Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones – a great travel companion

The box of the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

The box of the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

I recently won a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones (QC20) at a conference.  Technically, most people would call these earbuds, so whatever you want to call them,  I’ve always known of the Bose name but I could never come to spending the money on their products.  However, since I got my pair free, I was excited to try them out.  Planes are noisy and I fly a lot.  I’ve considered buying noise cancelling headphones but was never sure if they were worth the money.  These ear buds have changed my mind.

If you have used inexpensive earbuds like me, you know how loud you have to turn up your music or movie when you are on the plane just to hear it.  I’m sure I have permanently damaged my hearing as a result from all of my flights.  With regular earbuds, I find that you are forced to push them into your ears just to hear the bass.  Not so with the QC20  Now, I’m no audiophile by any means, so I am looking at these strictly from a travel perspective.  To the rank audio amateur that I am these earbuds sound impressive.  You can have the volume down low and still hear a rich full sound with plenty of lows and highs.

Bose QC20 headphones with StayHere+ Tips

Bose QC20 headphones with StayHere+ Tips

Getting started

Bose QC20 Headphones

Bose QC20 Headphones

The QC20 is ready to go as soon as you unbox it.  Simply plug it into your tablet or phone and you are ready to go.  By default, they operate in aware mode.  This allows for some noise cancellation but you can still hear things around you.  This is good if you actually want to hear what the flight attendant is saying on the intercom.  Flip the noise cancellation on though using the control module and you can shut out the rest of the world.  I found that as long as you had music playing, you really couldn’t hear much around you.  The roar of the airplane is completely gone.  I did find that in between songs, you could hear a bit more around you.  I think that’s to be expected though.

Another problem I have with cheap earbuds is that they constantly fall out of my ears.  The QC20 features the Bose StayHear+ tips.  These tips have a gel curved hook that keeps the earbuds from falling out.  In all my use they have never fallen out.  There is almost a suction effect when you put them in that keeps them in place.  Bose recognizes that not everyone’s ear are the same, so they have included StayHear+ tips in small, medium, and large sizes.  The medium are pre-attached so you can start listening right away.

Know your QC20

The control module on the Bose QC20 allows you turn on noise cancelling mode.

The control module on the Bose QC20 allows you turn on noise cancelling mode.

If you are have never used noise cancelling headphones before, they are slightly different than a typical pair of earbuds.  Plugging them into your phone, laptop, or tablet is the same.  However, you will notice a small control module on the cord.  The control module serves the control to turn on noise cancelling mode as well as the battery that powers it.  It has indicators to indicate the battery state as well as whether noise cancelling is on or not.

The QC20 features an alligator clip which you can clip onto your shirt to keep the cord in place.  For men this works well with your button-up shirts.  Just above that is the inline control for the mic.  You can use this to mute the mic when you are on a call. Finally, the earbuds themselves look different than typical earbuds because of the StayHear+ clips attached.

Taking Phone Calls

The QC20 has a mic on it too which will let you take calls when attached to your phone.  There is an inline control on the wire that will let you mute and unmute as well.  I found that the sound quality on calls was good.  I also talked to my wife who was using her pair and I could hear her perfectly.

The inline control on the Bose QC20 allows you to mute the microphone when taking phone calls.

The inline control on the Bose QC20 allows you to mute the microphone when taking phone calls.

Inside the box

Inside the box, you will find the Bose QC20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones, a storage pouch, USB charging cable, small and large StayHear+ tips, and instructions.

Case for the Bose QC20 headphones.  The extra StayHear+ tips are also located inside.

Case for the Bose QC20 headphones. The extra StayHear+ tips are also located inside.

Battery Life

The battery life while in noise cancelling mode is rated at 16 hours.   The QC20 charges relatively quickly in about 2 hours.  I haven’t ran into a battery issue with mine yet.  The nice thing is that they still function if the battery dies because they just revert back to aware mode.  You just don’t get the full noise cancelling effect.  The indicator on the control module will blink to let you know when the battery is running low as well.

Traveling with the QC20

The QC20 is designed for travel in mind.  I recommend storing them in the travel pouch before putting them in your bag.  It’s easy for the control module or the clip to get hung up on other things and this will keep them safe.  If you like to listen to music while you are walking through the airport, using the QC20 in aware mode works well.  When you get a call, you can stop the music and answer your call easily and then go right back to your music when you are done. On the plane, they keep the noise out.  Once you turn on noise cancelling mode, you can turn out the world.  If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss the flight attendant coming by to offer you a drink.

While you are in flight, you’ll really notice the second you take one of the earbuds out of your ear how much noise they really block out.  I found that you could listen to music or watch videos and they perform great on the plane. When it comes to travel, I have been in the market for something better for a while.  Sure, I could have bought a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, but they are huge.  I simply don’t have the space in my bag nor do I want the added weight.  I’m sure they sound great, but I travel light.

Worth the money?

I think the lesson I have learned is that if you want headphones that sound good on a plane, you are going to have to pay a little.  At $299, the Bose QC20 comes with a steep price.  If I were to lose this pair, I would have trouble paying that much.  If you’re in the market for a good pair of earphones and were already considering a premium pair then I would definitely give these a try.  The reviews on Amazon are certainly good.

Is the Surface Pro 3 the ultimate travel device?

I’ve had my Surface Pro 3 for a few weeks now which has given me the opportunity to go on a few trips with it.  Is this device your best bet right now for traveling?  I certainly think it is a contender.  Today, we’ll look at how the device stacks up while you are in the air, in the cab, or on-site.

