Microsoft true wireless contender appeared May 2020, but we only just got round to reviewer a year later. How do the Surface Earbuds fare to the true wireless behemoth that are the Apple AirPods? Read on to find out
Microsoft’s shiny grey earbuds look quite different to Apple’s AirPods (especially the shape), but Microsoft has a very specific audience in mind for these headphones. The Surface Earbuds are all about productivity. Some of their more unique features include Office 365 integration and a translation feature for PowerPoint.
So, how do they compare to Apple’s famous AirPods, and which one of the two is the better option?
Apple AirPods (2019) vs Surface Earbuds — Price
Amazon currently has Apple’s second gen AirPods listed at £159 with wireless charging, or £129 without. That’s a saving of £30-40 next off the RRP .
The Surface Earbuds are a little more expensive, with Microsoft charging £199 with no support for wireless charging. That’s £40 more than Apple’s equivalent set.
Apple AirPods (2019) vs Surface Earbuds — Design
While the AirPods and the Surface Earbuds differ in shape, neither is particularly subtle. The AirPods feature Apple’s stem design, while the Surface Earbuds present a simple (but certainly no more discrete) circular form factor. Neither pair offers much in way of colour variation, with the AirPods coming in just white and the Surface Earbuds in light and dark grey.
The Surface Earbuds come with three pairs of silicone ear tips (S/M/L) so wearers can get a custom fit and take advantage of noise isolation. The shape should help to create a seal for better noise isolation and stability. We didn’t find the Surface Earbuds to be particularly comfortable, especially if you’re moving around a lot or aiming to use them for workouts. In fact, for us, the fit was rather loose.
The regular AirPods do not come with any ear tips, instead they hang precariously off the ear. This also makes the AirPods less suited to workouts as a mere wobble might shake them loose.
The AirPods also lack an IP rating, while the Surface Earbuds have a rating of IPX4, meaning they can stand up to a little sweat or rain. In this case neither headphone really delivers in terms of fit. The AirPods aren’t a great fit (quite literally), while the Surface Earbuds’ design is weird and not all that stable when moving around. We’ll call this a draw as neither is particularly fitting, as it were.
Apple AirPods (2019) vs Surface Earbuds — Features
The Surface Earbuds unique selling point is that their productivity applications. They have Cortana voice assistant support, Office 365 integration and live translation. Office 365 integration means users dictate to Word documents, stay on top of Outlook emails and swipe to the next slide in PowerPoint without taking their phones out. Surface Earbuds wearers can activate live on-screen captioning and translation in PowerPoint to have their words translated into 60+ languages on the fly.
The AirPods also offer voice assistance with Siri, and both headphones can be navigated with touch controls. The AirPods touch controls allow you to play, skip songs and answer calls, while the Surface Earbuds let you do all that, as well as triple tap for Spotify and adjustment of volume with swipe gestures.
The Surface Earbuds have fast pairing with smartphones that have Android Nougat and above, while the AirPods boast one-click pairing with iOS devices. Connect the AirPods to your iPhone and the headphones will sync across your iCloud account to pair seamlessly with any other Apple device. Apple does not offer Siri support or quick setup for Android users, though the AirPods provide a rock-solid connection across both operating systems.
The Surface Earbuds include SBC and aptX codecs along with Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. The AirPods are kitted with Bluetooth 5.0 thanks to Apple’s H1 headphone chip, but that’s only for set-up/connection with other Apple devices. Both pairs also feature dual microphones for improved call and audio quality.
The Surface Earbuds offer a slightly longer battery life, with 7 hours of playtime and 24 hours total in. The AirPods, on the other hand, have a five hour battery with 24 hours in the charging case. However, the AirPods also offer more advanced charging features including fast charging and the option of a wireless charging case.
In this case it’s really about the ecosystem you belong too. If you side with Microsoft Office then the Surface Earbuds have their plus points. If you’re in the iOS system then the AirPods will suite you a lot better. Another draw.
Apple AirPods vs Surface Earbuds — Performance
While the AirPods are certainly a large step up from previous Apple earbuds. But by no means do they offer best-in-class audio.
Instruments don’t sound particularly crisp and the vocals lack detail. Bass can be messy and weakly defined and the quality of audio can compromised by the presence of environmental sound, which can slip in due to poor noise isolation.
The AirPods offer improved sound for iPhone users looking to upgrade the wired earbuds that came in the box, but these headphones are not for audiophiles.
And neither are the Surface Earbuds, despite the £200 asking price. We found the nature of the fit affected the seal the headphones created, so bass is not felt with much force. The driver units try to compensate but the impression that leaves is of a boomy performance.
At best the Surface Earbuds produce a pleasant sound, with decent scale and no trace of sibilance. Dynamics sound limited, the midrange is soft and they lack texture and refinement we’d expect from a true wireless at this price.
This is another draw as neither true wireless particularly excel in the audio department. If anything, both are rather disappointing.
Apple AirPods vs Surface Earbuds – Verdict
Whether you choose Apple’s AirPods or Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds, it essentially comes down to what features you’re looking for.
If you’re an iPhone user who prioritises convenience, you’ll love the AirPod’s fast pairing and rock-solid connection, as well as Apple’s more advanced battery features, including quick and wireless charging.
If you’re a workaholic and tied into Microsoft’s suite of programs, you’ll certainly appreciate the Surface Earbuds Office 365 integration, live translation and the slightly longer battery life. The audio quality of both efforts isn’t great, but considering we gave the AirPods four-stars compared to the 2.5 the Surface Earbuds received, that would be our less than enthusiastic recommendation.
In truth you can do better than either of these earbuds, and you can make a start by having a look at our list of the best wireless earbuds.