Microsoft Surface Earbuds review: comfort at a cost – The Verge

Microsoft is late. The corporate’s first actually wi-fi earbuds, the Floor Earbuds, had been latecomers once they had been first introduced again in October, and they’re even later now that they’re lastly accessible. In 2020 alone, Google has launched its second-gen Pixel Buds, Samsung made strides with the Galaxy Buds Plus, and Sennheiser debuted one other set of hi-fi actually wi-fi earbuds. And as all the time, you’ve acquired Apple, Sony, and Jabra within the combine. This broad subject of competitors has already led Microsoft to launch them at a cheaper price ($199.99) than initially deliberate. So how does Microsoft differentiate?

The corporate says its Floor Earbuds had been constructed with a watch towards unequalled consolation, a standout design, wealthy sound high quality, and integration with the Workplace 365 suite. They ship on a number of of these fronts. However the Floor Earbuds additionally make trade-offs that can remind you these are Microsoft’s first pair of actually wi-fi earbuds. The issue is, everybody else is already on spherical two or three.

Match and end aren’t amongst these trade-offs, nevertheless. The Floor Earbuds are one other instance of Microsoft’s {hardware} chops, with incredible construct high quality and a design that’s not afraid to stray from the competitors. You’ll both love or hate the looks of them. It could possibly appear like you’re sporting mid-2000s lobe gauges or PopSockets in your ears. Google’s second-gen Pixel Buds set a brand new customary for a delicate, discreet match, however there’s nothing understated about these. The Floor Earbuds are giant, vivid white circles which can be unabashedly current.

The Floor Buds are one other showcase of Microsoft’s {hardware} chops.

However whenever you take a look at them up shut and look at the small print — the acoustic mesh grills, the foolproof manner that the ear suggestions connect to the buds, and so forth — you’re reminded of Microsoft’s precision. The Floor Earbuds exude high quality, even when you’re not offered on the fashion. They’re rated IPX4 waterproof, that means they will endure splashes from any path. Microsoft isn’t positioning these as health earbuds, but when they fit your needs properly, they’ll be as much as that job.

The Floor Earbuds are available a shiny, pill-shaped charging case with the Microsoft emblem on the prime. (The earbuds themselves lack any branding.) My case got here a bit scuffed up proper out of the field, which was disappointing, however the gentle grey shade hid these scratches properly sufficient. There’s a USB-C port round again, a pairing button on the underside, and that’s the extent of the case. Sadly, it doesn’t have wi-fi charging capabilities. However at below an inch tall and fewer than three inches broad, it’s very pocketable.

Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds pictured next to Google’s Pixel Buds.

Microsoft’s Floor Earbuds pictured subsequent to Google’s Pixel Buds.

These earbuds have an open design — like the unique AirPods — that rests in your ear as an alternative of filling your ear canal. This strategy has some downsides, but it surely does include one profit that you just’ll discover instantly: terrific consolation. I might put on the Floor Earbuds for giant chunks of the day with none discomfort or inner-ear strain. As soon as they had been in, I discovered giving them a slight twist helped lock the additional lump of silicone in the back of every ear tip into my ear lobe. (Microsoft supplies three sizes of suggestions within the field.) This created a safe match that stored maintain for hours. They keep in very properly for probably the most half, however the Floor Earbuds can come dislodged with out a lot drive, so simply beware when altering your shirt or placing on a jacket.

The downside of that openness is that you just’ll hear a ton of surrounding noise when sporting the Floor Earbuds. It may not pose an issue whereas many people stay at residence, however you’ll want to actually crank the amount to beat a loud out of doors setting or noisy prepare. And as soon as all of us return to places of work, you’ll need to ignore close by conversations reducing into your music.

The Surface Earbuds pictured worn in the reviewer’s left ear.

There’s nothing delicate in regards to the Floor Earbuds.

An open design additionally limits bass potential, which is all the time enhanced by in-ear seal. The Floor Earbuds don’t offer you that, however they sound good regardless, with a balanced combine that felt properly immersive as I listened by means of Jason Isbell’s new album Reunions. The audio is about as full as it may be contemplating all of the air these buds let in, however the Floor Earbuds don’t match the element and richness of pricier earbuds. And when you take into account booming bass a necessity, you’ll need to take a look at different choices that totally seal within the ear. Microsoft helps SBC and aptX Bluetooth codecs right here — AAC stays absent — and I discovered the connection stability to be rock-solid throughout my fleeting time outdoors every day.

