Holiday Gift Guide for Techies

In the 124th episode, David and Donna are joined by writer and producer Cullen Thomas to go over all of the best gear from iPhone Life's annual buyer's guide, from headphones to video doorbells. Other topics include the AirPods Pro and tips for checking the charging status of Bluetooth devices connected to your iPhone.

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This episode was brought to you by the amazing calendar and reminders app Informant 5, as well as the rugged casemaker, RokForm. You need to keep your iPhone 11 or 11 Pro safe, and you also need the versatility to mount, hang, and view your iPhone anywhere. Rokform cases come with a built-in magnetic attraction that won’t damage electronics or other everyday items like credit cards that are sensitive to magnets. Attach your Rugged Case to the fridge and use your iPhone as a recipe book without worrying about messy ingredients smudging your display. Use the included adjustable car vent mount to navigate to your destination when driving, knowing your iPhone will be safe from any sudden jolts. 

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Question of the week:

Have you bought or are you interest in the AirPods Pro? Why or why not? Email your answers to

Gear referred to in this episode:



iPad Pro Accessories:

Smart Home:

Useful links:

Transcript of episode 124:

Donna Cleveland:          Hi, and welcome to the iPhone Life Podcast. I'm Donna Cleveland, editor in chief at iPhone Life.

David Averbach:            I'm David Averbach, CEO and publisher.

Cullen Thomas:             I'm Cullen Thomas, writer and producer at iPhone Life.

Donna Cleveland:          We're excited to have Cullen on the show for the first time today. He's been at iPhone Life for a while, but he's not been on the podcast before, so welcome Cullen.

Cullen Thomas:             Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. It's actually pretty fun.

David Averbach:            For those of you who have taken our classes, Cullen helps us with the classes, but he's often behind the scenes so it's a nice skin in front of the camera

Donna Cleveland:          Today we're talking about our buyer's guide. We have an annual buyer's guide we do every year, where we give recommendations for products across all of the categories of iPhone and iPad related gear that you might want to buy, and Cullen wrote our headphones roundup this year.

Donna Cleveland:          He tested a lot of products, so he'll be sharing headphone recommendations. We also have lots of other recommendations including smart home products, cases, photography, gear, fitness gear, all of that. So stick around and we'll get into that soon. First we have a message from our sponsor.

David Averbach:            Yeah, today's sponsor is, let me just check my notes real quick, is Fanatic. For those of you, they've been a long time sponsor, so you've been listening to the podcast, you've heard me profess my love for the Pocket Informant app. Basically, we'd like to call it the Calendar app Apple should have made. The reason for that is because there's this weird confusion in Apple's apps where you have reminders and you have calendars, and you have to figure out, are you scheduling something or are you reminding yourself of something?

David Averbach:            What Pocket Informant has done is that they've combined the reminders and the C alendar app into one app. It's both makes the app really powerful, but they've done an excellent job making also really easy to use. They also have a lot of really convenient views for like viewing your month, viewing your week. They have dark mode now, which is really nice.

David Averbach:            Finally, it syncs across all of your platforms. On Mac, on your iPhone, if you're a PC user, that's particularly nice because you can use it on PC. Make sure you check it out. It's free to download, free to try. They have a premium service as well for 299 a month.

Donna Cleveland:          We also want to tell you about our daily tips newsletter. It's our free service that I highly recommend you signing up for, if you haven't already. If you go to, you can sign up there. Our daily tip newsletter sends you one thing that you can do with your iPhone that you can learn in one minute a day. It's really easy to use and before you know it, you'll have a lot of knowledge about your iPhone and can help all of your friends.

Donna Cleveland:          So go to to sign up. Now we want to tell you about our favorite tip this week. I have AirPods, I believe Cullen and David do too.

David Averbach:            I do. Do you Cullen?

Cullen Thomas:             No, I don't.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, I forgot. [crosstalk 00:02:59].

David Averbach:            Person over here. [crosstalk 00:03:01].

Donna Cleveland:          And he has chosen not to get them. He has another favorite that, another pair of headphones he likes better.

Cullen Thomas:             When we'll get to that [inaudible 00:03:09].

David Averbach:            You will, let's find about that later.

Donna Cleveland:          Stick around out for that. But anyways, David and I love our AirPods. We don't have the AirPods pro, although we'll talk about that also in the Buyer's Guide. But anyways, you can check the charging status of your AirPods really easily, more easily than with other AirPods, Cullen. So this tip is how to do that. It's not always that intuitive because the AirPods, they don't really have any buttons or anything on them.

Donna Cleveland:          It's hard to know where to start if you get them. But basically, all you have to do is open your AirPods case within Bluetooth range of your phone and a little pop up screen will show up on your screen. That will tell you that charging status, not only of the charging case but also of each Airpod because that's an interesting thing. Sometimes one Airpod will be drained more than the other if you've been listening with just one, because that's an option.

David Averbach:            Do you do that? I've never once listened to with just one.

Donna Cleveland:          I have now done it on purpose. I feel like occasionally, I've taken one out when someone comes into my office, and then it'll still play. Anyways, but I usually listen with both. But there are other ways to check your status too. You can ask Siri what the status of your AirPods and you can also add a widget to your today view. You do that by swiping left to right from your home screen, scrolling down top edit at the bottom of your today view.

Donna Cleveland:          From there you can add in a battery widget and it shows the battery status of different Bluetooth connected devices, and also have all of your Apple devices.

