branded wireless headphones. The tech is demonstrably inferior to a wired jack. Especially when matched against 100% connection and battery drain. Add in you must ALSO charge the wireless headphones, necessitating another battery cycle and eventual wear. Until BT for audio is 100% flawless on even the cheapest headphones, it is NOT "good enough" for audio.
  • It's not likely that BT will ever perfect. Wired connections are not 100% perfect either, but at least most connection problems can be fixed with a twist or a cleaning.
    The BT protocol is adequate for lossless transmission, but the problem is the DAC in the headphones us not as good as the one in your phone.
  • Got my ASUS ROG 2 partly because it still has a headphone jack. Use it frequently for longer calls at my desk with my wired earbuds.
  • Yes it does. There is no but.
  • *The headphone jack is dying because manufacturer's have killed it for reasons of profit.* You 'tech reviewers' need to learn or embrace a bit of marketing--engineer and product manager/marketing manager alert... earned job-performance kudos in both realms too. Consumer Surplus is the concept of the additional gain that consumers get for the added money they pay. Have you done any empirical studies on that or are just parrotting OEM talking points? I have used cell phones since they displaced PDAs. I thought that I would try out a Pixel phone and lo and behold... FOUR TIMES in the past year, I have needed to use a headphone and to charge my phone at the same time. This is a problem that I have NEVER experienced before. You see, there are those like me who carry headphones and whip them out for brief periods when we need them. Remembering to keep another device charged is added work for no discernible gain. BTW, I have several wireless headsets--my daughter tells me that I suffer from a borderline case of bleeding edge syndrome. But guess what, my wired headsets get the most use. They provide greater UTILITY on several levels--better performance at a lower price point, ready availability, lower maintenance, easier and more reliable user interface. The 'OEMs need the space' rubbish is just that. The 'MP3s/MP4s are compressed signals already' nonsense is just that, as are some other claims of Bluetooth's superiority. The Bluetooth (headset) has a role to play, and like all technologies will continue to get better. However, as a wireless and powered medium it is very different from a passive and non-powered one. If OEMs allowed true choice, they will see that the headphone jack, as masterpiece of convenience, will win over with the overwhelming majority of users who cannot be bothered to deal with the intricacies of another electrical interface.
  • I don't think Bluetooth killed the headphone jack--it was the phone companies removing the jacks that killed them. Literally nobody I know likes Bluetooth, and literally everyone I know has constant problems with it.