Apple AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

A pair of Bose QC35 II’s used to be my “go everywhere” noise cancelling headphones. Keywords: “used to be.” I wore them to coffee shops when I needed to get out of the house to write. I wore them on airplanes. I occasionally even wore them in the house when I wanted to watch a movie without disturbing the rest of my family.

But…

I’ve been really impressed with the Apple AirPods Pro. I don’t have any hard data comparing the noise cancelling effectiveness of the two, but the AirPods are so good to my ears — and so small and convenient — that I now leave the Bose headphones at home.

How could a pair of earbuds be as solid as high-end over-the-ear headphones at noise cancelling? Turns out the answer is pretty simple: The fitted earpieces of the AirPods effectively turn them into ear plugs, so that does a fair amount of the work. And Apple knows what they’re doing when it comes to signal processing, design, and microphone placement, so the quality of the sound, the comfort wearing them, and the general usability are all pretty high.

I haven’t flown on a plane yet since I got the AirPods Pro, but I’ve used both the AirPods Pro and Bose headphones around town, trying them out in the same environments — including while holding a screaming two month old baby. (Don’t worry, it was my own screaming two month old baby.) The AirPods Pro actually seemed to do better at the crying baby test than the Bose headphones. What more do you need to know?

Stem Wear

I like the new Apple AirPods Pro. My old AirPods (purchased the day they came out) were getting a little long in the Bluetooth, so the upgrade was an easy decision. The AirPods Pro might be for you, too, if you are…

…in the market for a pair of Bluetooth earbuds and were already planning to spend $200 for the original AirPods with wireless charging case.

…someone who wanted a pair of the original AirPods, but you tried them and they didn’t fit your ear well.

…a music fan who really likes to feel their music’s bass in their eardrums.

…someone who always wanted a pair of AirPods, but were turned off by the look of the long white stems.

Original on the left. Pro on the right.

And they are NOT for you if you recently bought a pair of AirPods but they’re outside of the return window. If that’s you, and you don’t desperately need noise cancelling, then don’t fret not having the Pro model. Be happy with your AirPods knowing you saved some bucks. You’ll have another chance to upgrade when you lose them in two months.

Turn any headphones into bluetooth wireless headphones for $20

There are few things as unpleasant in life as getting a headphone cable snagged on a doorknob. Or the corner of a table. Or the watch of a total stranger passing me on the sidewalk.  Because the cable runs the length of my body, from the earbuds on my head to the phone in my pants pocket, it’s way too easy for it to get caught on just about anything, and it’s a truly jarring experience every time it happens.

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A little something I wrote for Digital Trends…

It looks like I now have a weekly column at Digital Trends, and my first post is all about the (unspoken) connection between cable channel bundling and show quality. The more click-baity headline would be something like “How à la carte cable is going to destroy the golden age of television,” so I’m very happy they went with something far less incendiary.

If you have any ideas for media-related topics I can address in the future, let me know!

How to transfer all your podcast subscriptions from one app to another (the easy way)

Speaking of podcasts, let’s say you’ve gotten a brand new podcast-playing app for your iOS or Android device.  If only there were an easy way to get the new app to know what podcasts you were already subscribed to…  Wait, there is!  If you’ve been using a third-party podcast app like Pocket Casts, Instacast, Downcast, etc., there’s a good chance it’ll allow you export all your current subscriptions into a single file you can then import into your new app.  (Note: Apple’s default Podcasts app, sadly, does not allow this.)

Look in the settings of your current/old app for the option to “export to OPML.”  (If you must know, OPML is a file format that works well with RSS feeds, which are the heart of podcast subscriptions… but don’t worry about the specifics, you won’t be tested on this.)

In Pocket Casts, for example, the option can be found in SETTINGS > SYNC & BACKUP > EXPORT.  The Export window looks like this:

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Just enter an email address you can check on your iPhone or iPad, and it’ll send the OPML file as an attachment to that address.  Open the message on your device, click on the attachment, and then use the “send to” feature (the little box with an arrow pointing up) to send the list to your new podcasting app.  On an android device, you might need to first save the file to your phone’s internal storage, then open it in the new app.