David Averbach:            I feel like this tip is a perfect example of like Cullen's wrong and we're right, because Apple just has such an advantage over every other person making headphones and that they can build it into the operating system. I love this feature, by the way. I don't know about you-

Donna Cleveland:          Me too.

David Averbach:            ... but I love flipping open my headphone case and seeing the battery. It's so convenient. I also have the widget. I have not asked Siri, so that's a new one for me.

Cullen Thomas:             I haven't asked Siri either, but I'm going to blow your earbuds here because it works with third-party headphones [crosstalk 00:05:15]. You can even with, not with every because the manufacturer has to implement it, but with most true wireless earbuds and with many headsets, if it's connected by Bluetooth, you'll see it in your batteries widget. It's battery level in your batteries widget.

Donna Cleveland:          That is one thing to mention with the battery widget. Right now my AirPods are in the office, but they must not be paired, so it's not showing me them.

Cullen Thomas:             You're just a little too far away for them to pick up the Bluetooth signal. My headphones are in the other room too, so you won't see it on my screen but it works.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. I wish it always showed it.

David Averbach:            Yeah. I do too.

Donna Cleveland:          It still's very useful.

David Averbach:            One other tip, especially if you're like Cullen and you're using a third-party headphones, on the [crosstalk 00:06:03]-

Cullen Thomas:             There are a lot of gray there.

David Averbach:            Yeah. Cullen will now tell you about his favorite Bluetooth headphones. On the top right corner when you are sinked with a Bluetooth headphone, it shows a little Bluetooth icon. I'm pretty sure you now have to swipe down to see it, but there in that icon will tell you the battery life of your Bluetooth headphones so that's a nice other place to look. The top right corner where it shows you that you're connected to headphones. I think it's for all Bluetooth headphones, but at least most of them, it gives you a little battery gauge of how much battery is left on the Bluetooth headphones.

Cullen Thomas:             That's really cool.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. The bonus tip.

Cullen Thomas:             I didn't know about that.

Donna Cleveland:          Next I want to tell you about our insider program. We have a premium educational service called iPhone Life Insider. And this is our premium service that teaches you basically everything that you can do with your Apple devices, with your iPhone and iPad and other mobile Apple devices. We have in depth video guides that teach you for instance, how to use iOS 13 or start teaches you from scratch how to use your iPhone or iPad.

Donna Cleveland:          We also have our full archive of iPhone Life Magazine. So you get access to more than 38 back issues of iPhone life and you get each new issue of iPhone Life delivered straight to your iPhone or iPad. We also have daily video tips. So we give you a video version of those daily tips I was telling you about, and it teaches you cool things you can do with your phone in a minute a day. We also have an ask an editor service where you can ask us your tech related problems and we'll help you find solutions.

David Averbach:            We're here to help.

Donna Cleveland:          And we also have an ad free version of this podcast and exclusive content just for insiders.

David Averbach:            And we've got a really good exclusive content this episode, in case you're on the fence, we're going to talk about the new streaming services. So Disney+ and Apple TV+. So stay tuned if you're an insider, if you're not, go subscribe, so you can hear that section.

Donna Cleveland:          Yes.

David Averbach:            And so what's the special URL?

Donna Cleveland:          We have a special discount for our podcast listeners. It's $5 off. If you go to discount. Again, that's discounts. Cullen today is going to tell us a question that one of our premium subscribers of insider has asked and how he's helped assist them because Cullen's been taking on some of these questions lately.

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah, Sarah brought me in to answer her, Hey Sarah column question. So pretend I'm Sarah. I'm working on changing my name. Tom asked, "My question for you is that my iPhone ringtones, which worked great just for two days disappeared as soon as I activated my Apple watch. Now I can get the vibrate and a set of high pitch tones from the watch. But the watch seems to have the capability to play music on the Apple but not ringtones."

Cullen Thomas:             "I've searched the internet and there have been a lot of customer comments going back to previous Apple watch versions, but I could not find my solution or a specific answer. Thank you for your knowledge in iPhone Life Magazine." Tom.

David Averbach:            You're welcome, Tom.

Cullen Thomas:             You're welcome Tom. And here is my answer. When I first got my Apple Watch and I have the original first generation Apple Watch, original gangster some of my Apple Watch-

David Averbach:            I was on that. I just upgraded. I do recommend upgrading because-

Cullen Thomas:             I'm looking forward too.

David Averbach:            It's hard out there for original gangsters.

Cullen Thomas:             These Apple Watches, they're cooler than I thought they-

David Averbach:            They're really cool.

Cullen Thomas:             ... that I Plug it. I wasn't really expecting how much I would love it. When I first got my Apple Watch, this exact question really flummoxed me. I was like, "Why does it not?" It can play speakerphone sounds but it won't play music. So looking into it a little bit it, you cannot do a custom ringtone on your Apple Watch, but you can route your ringtones back to your phone.

Cullen Thomas:             So if your watch, if for whatever reason when you first turn on your watch and it seems like your phone has suddenly fallen silent and you're getting all your notifications on your watch, the reason is there's a slightly arcane set of rules for where the notifications are routed normally.

Cullen Thomas:             So I'm going to tell you what those rules are. If your iPhone is unlocked, then you will get your notifications on your iPhone. If your iPhone is locked or asleep, then you will get your notifications on your watch unless the watch is locked. And if you've got risk detection on with your watch then it won't be locked when it's on your wrist, even if the screen is off. And if you're enable do not disturb on your watch, the notifications will go back to your iPhone. So if you're confused about where your notifications are going, like why is my phone-

Donna Cleveland:          Why would anyone be confused about that? [crosstalk 00:10:45]. It's so clear.

