The “magic” of this “magic pillow” is not just that it can be converted from a U-shape to a traditional rectangular pillow, but also in the precise degree of its microbead stuffing. It’s the Goldilocks of pillows: While some reviewers have thought its firmness was too much and some too little, we found it was the perfect amount to make the pillow moldable yet firm, no matter how or where you’re sitting. Massaging the beads in the U-shape lets you flatten the back of the pillow out, keeping your spine more aligned in the seat — something most U-shaped pillows fail at.
In both the U and rectangle shape, the beads are sparse enough to mold around large over-ear headphones, but dense enough to still support your head. The moldability is also convenient for disloyal travelers like us who use multiple airlines; each airline has their own unique seat shape, many of which seem to be designed for something other than a human head, but the Samsonite Magic Pillow can be squashed or shoved into and around differently shaped headrests with ease in both its shapes. The rectangle shape of the pillow is also useful for window seats, car travel, and lower-back comfort. We even used it to hold up a smartphone for movie-watching on a flight without in-seat display screens (the horror!).
In both its shapes, the pillow has a slick spandex-like side for a cooler feel and a fuzzy side for a warm and cozy feel, so you can navigate the rapid temperature cycling of commercial travel with ease. Both sides are also incredibly soft, and not that typical cheap-pillow-microfiber-softness that feels a little chalky — this is legitimate softness (to the point where one tester found themselves just stroking the fuzzy side for an awkward amount of time during a recent trip — sorry, seatmates).
The biggest complaint we have is more about microbead pillows in general than this particular one: It’s not very compact, which makes it hard to carry. But this version at least has a hook that you can attach to your carry-on or backpack, which you don’t get on many inexpensive models. In this price point, there weren’t many pillows that testers felt were even worth carrying around. Inflatable pillows are borderline cruel on the neck and ears, and like cheap memory foam, they often have a long-lasting and offensive smell. The Cloudz brand that is often sold in airports was the second-best version we tested, and similar to the Samsonite in almost every way, but doesn’t convert to a rectangle. And for our money, a flexible travel companion is the best travel companion.