Surface Earbuds vs. Apple AirPods: Which is the wireless audio king?

Surface Earbuds
Surface Earbuds (Image credit: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

Microsoft Surface Earbuds are Redmond's first attempt at wireless in-ear audio, extending the Surface accessories range into a competitive and fast-growing space. Premium Surface design continues here, with high-quality construction, leading comfort, and impressive sound.

But when compared to the offerings from Apple, Samsung, and other established names, Microsoft misses the mark with several features, failing to justify the price. Surface Earbuds pack a ton of functionality geared toward productivity, yet Apple AirPods remain the best buy for most.

How Surface Earbuds stack up against AirPods

Surface Earbuds represent Microsoft's first truly wireless in-ear audio endeavor, introducing its latest extension of the flagship PC brand. These premium everyday earbuds provide hassle-free access to music and calls, coupled with a suite of productivity features enabled by Microsoft 365 services.

The arrival of Surface Earbuds marks the latest challenger in the wireless audio space, already dominated by several mobile giants. Apple AirPods have led lineup for several years, acclaimed for their seamless design and ease of use, perceived as the preferred solution for iPhone. While the Android ecosystem's diversity has sprouted many offerings, most still embrace the familiar AirPods-style design.

It's reasonable to draw comparisons between Surface Earbuds and Apple AirPods, both functional across iOS, Android, and Windows 10 PCs, sharing a similar retail price tag. However, with Surface Earbuds and Apple AirPods pursuing vastly different features, which pair is best for you primarily comes down to personal preferences.

Surface Earbuds

Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

Microsoft does a lot right with Surface Earbuds, pushing philosophies present throughout the broader Surface lineup. They sit comfortably in-ear, crucial to its pursuit of all-day listening, with competitive audio quality akin to Apple, Samsung, and established manufacturers. You also snag impressive battery life, with up to eight hours of listening per charge, climbing to 24 hours through the included case.

Surface Earbuds distance themselves from rivals via a distinct disc-style design, serving up easy access to touch gestures. Taps and swipes control playback, adjust volume, and hail your digital assistant, without the need to pull out your phone. Android users can also remotely generate Spotify playlists with a quick triple tap, while iOS users can use Play My Emails to read Outlook emails aloud. And while they take some time to get used to, the gestures generally prove useful at triggering commands, when on the move.

The identity of Surface Earbuds spans entertainment through productivity, but they're undoubtedly geared toward getting things done. The design overlooks commodities now increasingly common across the rivals, attempting to provide unique traits through ties to Microsoft services. That holds little ground for consumers, with Microsoft's talent in the enterprise space reflected on Surface Earbuds instead.

Related: How to use Apple AirPods with Windows PCs

Apple AirPods

Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

AirPods provide a design better geared to the average consumer, with Apple's proficiency spotlighted once again through its AirPods lineup. The king in mobile hardware for over a decade, coupled with a storied past in entertainment, Apple was the first to nail the truly wireless design. That started with the original AirPods, which still acts as the go-to reference for many alternatives today, succeeded by the more expensive AirPods Pro.

Apple AirPods keep wireless audio simple, with streamlined pairing and playback on iOS devices, and even highly-functional on Android and Windows 10 PCs. The all-white silhouette is a common sight, housing two beamforming microphones, optical sensors, and accelerometers. You also get double-tap gestures on either ear, assignable to playback controls, or Siri. While less functional than Surface Earbuds' touchpads, they're less awkward to trigger.

iOS devices like iPhones and iPads are where the AirPods shine. The smooth setup through moment-to-moment interaction is a treat, partially enabled by its proprietary W1/H1 chip for faster connections and longer battery life. Apple also delivers the quality of life adjustments like in-ear detection, automatically controlling connectivity and playback when in and out of your ear, simply overlooked with Surface Earbuds. They're small bonuses individually, but quickly position the AirPods as a product that feels consistently great to use.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple AirPodsSurface Earbuds
Earbud Dimensions0.65" (16.5 mm) x 1.59" (40.5 mm)0.98" (25 mm) x 0.78" (19.9 mm)
Charging Case Dimensions1.74" (44.3 mm) x 2.11" (53.5 mm) x 0.84" (21.3 mm)2.96" (75 mm) x 1.31" (33.2 mm) x 0.98" (25 mm)
Earbud Weight4g7.2g with ear tip
Charging Case Weight40g without earbuds40g without earbuds
Exterior ColorWhiteGlacier
MicrophoneOne microphone per earbudTwo microphones per earbud
Wireless ChargingYesNo
Battery lifeUp to 24 hours battery with charging case
Up to five hours of listening per charge
15-minute charge provides up to three hours of battery
Up to 24 hours battery with charging case
Up to eight hours of listening per charge
10-minute charge provides up to one hour of battery
CordLightning to USB-AUSB-C to USB-A
WirelessBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0 LE
Audio codecsAAC and SBCSBC and aptX
Waterproof ratingNoneIPX4
ControlsDouble tapTap, swipe, voice

Microsoft Surface Earbuds marketing also boasts unique ties to Microsoft 365, hooking into the broader office suite with deeper integration. For example, link these up to a Windows 10 PC for PowerPoint slide control with gestures, while transcribing your voice in real-time. You can also translate your speech into another language as on-screen captions, through Microsoft services. But these features aren't unique, available to any headphones when using Office, including AirPods.

The Microsoft Surface Earbuds are a robust set of wireless earbuds, especially for the productivity-minded user. Their outstanding comfort will suit most buyers, with its three earbud tip sizes helping fine-tune the fit to your personal preferences. Opting for Microsoft's latest also has technical strengths, whether improved microphone quality, longer continuous battery life, or the IPX4 water resistance — which Apple reserves for its AirPods Pro. But for most, those strengths struggle to outweigh the success of AirPods, especially at that premium.

For iPhone, iPad, Mac, and other compatible Apple devices, the AirPods line undoubtedly offers the best wireless audio experience. While Microsoft Surface Earbuds secure more credence on Android phones or Windows 10 PCs over iOS, consider your priorities, and which better suits you.

Check out more tips on getting the most out of your headphones and earbuds.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.