I am writing this on my Southwest flight today on the way to Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference.  Looking around, it’s obvious that most of the people around me are carrying two devices: a laptop to do work and a tablet to goof off with.  For most people, their tablet has little to no business value.  Over the years, I have had people talk to me on the plane or the airport bar and ask me about the Surface device I am using.  They all tell me the same thing.  They can’t get any work done on their iPad.  Now, I won’t say that no one can get work done because plenty of business have created applications to take advantage of it.  However, I find that it’s the exception not the rule.  I chose the Surface Pro 3 because I can get my daily job done on it while at the same time being able to use it for recreational use when I am traveling or sit around the house.  It does all of these things quite well.

When I first threw the Surface Pro 3 in my bag to go on a trip, I immediately noticed how much lighter my bag was.  By removing my Surface 2 and laptop, My bag is 4 – 5 pounds lighter.  My bag is so light I find myself double checking to make sure I put the device in there.  As I get older, every ounce counts in my backpack.  This device makes a huge difference.  Be sure and take a look at my complete Surface Pro 3 review to read more about the difference in weight.

Let’s take a look at the Surface Pro 3 and how you can use it throughout your trip.

At the airport

When you are grabbing dinner at the airport bar, the device does quite well.  However, it can be a bit distracting.  That’s because, people are going to interrupt you to ask you what your Surface Pro 3 is.  It happens to me nearly every time I sit down.  It works well though from the bar though.  You can easily finish up that proposal or send out a few more e-mails before you get on the flight using the Type Keyboard 3.  The only thing I don’t like about this keyboard is that it’s not spill proof.  If you’re type that spills your glass of wine a lot, I recommend using one of your old Touch Keyboards.  You can wipe off just about anything from them.

When you are sitting in one of the seats waiting for a flight, the Type Keyboard 3 works great with it’s new magnetic stabilizing feature.  Simply snap it to the bottom of your Surface Pro 3 and you’ll be able to type with the keyboard in your lap without any problems.

When I am standing in line waiting to board my flight, I usually detach the keyboard and grab the Surface Pen.  Holding the Surface in my left hand and the pen in my right, I can easily use the device while standing up.  I find using the pen is easier than just touching the screen with your fingers here.  It gives you the stability you need to click small links on a web page and just makes it easier to tap button in general.  It’s convenient for pulling up your mobile boarding pass too.  Oftentimes, I’ll hold the device like this even as I board the plane.

In flight

During boarding, I usually keep using the device as a tablet with my Surface Pen in hand.  I won’t get the keyboard out in case someone needs to get in the seat by the window.  After everyone has boarded, sometimes I will get the keyboard out if I need to respond to an e-mail or keep working on a document.  The device sits well on my lap and you can adjust the kick stand to any angle to find one that works for you.

Surface Pro 3 sitting on a tray table

Surface Pro 3 sitting on a tray table

One you are in flight and can put your tray table down, the device takes up a good portion of it.  If I want to use the keyboard, you will need to keep the kickstand at it’s shortest angle.  Otherwise you don’t have room for the keyboard or the device falls off the back.  The keyboard will hang off the front of the tray a little bit, but it’s still quite usable.

If you are just planning on playing a game or watching a movie then you can remove the keyboard and adjust the kickstand to any angle.  This makes it great to get the device at the perfect angle for you.  This is much better than those cheesy covers on iPads with the make-shift kickstand.  There really is no comparison.

Surface Pro 3 sitting on a tray table without keyboard attached

Surface Pro 3 sitting on a tray table without keyboard attached

When I am landing, I usually hold the device and use the Surface Pen again.  It just works well in that manner and I am usually tired of working by then any ways.  I’ll keep the device out of my bag and just carry it too if I have another flight to catch.

In the cab

As you may have seen in the commercial, the Surface Pro 3 works great in the cab as a tablet.  Just detach the keyboard and grab your Surface Pen.  This is great if you are looking up hotel information or reviewing last minute notes about your upcoming meeting.  I think the Surface Pro 3 commercial does an excellent job showing this.


Once you are on-site, you’ll have no trouble getting work done with your Surface Pro 3.  In the conference room, while your colleague is checking Facebook on his or her iPad.  You’ll be taking notes with OneNote, referencing documents, and conducting a whiteboarding session over Lync.  You’ll have all of the files you need with you too thanks to plenty of storage capacity and OneDrive.

After the meeting, you can go back to your desk and get your job done.  Whether you need to connect to the VPN or run Visual Studio 2013, the Surface Pro 3 gets it done.  If you have an external monitor,  you can connect it using the Mini DisplayPort too.  When the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station comes out, it will make connecting external devices even better too.  I got some hands on experience with one while I was at WPC.

Surface Pro 3 sitting in the docking station

It features a magnet to hold your Surface Pen on the left.  On the back it features two USB 3.0 ports and 2 USB 2.0 ports.  There is one more USB 3.0 port on the side too.

Back of Surface Pro 3 docking station

Back of Surface Pro 3 docking station

The docking station is a bit large though so you may want to leave it at the office.  It’s not out yet anyways, so in the meantime until it comes out, you can use a generic USB 3.0 docking station.  They work well with the Surface Pro 3 to connect additional peripherals.  They are usually a bit smaller too.  Although, the device only has one USB port, I find that it is more than enough for me most of the time.

At a conference

The Surface Pro 3 makes a great device at a conference.  You usually don’t have a table so that means you need something that can work while sitting in your lap or while you are holding it.  Luckily, you can use it to do both.  Using handwriting to take notes is a great option when you are sitting in a session.  If you are at WPC this week and took advantage of the Surface Pro 3 discount, I think you are going to be pleased with the device.


Is the Surface Pro 3, the best device for travel?  It’s the best one I have used to date.  I am happy to carry it around with me and I don’t miss my laptop for a second.  Is it the best device for you?  Only you can decide.  What are your experiences with the device?  If you want to know more about the Surface Pro 3, be sure and check out my product review.

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