Finally, the Microsoft Surface Earbuds have arrived in the seriously competitive true wireless earbuds market. Microsoft’s first earbuds cost $199 and offer 8 hours of battery life on a single charge, excellent audio quality, and some decent productivity tools. But for all its good points, it’s seriously a case of too little, too late. In 2020, you expect to have active noise cancellation and a comprehensive companion application. Oh yeah, and the design could use some work. But if you are a Microsoft enthusiast, the Surface Buds deserve your attention. This is our Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review: Design
When I open the loading case of the Surface Earbuds, the large discs and the lid look like Wall-E. And when I take the buttons out of the case and put them in my ears, they look like those earbuds you’d get from Hot Topic, just the understated corporate edition. The buds are usually made of plastic in a Glacier Gray color. The top of the disc is shiny while the base is matt.
Directly underneath the disc is a thin grille that hides two microphones and a pair of magnetic connectors with a soft-touch silicone earplug at the end. At the narrow end of the earplug is another grille that protects the drivers. Like most premium earbuds, Surface Earbuds are IPX4 rated, which means they are water-resistant. The charging case looks like a large pillbox and is made of the same shiny plastic as the top of the earbuds, and that stuff is a serious fingerprint magnet.
The top of the lid is engraved with a dark gray Microsoft logo. You’ll find a USB Type-C port on the back and a pairing button underneath. Measuring at 1 x 0.8 inches, the 0.3-ounce Surface Earbuds are the widest true wireless earbuds I have ever used. They are bigger and heavier than the Apple AirPods Pro (0.2 ounces, 1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches). The Microsoft Surface Earbuds’ charging case is also on the big side, at 1.4 ounces, 3 x 1.3 x 1-inch compared to the AirPods Pro (1.6 ounces, 2.4 x 1.7 x 0.9-inches).
Microsoft missed an opportunity to add some color options here. They could have used some colors from the Surface line and the different Type Cover keyboards.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review: Comfort and Controls
The Surface Earbuds aren’t the most beautiful true wireless earbuds I’ve ever seen, but damn if they’re not one of the most comfortable. Is it as comfortable as the Apple AirPods Pro? Not quite, but they’re one of the most comfortable non-AirPods I’ve ever worn. The first thing I like about Surface Earbuds is that I don’t have to play a twister to get them in my ears. I just popped them in, and the wide silicone earbuds always gently rest against four points in my ear. I soon forgot I was wearing them, even after listening to music for almost two hours.
All that extra surface comes in handy. All jokes aside, the solid discs on the Surface Earbuds give you enough space to enter touch controls. On the right button, I’ve raised and lowered the volume with a quick up or down swipe and play/pause audio, or answer/end calls with a quick double-tap. A long press calls up your digital assistant. If you need to skip tracks, swipe forwards or backward on the left button.
In practice, the buttons are almost infallible because my fingers had enough room to maneuver, and the buttons are pretty forgiving. If you’re not sure if you’re hitting the right spot on the buds, you’ll hear a slight click when you’ve activated a gesture. Surprisingly, Microsoft hasn’t added an automatic pause feature that stops the music when you remove a button from your ear. It’s an odd omission because you’d expect to see the feature on some first-class buds.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review: Performance
Microsoft has equipped the Surface Earbuds with two 13.6-millimeter drivers. During my tests, I discovered that the tops produced noisy audio. But while the buds did an excellent job in the middle and high, it’s hit or miss in the low. When I listened to Ella Mae’s “Boo’d Up” (equalizer on Flat), the top hat and bows sounded clean on the Microsoft Surface Buds, but the bass was spread almost to the point of non-existence. The artist’s vocals were light and airy and flowed over the keyboard and synthesizer accompaniment.
The song sounded much detailed on the Apple AirPods Pro (equalizer that’s on Flat), complete with rich basses — an area I usually beat the AirPods for. Another thing I noticed was the volume; I had to turn the Surface Earbuds up to 70% volume to match 50% of the AirPods Pro. The Microsoft Surface Earbuds gave me better lows on India Arie’s “There’s Hope.” Without the deep 808s, the tops had no problem reproducing the bass guitar on the track while showing the violin, maracas, keyboard, and Arie’s soulful alto.
Still, with the AirPods, I could hear more details, like the twang of an acoustic guitar. On top of that, Apple’s earbuds had a warmer, more intimate sound image. When I listened to “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes, the sultry vocals of Brittany Howard tore through the song, but not so much that I couldn’t hear the electric and bass guitars. This is the only song where the Surface Buds were on a level playing field with the AirPods Pro.
Battery life and Connectivity
According to Microsoft, the Surface buds can last 8 hours on a single charge. I wore these bad guys for 4 hours and 30 minutes, playing music, dictating part of this review, and watching several YouTube videos. I also had to wait an hour for a software update. After all this, the buds still had 52% battery life, so 8 hours of claim is very plausible. Also, with the charging case, you get 16 hours for a full 24 hours of juice.
The Surface Buds rotate around the AirPods Pro with an actual bud battery life of 4.5 hours, but they are evenly distributed when you throw in the charging case. If the headphones die on the way, a 10-minute charge can last for an hour. Surprisingly, Surface Earbuds rely on Bluetooth 4.2 to connect to different devices instead of the newer 5.0 or 5.1. Still, whether I was downstairs or grilling outside in my backyard, I had no real connection problems unless I closed the door. Then the connection got a bit blotchy.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review: Call Quality
Armed with a pair of microphones in each earbud, Surface Buds offers reliable call quality. I made several test calls where I could hear each of my callers clearly without any echo or distortion. And while my dad said I sounded good during the call, my mom noticed that there was a lot of noise and that it looked a bit hollow. My friend was the tiebreaker. He immediately asked if the earbuds have noise cancellation because he could hear the television as clearly as he could listen to me. He also said that I sounded like I was talking to him without earbuds.
Price and Availability
The Surface Earbuds are available for $199. That price, of course, includes two Surface earbuds, along with a reasonably large charging case and three different sizes of silicone earbuds.
Microsoft Surface Earbuds Review: Conclusion
For $199, you get a pair of true wireless earbuds that are incredibly comfortable with many features designed to improve your productivity. Speaking of productivity, the earplugs can last a full working day. And yes, the design is polarizing, but that large surface area makes sweeping commands so much easier. It also helps that the earplugs sound good. But that’s not enough to obscure the things that are missing, namely the active noise cancellation, the control adjustment, and the lack of one find my earbuds function.
And no, we can’t overlook the design. Although they’re 50 bucks more, I have to recommend the Apple AirPods Pro until Microsoft takes another bite of the true wireless earbuds. For now, the Microsoft Surface Earbuds is an excellent choice for people who have invested deeply in the Microsoft ecosystem. However, for more options, check our list of Best True Wireless Earbuds that are worth buying.
The Microsoft Surface Earbuds deliver solid audio, cool productivity tools, and more than 8 hours of battery life, but the design is polarizing.
- Incredibly comfortable fit
- Good audio quality
- Long battery life
- No active noise cancellation
- Polarizing design