Cullen Thomas:             I would never have known that, if I hadn't found it on the Apple website.

David Averbach:            It's funny because I feel like I had over the years have had my watch for a few years now did deuce. That's what was happening. Because it is intuitive. If you're actually in daily use, if you have your phone open and you're using it, a notification pops up on your phone. If your phone is not open in front of you, it pops up on your watch. That's basically what they're saying.

Donna Cleveland:          Apple like in general tries to send you notifications to the device it thinks you're using.

Cullen Thomas:             Right.

Donna Cleveland:          So that makes sense.

Cullen Thomas:             And if your phone is locked, then they assume you're not using it and the notification goes to your watch, but that means that when the phone rings, you don't get your custom ring tone, you just hear your watch going, ping, ping, ping. So if you want your custom ring tone back, the easiest way to do that is to just set your watch to do not disturb and leave it that way.

David Averbach:            But then you don't get all the notifications on your watch, which is such a nice valuable part of a watch.

Donna Cleveland:          It is. Well, it depends-

Cullen Thomas:             I mean, I guess.

Donna Cleveland:          ... on who you are as David really likes that. One of the reasons I don't always want to wear my Apple Watch is I feel like that's a little disruptive-

David Averbach:            Oh, really?

Donna Cleveland:          ... for me.

David Averbach:            Oh, wow.

Donna Cleveland:          I like tuning out notifications sometimes. I like the Apple Watch the most for fitness tracking.

David Averbach:            I definitely finished tracking screens.

Cullen Thomas:             I've my data site here. I like the notifications on the watch sometimes, but most of the time I would rather see them in bulk when I decided to take the time to look for them [crosstalk 00:12:05].

Donna Cleveland:          I'm the same.

Cullen Thomas:             I have a moment now to catch up on whatever by watch, by phone as, but try to tell me.

Donna Cleveland:          We like the batch process [crosstalk 00:12:11].

David Averbach:            Yeah. I'm all about lean processing. I think for me it's that you guys just must be less OCD than I am because [crosstalk 00:12:20]. I end up checking my phone at least in this particular way. I ended up checking my phone very regularly to see if I got notifications, if I don't have my watch on. Whereas if I have my watch on and my notifications are going through my watch.

David Averbach:            I'm much less likely to go on my phone, get distracted on Facebook or social media. I'm much less likely to be a little bit OCD about checking and I just trust that they'll come through my watch. So I like it because it's a little bit more of a passive way to view my notifications and I'm not as disrupted.

Donna Cleveland:          You're not sucked into the rabbit hole of your phone. That does happen to me constantly where I'd go to my phone, I'm like, "Oh I need to set a reminder for this thing." And then like, 10 minutes later I'm on Facebook and I'm like, "What the hell?"

Cullen Thomas:             Or reading about suspension bridges on Wikipedia, I'm like, "How did I get here?"

David Averbach:            Yeah. I will say, though.

Donna Cleveland:          Apple watches do help with that. I think-

David Averbach:            The one thing about notifications on my watch that it's really, I don't like is there's I've complained about this in the past of the podcast, but there's a pretty universal signal if you're staring at your watch that like you are not interested in what's going on in front of you. Either you're running late, you have to go, you're bored. Where somehow that didn't in my opinion translate to a phone, like if I'm sitting there talking to somebody and I go like that, it's pretty clear that I got a notification, I'm checking it.

David Averbach:            And so it happens to me a lot, especially with people who may not be Apple Watch users where I'll get a text message. I think I'm being polite by just glancing my watch and going right back to the conversation< and they're like, "Oh, are you running late? Do you have to go somewhere? What's going on?"

Cullen Thomas:             Why are you so worried about what time it is?

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            And especially if I'm on like a group text message thread where it just keeps popping up and I can't not look at it. And I find myself preemptively explaining it sometimes where I'm like, "I'm sorry, I'm getting notifications on my watch. I'm not bored."

Donna Cleveland:          It's true. That I would just say, if there's a very specific feeling, if someone looks at their watch where you're like, "Oh, you don't have time for me. Okay. Cool."

David Averbach:            Weirdly doesn't translate to your phone even though people check their phone for the time.

Donna Cleveland:          People and where you see people being addicted to their phones.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Cullen Thomas:             It's like the Midwestern size slot. Well, we're ready to go. It's like the symbol for, I'm in a hurry, I will have to live [crosstalk 00:14:32].

Donna Cleveland:          I know. I know Midwestern guys [crosstalk 00:14:35].

Cullen Thomas:             I didn't know if it's the end of the conversation people go, well and then that's it. That's the end of the conversation.

David Averbach:            I love people of Midwestern things.

Donna Cleveland:          Okay, we have a second sponsor, this episode Rock Form that David's going to tell you about.

David Averbach:            Bringing us back Donna from the weeds. Rockform is, we're about to talk about holidays and different gifts in there and really excellent case manufacturer. I'm going to tell you about their crystal case. It's only $40 so it's really affordable. Is military grade protection. And the other thing that I love about it, it's still slim. So it's slim and affordable and good protection. Those are the magic three you're looking for.

David Averbach:            What Rockform specializes in is mounting solution. So it has magnetic mounting and you can mount it to any magnetic surface. So any metal service you can mount it to it. So it's a really excellent case. It's particularly good if you want to do biking or if you want to mount to your dash or something like that. So make sure you check it out at or we'll link to it in our show notes at

Donna Cleveland:          Thanks David. And now we're going to get into our holiday Buyer's Guide recommendations. I'm just pulling up our issue because we right now our current iPhone Life Magazine issue that's on newsstands is our holiday Buyer's Guide. So we're going to be referring to that throughout this special section of [crosstalk 00:16:00].

