• Nandan V

The Surface Earbuds: Early Impressions

Microsoft is constantly expanding its portfolio of Surface devices. At the Microsoft Event at NYC on 2nd October, 2019, the Redmond giant launched the Surface Earbuds, their all-new wireless in-ear premium earphones.

This new addition goes well with the Surface Headphones launched in November of 2018. The Surface headphones were well received by the tech community for striking the perfect balance between form and function. The rotating dial for adjusting volume and the level of noise cancellation was a pleasant innovation from Microsoft.

The Surface Earbuds, however, do not offer noise-canceling, in fact, they’re engineered to let noise in for better ambient awareness. There are no dials, but a surface for gesture controls.

The Earbuds are not just meant for listening to music or talking to Cortana, they’re a "must-have" Office accessory according to Microsoft.


Design

Let’s get this over with. The Surface Earbuds look hideous, but that’s exactly what people thought about the AirPods when they launched, look how that turned out. (what about Google Glass shhh...)

Source: Microsoft

Microsoft claims the design is simple and meant to be for comfortable all-day use. The Earbuds only contact within the ear at two points, which should mean less fatigue. The Earbuds have to be rotated once placed in your ear and the tip comes in three sizes to offer the perfect fit.

The surface is plastic and touch-sensitive for those gestures (more about this later) which is not a premium material, but Microsoft does a pretty good job so it should be fine.

The Earbuds tip the scales at 7.2 grams per earbud, whereas the AirPods come in at a mere 4 grams.


Performance

Surface Earbuds ship with Bluetooth 4.2 which is really dated compared to 5.0 which is available in newer wireless audio devices. The Earbuds come with two microphones per Earbud for better calling fidelity. We’ll have to wait for in-depth reviews to know more about the range and audio quality. The latter shouldn’t be bad as it supports SBC and AptX codecs for music and noise-canceling microphone arrangement for calls. This is obviously not meant for audiophiles.

Surface Earbuds next to their charging case. Source: Microsoft

Microsoft claims up to 24 hours of battery life, with up to 8 hours on a single charge. The charging case has the juice to fill it up twice. The case features a USB-C input at the back but sadly does not sport wireless charging. It’s nice to see Microsoft adding the port all across their devices (read this to know more about that).


Office integration

Yes, I’m referring to Word, Excel and the whole office suite here, they just got a really smart accessory. Microsoft is pitching the Earbud as a "must-have" for Office aficionados. The dual microphone system in each Earbud serves as a dictation device during PowerPoint presentations. The text will appear under the presentation and is pretty accurate. The text can be translated into more than 60 languages. We will find out how thoughtful this is in the coming days.

The Surface Earbuds also provide a coaching feature with voice prompts letting you know if you're going too fast.

Price & competition

The Surface Earbuds launch at $249 later this year, which makes it $90 more than AirPods from Apple. The awkward design choices and feature set make it a hard sell at this point in time. The new AirPods which are rumored to be released this year with active noise cancellation does not bode well for the Surface Earbuds.


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