A consumer survey reveals that more than half of Americans buy some type of Bluetooth device per year. Such devices like wireless earphones offer convenience and features that are geared towards meeting the increasing expectations of consumers. It’s also supposed to integrate development in the field of wireless Bluetooth and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Generally, wireless earphones can be paired with laptops and computers, and even mobile phones. And as it happens, there are a wide variety of earphones created for specific functions. There aren’t any Jack of all trades when it comes to earbuds. But some brands stand out for quality and a list of features. If you’re on the lookout for a premium pair, allow us to introduce the Microsoft Surface Earbuds.
What Are the Surface Earbuds?
True to its reputation for design leadership, Microsoft released a series of wireless headphones. The newest in the series is called the Microsoft Surface Earbuds, which has shaped its own niche for being a versatile, hybrid device. It’s one of the few examples of a truly wireless pair of earbuds that can be used far from the source. The device offers a combination of excellent sound quality in a wireless package and is one of the first pairs of earbuds that act as a carrier for a digital voice assistant. For having a unique combination of true wireless capabilities and AI integration, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds proves itself worthy of attention.
The Surface earbuds are the third product to grace the Surface Headphones product line. For those who are not aware, the company released the wired Surface Headphones from a few years back. They recently released the Surface Headphones 2, which is an improved version of the original Surface Headphones.
Like the Surface Earbuds, the Surface Headphones 2 also has Bluetooth connectivity. It also possesses a chockful of advanced features. The main difference lies in the physical design and noise-canceling capabilities. So far, the headphones released by Microsoft all had a robust quality and comfortable design. The Surface Earbuds should be able to meet, or even surpass, the same standards of quality. However, if you’re like most audiophiles who prioritize sound quality over anything, check out this list of the best over-ear headphones.
Surface Earbuds: Microsoft Catches Up
Some people think this is Microsoft’s attempt to catch up with its competitors. These are the likes of Sony and Samsung. Each of these tech giants has released a series of wireless earbuds many months before. It is highly likely that Microsoft noticed the increasing rancor for wireless earbuds. It’s then they decided to follow suit with their own product. The product was originally scheduled for release in October 2019. However, Microsoft has just started to make it available this May. The wait has been long, but a least at that time Microsoft has had a chance to consider its pricing policy.
After careful consideration, the company slashed the sticker price by a chunky $50 off. The original suggested retail price was $250. The device currently retails for a strategic price point of only $199. This puts the device on the upper half of the price spectrum. It also makes the Surface Earbuds $50 less than the Surface Headphones 2. It’s also $100 less than the cost of the original Surface Headphones. The combination of mid-level pricing with advanced features perhaps makes the Surface Earbuds the most cost-effective option from Microsoft yet.
What Are the Features of the Surface Earbuds?
Microsoft focuses on three key aspects that define Surface Earbuds: performance, quality, and ease of use. And thus far, it was able to produce a device of unrivaled comfort and standout design—not to mention, excellent wireless capabilities. The combination of features and smart design is more than what you’d expect. This is truly a premium pair of truly wireless earbuds. The device is ready to pair with almost all of Microsoft’s hardware and software products.
The device also allows users to pair multiple devices. The Surface Earbuds is compatible with Windows PC, Android, and iOS devices. More specifically, it works with relatively new devices the likes of Windows 10, Android 9 or 10, iOS 12 or 13 devices. You can try pairing them with older Android and iOS, but it’s just not going to be the same.
In terms of physical design, the Surface Earbuds has a flat satellite-looking exterior. And to top off the minimalist look, Microsoft made the Surface Earbuds available in off-white glacier color and light gray colors. It looks a bit like a pop socket or an oversized pair of rounded earrings from the ’60s. Nevertheless, don’t let its unique appearance deceive you.
The earbuds have a twist-to-fit arrangement. This keeps the buds quite steady and comfortable to wear for long periods. The earphones are designed to be USB-C compatible. This allows the device to be charged through the case itself or a computer. We would have liked to see wireless charging. But then not having this option also makes the charging case light. So we can’t complain.
The earbuds also have a microphone. This relays sound clearly and audibly amid background noise. This makes it great for taking calls and attending video conferences. The wireless function gives you the freedom to move around and run errands while engaging in conversations. The earbuds themselves look and feel different from your standard headphones. And that’s not a surprise for a Microsoft product.