Downcast for iOS makes things a little easier.  Click on the “More” button at the bottom of the home screen, then click on “Tools.”  Select “Export Feeds to OPML” and you’ll see the option to send the file directly to a different application, no email required (unless you really want to use email).

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Overcast makes things even simpler.  In Settings, click on “Export OPML” and a list of compatible apps will automatically come up.

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Pretty cool how Overcast will even recommend other apps you might like if Overcast isn’t your deal. (And I’m guessing all those apps use OPML.)

If you’ve been using iTunes to subscribe to Podcasts, you’re in luck.  Control-click on the “Podcasts” item in your sidebar (if the sidebar isn’t visible, you can unhide it from the View menu), and an “Export” button will appear.  Select OPML as your file format and email it to your device.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 11.01.03 PM

A cursory internet search reveals that a lot of popular podcast apps support OPML, so if you’re switching apps and you’ve got A LOT of subscriptions to re-subscribe to, do take advantage of this convenience.  Note:  This method will inform the new program what podcasts you’ve been subscribed to, but it won’t transfer other metadata, like which episodes you’ve already listened to/downloaded.

And if you’re really, really curious what exactly an OPML file looks like when you open it, here it is:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.21.58 PMSee, I told you it wasn’t that interesting.

 

Pocket Casts vs. Downcasts: Which is the superior podcast app?

I’ve been using Pocket Casts as my main podcast-listening app since the beginning of the year. (You can read my original review here.) The main advantage Pocket Casts has over Apple’s own podcast app?  Greater ability to organize podcasts.  For example, I like having a listview of only podcast episodes that have been both downloaded (i.e. not-to-be-streamed) and are unplayed.  Pocket Cast can do that.  Apple’s podcasting app can’t.

IMG_0684Pocket Casts does have one annoying quirk, though. The app’s filters are a great way to view your preferred podcasts, but they lack “continuous play” (i.e. when one podcast ends, the next one on the list automatically begins).  To get that, you have to manually add episodes to a separate playlist.  It would be better if filters and playlists were the same thing.

(Note: The app does offer a couple other ways to “build a queue,” but none of them are ideal solutions.)

This might not seem like a big deal, but I hate it when I’m driving and the podcast I’m listening to ends, only to be followed by dead silence.  The last thing I want to do while behind the wheel of a car is mess with my iPhone.  It might not happen often since the average podcast is about an hour long, but it happens enough that I figured it’s time to give another app a chance.

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That app:  Downcast.  Let’s take a look at how it compares to Pocket Casts.

Like Pocket Casts, Downcast has a little red icon with two curved lines.
Like Pocket Casts, Downcast currently costs $2.99.
Like Pocket Casts, Downcast is extremely customizable when it comes to automatically filtering out (or in) podcast episodes.
Unlike Pocket Casts?  Downcast does its filtering right in playlists.

Downcast must be my new default podcast player, right?  Not so fast.  Let’s look at them side-by-side.

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DirecTV just rolled out a new feature for tracking your favorite sports team, but is it any good? (Not really.)

I live in Los Angeles, city of transplants.  Not heart transplants or face transplants, but whole people transplants.  Somehow I managed to marry a local, but everyone else I know out here seems to hail from somewhere else.  As such, we all root for teams that are way out-of-market, and watching out-of-market games isn’t cheap.

As of this writing, DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package costs at least $240 ($330 for the version that includes web & mobile access).  Adding the MLB Extra Innings package costs $200, same as the NBA’s League Pass.  If you’ve got the money to spend and really think you’ll wind up watching a high percentage of games, they can be worth it.  For most people, though, they are overkill.

