Micorsoft Surface Earbuds
“When used as a productivity tool, the Surface Earbuds offer solid value.”
Integration with Microsoft 365
Eight hours of audio playback
Aesthetically unique design
No noise cancellation
Value depends on the brand
Microsoft has taken a chance with its new Surface Earbuds. One of the largest technology companies in the world could try to survive in a new area by beating its competitors in its own game. Or it could double up on its own brand and rely on creating a truly unique experience.
You can probably guess which direction Microsoft is headed.
The $ 200 Surface Earbuds are here and are significantly cheaper than the price at which they were originally launched in late 2019 – $ 250.Microsoft has marketed them as true wireless earbuds made almost exclusively for professionals and the new buds so creative integrate into their own software as possible. The company accidentally raised an important question: can the surface earbuds be the ultimate productivity buds and thrive as everyday wearables?
Out of the box
The packaging for the Microsoft Surface Earbuds is classically minimalist: a white box with a single shot of the buds even on the top. The glossy white charging case with the Microsoft logo is located under the lid. The buds rest inside with a USB-C charging cable, two additional pairs of earplugs, and product documents.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
The surface earphones are set up in one of two ways – simple or super simple. If you’ve ever paired wireless earphones with your smartphone, this process is no different. However, when you pair the Surface Earbuds with a Surface PC, Microsoft has a Swift Pair feature to make the connection much easier. This is a feature that is similar to the quick connect features of Google Pixel Buds 2 and Apple AirPods, and a trend we’d love to see more of in the future.
Microsoft has its own Surface Audio app with useful but not essential video tutorials. Without firmware updates and a supplied equalizer, you could completely do without the app and not miss much.
Surface earbuds support connections to multiple devices, so switching between your phone and computer is not a problem. As for the connections themselves, I did not notice any significant dropouts during my review period. This included cases where I left my phone in the house and ventured into my humble garden.
Part of me is inexplicably fascinated by the aesthetics of the surface earbuds. Another part of me wants to bring the whole design back to the drawing board. Of course there is a lot to unpack here.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
The description of the buds we gave at the company’s Surface Hardware event in October 2019 remains accurate – seen from the outside, they resemble earrings. Granted, I’ve never been a fan of this actual earring style. But when I go back to earbud design, I find that kind of groundbreaking look very appealing.
There is a soft silicone earplug on the other side of the touch-sensitive outer pane. I swapped the original tips for the smaller version to give the buds a safer feel in my ears. According to Microsoft, the surface earbuds have four anchor points to ensure the most effective fit possible.
Ironically, my design complaint is about fit. These are heavy buds; At 7.3 grams each, they’re stronger than most of the competition, including those from Apple and Google, as well as the Samsung Galaxy Buds + and Amazon Echo Buds, and they extend slightly outside the ear. Both are relatively small and forgivable topics. What is troublesome is that buds that are available as workhorses simply don’t have the secure fit to take on this role – especially when the wearer is training.
I’ve tried running with these buds twice, and both times I’ve gotten into the swamp to constantly have to readjust them during my run. I have not ruled out the possibility of having misshaped ear canals, although I have not encountered these problems with any of the buds that I have recently checked. Regardless, it’s one of those bugs that gets worse every time, and it has left a sour taste over usability.
To be fair, press materials for the Surface Earbuds refrained from mentioning sports compatibility and made it clear that they were simply not intended for this type of activity. However, if you are considering spending $ 200 on earphones, this is an important distinction. You won’t run with them or participate in high-intensity workouts.
The standard functions of the Surface Earbuds are competitive, but not unique: IPX4 water resistance, eight hours of battery life with three additional charging processes and touch controls for completing tasks such as changing music, making calls and interacting with intelligent assistants, including Microsoft’s own Cortana. Aside from an auto-pause pull-out function that is oddly MIA, Surface Earbuds have numerous features that help them measure themselves against industry giants.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
Honestly, if that were all the Surface Earbuds had to offer, I would recommend looking elsewhere. There are other options that perform these functions as well, and in some cases better, to reduce the burden on the old bank account. Fortunately, it’s the capabilities of Surface Earbuds when used with Microsoft 365 that put them in a separate class.
