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.

Element by Westin – North Chelmsford, MA @ElementNChelms

It’s no secret that I am an unapologetic Marriott fanboy. When you are on the road three or four weeks, having a consistently great experience at your home-away-from home goes a long way.

While visiting Massachusetts in December, I had the opportunity to stay at the Element which recently opened there. This is actually also the first opportunity I’ve had to stay at an Element hotel, so I was excited for the new experience.

The Room

As an extended-stay property, the rooms come equipped with a kitchenette (including a cook-top as well as dishwasher!), dedicated living area, and smart-TVs in both the bedroom and living area. Icing on the cake: both rooms have double-layered blackout curtains! The bed was reminiscent of those at Westin properties which was a very nice surprise (I love those beds so much I actually purchased a mattress from the Westin store).

The smart-TVs are personalized for your stay and allow you to access your streaming services while on the road (with a handy “clear all credentials” option when you’re ready to check out).

Common Areas

As you enter the hotel, there is a spacious public area as well as market-place and bar. Breakfast is served here daily (hours varying depending on weekday vs. weekend), and when you opt for the make-a-green-choice program you are able to use the $5 credit towards marketplace purchases.

The Gym

Now for the part that really blew me away… the gym. A handful of cardio equipment, as is standard with hotel fitness centers, but this time it is augmented by a full set of free-weights as well as leg-press and pull-down machines! Better still…¬†two benches.

Overall I had an excellent stay. Though there were a couple of hiccups, the staff was extremely responsive and worked to get everything resolved quickly. I’m certainly looking forward to future opportunities to stay at Element properties!

New @WestJet Premium Hard Product

On one of my recent jaunts from Toronto to New York, I was able to experience one of WestJet’s freshly refitted 737 cabins. These cabins have a much cleaner look compared to the traditional premium cabin (3 seats with the middle blocked off).

Not only are the seats more comfortable, but they are wider since there are only two seats. No more worrying about tipping over the spacer that turns the middle-seat into a shared table! Add to that a universal plug as well as a USB charger and ample leg-room (without entertainment boxes taking up space), you don’t have to worry about your carry-on fitting.

A Holiday Surprise from @MarriottBonvoy ‘s Ambassador Team

Just in time for (American) Thanksgiving, the Bonvoy Ambassador Team sent an incredibly thoughtful and practical gift! An extremely well-constructed cheese-board, with a little nook to hold the various utensils.

Thanks, folks! Fear not, this will see a great deal of use!

 

 

@WestJet: Stepping Up the Snack Game

On one of my recent flights out of Toronto I was presented with the opportunity to pay a nominal fee ($40 CAD) to upgrade to their Premium cabin. Having flown in that cabin in the past, I had a rough idea of what to expect… or so I thought.

Wine List

Shortly after being seated, we were presented with a list of wines available on today’s flight: something completely new for such a short flight (YYZ-LGA). From what I gathered from those seated around me, all the wines offered were excellent for flying (for those not aware, the pressurized cabin does affect the way things taste). It is clear that WestJet put quite a lot of thought into selecting them.

After making selections, we were surprised with not only the traditional “MadeGood” bars (they are to WestJet as Biscoff cookies are to Delta, and Stroopwafel are to United… …well, were.) but also a fairly large snack box.

While the caramel butter popcorn wasn’t really my thing, the cashews and dark chocolate were excellent. Overall, this was quite a nice surprise as I went into the flight expecting just a granola bar and glass of wine.

If you have the chance to buy an upgrade while flying WestJet, it’s definitely worth considering!

A Delightful Surprise from @MarriottBonvoy

Over the last few years I’ve been staying predominantly at Starwood and Marriott properties, so my feelings with their merger was in line with that of many business travelers: a great deal of concern. Though many of my concerns were addressed with various PR releases both before and after the merger, I was a bit perplexed when the rewards program changed from “Marriott Rewards” to “Marriott Bonvoy”. At any rate – this post isn’t about the rewards program (which really hasn’t changed other than in name), but a fun package that I received over the weekend!

Thanks, Marriott! That was a really nice surprise to receive, and the pens are really nice!