Travel Toy: Galaxy Buds

A few months ago I broke down and jumped on the truly wireless bandwagon. The primary driver here was that a lot of times when running through the airport (or down the aisle of the plane) it was painfully easy to get cables tangled on bags and arm-rests. I had been using inexpensive MPow Bluetooth headphones when running, but as they hooked over the ear it wasn’t terribly comfortable with my glasses.

After many, many hours of browsing Reddit, Rtings, and other review sites, I finally decided on Samsung’s Galaxy Buds. The fact that I primarily use a Galaxy S10+ it seemed to be a very logical decision. The Galaxy Buds allow for Qi charging (which works with the S10/S10+’s powershare feature) and uses a USB-C port to charge over a cable (unlike Amazon’s Echo Buds, for some reason…) so I don’t have to carry even more cables.

The Galaxy Buds also use a proprietary codec to allow for low latency communication with other Samsung devices. Add this to the fact that many video applications (like Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, etc.) have logic to keep the audio and video synchronized, and you can worry less about the latency value that is shown on the Rtings site when it comes to using these buds with a Samsung phone. I haven’t had a chance to try these with  Samsung tablet so I can’t say if you’ll experience similar performance with that.

I do like that the earbuds have sensors which determine if they are in an ear, automatically pausing playback if they are removed. This helps conserve battery life and also makes for convenient auto-pause. It is also a seamless process if you just remove one earbud and put it back in (to resume playback on that ear).

Sound Isolation

Over the last few months I’ve been using these buds in a variety of environments: office, on the street, at the gym, and while traveling. With the right set of earbuds and appropriate insertion (make sure the wings tuck into the ridge of your ear and use the earbuds that fit your ear canal best – keep in mind that you might need to buy 3rd party foam buds to get the best fit) you can almost completely eliminate office sounds.

The isolation is not perfect for the sounds of engines, however, so you will hear some sounds when traveling, but given that these buds are strictly for noise isolation and not cancellation, they offer a respectable level of environmental sound reduction.

One thing to keep in mind with gym sounds is that some sounds (like the impact of footfalls or chews when eating) can be quite loud. Overall it is not a huge issue, though, and I found myself adapting to this fairly quickly. Your mileage might vary, of course!

Sound Reproduction

Samsung phones allow a custom audio profile to be developed based on a short hearing test. By playing tones of various frequencies and determining how easily you can hear them with a specific set of headphones, the phone will amplify those sounds in the future to ensure you hear as much of your media as possible. I was skeptical of this but the difference is very noticeable.

When paired with the “Dynamic” profile in the Samsung Galaxy Wearable app, it makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. Note that not all features of the Wearable app might be present if you use this with a non-Samsung device. I haven’t had a chance to try it with another phone so I can’t speak definitively to that.

Finally, the Wearable app allows for control of the touchpad behavior, as well as to lock it and prevent accidental touches. This also allows you to determine if you wish to use the Ambient Sound feature or integration with your assistant (Bixby, Google Assistant, etc.). The Ambient Sound feature is… handy, but the sounds are somewhat distorted, almost as if you are trying to hear things while underwater.

Closing Thoughts

If you have a Samsung device, getting a pair of Galaxy Buds is a no-brainer. I would suggest you hold on for the newer generation of buds to be released so that if there is a price-drop for the current (soon to be previous) generation of earbuds you can take advantage of them.

For other Android devices, these are still a very solid purchase, but depending on your use-case you might be better suited by something like the Sony WF-1000XM3 buds (if you need active noise cancellation and pressure compensation, and have the budget) or Jabra 65t/75t (if you need excellent microphones for phone calls). As with all tech purchases, be sure to consider your needs when reading reviews, because what works for someone might not work for you.

Onward to T-Mobile!

After fourteen years with Verizon (and hundreds of dollars paid unnecessarily on insurance deductibles even though the manufacturer admitted responsibility), I made the jump to T-Mobile’s ONE plan.

