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The wireless earbud wars are in full effect.
Apple's AirPods are probably what most people picture when they think of wireless earbuds, but everyone and their dog is getting in on the trend now. Amazon recently announced its Echo Buds, while Microsoft showed off its Surface Earbuds on Wednesday.
I had a chance to briefly check out the Surface Earbuds at Microsoft's New York Event, and I'm here to deliver the definitive word on them. I'll cut through all the jokes about how they look like old earrings and tell it to you straight: They seem fine.
The unique angle Microsoft is taking with Surface Earbuds (since everyone needs to have one) is that they're a little better suited to productivity than AirPods. They have large, impossible-to-miss capacitive touch panels on each ear that can do everything from raise and lower volume and skip songs to move forward in a PowerPoint presentation.
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These are the working professional's earbuds, is what I'm saying. And in the short demo I got, they seemed adept at doing all of those things. I was most impressed by their ability to transcribe speech in real-time for the sake of presentation captions. Even in a noisy, chaotic event space, they did a nice job of keeping up with what I was saying, and I didn't notice any hilarious transcription gaffes.
That said, I didn't get to try their linguistic translation features. They support around 60 languages, but I only know one.
Despite their size, they're surprisingly light and feel good in the ear. Microsoft gave us three different sizes of ear cups to try, but the medium option felt fine to me. As for the sound quality, I can't say I had any complaints, though I'd need to try them in my everyday travels to really deliver a verdict on that.
My biggest concern from a usability standpoint is that Surface Earbuds lack any kind of noise reduction or cancellation features. While this isn't necessarily a staple in wireless earbuds (AirPods don't have them yet, either), it's becoming a bit more common. Considering their $249.99 price point, which is on the high end for wireless earbuds, it would have been nice to at least have the option.
From a philosophical standpoint, I sort of get it. Microsoft is positioning these as something you'll use in the office, which is a place where you occasionally need to speak to, and hear, people. Having to constantly remove and re-insert earbuds is annoying. And, to their credit, I was able to clearly hear a Microsoft rep I was talking to while I was also listening to music.
There's something genuinely cool and futuristic about the Earbuds' workplace applications, but will that be enough for casual consumers? I don't know. The price tag might be tough to swallow when compared to the competition. All I know is that they look a little silly, but we said the same thing about AirPods when those were new, too.
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