David Averbach:            Sorry. If you're an insider, make sure you check out, you get a free digital subscription to this magazine, so make sure you check it out. I'm sure we emailed you about it but as a reminder, go check it out. You can see it in your iPhone Life portal or you can download, we have an iPhone Life app and you can subscribe that way as well.

Donna Cleveland:          Yes, I wrote the cases roundup, so I'll get us started with that. My favorite case that I featured in this article was by Case Lee. They just came out with a monthly subscription for iPhone cases, and I just thought that was a fun creative idea. I do like to switch it up with my cases. I think it's a fun way to show some personality to have different styles.

Donna Cleveland:          I tend to go with more patterned options and Case Lee has some really fun ones. It's $15 a month, and I think if you are going for a bigger gift for someone getting them either a year or a few months of Case Lee is a fun idea. They also have three different levels. You can get a slim profile the medium one and then they also have a battery case option, which I don't personally love battery cases.

Donna Cleveland:          I would rather carry around an external charger and attach that when I would like to instead of just having a bulky case on all the time, when also I do have the iPhone 11 Pro, and so I already have pretty good battery life. So anyways, if you have an older phone I can see why you might want a battery case, but it's not my first choice.

Donna Cleveland:          Other cases featured is the Nomad Case that David actually has on his phone right now.

David Averbach:            You're watching the video version.

Donna Cleveland:          It is a leather case.

David Averbach:            Swaggy.

Donna Cleveland:          This one's aging really well, you don't even see any scuffs on it, but in general Nomad they go for that. The fact that over time it's just going to look better because it'll have that patina and it's chill.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And I've been really happy with this case. It's a nice combination of like... with a leather case, I would have been concerned that it would have been not very protective but it is still protective, but it looks a little bit swankier than a normal case and I agree it's aging pretty well.

David Averbach:            And like you were saying, even as it starts to get a little distressed, I like that look for leather and so that's nice. I've been happy with it. I will say as people in office know, I dropped my phone constantly. So I'm a really good tester of phone cases and my phone is intact so that's good.

Donna Cleveland:          And I believe with that David right now has just the plain rugged case in that I think was 4995 the one I featured in the Buyer's Guide is the Folio Case, so it folds over the front and has room for credit cards and also protects the cover of your phone. I mean the display of your phone, and that was $80. So with the leather you are paying more of a premium. I have a couple other case recommendations. The OtterBox Statement Series is one that David tested for me.

David Averbach:            Again, tested it really thoroughly.

Donna Cleveland:          Yes, it has cool box. So you can see the nice Apple logo and design, which is nice. It also is pretty slim for an OtterBox Case. They tend to have bulkier cases. It's 3995. I'm going to be linking in the podcast notes to all of these products so you don't have to remember them here. If you go to I will have a list of these products mentioned.

David Averbach:            What I liked about this one, by the way, you already got to some of it. I don't tend to love OtterBox cases because they tend to be a little bit too bulky for me. This one was a little bit slimmer. It's a clear case, but the bottom, say third has a material on it.

Donna Cleveland:          It's leather.

David Averbach:            Yeah, it's leather and they have a few fun styles and I feel like it's hard to have a case that looks stylish and fun. And I liked that while still being protective and not overly protective. So I felt like it hit a lot of happy mediums and especially for OtterBox, they don't always hit the mark on that. So I was happy with it.

Donna Cleveland:          Next we're going to talk about iPad Pro accessories, I'll handed over to you David.

David Averbach:            Yeah, so I wrote the iPad Pro gear roundup a few accessories that I would recommend. I found some really fun ones. First of all, if you don't have an Apple Pencil, that's always a great gift for somebody who has an iPad but not Apple Pencil. The new Apple Pencil 2. If you have an iPad that's compatible is particularly cool, it can magnetically charge from your iPad, which is nice. When preparing for... Cullen and I taught an iPad class and we were messing around with it and it's really fun. That one's an obvious one. I'm assuming most people have heard of it.

David Averbach:            One that I think every iPad owner should have, and I don't know that many people who do. It's a glass screen protector for your iPad. So Zagg has a really excellent glass screen protector. Not only does it protect your screen, but it also blocks blue light. Blue light that coming from electronic devices can mess with your circadian rhythms, create eyestrain, mess with your sleep patterns. So I like that as well. It's nice. So addition, I don't notice it, which is important, like it doesn't make my screen look weird, but I feel like it's a little bit easier on my eyes and most importantly, iPads have gotten really expensive. So the screen protectors is really nice for that.

Donna Cleveland:          And that one, it's $59 for the screen protector. So it's pricey honestly, but it is like getting a good quality one.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          I mean the iPad Pro is really expensive so you might as well spend a little extra to protect it.

David Averbach:            In general, my recommendation for iPhones and iPads is A, to get a glass screen protector for both and B, to not try to save money on that. Don't have that. It's like trying it's to save money on an insurance policy that's not the right place to save money. So get a nicer one because my experience is the quality of class varies a lot.

David Averbach:            Another product that I've absolutely loved is the Brydge Bluetooth keyboard. You have that right, Donna?

Donna Cleveland:          I really like it too.

David Averbach:            How it works is basically, it's a Bluetooth keyboard obviously. And in general I will say that I've really enjoyed having a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad. There's a lot of fun shortcuts with your keyboard, they're similar to the Mac shortcuts and they make them easier to make my iPad a lot easier to use a lot closer to a professional level device where I can send emails and navigate the web, things like that.