The Floor Earbuds can attain as much as eight hours of steady battery life earlier than needing a recharge. If left on a desk idle for 10 minutes, they’ll robotically energy all the way down to preserve battery. The case supplies two extra refills for a complete of 24 hours. You possibly can monitor the remaining battery share for every earbud, however bizarrely, Microsoft doesn’t present any manner of checking the case’s remaining juice. You’ll realize it wants a recharge when the one LED inside turns crimson, however that’s it. At a minimal, since nothing lights up on the earbuds once they’re dropped into place, Microsoft ought to’ve eliminated any guesswork by together with separate lights to point out cost stage for the earbuds and case. Apple’s AirPods have the identical lone LED, however Google, Sony, Jabra, and different corporations have gotten this proper with a number of indicator lights.

An image depicting the equalizer settings from Microsoft’s Surface Audio app.

The Floor Audio app permits you to customise the EQ for the earbuds.

Contemplating the big, flat floor space of the Floor Earbuds, I anticipated their touch-sensitive controls can be a snap. Not fairly. You possibly can faucet twice on both earbud to pause or play music. However Microsoft splits monitor controls and quantity between the 2 sides. You swipe ahead on the left earbud to skip a music or again to return to the earlier one. And over on the fitting, you possibly can swipe up or down to manage quantity. Microsoft’s gesture for citing Siri or Google Assistant (simply faucet and maintain on both bud) can generally conflict with these controls. And the swipe gestures on the left earbud proved fiddly in my expertise. I needed to swipe ahead or again in a diagonal path to get the monitor controls to register. I acquired the hold of it, however sadly, you possibly can’t customise the controls; the one choice Microsoft gives is disabling them altogether when you’d relatively deal with every thing on-device.

The Floor Earbuds additionally utterly omit options that I’ve come to anticipate, like an auto-pause operate whenever you briefly take away one in all them. With these, there’s no ear detection, and the music simply retains going. It’s simply a kind of issues that’s exhausting to miss at $200. On the plus facet, Microsoft consists of EQ customization within the Floor Audio app for Home windows, Android, and iOS. The app can also be what you’ll use to replace the earbuds’ firmware. The charging case can solely be up to date when plugged right into a Home windows PC, although I can’t think about you’ll want to try this with any regularity.

Microsoft has been highlighting all of the ways in which the Floor Earbuds can assist you be extra productive with Workplace 365 apps. You possibly can dictate textual content in apps like Phrase and Outlook. And in case your dream has all the time been to manage PowerPoint slideshows with a swipe of your earbud, that is your second. However in actuality, these Workplace 365 tips aren’t distinctive to the Floor Earbuds. Odds are, you are able to do dictation and real-time caption translations with no matter earbuds you’re already utilizing. What’s extra disappointing for work life is that the Floor Earbuds are unable to pair with two units concurrently, similar to your cellphone and your laptop computer. That is doubly irritating because the Floor Headphones are able to doing precisely that, however Microsoft hasn’t introduced the identical multipoint performance right here.

The case is definitely pocketable, but it surely lacks wi-fi charging.

The mics contained in the Floor Earbuds — two on every bud — no less than present wonderful readability for these Workplace options, and I’d put these neck and neck with AirPods as a number of the greatest earbuds for making calls or videoconferencing. Technically, you need to use both earbud independently. However the left one nonetheless depends upon the fitting for a connection to your cellphone, so that you’ll all the time have to have that proper earbud close by (in or out of the case) even when utilizing the left in mono.

The Floor Earbuds have sufficient strengths — ethereal consolation, lengthy battery life, and good voice high quality — to outweigh their downside spots. However even the adjusted $200 worth feels excessive. For that cash, wi-fi charging is a sore omission, and the dearth of multipoint pairing undoubtedly stings for earbuds which can be geared towards productiveness.

If you happen to’re postpone by how common in-ear buds really feel in your ears, these are value a strive. But when that’s not an element, there’s nothing in regards to the Floor Earbuds that places them in must-buy territory. Microsoft is definitely onto one thing, however displaying up late has its penalties.

Pictures by Chris Welch / The Verge

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