Microsoft’s Surface Headphones, which are over-ear noise-cancelers, have just been updated, and the smaller in-ear pair, called Surface Earbuds, is finally being released. Here’s what you need to know about both pairs: should Apple be worried?
Surface Earbuds: Release date and price
These are the really interesting ones as Microsoft takes on Apple’s AirPods. Announced last October, the true-wireless headphones were originally planned to go on sale for $249, the same price as Apple’s AirPods Pro (though when Microsoft announced the Earbuds, the Pro AirPods hadn’t been revealed).
The Earbuds were then delayed while Microsoft got them just right and will go on sale next week on Tuesday, May 12.
And the price is now $199.
Surface Earbuds: No noise-canceling
Unlike the AirPods Pro or indeed the over-ear Surface Headphones, Surface Earbuds don’t have noise-canceling on board. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the price was dropped, given that noise-canceling is such a key part of the AirPods Pro success story.
Surface Earbuds: Siicone tips
However, like AirPods Pro, the Earbuds come with three pairs of silicone ear tips so you can choose the size that fits you best – even if there’s no noise-canceling, you can be sure of noise-isolating to help with audio quality.
Surface Earbuds: Design and controls
The main, er, surface, of the Surface Earbuds is a flat, white circle. At a quick glance, it almost looks like the charging puck that comes with the Apple Watch. Microsoft says the fit will be “ultra-comfortable and stable”.
The flat disc is touch-sensitive, so you can change the track, adjust the volume or start or end a phone call. Because the circle is big enough, it’s versatile enough to respond to a tap, touch or even a swipe.
Surface Earbuds: Microsoft 365 Integration
There are two microphones on each Earbud. Where other manufacturers might have included those for noise-canceling effects, here, it’s for better voice recognition. This means that you can dictate documents using Word or Outlook in Microsoft 365.
There are more features like this On an iPhone you can listen to your Outlook emails, delete them and reply to them, just by touching the Earbuds and speaking commands and text.
Or swipe to change slides in a PowerPoint presentation and enable live capions onscreen, which is cool.
On Android phones you can also get to Spotify quickly: triple-tap either Earbud to play your music.
Surface Earbuds: Omnisonic sound
That’s what Microsoft is calling the sound signature on the Earbuds and it’s designed to be immersive. It’s also on the Headphones 2.
Surface Earbuds: Battery life
You’ll get eight hours of playback on the buds, which is pretty impressive, and there’s another 16 hours of charge in the case. So, that’s 24 hours altogether.
Surface Headphones 2
The newly announced Headphones 2 look the same as the first-generation model and have the same clever interface – you dial the volume or the noise-canceling up and down, literally, using the circular panel on the respective ear cups.
The main difference is increased battery life, which is now up from 15 horus to 20 hours, and support for the Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth codec, which the originals lacked. The ear cups now rotate through 180 degrees so they can fold flat on your neck.
Microsoft also says the noise-canceling, which was good on the original Headphones, has now been re-tuned so that it’s tuned for the human voice. So, if you’re working from home (as is largely the case right now), the rest of the family’s chatter needn’t upset your concentration.
How that will affect other situations such as airplane use is still to be confirmed.
Oh, and one other big change: the price. The original Headphones cost $349. Surface Headphones 2 are much better value at $249. Like the Earbuds, the Surface Headphones 2 onsale date is Tuesday, May 12.
The audio quality on the original Surface Headphones was beaten by many rivals, I’d say, especially for the price. It’ll be interesting to see how the new model compares.
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