David Averbach:            For example, on the web and hit command T and it'll open up a new tab on your browser or on your Safari browser and things like that. So I've really enjoyed the Bluetooth keyboard. This one particularly is nice. It has these like clam show things that you stick your iPad into and then it's on a hinge. I have trouble describing, but I really like it because what it ends up doing is you can have your iPad at just about any angle.

David Averbach:            And I find that I have a hard time with typical cases of getting my iPad at the right angle that I want. So I really like that. It also looks really nice. It looks like something Apple would have made, and in fact it looks like they're metallic like MacBook Pro. So it ends up looking a lot like a MacBook when you're carrying it around. I think people-

Donna Cleveland:          It does.

David Averbach:            ... they think I have a MacBook a lot. Yeah. It was just confusing to people, but it looks really sleek. It's also has a backlit keyboard, which is really nice as well, so you can have some back lighting there.

Donna Cleveland:          It's also nice because you can use it, you can type from your lap, you don't have to have it on a hard surface to get it at the right angle. Whereas a lot of Folio Cases that fold over the back, you have to be on a hard surface in order for that to work or else it's to just crumble on EMS-

David Averbach:            Absolutely.

Donna Cleveland:          ... which I've had frustrating experiences with it.

Cullen Thomas:             What's that one called again?

David Averbach:            Oh, that is the Brydge Pro. Brydge spelled B-R-Y-D-G-E.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. And that was $150.

David Averbach:            Yeah, it's a little bit on the more expensive end, but it was worth it in my opinion because it was really nice and it was unique. I hadn't seen a lot of other keyboards like that. One last thing I'll throw out there because cases are always important. I particularly like Folio style cases for iPads for that same reason I was talking about where I find the Folio style cases can hold the iPad at the right angle.

David Averbach:            So the one I'm using right now is the Speck Presidio Pro affordable case, good protection, Folio style. I don't find that there's a huge distinction between folio cases. I just tend to reputable brands and a little bit more on the protective end as opposed to the slim ones because iPads aren't that portable anyway. So I recommend going with a little bit more of a protective Folio style case in my opinion and I have the Speck Presidio Pro Folio.

Donna Cleveland:          You said you don't think iPads are very portable?

David Averbach:            In other words I tend to make sure I have a slim case on my iPhone because I just throw it in my pocket.

Donna Cleveland:          Right.

David Averbach:            And the iPads go in my backpack. So the difference between a little bit more protective case and a slim case, in my opinion, that trade off is not worth it for an iPad.

Donna Cleveland:          Okay [crosstalk 00:25:05].

David Averbach:            A slimmer cases. It's still going my backpack, and the thicker cases is still aren't that thick where it's not portable. So it doesn't really add a big amount of weight to me and I feel a lot safer because iPads are really expensive.

Donna Cleveland:          Yes, true.

David Averbach:            But you're right, they're portable, unlike they're more portable than a computer, less than an iPhone.

Donna Cleveland:          Got it. Got it. Got it. Cullen, let's hand it over to you to tell us about headphones.

Cullen Thomas:             And David will of course chime in here since he's done the headphones article in years past.

David Averbach:            I do love my headphones.

Donna Cleveland:          Yes.

Cullen Thomas:             There's lots to talk about with headphones. I ended up featuring five and the one to start with is the Sony WH-1000XM3, which-

David Averbach:            Great name.

Cullen Thomas:             ... is an incredibly memorable name that you will have already forgotten. The Sony's, it's hard not to write a headphone roundup and feature them because for the last few years they've really been at the top of the market. They're not that expensive compared to some of the other high end headphones out there. And if you're looking for Bluetooth audio quality, which of course is going to be capped because Bluetooth is not as good as Airplay.

Cullen Thomas:             So Airplay is a better audio quality than Bluetooth. But the best Bluetooth headphones out there are going to be the Sonys, the Sony WH-1000XM3s. They're-

Donna Cleveland:          They're $ 300 dollars, right?

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah. They're upper 200s now. They just took $100 off the price.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And take a look in Black Friday because these are the ones that are often go on sale on Black Friday.

Cullen Thomas:             And they've been around for a couple of years. But they're still at the top of the market. They're amazing.

David Averbach:            And they've updated them a couple times. It's the same basic headphone, but they've improved it. And this is where Cullen and I do absolutely agree on headphones. I love these. These are my goto headphones. I use them at the office, I use them when I'm traveling so I tend to... I'm someone who has tens had two sets of headphones.

David Averbach:            I have my really portable ones, which I use my AirPods for, which I love, but when I'm traveling, I want noise cancellation. I want the full over ear experience to block out, have better sound quality, that sort of thing, sspecially when I'm on an airplane.

Cullen Thomas:             Absolutely.

David Averbach:            Podcasts or movies, AirPods just don't quite cut it so I love these. These are definitely my favorite as well.

Cullen Thomas:             When you really want an immersive audio experience you want some over ear headphones. The AirPods are great for walking around, and we'll talk and speaking of the AirPods, let's move on to this. The AirPod Pro is out now. We didn't feature those in our Buyer's Guide because they weren't even announced yet when we wrote that. But let's talk about the AirPod Pros.

David Averbach:            Are you guys excited about it?

Donna Cleveland:          I have decided not to get them. I think that they're cool for people who really would like noise cancellation. They're $250 as opposed to, well it's like 129 to 199, depending on whether you get, if you get the new AirPods with the charging case, it's more expensive anyway-

David Averbach:            Which do, get the charging case.