First of all, I can’t begin to express the shock my girlfriend and experienced when talking to the T-Mobile reps (on both Twitter and in the store) compared to our interactions with Verizon reps. Not only did they make sure we had everything we needed in the store, they went out of their way to let us know how to get money back on our bills. Even T-Mobile’s CEO gets his hands dirty to help people!

The Phones: Galaxy S8

Orchid Grey!

After a great deal of deliberation, research, and hands-on investigation I went with the Galaxy S8 in Orchid Grey as there was a Buy One Get One Free deal offered by T-Mobile through their partnership with Verizon. Initially, my plan was to go with HTC’s new U11, but after having splurged on a new camera I had to readjust my budgets accordingly, haha. Both the U11 and S8 use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 and both have ridiculously impressive cameras. Having a headphone jack is icing on the cake, though! I’m looking forward to playing with this over the next few weeks.

The Plan: T-Mobile One

In the end, all things (coverage, speediness of communication with representatives, etc.) being equal, the bottom line for a consumer is going to be what they pay for the plan in question. T-Mobile is nice in that you know exactly what you will pay when you walk out of the store, taxes and fees included at all times.

The T-Mobile ONE family of plans is known for offering unlimited text, talk, and data. As with most providers, there is a sliding scale based on how many lines are on the account (the more lines, the lower the per-line price). However, simply configuring auto-pay will reduce your price by $5/line/month. Icing on the cake? You have the option to opt-in for “KickBack” – if you or anyone on your plan uses less than 2GB/month, you get a $10/line/month refund. That means if you have four lines and each line uses less than 2GB, you get $40 back. However, you still don’t get charged more since this is an unlimited plan – purely beneficial! With how much WiFi there is coating public areas these days, that isn’t too hard to do. 😉

More awesome news? You get your same unlimited data (at 4G speeds), talk, and text throughout Canada and Mexico, and 2G speeds in more than 140 countries. Though the speed is markedly lower (~128kbps for the basic ONE plan, ~256kbps for the ONE Plus plan) than 4G, it’s still unlimited and should be plenty for things like email, Google Maps, and Uber/Lyft. My favorite bit, though, is that T-Mobile is now taking over my Netflix bill (standard 10.99 plan only). Here’s a quick comparison for two lines on both T-Mobile’s lowest unlimited tier and Verizon’s lowest unlimited tier. I’ll be reporting back on how coverage and speeds are in Mexico upon my return!

$120/month with auto-pay, including taxes and fees$130/month with auto-pay, not including taxes and fees
Unlimited text, talk, and 4G data in Canada and MexicoRequires Beyond Unlimited ($160/month with auto-pay, not including taxes and fees)
Netflix included ($10.99/month value)
$10/line/month refund if you use < 2GB
1 hour of free WiFi on GoGo enabled flights (unlimited if you upgrade to ONE Plus for +$10/line/month)
Unlimited text, talk, and 2G data in 140+ countries

The Swag

While we were waiting on our numbers to be transferred from Verizon, and our initial activation to complete, the local Samsung rep walked in and noticed we were getting new S8s. Not only did we have a wonderful conversation, but he left us with some pretty awesome swag!

Heavy-Duty Tumbler

Not only did we get a really nice tumbler, but a swanky wine set with two vacuum seals!

Fancy case…
Complete wine kit!

Staying Sane on the Road

It’s no secret that I spend a somewhat ridiculous amount of time on the road, so I thought I would share my coping mechanisms for staying sane in the air and on the road. Though my main source of entertainment is my phone (music, movies, podcasts… it does it all!), I also love having my Kindle handy.

Kindle Paperwhite

The device for the bibliophile, the Kindle has saved me from countless hours of boredom. The ability to go from book to book on a whim, and having access to hundreds or thousands of titles is truly mind-blowing when you stop to think about it. I recently finished reading “The Bear and the Nightingale” and “The Winds of Khalakovo“, and have started a few more. After having my Kindle for a few months, I can’t imagine life without my Kindle.