The Microsoft team has always a different approach when it comes to building things. And for this particular device, it’s obvious that the makers emphasized comfort and functionality over style. The earphones also come with a charging case/dock. This case in particular is compact at three inches long and one inch tall. As such, it’s relatively lightweight and compact enough to fit into any pocket.
The device also offers responsive touch controls. Swipes can play, pause, skip tracks, and adjust the volume. A double-tap on either bud functions as a play or pause, and also works to answer or end calls. Tapping and holding on to either bud activates a digital assistant. A swipe upwards turns the volume up and a swipe downwards turns the volume down. And while tap and swipe functions are great by themselves, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Spotify users can triple-tap on the side of their buds.
Doing so will immediately launch the music streaming app. That means whenever you hang up a voice call, the device will pick up where you left off. The same is true for other tasks such as creating a calendar schedule. Once you’re done, the device will revert to the paused music. A triple-tap will immediately get you listening to your favorite tracks again. This ability to revert to what you were doing shows a level of intuition on the part of the software.
But even more important is the promise of the true-wireless listening experience. And this all boils down to excellent Bluetooth capabilities. Bluetooth is a wireless mechanism that allows two devices to send and receive data. In this case, you have two pieces of earbuds that are synced together. The earbuds are paired with your phone or computer via a Bluetooth connection.
The device and your phone send and receive signals back and forth. This allows you to play music and access the digital assistant without lifting a finger. It’s also worth mentioning that the signal on the left earbud feeds off the signal of the right earbud. In a sense, the right earbud is the main controller. Syncing the earbuds ensures that they receive and transmit data at the same time. It also limits the ability to use the earbuds separately.
What Makes the Microsoft Surface Earbuds Different?
The ultimate factor that makes the Surface Earbuds different is integration with Cortana. Cortana is the Microsoft version of Siri and Google Assistant. Cortana will provide hands-free control of the device. It will also run software updates, and provide personal digital assistance. Users can also access music playlists from online media sources through Cortana. These include Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora. The device can also transcribe text into Microsoft Office applications.
Cortana can also read and delete emails for you, and even type in your verbal responses. Cortana can also help you translate phrases or text from 60 languages. And if you don’t like Cortana, you can switch to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant.
If you’re curious whether voice assistants might be eavesdropping, find out for yourself if a voice assistant like Alexa is always listening.
Here’s the catch. Cortana is only available in select countries and regions. And according to Microsoft, the experience may vary by country/region. Not to worry though. Cortana is readily available in the United States and the United Kingdom. Other countries where you can access Cortana include Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. Asian countries China, India, and Japan can also utilize it. If you do live in any of these countries, activating Cortana shouldn’t be a problem.
All you need to do is to download and install the Cortana app on your phone or PC. Afterward, you’ll need to pair your earbuds with your phone. The process is quite straightforward and takes only a few seconds to pair once you’ve mastered the process. It’s also important to mention that the Cortana software will also contain basic settings and will allow you to manually control playback on the earbuds.
Pros of the Microsoft Surface Earbuds
Excellent Wireless Connectivity
The Surface Earbuds promise tangle-free and excellent wireless performance. The excellent Bluetooth allows you to get a rich and clean sound quality on all volume levels. The device can maintain sound quality regardless of physical barriers. Other devices usually have interference when surrounded by physical obstacles such as walls. But not the Surface Earbuds. Interference in these cases causes garbled or inaudible content. But with Surface Earbuds, you can expect to hear audio content very clearly. This is anywhere within a maximum range of 100 meters.
This means you can move around the house or office freely without having to be stuck in front of the computer. It’s even more convenient when you’re working on something and can’t attend to your phone. That being said, keep in mind that the optimal range is still within 10 meters of the device. It’s also a good idea to keep yourself and the device within an open space, as this helps in the dispersion of Bluetooth signals.
Long Battery Life
Second, the earbuds also promise a total of eight-hour battery life per charge. That is, eight hours of continuous play when the earbuds work independently. You can add an additional 16 hours of playback if you count the two full charges that you can do with the carrying case. The eight hours of battery life of the Surface Earbuds lands in the middle along the scale of battery lifespan for popular earbud brands. The Samsung Galaxy Buds still outshine the Surface Earbuds at 13 hours. Surprisingly, it beats the Apple AirPods Pro, which can only hold four and a half hours of playback.
