Review : Skyroam and a month in Greece

Short and sweet

I don't recommend Skyroam for the following reasons:

  • 500mb high-speed daily data cap; limited to .025 Mbps after you hit your cap. This means very poor screen sharing, video chat, and even voice chat. 
  • Atrocious customer service. I bought a day pass and used 49 Mb of service and called to get a refund because the service was so bad and they said they couldn't provide a refund because I was "too close to my 50Mb limit for a refund" on my day pass. Too close to the limit.
  • Poor connectivity. In places where my TMobile phone would show full bars of LTE, the Skyroam would show a few bars of 3G. My suspicion here is that Skyroam has deals with providers who have less of a presence. I noted that TMobile was always connecting to Cosmote, which is clearly the dominant provider here in Greece, while Skyroam was attempting to connect to Vodafone which is a secondary provider with less coverage.
  • Mobile devices frequently dropping signal or being entirely unable to connect.

Recommendation

If fast connection is a requirement:

On my next trip to another country, I plan to research who the primary service provider is and purchase a 1-month cellular plan with them. I could simply purchase a sim card from the provider and install it in my iPhone (or one of my test devices). For much less money than buying a Skyroam and useless day passes I'd enjoy un-capped LTE internet speeds, unmetered local calling, and text messaging.

If low cost is a requirement:

If you live in the US, I'd recommend T-Mobile for traveling abroad. Unlimited (speed-capped) data service, unlimited texts and 25c per minute calling. Since my Skyroam offered lower quality service for $10 per day, and since good WiFi is hard to come by in Greece. I often found myself using my iPhone as a hotspot to stay connected while working.

 

Apple AirPods vs. Google Pixel Buds

Conclusion (tldr)

The Apple AirPods are my choice of the two due to overall comfort and ease of use. The sound quality is acceptable (good for Bluetooth), the pairing is seamless and they fit comfortably and snug in my ears.

Google Pixel Buds have good sound with richer bass than the AirPods. However, they are pretty uncomfortable, drop signal easier than the AirPods and can be a bit picky about pairing.

If you have sensitive ears do not buy the Pixel Buds. I could only wear them for about 45 minutes at a time when I first got them. I don't consider my ear canals to be small or overly sensitive.

Reason for buying

Feel free to skip ahead, the setup to this review is a wee bit long winded.

In October I purchased the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE. One of the great features it offered was the ability to stream Apple Music from my wrist, eliminating the need to bring my cell phone along with me while running or at the gym. At that time the only headphones I had were wired, which is not conducive to the Apple watch. So I began looking into Bluetooth headphones.

I considered the Apple AirPods initially but, to be honest, I don't find them visually pleasing. The weird posts hanging from them bothered me. I was also turned off by the hard looking surface of the AirPods, I've always bought headphones with those "gummy" ear-gels so they'd suction to the inside of my ear and isolate the sound better. The AirPods looks like they'd be somewhat uncomfortable. 

So I looked elsewhere for something more "low profile". During my research, I happened upon the Axum Gear website and I really liked the low profile design and gummy ear-gels. I placed an order on their website without knowing that this was an Indigogo project that had yet to ship. That wasn't very savvy of me. Long story short, I asked for a refund and they don't respond, so I'm just here waiting for them to ship. It's now January and they still haven't shipped, I'll update this post if they ever do.  

While I was waiting for Axum to fulfill my order, Google released the Google Pixel 2 and announced the Google Pixel Buds. Now, I'm not made of money but I had resolved to order the Google Pixel 2 in the Springtime of 2017. As a Xamarin software developer, I needed a decent Android device for testing and my girlfriend was in the market for a new phone. At the same time, I also pre-ordered the Google Pixel Buds since I was still in the market for headphones and these headphones promised to help with translation while traveling.

The end of November rolls around and still no Axum and no clue when the Pixel Buds will be released and I'm still carrying my phone with me to the gym and going music-less during my outdoor runs. First world problems, yes, I understand.

So I caved and bought the Apple AirPods. I figured I'd give my girlfriend the Pixel Buds if they ever shipped since she's using the Pixel 2 as her primary phone.

Alright, let's get to the review.

Bluetooth & Pairing

AirPods (5/5)

Upon unboxing of the Apple AirPods, I immediately saw the little button for pairing to my iPhone, so I pressed it and the AirPods paired immediately. Same deal with the watch. Pretty much immediately paired. I'd expect nothing less while connecting devices within Apple's own ecosystem. 

The real test is connecting the AirPods to the Pixel 2. I assumed there'd be a bit of a song and dance to get them to pair. But, no problems at all. Paired immediately.