  • ars PARADOXICA – Secrets. The Cold War. Time Travel. Physics. ars PARADOXICA is a thrilling audio drama for those that enjoy believable science-fiction and being kept on the edge of their seats. Season 3 is coming this year!
  • Black List Table Reads – Hosted by Franklin Leonard, the Black List Table Reads is all about ear movies. Every season, screenwriters are interviewed, writing processes are discussed, and you get a sneak peek into the way movies are made from the ground up. Mixed in, you will be given stories with professional voice actors. Some of my favorites include “Jody“, “Forever Jaying, 1937“, “Celeritas“, “Chrome Noir“, and “The Other Side“.  Definitely worth checking out!
  • Cabin Pressure – Originally radio series produced by the BBC, Cabin Pressure was created by John Finnemore, and stars him as well. Other members of the cast include Roger Allam (yes, from Game of Thrones), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock, and oh so many other productions), and Stephanie Cole. As someone who loves flying, Cabin Pressure is a hilarious take on the lives on the lives of the employees of a small charter company.
  • NPR’s Invisibilia – Taken from the NPR program’s page: Invisibilia (Latin for invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller, Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.
  • NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me – Taken from NPR’s program page: Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is NPR’s weekly hour-long quiz program. Each week on the radio you can test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what’s real news and what’s made up. On the Web, you can play along too.
  • The Adventure Zone – Dungeons & Dragons. So many memories! The Adventure Zone follows the McElroy family (Justin, Travis, Griffin, and Clint) as they make their way through a campaign. Though a little rough at the start, the personality of the characters really comes through.
  • The Strange Case of Starship Iris – Though another science fiction radio drama, The Strange Case of Starship Iris follows the life of Violet Liu, a biologist, as she struggles to make sense of life after humanity’s war against an extraterrestrial species. And that is all I can say without spoilers.

Google Play Subscription

Much like Pandora or Spotify, Google offers a subscription service for Google Play Music. Pricing varies from $9.99 for an individual or $14.99 for a family plan, where up go 6 individuals can share a membership. This allows for unlimited (ad-free) listening, downloading, and YouTube RED.

Netflix / Amazon Prime Downloadable Content

Amazon introduced offline viewing of content for the primary member of a Prime family (or individual, for individual memberships) in 2015. In November 2016, Netflix followed with offering offline viewing of content. Since then, their offline library has grown considerably, though it should be noted that it doesn’t encompass their entire streaming library. Also, Netflix has a hidden limit on how many times you can download a given title. This is a little frustrating as you don’t know you’re reaching the limit until you’re almost there. Both services have limits on how much content you can have downloaded, and you should only ever delete content when you are connected to a network (cellular or WiFi) to ensure that it properly cleans up the licensing behind the scenes, allowing you to download a new title.

Citi Prestige: 4th Night Free Benefit

Image from
Image from

If you are a work traveler, can book hotels directly, and use your own credit card, the Citi Prestige is a no-brainier. This card is one of the top-tier cards offered today (along with the Platinum Card from American Express, and the soon-to-be-released Sapphire Reserve from Chase). Though it comes with a hefty price-tag by way of a $450 annual fee, it has a staggering number of benefits.

In addition to the $250 annual airfare credit bundled with the card, one of the most advertised benefits of the card is receiving a free night for every booking of four or more nights. There is no limit to the number of times you use this benefit, so you can easily make your money back many times over. This is particularly beneficial when your work reimburses you for any travel you have to do.

To take advantage of this benefit, you just have to call the Citi Prestige Concierge at (561)-922-0158 and tell them that you would like to use the fourth night benefit for your card. They will walk you through the process of identifying where you would like to stay, any special rates (AAA, AARP, government, or corporate booking code), and your frequent guest information (Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, etc.). They will then make the booking and send you an email detailing how much the entire stay will cost and how much you will be reimbursed. This is key as you will be paying for the full stay and then Citi pays you back the cost of the fourth night including taxes, but not resort fees. Per, TheFrequentMiler, conference rates aren’t bookable this way, but most others are. Be sure to check online through various booking systems (directly to the hotel, sites like Kayak, and others) before calling so you have a general idea of what to expect.

Even though this benefit will be changing over the coming months, so the credit from Citi will be for an average of the four nights instead of the price of the fourth night, the value offered by it easily out-weighs the $450 annual fee.

