Microsoft's first pair of true wireless earbuds sound good and fit comfortably, but they fail to truly earn their $200 price tag
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Microsoft's new Surface Earbuds feature above average sound quality, especially when listening to rock music and songs that don't rely on thick bass.
- Comfort is exceptional, even after several hours of use, and they come with multiple ear tip sizes to fit a wide range of ears.
- Battery life is strong at eight hours for a single charge and 24 hours using the case to recharge.
The Surface Earbuds are Microsoft's first entry in the true wireless earbuds space. The company seems to have a good grasp on
Originally announced in 2019, the Surface Earbuds now make their way into a competitive wireless earbuds market that includes Google's Pixel Buds, a complete lineup from Sony, and, of course, Apple's AirPods.
Surface Earbuds come in at $199.99, which instantly makes them a premium product. Out of the box, the earbuds are impressively comfortable and sound good enough. But, considering how crowded this market already is, do they really bring anything new, exciting, or worthwhile to this space? With so many
Design and fit
The first thing you'll notice about the Surface Earbuds is how unusual they look. In that sense, they have a slightly larger and more eye-catching appearance than a lot of other earbuds. This increased size is largely a perception issue, though. Maybe it's because they're a bright gray, rather than black or another darker color, but, in person, they don't feel as big as they look.
They don't feel large when handling them either, and they sit comfortably in the ear. In fact, they seem like they'd be a little hard to handle if they were too much smaller. Still, when you look in the mirror or see pictures of people wearing them, they're definitely noticeable, and this distinct style could be either a plus or drawback depending on your tastes. Personally, I don't mind the design, but my wife thinks they look a bit funny.
As a whole, the comfortable fit of the Surface Earbuds really is one of their best features. They're reminiscent of the first AirPods, which fit loosely and don't force a tight seal in your ear. During testing, I've often gone several hours with them in my ears, and even after the music stops, I tend to forget that I'm wearing them.
The different sized tips for different ears are also some of the easiest to change out. Because of this, I went back and forth between the large and medium size tips just to confirm I had the best fit.
The included charging case serves as a neat complement to the earbuds. The earbuds are held in with a gentle magnetic pull and sit flush inside while charging. They're easy enough to pull out and having a case that can sit upright on a desk is convenient.
Though the case is a very pocketable size, it doesn't quite fit in the tiniest pocket on a pair of five-pocket jeans. Also noticeable is how light it is. The lack of weight makes it feel a bit flimsy, especially the lid, but I would take the case as is over anything bigger and unnecessarily heavy.
The case's real downsides are its lack of wireless charging support and its limited battery level indicator. Any wireless earbuds priced at $199 or above really should have a case that wirelessly charges. Meanwhile, the only light on the case is inside and it's either white or red. There's no battery percentage given for the case in the app either, even though a battery level is shown for each earbud. The tutorial videos only explain that once the indicator light turns red, it's time to charge the case — and this isn't very helpful.
- Earbud dimensions: 0.98" (25 mm) x 0.98" (25 mm) x 0.78" (19.9 mm)
- Charging case dimensions: 2.96" (75 mm) x 1.31" (33.2 mm) x 0.98" (25 mm)
- Earbud weight: 0.26 ounces (7.2 grams) with ear tip
- Charging case weight: 1.41 ounces (40 grams) without earbuds
- Speakers: 13.6 mm driver
- Audio codecs: SBC and aptX
- Waterproof rating: IPX4
- Bluetooth: 4.1 / 4.2
- Battery life: Up to 24 hours of battery life with included charging case, and eight hours continuous listening time on a single charge
Setup and app
The Surface Earbuds makes use of the Surface Audio app for Android, iOS, and Windows 10. For the purposes of this review, I used the iOS version.
The earbuds typically connect right away to my phone, but not always. When they don't connect, I have to open the case or put them back in and take them out again. I notice this the most when I take out the left earbud before the right one, which may have something to do with how the wireless connection is managed through the right earbud. This is also something that could potentially get updated in future firmware. Either way, this isn't a major concern as I've experienced these types of random connection issues over the years from other wireless earbuds.
