The Amazon Echo Buds and Microsoft Surface Earbuds are two of the latest true wireless earbuds to have been announced, yet only one of them can be yours right now. This creates a bit of a predicament: Do you head over to Amazon’s website and order the Echo Buds, or wait until Microsoft blesses us with the Surface Earbuds in 2020? It’s tough to say, really.
While the Amazon Echo Buds performed better than expected and took home a stellar 4.5 out of 5 stars score in our full review, there’s a chance the Surface Earbuds could outperform them when they eventually hit the shelves. So if you’re torn between the two, your best bet is to look at how they compare on paper, since we can’t compare them in the real world just yet.
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
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
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
Are we declaring an overall winner? Nope, not yet. The proof is always in how a product works and, so far, we’ve only put one pair of these true wireless earbuds through our usual torture tests, so it would be unfair to declare a winner. When the other pair come across our desk, 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, are more attractive to the average consumer — and they’re holding their own in the real world.