If you are interested in applying for this card, you can find it on the Citi website [not an affiliate link] with a 40,000 bonus point offer for completing a $4,000 spend in 3 months. I would strongly advise you checking a local Citi branch, however, as there have been reports of local bankers providing the old offer of 50,000 bonus points for completing a spend of $3,000 in the same period of time.

SkyRoam – Unboxing

Affiliate Link Note: If you use my link to SkyRoam, you’ll get $20 off your purchase (to buy, not rent), and I’ll get a few free days! You certainly don’t have to… but I wouldn’t object!

A few days ago, I posted that I was purchasing a SkyRoam [Affiliate Link] hotspot. It came in on Friday and I thought I would share the unboxing!

The packaging itself
The packaging itself

The hotspot arrived in neat looking packaging – very compact as you would expect. Contained within the package was the battery – rated at providing roughly 8 hours of use before recharging is necessary, the charging cable – standard MicroUSB, and the hotspot itself.

SkyRoam package contents: hotspot, Lithium-Ion battery, charging cable
SkyRoam package contents: hotspot, Lithium-Ion battery, charging cable
The hotspot itself
The hotspot itself
Orange back!
Orange back!

The hotspot is a sleek looking black-and-orange device with blue lighting for the buttons.

I’m really looking forward to using this overseas – registration of the device was a breeze!

SkyRoam Hotspot

Affiliate Link Note: If you use my link to SkyRoam, you’ll get $20 off your purchase (to buy, not rent), and I’ll get a few free days! You certainly don’t have to… but I wouldn’t object!

I’ll be doing some international travel this winter with my girlfriend and to maintain the level of connectivity that we have grown accustomed to, I decided to give SkyRoam [Affiliate Link] a go!

For $99.99 ($79.99 if you use my link, above), you get unlimited Wi-Fi in a variety of countries, including the UK, Qatar, and India – all of which we’ll be traveling through this December and January. That said, the price is only for the device itself, and you pay on a day-by-day basis beyond that.

I came across this product through a poster to  The Frugal Travel Guy blog, Caroline Lupini, who recently tested this in Uzbekistan! The other draw is that you are limited to 350MB/day before your speed drops, but again, for basic connectivity (email, blogging, and so on) that is plenty!

I’ll be sure to report back after giving SkyRoam [Affiliate Link] a shot this winter!

What do you do when you travel internationally?

My Travel Essentials

Looking into someone’s backpack is like looking into their life – what better way to get to know someone?

Universal Traveler RFID by Eagle Creek
Universal Traveler RFID by Eagle Creek

A few months ago, I picked up the Universal Traveler RFID by Eagle Creek and I have been quite pleased with it. Between dual straps (chest and waist) and a slip to slide over the handle of your larger luggage, it is easy to move with it regardless of what you have inside.

Security Friendly
Folds open for security screening

The other main feature is the electronics compartment that folds completely flat for x-ray scanning. Though TSA Pre-Check allows you to avoid this in the US, this is a huge time-saver when traveling internationally. The sleeves are well padded and can contain a 14.1” laptop (Dell E7440) comfortably and a first-gen Apple iPad with a cover.

Front Compartment
Yay organization!

The other feature, and the origin of the name, is the RFID shielded pocket in the front compartment for your passport. There is also a mesh pouch in this compartment with a key ring and zipper to ensure you can keep things tidy in transit. There is a third, middle, pouch which allows for easy cable storage, as well as a third sleeve for keeping your magazines or books safe from disruption while you’re on the move.

I keep my LG G4 with me at most times, and thanks to Amazon Prime’s recent offline-video feature, that gorgeous screen makes long flights and delays a breeze. On top of that, the f/1.8 camera allows for smooth picture taking once I reach my destination.

Naturally, with the electronics I carry, it is important to make sure they stay charged! I use Anker’s PowerCore [affiliate link] portable power bank to make sure my phone and tablet stay topped off when there are no outlets to be found.

What about you guys – what do you always make sure you keep with you when you’re on the road or in the air?