It looks like we’re finally getting those Microsoft Surface Earbuds we’ve been eagerly anticipating. Microsoft’s first entry into the truly wireless earbuds space, the Surface Earbuds, will be available for preorder starting May 12 for a rather competitive $199. The earbuds are coming packed with features, the most notable of which is integration with certain features of Microsoft 365.
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With a host of cool features, a battery life that can last a full workday and great sound, the Surface Earbuds could be our next entrant on our Best Wireless Earbuds page.
Before we get into the Surface Earbuds features, we’ve got to talk about the price. Microsoft has priced the buds at $199, which is significantly cheaper than the AirPods Pro’s $249 dollars. Combined with everything the Surface Earbuds have to offer, it should definitely make fans of truly wireless earbuds take notice.
I’m not sure if the Surface Earbuds are going to win any design awards with its polarizing look. The large Glacier Gray discs look like the most milquetoast ear gauges ever. The light gray buds cover a large portion of your outer ear. That “corporate-America-meets-Hot-Topic” aesthetic is more a result of function than design as the large surface area serves as a landing strip for gesture controls (more on that later). The earbuds also have an IPX4 rating, making them sweat and water resistant.
Thanks to Microsoft’s design decisions, the Surface Earbuds have four anchor points that the company claims the buds will sit securely and comfortably in your ear. During a previous demo with the buds, editor, Phillip Tracy, reported having a comfortable experience. But I’m eager to see if that’s the case over extended periods of time.
The Surface Earbuds measure 1 x 8 inches and weigh 0.3 ounces, which is smaller, but heavier than the Apple AirPods Pro (1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches, 0.19 ounces). And while the Surface Earbuds’ charging case (1.4 ounces, 3 x 1.3 x 1 inches) is lighter than AirPods Pro (1.6 ounces, 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9 inches), it is somewhat larger.
So onto those massive discs. The gray plastic is large enough to comfortably support gesture controls. A swipe up or down is used to change the volume while a forward or backwards swipe will skip or rewind tracks. Double tapping the buds will play/pause music or answer calls depending on the situation. I’m curious about the tapping as the action can cause some wireless buds to be pushed further into the ear canal, which can be an uncomfortable experience.
Microsoft is coming out the gate swinging with the features. In addition to the integrated touch panels, the Surface Buds have a host of features, some of which we’ve seen on competing earbuds. For instance, there’s Swift Pair, Microsoft’s take on quick-pairing technology that will allow near-instant pairing with a Surface PC or Android smartphone. You can also launch Spotify on your Android phone with a triple tap. And of course, you can summon your digital assistant with a long tap.
But it’s the Microsoft-centric features that’s really exciting. Something I’m excited to try is the dictation feature that will let me speak my articles in Word or any other Microsoft 365 apps instead of typing them in theory. Powerpoint poindexters can add live captions and subtitles on screen. The buds can also translate over 60 languages with Windows 10. The earbuds’ Play My Emails feature gives you the ability to listen to, delete and reply to emails on the go — as long as you have the Outlook mobile app.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak to this yet, as I haven’t gotten a chance to hear for myself. But, the Surface Earbuds have custom drivers and the Surface Omnisonic sound profile which Microsoft says will deliver rich, immersive audio. Phillip Tracy reported “surprisingly hefty bass thump and the lead singer's vocals were clear” while listening to Hozier's "Almost (Sweet Music).”
Microsoft claims the Surface Buds will last 8 hours on a single charge. If it lives up to the hype, it will be the longest-lasting earbuds on the market. As far as the charging case, you can expect an additional 16 hours, bringing the total battery life up to 24 hours.
For all the bells and whistles, the Surface Earbuds have, one major feature is missing –– active noise cancellation. It’s a feature that’s quickly become an expected staple of truly wireless earbuds thanks to the AirPods Pro. Instead of ANC, the Surface Earbuds will rely on the eartips creating a tight seal to deliver a measure of passive noise isolation in order to keep ambient noise at bay.
Keeping the buds ANC-free probably plays a big role in the competitive pricing. However, with the AirPods Pro, Sony WF-1000xM3 and even Amazon’s Echo Buds offering the feature, it remains to be sure if this calculated risk will pay off.
A pair of earbuds that can last a full work day on a single charge that also translates, reads and lets me reply to my emails? And they sound great? Microsoft could be onto something with the Surface Earbuds. The long-delayed truly wireless earbuds are full featured in a way that stays true to the Microsoft ecosystem.
Best of all, at $199, Microsoft has undercut the AirPods Pro in a big way. However, a lack of active noise cancelling can potentially keep the Surface Earbuds from being a top choice. We’ll just have to wait until they arrive for review to see.