There’s a handful of premium wireless earphones to choose from besides Apple’s legendary AirPods Pro. Recently, Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds debuted with a ton of consumer interest, and now that Google has brought its new Pixel Buds to Canada, I thought it would be apt to compare two of the most interesting earphones in recent months.

Microsoft Surface Earbuds (left) vs Google Pixel Buds (right)

Design and comfort

The Microsoft Surface Earbuds sports a unique and–depending on who you ask–obnoxious design. Its flat saucer touchpad juts out from the ear and easily catches the eye. The touchpads are also glossy, which creates a bright glare when light hits them just right.

The Surface Earbuds’ touchpad is almost twice the size of the Pixel Buds. Although they look like David and Goliath, their weight difference is negligible.

There’s no debate when it comes to comfort: the Surface Earbuds’ otherworldly fit beats any earphone I’ve tried. Its swappable tips wrap around the entire length of the speaker grill, not just the end. Once you find the right tip for your ear, you can easily forget that you’re still wearing them when music isn’t playing.

The Surface Earbuds ear tips wrap around the speakers and are supremely comfortable.

The smaller Pixel Buds are more discreet. With earpieces just slightly larger than wired earphones, they can be tucked into the ears. Buyers can also choose the Almost Black colour option for added stealth. With that said, keep in mind that this compactness comes at the cost of a smaller battery.

Google claims that it shaped the Pixel Buds after scanning thousands of ears. And although the earpiece’s rounded contour and wingtips are plenty comfortable, it can’t match the gentle fit of the Surface Earbuds.

The Pixel Buds comes with standard ear tips that passively block noise.

Water-resistance is an important consideration with peripherals that frequent the outdoors. The Surface Earbuds are IPX4 rated and can shrug off splashing water from any direction. Google’s Pixel Buds also have an IPX4 rating to handle sweat and rain with ease.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Sound quality

Sound quality is tantamount to an earphone’s prestige and can be affected by a plethora of variables: fit, tuning, and driver quality are just a few. Equally important is personal taste and the genre of music; rap fans may prefer punchier bass than those who enjoy country.

Based on my experience, I must hand the win to the Google Pixel Buds. Out of the box, it sounded more balanced than the Microsoft Surface Earbuds, which heavily favours bass. Even after adjusting the equalizer in the Surface Audio app, I still wasn’t able to tune the Surface Earbuds to sing to my taste. The Pixel Buds also provided adequate noise insulation thanks to their ear tip’s seal, something I appreciated when roaming outdoors.

Despite touting “premium audio”, both earphones produce a hissing sound when they’re sitting idle. Whereas the hissing disappears from the Pixel Buds when the music starts, the Surface Earbuds’ noise persists and can sometimes disrupt gentler instrumentals. The noise doesn’t seem to plague all units, but Microsoft said it’s currently investigating nonetheless.

I can’t fault either company for omitting active noise cancellation. Cost reasons aside, active noise cancellation could reduce the Pixel Bud 2’s battery life. Microsoft likely eschewed active noise cancellation due to its debatable effectiveness in an on-ear design.

Winner: Google Pixel Buds

Features and ease of use

The Pixel Buds and the Surface Earbuds support touch inputs on the earpieces. Users can swipe and tap on the earbuds to access basic controls: skip music tracks, answer calls, adjust volume, and summon voice assistants of their respective devices. Touch controls for both were highly accurate and reliable.

There are a few slight differences when looking beyond the basics. When paired with an Android device, the Pixel Buds can dictate your notifications and provide real-time translations through the Google Translate app. While the Surface Buds can also call upon the Google Assistant to read notifications to you, it can’t use its earpiece touchpads to activate the microphone in Google Translate, nor can it alternate between the phone’s speakers and earpiece to deliver translations.

But the Surface Earbuds’ ace feature is its integration with Microsoft Office. Users can swipe through slides and control embedded video playback using the earphone’s touchpads. It can also read back emails in the Outlook app on iOS, with Android support coming soon.

Notice the glare on the touchpad caused by my photo lights.

The Surface Earbuds have a big downside: the lack of in-ear detection. This means that music won’t autopause when you remove the earphones.

Neither device gave me trouble during pairing. My host of devices easily picked up their Bluetooth pairing signal and connected hassle-free. Moreover, the Pixel Buds can Fast Pair with Android phones simply by opening its battery case, while the Surface Earbuds can instantly pair with Windows devices through Swift Pair. Talk about fast.

Sadly, neither earphones support Bluetooth multipoint pairing, making switching between multiple devices more cumbersome than it should feel.

Winner: Google Pixel Buds

Battery Life and charging

The Surface Earbuds won here by a landslide. Whereas the Pixel Buds can last up to five hours on a single charge, the Surface Earbuds can last up to eight. If you don’t diligently plug the earphones back into the battery case every time you remove them, then the Pixel Buds can croak before the end of the workday. They’re quick to recharge though; I could squeeze out about an hour of use if I leave them in the battery case for 15 minutes.

The Pixel Buds charging case feels sturdier than the Surface Earbuds’. They both have LED lights that indicate the earphone’s charge levels.

Both battery cases charge through a USB-C port, but the Pixel Buds can also be charged wirelessly on a compatible wireless stand. The Surface Earbuds don’t support wireless charging.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Earbuds

Cost

We’ve already hinted that these devices cost a pretty penny. The Microsoft Surface Earbuds are available for a whopping CA$259.99. The Google Pixel Buds are just slightly cheaper at CA$239.99. Nevertheless, a slight win is still a win.

Winner: Google Pixel Buds


And the final winner is…

Google Pixel Buds. Choosing a winner was tough as you can’t go wrong with either device. The Microsoft Surface Earbuds had the edge in comfort, battery life, and better integration with Microsoft Office, but I preferred the Pixel Buds’ sound, inconspicuous design, and in-ear detection. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re $20 cheaper. The final factor that ousted the Surface Earbuds was its weird hissing noise. The fight would’ve been even closer had Microsoft cleared this issue before launch.



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