Microsoft drew a surprise last year when it revealed the Surface headphones. Recently we reviewed it and enjoyed it a lot, but this year the company has returned again with something that agrees with the infamous Apple AirPods.
We spent a practical time with the new Surface Earbuds during Microsoft's event today in New York City, and we were quite impressed. Here are our impressions.
Like the dental floss style case that comes with Apple AirPods, the first thing I noticed with Surface Earbuds is its charging case. It has the shape of a traffic light. You can simply rest the headphones on the top of the case when it is open, and the buttons will be pulled magnetically to start charging. If you put the wrong button in the wrong place, you will not accept it.
The case is charged via USB-C and can store up to 24 hours of battery life, but the buttons will only last 8 hours. That is quite impressive considering that the headphones will be used all day. It is also equipped with the Microsoft logo and has a pairing button at the bottom.
Comfort and fit
Of course, Surface Earbuds are not all about the case. Microsoft tells me that the tips of the Surface Earbuds can fit 95 percent of all human ears. It was extensively tested in laboratories with more than 1,000 human ears and is designed to provide comfort and stability.
For the other 5 percent, Microsoft includes options for a small or large ear tip. It turns out it's me, since I needed to try the little tip so that the Earbuds fit properly inside my ear.
As Microsoft shows in this video above, you must remove the tip and then slide it back into the headphones so it clicks into place. I had trouble doing this, but Microsoft assured me that it is a continuous process once you get used to it. I should also keep in mind that the buttons rest inside the ear without touching the ear canal. That means there is no sound cancellation, as I discovered later.
Microsoft also mentions that it needs some of a "screw-in" movement to first rest the headphones in its ear canal, and then get the headphones. to fit properly in your ears. I had problems to settle inside my ears, but once I repeated the process, things were quiet.
Hey, where is Cortana?
A notable feature on Surface Headphones last year was Cortana. The digital assistant was incorporated directly, and you can activate it by voice for certain tasks. This time, with Surface Earbuds, Microsoft is doing something different. There is no voice activation or Cortana incorporated.
When you press and hold the touch surface on the outside of the Earbuds Surface, any digital assistant that you have connected to your device will be summoned. On Windows devices, that can be Cortana. But, on Android, it can be Google Assistant and even Cortana, if you set it as the default on your device. Presumably, this also includes Siri on the iPhone, but we couldn't confirm it.
Of course, there are also some additional controls on the Surface Earbuds. You can slide up and down on the outside of the headphones to control the volume, and you can slide forward to advance songs in Spotify. You can also swipe back to return to a previous song in Spotify.
This exterior touch control surface makes the Earbuds Surface look huge, but it is appreciated. It has a large area to move and control your device when you run or perform other activities.
Sound quality and other features
Last year's Surface headphones feature on-board noise cancellation. I expected the same with Surface Earbuds, but apparently Microsoft took a different approach. Instead, Microsoft focused on designing Surface Earbuds so that it could be used in different contexts. This includes using it alone in silence, or while traveling, talking with a co-worker. Essentially, Microsoft doesn't want me to take out the buds and put it back in every minute. He imagines that he will keep them all day long as long as he needs it.
I did not receive a specific response about noise cancellation. Instead, Microsoft mentioned the Omnisonic sound it made during the keynote. A Microsoft representative also played some songs for me and urged me to keep talking. While doing so, I still heard the representative talk to me, as well as music. The music was clear and concise, and the bass was decent, as was the voice of the person speaking to me. There is some kind of magic, but it was difficult for me to judge the true sound quality in a crowded event hall.
Finally, it's a great feature that I haven't seen in other headphones. Surface Earbuds can subtitle your PowerPoint slides. When I tried to do this, my spoken words were slightly delayed when the PowerPoint presentation picked them up, but Microsoft told me that it was due to the WiFi connection. Still, this is a great feature. Other built-in functions allow you to access your calendar and Outlook emails with your voice.
You can pick up Surface Earbuds later this year, and the price starts at $ 249. That could be a high price to pay compared to other competing products (including Apple AirPods), but Surface is definitely a premium brand and the products are priced accordingly.
Hopefully, the investment should be worth it for Surface fans. Be it the live subtitles of PowerPoint or the support for other Digital Assistants, Microsoft has created a lot of features in its Surface Earbuds. However, audiophiles may continue to prefer Surface headphones and their noise canceling function, something we would really like to see in the next version of Surface headphones
Additional readings: #MicrosoftEvent, Microsoft, Surface, Surface Earbuds