Microsoft Earbuds

Microsoft’s $249 Earbuds Want to Put the Office in Your Ears

Microsoft unveiled its new Surface Earbuds, the company’s first true wireless earbuds, at its product presentation this week. The new hearables are voice assistant-neutral, with features that appear designed for office use.

Microsoft Audio Office

The Surface Earbuds offer a variation on the usual features of wireless earbuds. Each rests inside the ear behind a sizeable white disk without filling the space to the ear canal. The buds contain two microphones, one to block background noise and one to detect the user’s voice. Once the Surface Earbuds are paired by Bluetooth with a device, tapping and holding either disk will activate the default voice assistant on that device. The Surface Headphones Microsoft launched last year are limited to using Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant, but the Surface Earbuds work with the Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant, and Siri voice assistants as well. Changing the default voice assistant on the device will do the same for the earbuds.

A major way the Surface Earbuds differ from competitors, however, is the productivity applications. When connected to a PC or mobile device running Windows, the earbuds can be used to access and run Office 365. Users can dictate into a Word document, read and respond to emails on Outlook, or run a PowerPoint presentation. The wearer can perform real-time commentary and advance the slides in the presentation by tapping on the earbuds. The speech-to-text software even allows for live translation into another language.

Based on the advertising copy, Microsoft does seem to view its earbuds as an all-day accessory to be worn at the office. The non-sealed covering of the ear means the wearer isn’t totally isolated, while also making it more comfortable for longer wear, such as at the office. The batteries last a full workday, up to eight hours of continual use and up to 24 hours when the charging case is full, with an hour of battery charged for every ten minutes the earbuds are plugged in.

High-Cost, High-Stakes

The technology, both hardware and software, within the earbuds is cutting-edge, according to Microsoft. Advanced tech is going to be necessary just as a start to convince people to spend more than a hundred dollars above other high-end earbuds. Apple’s $159 AirPods might seem like a real bargain in comparison and that’s before considering some of the newer varieties of earbuds soon to hit the market. For instance, Amazon’s just-announced Echo Buds are $129, but still include features, such as active noise cancellation, that the Surface Earbuds lack.

Microsoft is rolling out the Surface Earbuds right as the market is really taking off. From the super-premium earbuds Jabra announced last month to LG’s new earbuds for the South Korean market, the competition in the hearables market is heating up. But, Microsoft lacks the built-in potential customer base of a smartphone maker like Apple or even a smart speaker developer like Amazon. The compatibility with Cortana is not likely to be enough on its own to entice the average person browsing for a good deal into buying the earbuds. Only the integration with Microsoft’s productivity products gives the Surface Earbuds an edge over its competitors. But, it will require a very impressive PowerPoint presentation to convince people that these wireless earbuds are worth a listen.


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