Poor Sound and No Worthwhile Office 365 Integration Condemns Surface Earbuds
Last week, I ordered a set of the Surface Earbuds after they became available in Ireland. Today I am returning the Earbuds to Microsoft and have reverted to my old Bose QC20 headphones.
The Bose headphones have their weak points. The StayHear tips which fit into the ear can pop off and are maddeningly easy to lose. I’ve also lost many clothing clips. As an iPhone user, I’m irritated by the need to buy an Apple lightning adapter. This is an expensive component for what it is that usually fails after a while, even when bought from the Apple store. But the QC20 headphones are comfortable to wear even for a long time, have excellent noise cancelling capabilities, and the sound is great.
Problems with Surface Earbuds
The Surface Earbuds weren’t comfortable to wear. Neither the Large nor Medium silicone ear tips suited me. I knew the Earbuds didn’t have noise cancelling, so wasn’t surprised that it was harder to hear in noisy conditions, like when traffic passed. However, even in relatively quiet conditions, I thought the sound was poor. A firmware update didn’t help. Maybe it was just me, but I also found the controls for the Surface Earbuds to be fiddly, but I’m sure that I could get over that with time.
Using Microsoft 365 with Surface Earbuds
Microsoft says that you can use Microsoft 365 with the Surface Earbuds. Although this is true, it’s mostly marketing hype.
The page describing how tells how to dictate Word documents and Outlook messages. The Dictate option in applications (Figure 1) is powered by Microsoft Speech Services and the ability to dictate text has absolutely no dependency on Surface Earbuds. I just dictated that sentence in Word while wearing a Plantronics headset.
The next piece of functionality is to use the Earbuds during a PowerPoint presentation. I can’t see myself swiping at an earbud to move slides backward or forward. There are easier ways to advance slides and I’m not sure how people would take the sight of a presenter flicking at their ear during a session. I have enough problems with laser pointers…
The last point of integration with Microsoft 365 is to use the Earbuds with the Outlook mobile Play My Emails feature. Again, despite the assertion in Microsoft’s blog announcing Play My Emails, that Outlook would “add functionality specifically designed for the new Surface Earbuds,” I suspect that here’s nothing unique to Earbuds here that you wouldn’t gain from other headphones or in-car speakers. In any case, because of the dependency on Cortana services, the “intelligent technology” in Play My Emails only works for Exchange Online users whose mailboxes are in U.S. datacenters, so this feature is worthless to me.
Not a Surface Brand Problem
The bottom line is that Surface Earbuds didn’t suit me. The in-ear look didn’t bother me because so many people have things dangling from their ears today, but the lack of comfort and poor sound did. I would consider keeping the Surface Earbuds if there were real advantages of using them with Office 365, but no practical advantage exists except in the minds of the marketing fraternity.
I like Surface as a line and have every version of the Surface Book, which I consider to be an excellent PC. Apart from the dictated piece, I’m typing this on a Surface keyboard and I use an Arc mouse, which is sometimes sold as a Surface mouse. My wife uses one of the new Surface laptops and is pleased with it. The problem is not with the Surface brand; it’s entirely to do with these earbuds.
At least the Microsoft Store has an efficient and effective (in my experience) return process. An email arrived with a UPS label that’s been printed out and attached to the box ready for pickup.