Another option — a Slingbox.  In theory, a single Slingbox can solve all your out-of-market challenges.  Just hook it up to a cable box in your hometown, and wherever you are in the world, you can watch all the local coverage of your favorite teams.  In practice, though, it’s not an ideal solution.  The boxes themselves run from $180 to $300, and — chances are — you’ll need the more expensive option because the cheaper model doesn’t include wifi (i.e. it needs to be physically situated not just near a cable box, but also your home’s internet router).  “Slinging” the content to mobile devices is easy (though the smartphone and tablet apps cost an additional $15 each), and watching on the web is free, but it’s difficult to get the high quality content to a TV set.  Whenever I use Airplay to mirror the iPad app to my living room TV, the video quality always takes a hit. Also: if you’re using Slingbox to watch a program remotely, then whoever is at home looking at that TV has to watch the same thing.  (And don’t forget, this is all contingent on you having family or a friend in your hometown willing to let you hijack their cable box at will.)

Really, I’m just happy watching my favorite teams the few times a season they show up on local TV.   As a Tampa Bay Rays fan, between the nationally televised games that ESPN, Fox, and the MLB network air, not to mention all the times the Rays play the LA Angels, I can easily watch well over a dozen games a year without having to spend any additional money.  For football, I can watch the Bucs at least 3 or 4 times a season the same way.  Hockey is tougher because my DirecTV package doesn’t include the NBC Sports channel, which has the rights to most of the games.  (Thank goodness Tampa doesn’t have a basketball team, as that’s one less sport to worry about.)

The hard part –> Knowing in advance when games will be airing locally.  Using a “keyword” search on a DVR (i.e. looking for any programs with the words “Tampa Bay Rays” or “Buccaneers”) is inexact.  You wind up getting a list that includes non-games, repeats of games, and lots of games on channels you don’t subscribe to.  Websites that specialize in channel listings weren’t much help either.  Ideally, I wanted a site that would email me whenever a channel I get shows a game with a team I want to watch.  Though many sites offered email reminders and customizable channel listings, I couldn’t find a site that offered both the way I need them.  I then turned to an app called IFTTT — which stands for “If This, Then That.”  It’s an amazing app that ties different services together in incredibly useful ways.  You can program it so if that anytime “A” happens in one app (or service), then “B” will automatically happen in another.  “If” a Rays game showed up on a local channel, “then” I wanted an email reminder and/or it to set my DVR.  This, too, turned out to be a dead end, thanks to inadequate TV listing apps and services.

Then, last night, I turned on my TV and I saw this message from DirecTV:

DirecTV Sports

It’s a new update for DirecTV Genie users specifically to help them track their favorite teams. Sounds great, right?  Well… Let’s check it out.  I followed the above messages instructions and navigated over to Sports.

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Once there, I navigated over to “My Teams” and added the Rays as a favorite.

449A5633Then I selected the “Team Page” of the Rays. 449A5634And from the Team Page, I was able to set recording options.  Note: Because of DirecTV’s obtuse menu system, this is so far taking twice as long as it should.

449A5636As you can see, it very clearly says it’ll record on my subscribed channels. Perfect.  I set it to automatically record the Rays whenever they show up on any channel I get (which should be soon, since the Rays play the Angels this weekend, and I definitely get that channel).  Now let’s navigate over to “upcoming games” and see what it plans to record…

449A5638Wow, that’s a lot of games over the next week.  Too many in fact.  All that should be listed is the upcoming Rays @ Angels series.  I’m also seeing Rays @ Seattle (which is on a channel I don’t subscribe to), A’s @ Rays (also on a channel I don’t subscribe to), and Red Sox @ Rays (again, on a channe to whichl I don’t subscribe).  Even the Rays/Angels games, which are shown locally on Fox Sports West are set to record on the wrong channel (Sun Sports, a channel I don’t get).  In other words, if I trusted this new feature to do as promised, it would record absolutely nothing.  All it weeded out was the “MLB Extra Innings” premium broadcasts. That’s it.

So much for this new “smart” search feature.  It’s just as dumb as ever.  If you subscribe to every channel, though, I suppose it’ll work as advertised, but if you don’t, it’ll just frustrate you with its wasted potential.

Back to a combination of Slingbox and manually checking the Rays upcoming schedule and matching it to local TV listings.  It’s not perfect, but it’s better than relying on DirecTV’s heinously flawed feature.