Signal drop situations:

  • When walking in Chicago amongst crowds of people I will sometimes experience brief drops of the signal.
  • While at the gym I can leave my phone in the locker and remain connected while walking nearly across the entire building (roughly 75% of the way across the very large room). I'm unsure what type of wizardry is at play here.
  • Never drops while at home.

Pixel Buds (4/5)

I received my Pixel Buds while my girlfriend was away with the Pixel 2, so I decided to pair the Pixel Buds to my iPhone 7. I opened the fabric-style case and noticed the pairing button, I long-pressed the button and waited for my iPhone to find the Pixel Buds. I waited for a while and nothing. So I tried again... and again. I opened the instruction booklet and found that I was doing everything correctly. So I continued to try for a while before giving up. I was pretty confident that I would return them.

When my ladyfriend returned to the house later I gave her the Pixel Buds, I mean, they were kind of intended to be hers after all. Surprisingly she was able to get them to pair with the Pixel 2 pretty much immediately.

So I tried pairing to my iPhone again and they paired fine. Ok... Weird.

Since then I've had very little trouble pairing with my iPhone and Apple watch.

Signal drop situations:

  • When walking in Chicago amongst crowds of people I will frequently experience brief drops of the signal.
  • As with AirPods, at the gym, I can leave my phone in the locker and remain connected while walking nearly across the entire building. 
  • Drops at home if I traverse floors or if I am across the entire house.

Controls

AirPods (4/5)

The AirPods provide 1 customizable control per ear. You can choose one of the following functions to be performed on double-tap.

  • Siri
  • Play/Pause
  • Next Track
  • Previous Track

Now, it may seem somewhat limiting to only offer one function per ear, but I really don't require anything more than that. I actually just set my left and right side to Play/Pause on both sides since I usually just want to stop it when communicating with others. I have more granular control on my Apple Watch if need be.

Pixel Buds (3/5)

The Pixel Buds offer several functions per ear which is pretty nice but there is a caveat that I'll get to in a second. First the available controls:

  • Tap plays or pauses your media.
  • Swipe Forward turns the volume up.
  • Swipe Backward turns the volume down.
  • Long press for Google Assistant (with supported Android device)

Now for the caveat... well actually two. While swiping and long press work great, my taps are frequently not recognized. The second caveat drives me effen' crazy. When I'm done working out at the gym or just ready to take a break from my listening session, I'll often pause the audio to save my place in a podcast. But while removing the Pixel Buds from my ears and placing them back in their charging case I always... ALWAYS trigger the play button again. No matter how I handle them I can hear the audio begin to play again as I stuff them back in their case.  This NEVER happens with the AirPods.

Charge

The listening duration is pretty similar. Lasting about 2 hours and charges fully in about 20 minutes.

Sound Quality

Listen, we know Bluetooth quality has a way to go. So I'm rating these on a scale of 1 to "as-good-as-you-should-expect-from-bluetooth-headphones" (aka 5).

AirPods (4/5)

Of the Bluetooth headphones I've tried, the AirPods fair surprisingly well though unlike the Sennheiser HD1s, you can still hear a bit of Bluetooth compression. 

Pixel Buds (4/5)

Very comparable to the AirPods but with better bass. I also feel like the Bluetooth compression is a bit less noticeable. Overall, I do prefer the sound of the Pixel Buds over the AirPods. Again, the Sennheiser HD1s have better sound in the Bluetooth category.

Comfort & Fit

AirPods (5/5)

I really thought these hard-surfaced earbuds would be uncomfortable but they aren't. They fit perfectly and never hurt my ears regardless of the duration of my listening sessions or how many sessions.

I'd personally like to have earbuds with ear gels more, but that's not the product advertised, so no points lost here.

Pixel Buds (2/5)

So, this should be a deal breaker for those with sensitive ears. I'm not exaggerating These things are made with a rough and hard surface that seems too large for the average ear canal. I have tried dozens and dozens of earbuds in my life and have never had an issue with the size of the buds. During the first week, I could only wear the earbuds for 45 minutes a day. They hurt and left red marks on my ears. Again, if you have sensitive ears, I'd strongly recommend reconsidering this purchase.

I also have to point out that the cable that attaches the Pixel Buds is a bit annoying during a workout at the gym. It sticks to my neck and can tug on my ears if I lay on the bench the wrong way. I considered cutting these cables but a little bit of reading revealed that this cable is indeed a crucial wire, so don't count on cutting it.

Feel free to ask me any questions you might have about either pair of headphones in the comments below.