Unfortunately, the Surface Audio app itself is passable at best, and annoying and frustrating at worst. Every time you open it, it's like the app forgets who you are or what's going on until you tap "I've already done this." It's also worth noting that the earbuds require a firmware update via the app right out of the box, and this process takes about an hour.
Inside the app, you can see battery levels for each earbud, change the EQ among a few different presets, and perform some miscellaneous items, like changing the name and updating the firmware. As it stands, the current iOS app simply isn't that great. This software can be updated at any point, though, so hopefully improvements will be made. I'd especially like to see a battery level indicator for the case get added to the app.
Performance and features
In general, the sound quality on the Surface Earbuds is very sufficient. The open-air, less tightly sealed nature of the earbuds' design favors genres like rock and those less reliant on bass and low-end frequencies. On that note, acoustic guitars and vocals tend to be especially clear and crisp, but other music styles sound good as well.
Bass performance is often a big concern for tiny earbuds like these. Though the Surface Earbuds can't equal the engulfing nature of Sony's WF-SP800N, low-end playback is still adequate. With that said, it's clear that the earbuds' bass would be more impressive if they were capable of creating a tighter seal to better capture the fullness of music tracks. As it stands, you can hear what's leaking by pinching your ear to seal them off.
I listened to a variety of musical styles during my testing, including D'Angelo's funky R&B track "Ain't That Easy," Childish Gambino's "Summertime Magic," and the pop rock track "Dangerous" by Anchor & Braille. "Palm Springs" from Luna Shadows has a particularly impressive sound through the Surface Earbuds, with vocals that cut through sharply, while the kick drum provides a deep beat throughout.
In a quiet area, volume at around 50% is more than adequate to get a nice level of sound detail. When outside or in noisier areas, however, I find that the volume does need to be raised above 75% to hear music well.
Functionally, the earbuds' touch controls are OK. They generally work as advertised by allowing you to swipe up, down, left, and right. The target area is also large enough to mostly avoid mistaken inputs. The touch controls do lack customization, though, so they can't yet be changed from their default states. This is a minor detail, but the limitation is an annoyance for premium-level earbuds.
While the fit is great for office life, these don't seem meant for workouts and running. I took them on a three-mile run and the left earbud fell out in the first quarter mile. I was then able to get it to stay put, but towards the end of my run, with sweat flowing, the right earbud came loose. In my experience, they're fine for casual walks and slow activity — I use them often to work in the yard or go grocery shopping — but I wouldn't recommend these if you plan on moderate to heavy exercise.
Thankfully, battery life is as expected, with around eight hours on a single charge. The charging case is able to provide around 24 hours of total power.
One of the earbuds' standout features is supposed to be the ability to listen to emails in the iOS Outlook app, but that feature actually works with any Bluetooth earbuds. The Surface Earbuds do allow you to swipe their touch controls to advance slides in PowerPoint, but this feature is a hard pass from me. Overall, these productivity capabilities are just too niche to be much of a selling point, especially considering the earbuds' $199 asking price.
Though the Surface Earbuds don't include any kind of noise cancellation feature, the earbuds do feature two integrated microphones for dictation and phone calls. Call quality is clear and doesn't sound overly compressed or muffled in any way. I wouldn't have any concerns using these during work for video or phone calls throughout the day.
The bottom line
Microsoft's first true wireless earbuds are solid performers. Their unique style offers a nice break from the stale look of some other earbuds, and though bass isn't particularly impactful, the earbuds' overall sound quality is good. On the downside, they don't really do anything better than Google's Pixel Buds ($179.99) for Android users, and don't perform better than AirPods ($159) for iPhone users.
This leaves me to question who the earbuds are really made for. Are Windows computer users the key demographic for these? The simple integration with Office 365 apps could be an appealing perk for some, but the lack of some key features typically found on other earbuds in this price range is disappointing.
Despite having a good fit and above average sound quality, the Surface Earbuds are ultimately hard to justify at a premium price of $199.99. At this price, they really need to include a wireless charging case, ear detection support, and better control customization. Without those features, they need to be about $50 cheaper in order to be a truly compelling purchase.
Pros: Comfortable fit, long battery life, above average sound quality
Cons: Expensive, annoying app experience, no wireless charging case, no ear detection, no noise cancellation
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