Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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Microsoft’s $200 Surface Earbuds have seemingly been abandoned

The Surface Earbuds are a weird product in Microsoft’s line of Surface devices. Now over two years old, and still available to buy at a close to launch price of $160 (opens in new tab), the Surface Earbuds might be the worst “Surface” branded device you can buy brand new right now. They launched at a time when the wireless earbuds space was heating up and offered less than the competition while charging more.

Are they the best in audio quality? Definitely not. Are they the best designed? Most would argue that they aren’t. Are they the most comfortable? That depends, but I know a lot of people claim they don’t properly fit in their ears. Do they support wireless charging? Nope. Is the case premium? Mine scratches easily and the lid feels flimsy. Nothing about the product screams $160 premium earbuds.

And those are just the issues with the hardware in general, this doesn’t include hardware and software faults of which there are many. Usually, a wearable device like this would receive multiple firmware updates over the lifecycle of the product as the company strives to improve them, especially on a first-generation device.  

Frustratingly, absolutely nothing has happened with the Surface Earbuds since they launched. Taking a quick look at the Surface Earbuds firmware update history page (opens in new tab), the last time the Surface Earbuds received any new features or fixes was in… September 2020. That was over two years ago. The first firmware update was in May 2020 when the Earbuds launched, and then again in September 2020 when the “Graphite” colorway was released.

This implies that Microsoft thought the launch day version of each Surface Earbuds colorway was good enough that they didn’t need any further updates, which is abhorrently untrue. Here’s a list of the issues I’ve come across in my two years of daily driving the Surface Earbuds:

(Image credit: Windows Central)
  • Hissing noise from earbuds when audio is playing
  • Audio desync between left and right earbuds
  • Poor latency between earbuds and connected device
  • Bluetooth connection issues in crowded places
  • One earbud not charging in the case
  • Earbuds are unable to charge once the battery is depleted

Some of these problems could definitely be solved with firmware updates, but Microsoft hasn’t released any for over 28 months. Even though Microsoft continues to sell the Surface Earbuds new, at the full price of $200, I think it’s fair to say that this product has pretty much been abandoned.

Just because I was curious, I looked around for the update history details for other popular wireless earbuds. To compare, the Apple AirPods 2 have received 7 firmware updates since May 2020. Nothing Ear 1 buds have received multiple since they launched in September 2021, too. Launching earbuds and never updating them again is not the norm.

Also, the Surface Earbuds are absolutely not worth $160 today. They were barely worth that back in 2020. When you consider the likes of Nothing, OnePlus, and even Apple, who are shipping wireless earbuds for $150 or less, with superior sound and active noise cancellation, there’s literally no reason to buy the Surface Earbuds currently.

My sources have said that Microsoft was working on a successor to the Surface Earbuds, codenamed Ella, that was supposed to launch before the end of this year. We’re now at the end of the year and that never happened. I hope they’ve simply been delayed and not canceled, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they have.

Microsoft’s abandonment of the first Surface Earbuds should be a huge red flag for any potential buyers of a second-generation pair. Why should anyone buy them if Microsoft is going to abandon them the second they hit the market? This product segment is competitive, and there are many other brands that will commit to supporting their own wireless earbuds for longer.

If Surface Earbuds 2 does eventually ship, I hope Microsoft does a much better job at supporting them for longer than a few months. I also hope they have Active Noise Cancelling, a better design, and wireless charging because that’s pretty much the standard for wireless earbuds in the $200 price category these days.

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