Donna Cleveland:          I like the charging case-

David Averbach:            ... to yourself a favor.

Donna Cleveland:          The wireless charging case, sorry. And the AirPods Pro, they're $100 more than, so they're 250, but they are noise canceling and the review... one of our listeners who actually wrote an article about the AirPods Pro and has been really happy with the noise canceling feature. I guess sound quality is pretty comparable.

Cullen Thomas:             I haven't tested them so take this with a grain of salt, but I am skeptical that in ear headphones, active noise canceling is going to be all that impressive.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. I don't think that any of them can compare to an over ear headphone from [crosstalk 00:28:45].

David Averbach:            Yeah, I mean this is going to be maybe a little bit of a hot take because I know that before these AirPod Pros came out, everyone was asking for all of those features they wanted like noise cancellation and they also wanted a secure fit. But for me, every feature they added I explicitly do not want, and I feel weird about it because I want to be excited about it. I understand that there's value in those features but the thing that I love about my AirPods is I can just throw them in my ear. The secure fit is uncomfortable to me. And I also like ambient noise.

David Averbach:            I use them when I'm at the gym or when I'm like on a walk or going for a run and I like to be able to have a little bit of ambient noise leaking and know what's around me, like say if I'm on a walk, I want to know if there's a car nearby [crosstalk 00:29:36].

Donna Cleveland:          Concern when you're out for a job.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And if I'm talking on the phone, it feels weird to have every noise canceled out around me so I also... Donna. What do you think as an AirPod user, do they ever fall out?

Donna Cleveland:          They do actually-

David Averbach:            Oh, really.

Donna Cleveland:          I ran a 5k recently and that was a bit of an issue running where it seems like in one ear they fit and then the other one I probably, every few minutes had to adjust it so it wouldn't fall out and that's a little annoying.

David Averbach:            Okay. That would be annoying.

Donna Cleveland:          The AirPods Pro are water resistant and the reviews have said they fit a lot more securely. That being said, at the office of the same experience as you, where I would prefer to be more aware of my surroundings, like our reviewer was saying how he would use these in the coffee shop and loved how it would turn basically the scene around him into a Charlie Chaplin movie, how he would just not hear all the clashing of silverware and music and this and that. I'm like, "That sounds actually a little disorienting to me to be in the middle of a coffee shop and to be looking around and feel like I'm in a Charlie Chaplin movie." I don't know if I can I work that.

David Averbach:            And I am a little bit spoiled because I have access to headphones, but I do want that at times when I want that. And in particular in coffee shops, I'm working, I do want noise cancellation, but then I have my Sony's.

Donna Cleveland:          Screaming babies. That sounds nice. [inaudible 00:30:54]. Silent movie.

David Averbach:            I understand that for some people they only want one set of headphones and these can be both your noise canceling and your portable.

Cullen Thomas:             I appreciate the value there, especially for people who had a hard time getting the AirPods to stay in their ears.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Cullen Thomas:             A lot of people report that their ears aren't the right shape for the AirPods-

David Averbach:            See for me they must like-

Cullen Thomas:             ... I mean the earphones don't really shape for their ears. But personally I don't use the AirPods. I use a Creative Labs Outlier Air, which is a set of true wireless earbuds, which I've been very happy with. And unlike the AirPods, they have a, what's it called? Hearing aid style fit where they fit into your ear canal a little bit. And they block out most sounds around you. They're not active noise canceling. They're just earplugs.

Cullen Thomas:             But I love them. I think their sound quality is great. They're only $60, so they're way cheaper than AirPods and-

Donna Cleveland:          That's a great gift price point.

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah. They would make a good gift. I think that they're a good competitor to the AirPods. I think they're pretty equal in terms of value and mostly it's just the taste difference. Do you like a close fit with your earbuds or do you it to be a little looser? If you like it closer than the Creative Outlier Air are really a good set of earbuds.

David Averbach:            The thing that you've said, because for me, the thing that I love about AirPods is just how they always work with my phone. They sync so reliably and it's integrated into the phone's operating system. But you said that these are particularly reliable-

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah, I tested a lot of true wireless earbuds and most of them are plagued with connection issues. I'm not going to call out any specific brands here, but I went through a lot of different sets and they were consistently very troubled with connection issues-

David Averbach:            In particular the wireless buds.

Cullen Thomas:             ... to the point that I wouldn't use them and I would recommend that you be very careful when you're looking to buy wireless ear buds that you buy one, which is highly rated for its connectivity. The Creative Outlier Air were really good. I've never had a connection issue with them. With iOS 13, there's a weird thing that when you walk out of wireless range from your home wireless, there's a momentary connection glitch.

David Averbach:            Oh, that's annoying.

Cullen Thomas:             And that actually booted most of the AirPods earbuds that I was testing out of my phone altogether and I had to reconnect them.

David Averbach:            Oh wow.

Cullen Thomas:             That doesn't happen with the AirPods and it doesn't happen with the Creative Outlier Airs.

David Averbach:            What about sound quality?

Cullen Thomas:             They're good. They're good. They're about the same. Well, so there is an upper limit to sound quality with Bluetooth because Bluetooth only has so much bandwidth. And the AirPods and the Creative Outliers are both at about the upper limit of what Bluetooth can do. The Sony XM3s we talked about are also Bluetooth, but they do some special slight of hand with special codex that let them push their sound quality up a little further.