That’s not bad for a first attempt at wireless earbuds. This is especially considering most people only listen to music for a few hours at a time. The Surface Earbuds are designed for storage via the sleek black carrying case. This is not unlike all other wireless earbuds. The only difference is that this case passively charges the buds. In addition, the device also tells you how many hours of battery life you have left. It’s not inconvenient to check the battery life on the Surface Audio app. But hearing it audibly on boot up is a nice touch.
Third, the device is IPX4 water-resistant. This means it can withstand light rain or a minor spillage. A clarification is needed though. It’s waterproof, but it’s not made for underwater. Just be careful not to dunk it in a glass of water or any other liquid. The earbuds also give the impression it will resist breakage when dropped. It will also resist breakage when accidentally sat on or squeezed by accident. The bulky appearance of the earbuds is a hit or miss with most consumers.
But then, we can also remember a time when the Apple AirPods Pro was considered as odd-looking. And if you think about the other earbuds on the market, they also have parts protruding here and there. Ultimately, we trust in the ability of Microsoft to design hardware. If you’ll notice, this design is actually more functional than stylish. And for us, this is a very good thing. We also don’t mind a few extra ounces if it means being able to get an excellent Bluetooth reception all the time.
Cons of the Microsoft Surface Earbuds
Not for Exercise
Another thing to understand is the Surface Earbuds aren’t perfect. They may be ideal for office use or personal leisure. However, they’re not a pair that you should bring while exercising. Yes, the device can be used for light sports like walking or yoga. It’s just not going to stay on that well for more vigorous sports activities.
Nevertheless, Surface Earbuds are quite versatile in terms of usage. They’re great for relaxing at home or for trying to concentrate at work. You can even use them while taking a stroll through the park, buying groceries, or while waiting for your stop while commuting. Just remember to take them off before you go on a run or before hitting the gym because they could certainly fall off.
Lack of Noise-Canceling Abilities
And since we’re dishing out all the negatives, we’re not going to hide the missing piece of the puzzle. And that is, it lacks noise-canceling capabilities. This means that you would still be able to hear some ambient sounds come through. And it’s the same when you’re talking to someone through the earbuds or listening to music. It would have been great to be able to control background noise, as some earbuds are already able to do. But then again it’s only a matter of convenience and is not particularly essential to what the device offers. If you’re keen on noise cancellation, we recommend this guide to noise-canceling headphones. This type of specialized earbuds will keep off ambient noises so you can stay focused on your music all day.
Risk of Losing
And since we’re talking wireless, we need to discuss the potential for loss. And we’re talking either one or both of the earbuds. The earbuds protrude quite a bit so we can imagine it’s not that hard to misplace or lose them entirely by accident. This can happen when something brushes past you or when you change your shirt, they could come off. And remember, losing an earbud renders the other earbud unusable. The earbuds work in sync and losing one will cripple the other. These earbuds don’t come cheap, so take extra care when storing or handling them. We also recommend keeping them docked onto the charging port while not in use. This way, you won’t get confused as to where you could have placed them.
Final Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Earbuds
The Microsoft Surface Earbuds doesn’t enjoy the mainstream spotlight in terms of popularity. Nonetheless, it remains a solid choice for wireless earbuds. With a chockful of features and excellent connectivity, the earbuds deserve to be a hit. It could easily compete with the cream of the crop in the wireless earbuds market. This includes Apple’s AirPods, Samsung Galaxy Buds, and Google Pixel Buds. There is just plenty of potential in what the Surface Earbuds can do and will be able to do in the future. Although designed as an entertainment device, it has productivity applications.
Imagine having the ability to dictate your emails and reply with your voice. Or having the ability to translate any phrase or text into a language. These are abilities that could potentially enhance the productivity of users. If you’re keen on boosting your personal or work productivity, here’s a piece on the best productivity apps to get things done. And it is certainly an upgrade from a mere tangle-free listening experience. Whether you are taking a leisurely stroll in the park, trying to induce work productivity, the Surface Earbuds is your ideal companion.