Apple has a huge head-start in the true wireless earbuds space with its massively popular AirPods, now in their third generation with the AirPods Pro. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some competition. Microsoft recently announced its own true wireless earbuds, the Surface Earbuds, and they couldn’t be more different from the all-too-popular AirPods if they tried.
Did Microsoft deliver a set of true wireless earbuds that will have people second-guessing a future AirPods purchase, or did the company create a product that only appeals to a niche audience? Let’s find out as we pit the two products against each other in an early, specs-only comparison in the categories that people care about the most.
Editor’s Note: In this article, we compare the Microsoft Surface Earbuds to the Apple AirPods 2 with Wireless Charging Case — not to be confused with the brand new Apple AirPods Pro, which sit at the top of Apple’s AirPods table both in terms of pricing and performance.
Apple AirPods, much like all Apple products, are hardly what you’d call cheap. At $199 for the model with the Wireless Charging Case, AirPods occupy the higher end of the true wireless market, though you can get them at $159 with the regular, plug-and-play charging case.
We’ve criticized Apple in the past for not delivering enough value for the money, so it was somewhat surprising to see the Microsoft Surface Earbuds arrive this October at $249. That puts them on-par with both the $249 Beats Powerbeats Pro, a set of true wireless earbuds that are designed for very active lifestyles and sports, with a whopping nine hours of battery life — nearly double the AirPods. While it’s possible that the Surface Earbuds will justify their price with their unique features, if you’re looking purely at price, Apple takes this category.
Winner: Apple AirPods
Battery life is the top of a lot of people’s lists when buying wireless headphones or earbuds. After all, if your earbuds die on you in the middle of an activity, that’s not ideal. Apple’s AirPods can keep the tunes going for about five hours on a charge, with a total of 24 hours of performance when you include the charging case. These days, that five hours of playback per charge puts the AirPods at the lower end of what’s possible, especially in light of products like the JLab Epic Air Sport, which pack a whopping 10 hours of power per charge.
Microsoft hasn’t yet disclosed how long the Surface Earbuds will last on a single charge, but it is being reported that they’ll run for eight hours. If that’s accurate, even though the total battery life with the charging case is 24 hours (the same as the AirPods) we’re going to give this one to the Surface Earbuds.
Winner: Microsoft Surface Earbuds
Simplicity has always been Apple’s byword and its AirPods are no exception. They let you listen to (and control) your tunes, take your calls, and talk to Siri hands-free. Despite pressure from competitors offering features like strong IPX water resistance, noise-cancellation, and activity tracking, the AirPods have so far remained true to just their core functions.
Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds may not tackle any of these extra features either, but they definitely go beyond listening and calling. Designed with large, touch-sensitive surfaces, the Earbuds can double as a presenter remote when using PowerPoint, and the dual mics use noise-reducing technology that enables accurate dictation into all Office 365 apps, according to Microsoft. Speaking of dictation, the Earbuds will provide a real-time set of on-screen captions during your presentation. Impressively, real-time translation into more than 60 languages is also an option for the captions.
If you’re on Android, the Surface Earbuds offer Spotify integration that lets you control your tunes directly, via a multi-tap to start playing music instantly.
One thing Apple’s AirPods do exceedingly well is to quickly pair with an Apple device like an iPhone or iPad, just by bringing the charging case within range and tapping one button on the screen. We haven’t seen the Surface Earbuds in action yet, but Microsoft is promising a similar one-click pairing procedure. In addition, unlike the AirPods, the Surface Earbuds allow for onboard volume control.
We’re also impressed by the way Microsoft has added features aimed at making these true wireless earbuds a valuable tool for business users. That said, we think both the AirPods and the Surface Earbuds could benefit from water-resistance.
Winner: Microsoft Surface Earbuds
It’s too early to pick an overall winner in this match-up as we have yet to get a sense of how the Microsoft Surface Earbuds sound, and how they actually perform in the real world. But it’s not too early to say that the Surface Earbuds look compelling, especially if you’re a business person who uses Microsoft Office 365. As soon as we get our hands (and ears!) on the Surface Earbuds, we’ll update this post and pick a winner.
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