David Averbach:            In general too, you have what you're connecting with, but you also just have the quality of the actual headphones, and with wireless Bluetooth headphones, there's the little ear buds, I mean, they're so small that there's a limit to how much sound you can pack into them and what you can put in, how much sophisticated technology.

David Averbach:            And that's part of why, again, I like having a wireless for when I'm about, but I don't care about sound quality because you're never going to get great sound quality. That includes the AirPods and then having a truly over ear experience for [crosstalk 00:34:37] sound quality. Yeah, exactly.

Donna Cleveland:          Apparently the AirPods Pro are even smaller than the AirPods.

David Averbach:            Really? [crosstalk 00:34:46].

Cullen Thomas:             One last thing to say about them is that that and Ted us that could get of your ear has gotten smaller, so you don't quite look like the dopey ed droid.

David Averbach:            I know.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. Are there any other headphones you want to tell us about?

Cullen Thomas:             I was impressed with the Jaybird Tara Pros. They have the connector that goes around the back of your neck which a lot of people don't like-

Donna Cleveland:          Including me.

Cullen Thomas:             ... but the nice thing about it is-

David Averbach:            You give a look.

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah. Well that's fair. But if you don't mind it, it does mean that your battery life has a lot longer because you can fit a bigger battery. Again, their sound quality is about the same as the AirPods and the Creative Outliers, but their battery life is longer and they're very sturdy. A little harder to lose when there's only one piece.

Cullen Thomas:             The last one I wanted to feature was the JBL 650BTNC. This is an on-ear Bluetooth headset, which I really liked because of all the ones I tested, there's a new feature that is all the rage of integrating voice assistance into your headsets. And this was the only one that I tested that really made that into a positive feature that it was useful.

Cullen Thomas:             I could have all three of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri set up on the same headset-

David Averbach:            That so trippy.

Cullen Thomas:             ... and use different gestures to access the different ones. And I found myself actually using it, much to my surprise, I found myself using it a lot. And really enjoying having things like Google Assistant will read my text messages to me as they arrive, a feature, which now Siri will do, but only with the latest generation of AirPods. So I like the sound quality with those JBLs and I found them to be consistent, reliable, and have a good make.

David Averbach:            Great.

Donna Cleveland:          Cool.

David Averbach:            I just throw in a couple more quickly that round this out. One of them is the 1MORE's and those are a wired set of earbuds that have a lightning adapter so there's specifically for iPhone. What's particularly nice about these is they have, they're called triple drivers, so they literally have three drivers and that's what we were talking about where sound quality drivers of the things that create the sounds.

David Averbach:            So if you have three drivers, what you can do is you can separate your base, your mid tones and your high notes, and then you want probably clear sound. So these just hit a really nice sweet spot of being affordable with really nice sound quality. Of course, they're wired, which is good and bad. It's nice because you don't have to worry about battery life and connectivity, but you do have to have a strap connected from your phone to your ears. Another one is the-

Cullen Thomas:             The other nice thing about wired is that it's a much higher sound quality. If you're really looking for the best audio file sort of quality of sound, you want a wired headset, actually, they're slightly more annoying to use because of the wire, but it makes a big difference.

Donna Cleveland:          At your desk it's that an inconvenient, I like that for desk use.

David Averbach:            And the other one I'll throw out there is the Jabra Sport. These are on ear headphones. What I like about them mostly they have nice sound quality and they're really affordable and that's a nice combination. They are Bluetooth but not noise canceling. And that's how they hit that sweet spot of being very affordable while still having nice sound quality as they don't have a lot of extra features. But Donna, you use those for a long time. Right?

Donna Cleveland:          I did use those, and I use them even running.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah. And I liked them a lot. I can't remember really why I retired them. I think I just liked my AirPods and started using those more, but they were really lightweight. It didn't give me a headache. That's one thing, basically with headphones in general, I think you really need to try them yourself. Personal fit for the earbuds like, Cullen mentioned over ear headphones. It really varies depending on the person. What's going to work for you?

Donna Cleveland:          For me over ear headphones rarely work because I got a headache from them. So these ones were good in that way for me. They didn't cause headaches. David has some smart home products he'll tell us about. And then if you want the rest of our Buyers Guide, remember you can always subscribe to insider at discount and we have more gear recommendations for you there.

David Averbach:            More of everything.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            Okay. So smart home products are a little bit tricky for gift giving because they tend to be on the more expensive end. I'll give you a few ones that maybe are cheap enough to give as gifts and then they'll give you something maybe you want to give as a gift to yourself because they're expensive.

David Averbach:            So on the cheaper end, a smart plug is the gateway drug to smart homes because they're cheap, they're easy to use and set up. And basically, how they work is you plug it into a plug outlet and then you plug something into it, and it essentially makes whatever you plug in a smart device in the sense that you can program it with Siri or with home kit and so you can have it on a schedule. So the one I recommend is the Belkin WeMo. The reason why is what I just said, it worked with home kit and therefore it works with Siri. I'll give you a use case for that.

Donna Cleveland:          It's 30 bucks.

David Averbach:            It's 30 bucks, yeah, so it's not too expensive. I actually have one in each of my bathrooms and I have it plugged into a space heater. So in the mornings before I wake up, it turns on automatically and warms on my bathroom so that when I go in the bathroom in the morning, it's warm because my bathroom tends to be cold.

Donna Cleveland:          That's really nice.