If you run an iOS device with the Surface Earbuds, you can listen to, delete and reply to emails on the go thanks to the “Play my emails” function in the Outlook mobile app. Are you looking for something that is a little more innovative? Using the earphones with PowerPoint on a PC offers the possibility to activate live subtitles and subtitles, both of which can be translated into one of more than 60 different languages.
Granted, this may be a niche advantage rather than a common feature – at the moment I have to assume that most everyday Surface Earbuds owners don’t have to translate their presentations into different languages. It is still a good option if the reason ever shows up.
Above all, I believe that Microsoft’s dictation function is the most suitable. In programs like PowerPoint, Outlook, and Microsoft Word, you can use your voice to dictate content while Microsoft is writing it down for you. It is not a perfect tool as you might expect. Based on my experience, I have corrected some grammatical errors here and there. This function is already available from Microsoft without the buds themselves being needed. However, I found that the two built-in microphones on each earphone recorded my speech more effectively, and I was able to write this section of the review almost entirely with dictations.
As far as I know, the Microsoft Word app does not currently support dictation, so this is not a mobile-friendly function. However, this could change in the future and leave the door open to improve an already fascinating function. In terms of productivity, this could really be a game changer with a few tweaks.
Call quality is the most important component of the audio quality of Surface Earbuds, if you stick to Microsoft’s mantra to get things done. According to my tests, the aforementioned microphones do an excellent job in each bud by both recording your voice and playing down background noise.
Nick Woodard / Digital Trends
For music playback and other content, the Surface Earbuds are equipped with 13.6 mm drivers (relatively large for earphones), which can be operated in a frequency range from 20 to 20,000 Hz. They support SBC and aptX audio codecs and offer what Microsoft has called the “Surface Omnisonic Sound Profile” to improve the sound.
The resulting sound quality is … good. The sizeable drivers handle the low-end well, and the music in general is wonderfully clear. Overall, Microsoft has achieved a performance that is almost identical to the mainstream functions: a sound that does not surpass its competitors, but sounds objectively good enough to sit at the table. The problem is that Microsoft grabbed one of the most expensive chairs in the house. The fact that Microsoft lowered the retail price for the Surface Earbuds between the autumn release and the spring release is a sense of self-awareness. However, this is more of a patch than a long-term solution.
The surface earbuds lose brownie points because they have no active noise cancellation, let alone effective passive noise isolation. It goes without saying that I have not yet commuted with these, but a morning walk through a busy street made a lot of noise penetrate my listening experience. Sure, you can turn up the volume to drown things out. At normal listening levels, however, you’ll hear the outside world as well as your podcasts and playlists.
When used as a work environment tool in conjunction with Microsoft’s own devices and software, the Surface Earbuds offer solid value and an experience that no other pair of buds can currently offer. They are simply not the most flexible real wireless option for the money, and it is not realistic to expect it.
Are there any better alternatives?
They are hard to beat in terms of productivity. But when things like audio quality, battery life or usability come into play, the locks open. The $ 179 Google Pixel Buds 2, $ 129 Amazon Echo Buds, and $ 150 Samsung Galaxy Buds + offer better values for what they offer. The Sony WF-1000XM3 currently only costs $ 30 more than the Surface Earbuds and is our preferred wireless earbud overall.
How long will they last?
It helps to be Microsoft here. Without considering the Surface Earbuds’ one-year limited hardware warranty, these buds were born with Microsoft’s reputation for making well-built devices. Expect the surface earbuds to last long if they are well cared for.
Should you buy them
Yes, but only if you’re looking for earbuds that can really act as a productivity tool, and for a good one. Otherwise, you’ll find buds for a better value that better suits your needs.