Microsoft Surface Earbuds vs. Amazon Echo Buds: Two takes on true wireless

If two products have yet to officially launch, is it too soon to compare them? We don’t think so, which is why we’re matching up two brand-new entries to the true wireless earbud market: The just-announced Microsoft Surface Earbuds and the Amazon Echo Buds.

These true wireless earbuds couldn’t be more different from one another. Price, design, functionality, and battery life — all of these key specs are different on paper, which likely translates into big differences in the real world too. But even though the ink on these specs is barely dry, let’s take a look and see how they compare.

It’s never too early to do your research before buying.

Price

Jennifer McGrath/Digital Trends

Let’s start with the one factor that will make up a lot of people’s minds right away. The Amazon Echo Buds sell for $130. That’s cheaper than the AirPods without the fancy wireless charging case, and in fact, they’re less expensive than most of the well-known brands of true wireless earbuds. The Microsoft Surface Earbuds are almost at the far end of the price spectrum at $249. That’s a whopping $119 difference, making the Surface Earbuds 84% more expensive than the Echo Buds. As we get into the features, it’s quite possible the Microsoft earbuds will justify their hefty price tag, but for now, the Echo Buds are the better deal.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Battery life

True wireless earbuds can’t be used with an analog cable when their batteries die, so battery life should be a top consideration when buying. The Microsoft Surface Earbuds have a total playtime of 24 hours when you include the juice in their charging case, which is lower than average these days. On the other hand, they can last for eight hours between trips back to the charging case, which is excellent and represents a full day for a lot of folks.

The Echo Buds will go for 25 hours with the charging case included, but critically, they only make it five hours between charges. That would have been good in 2018, but we’re now nearing the end of 2019 and we can clearly expect more. The Surface Earbuds handily take this category.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Design

Jennifer McGrath/Digital Trends

It’s far too early to render an opinion on how well each of these products is designed from a usability point of view, but we can certainly judge them on aesthetics. Amazon’s Echo Buds take the tried-and-true approach of delivering a small set of black devices that more or less disappear when inserted in your ear. You might even call them bland or generic-looking.

The Microsoft Surface Earbuds, on the other hand, are impossible to miss unless you cover them with long hair. Their large, flat outer disc surfaces call attention to themselves in a way that no other true wireless earbuds do. One might be prepared to accept their design as the price of the features they offer, but we can’t imagine it will be a selling point on its own.

We should probably be encouraging design risk-taking from normally conservative Microsoft, but not this time.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Special features and voice assistants

So what can these two very different wireless earbuds actually do?

Amazon has designed the Echo with two main features in mind: Listening to music and interacting with Alexa. They have three mics in each earbud and use Bose technology for active noise reduction. You can adjust the level of noise reduction from maximum to off with just a few taps, and you can summon Alexa (or Google Assistant or Siri) completely hands-free. The Echo Buds work with a wide variety of music services out of the box, including Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music.

The Surface Earbuds are meant for music too, with easy access to Spotify built-in, but Microsoft has aimed this product at businesspeople. They’re designed to let you interact with Office 365 using your voice (dictation, real-time presentation captioning, real-time caption translation), and your fingers (various touch gestures let you control PowerPoint presentations). Curiously, despite having Cortana, Microsoft has said nothing about talking to its voice assistant (or anyone else’s) via the Surface Earbuds. There’s also no noise reduction or cancellation — another odd choice given that the Surface Headphones offer both features.

Unless you’re a frequent presenter of PowerPoint slide shows, we think the Echo Buds’ feature set will be a lot more useful.

Winner: Amazon Echo Buds

Conclusion

Are we declaring an overall winner? Nope, not yet. The proof is always in how a product works and, so far, we haven’t put either of these true wireless earbuds through our usual torture tests. When we do, we’ll be back to update this showdown with our final decision. Until then, one thing is already clear: The Amazon Echo Buds, with their price, design, and feature set, will be more attractive to the average consumer.