David Averbach:            Yeah, it's really convenient. There's a lot of cool uses you can have for them. The one thing I will warn you of for any smart plug is some electronics do not automatically turn on and off when you plug them in. So you have to make sure you're using it with something that will automatically turn on when you plug it in and turn off when you plug it off. Or when you unplug it. In particular, what's annoying is that it tends to be the more expensive electronics that are smart enough that they won't turn on when you plug them in. So you tend to want to end up using it with cheaper products, which is weird.

Donna Cleveland:          Well, with the space heater, when you have the on switch on and then plug it in, is that what you mean?

David Averbach:            Exactly, that's what I mean, but some space heaters, if you unplug it and plug it back in, you have to go and turn it on all over again.

Donna Cleveland:          Oh, okay.

David Averbach:            And that will work.

Cullen Thomas:             Or they're a safety feature probably.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            Or it's just I have a fan where this is the case for because it's like a little bit more of a high end fan where you have to set which of the many settings you have and you can set... you can do all sorts of weird things with it. So yeah, you want to make sure you're connecting with the right product.

David Averbach:            Another one that could be a gift is a smart doorbell. They range in price. The one I'm using is the Remo. And that's only $99. It's not too crazy.

Donna Cleveland:          Isn't that Ring doorbell?

David Averbach:            No, I mean there is a Ring doorbell that's just not the one I'm using.

Donna Cleveland:          I thought that's the one you were using.

David Averbach:            No, it's the Remo.

Donna Cleveland:          Okay.

David Averbach:            And what I like about this, it's funny because it felt like almost like a little bit of a gimmick when I set it up because the actual use case, somebody's ringing the doorbell and talking to them over video is not that... is a little bit gimmicky, you're like you don't really need it, but I've found it to be really nice as a security feature because it notifies me whenever there's motion. So it's really convenient to just... it's like it's a camera that notifies whenever there's motion, I can check through the app and see who's there. I can talk to them if I want to.

David Averbach:            It's one of those things where there's these little subtle conveniences. It's like I can check and see like, did the mailman come, did he have my package from Amazon today? Little things like that. And also it is nice when someone's at the door if you... like sometimes I'll be at the office and nobody will be home and they'll ring the doorbell and I can say, hi, I'm not home right now. Leave the package or whatever.

Donna Cleveland:          That's super convenient for especially packages that might need a signature.

David Averbach:            Yeah. I don't know that... I think they probably would still require a signature.

Cullen Thomas:             Yeah. But at least you'd know they were there.

David Averbach:            Yeah.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah.

David Averbach:            Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Cullen Thomas:             And you could run home or go to the post office after work or whatever to check your postbox.

Donna Cleveland:          Especially where we live, where everything's five minutes away.

David Averbach:            And just the ability to talk to somebody without having to come to the door either because you're not at home or you don't want to come to the door is really nice. Another one that I think two more products I think everybody should have, one of them is a smart thermostat. That's one of the few products that will actually smart home products will actually save you money.

David Averbach:            These smart home products tend to be expensive but these are, if you have a smart thermostat it will control your AC and your heating and in such a way where you often end up saving money because you're much more intelligent with it. My favorite one right now is the Ecobee. It has some really cool features where it has little sensors that you can put all around your house so that it bases the temperature it's using, not just on what the thermostat itself is sensing.

David Averbach:            But what room you're in so it knows what room you're in and what the temperature is of that room. In particular, I have an old house there where the temperature tends to vary a lot.

Cullen Thomas:             A lot of those around here.

David Averbach:            Yeah. And so I really enjoy it because I can... and you can set up intelligently where you can say in the evening usually one of my bedroom, but during the day I'm not going to be there. So then use the one in my office.

Donna Cleveland:          That's so cool.

Cullen Thomas:             You're selling me on that [crosstalk 00:44:05]-

David Averbach:            It's really, it's pretty cool. And it also works with home kit so you can use Siri with it. You can just be like, "Hey Siri, turn my temperature to 70 degrees. Oh shoot." I just actually did that. So that's a really nice feature as well. So I recommend that.

David Averbach:            Another one that is really nice is a smart lock if you are... I just find them really convenient because they automatically lock when I leave the house and automatically unlock when I get home. So I never have to worry about it, my home's always locked and safe, but for me it always feels unlocked. I just get home and I opened the door and it's fine.

David Averbach:            It's also particularly convenient for like, if somebody's coming to your house, let's say I have somebody stopping by my house and they need to pick something up and I'm at home, I can just unlock it from wherever I am, which is nice. I can use Siri to unlock it. If I have a guest staying, I can give them temporary access. I don't want to hide the key nearby. So I really enjoy smart locks. The one I have is the August Home, Donna you can probably tell me the prices for all these things.

Donna Cleveland:          Yeah, that's $229 cent.

David Averbach:            Okay.

Donna Cleveland:          Again, all the products mentioned in today's podcast, you can find links and prices at And that's all the products we had time from it today. Thank you so much for sticking around for the iPhone Life Podcast, and if you're an insider stick around a little bit longer and we'll tell you about Apple TV+ and the new Disney service. Thanks for joining us.

Cullen Thomas:             Thanks everyone.

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Author Details

Donna Schill's picture

Author Details

Donna Schill

Donna Schill is the Editor in Chief at iPhone Life, where she oversees all multimedia content production for iPhone Life Insider, the premium educational platform for Apple enthusiasts and lifelong learners. After earning her master's degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Donna joined iPhone Life in 2012, where she has produced dozens of magazine issues, co-hosted hundreds of podcast episodes, and taught over 20 live online courses. When not glued to her iPhone 15 Pro Max, Donna can be found traveling, writing and podcasting (, or hiking the Iowa prairie where she lives with her partner and their German shepherd, Fox.