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Trump Could Ease the Brexit Crisis. Instead, He’s Making It Worse.

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President Trump commits outrage after outrage that no previous U.S. president has done before. But, at the same time, he also omits to do things that every previous president has done or would do.

America’s close friend, Great Britain, has thrust itself into desperate trouble. In a tight referendum marred by aggressive disinformation and violations of campaign-finance law, the United Kingdom voted in summer 2016 to exit the European Union.

That vote triggered a negotiating process that yesterday reached its perverse but inevitable outcome. The U.K. and the EU have committed to negotiate a new trade accord. Pending that treaty—which could take many years—Britain will remain within many EU structures, subject to EU rules but lacking any voice in the making of those rules. Meanwhile, in order to avoid redrawing a hard boundary across the island of Ireland, the Northern Irish part of the United Kingdom will face different rules from the rest of the United Kingdom. In other words, a vote to affirm the sovereignty of the British state has instead dissolved the unity of the British state.

Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled the agreement Wednesday. Since then:

  • The British cabinet secretary in charge of the Brexit negotiations has resigned to protest the deal he was supposedly responsible for—the second resignation from that office this year. Three more junior cabinet officers have resigned as well.
  • The value of the pound lurched and heaved, dropping 1.7 percent against the dollar at one point after the Brexit secretary’s resignation. The S&P 500 dropped 0.5 percent when trading opened in New York City on Thursday.
  • The EU president, the former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, has described Brexit as a “lose-lose” proposition: bad for Britain, bad for Europe.

For support, May’s communications team rounded up tepid endorsements from business groups. Here’s the U.K. Federation of Small Businesses: “A deal is now on the table and it is important that the UK government and the EU press ahead as this is the best chance of avoiding a catastrophic cliff edge ….”

Yet there is another loser too, one not being mentioned nearly often enough: the United States of America.

American presidents have historically had their own view of the U.K.-EU relationship: They wanted Britain in Europe, both to expedite trade and commerce across the Channel—and because they counted on Britain to veto anti-American actions by other European countries, especially France.

British governments tended to agree with the United States that the defense of Europe was a job for the U.S.-led NATO alliance—not for some autonomous European defense force. British governments usually opposed state ownership, efforts to build protectionist barriers around Europe, and other dirigiste industrial policies that ran counter to U.S. economic interests.

President Obama expressed America's longstanding preference for U.K.-in-EU during an April 2016 visit to Britain, both at a joint press conference with then-Prime Minister David Cameron and in an op-ed in the Euroskeptical conservative newspaper, The Telegraph: “The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the U.S. and the world need your outsized influence to continue—including within Europe.”

But by the spring of 2016, the U.S. presidential election was vigorously underway. The Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage dismissed Obama’s warnings of difficulties ahead as concealed anti-British animosity from a president more Kenyan than American. “Look, I know his family’s background,” he said. “Kenya. Colonialism. There is clearly something going on there. It’s just that you know people emerge from colonialism with different views of the British. Some thought that they were really rather benign and rather good, and others saw them as foreign invaders. Obama’s family come from that second school of thought and it hasn’t quite left him yet.”  Then-London Mayor Boris Johnson concurred: Obama’s part-Kenyan heritage had biased him toward an “ancestral dislike of the British empire.”  

The Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, expressed strongly pro-Brexit views. Many in Britain counted on Trump, should he win, to fast-track a U.S.-UK free-trade agreement that would more than compensate for any economic shocks of EU exit.  Some are still counting on it, long after they should have known better.  Instead, Trump hit Britain as well as other trade partners with steel and aluminum tariffs in the summer of 2018—and then threatened a follow-on strike against autos, an important British export to the U.S.

Now the British are well and truly stuck. Under present EU rules, they cannot simply give up Brexit after having formally initiated the departure process. They would now legally have to apply for readmission to the European Union—and as a newly admitted state, they would theoretically be obliged to submit to the Euro currency and to the Schengen rules on free movement of labor. The pre-Brexit U.K. had been exempt from those rules.

But it’s not just Britain that is the loser. Brexit, along with Trump’s trade war, is jolting the world economy, frightening financial markets, and edging us all closer to the next global recession. Trump’s big deficit-financed tax cuts have pushed the U.S. into deficits as deep as those incurred to fight the Iraq war. The most powerful anti-recession stimulus available is freer trade.

A responsible American president would pull America’s friends back from this brink. For all the anguish, Brexit still has not happened yet. Britain has filed formal notice of its intention to leap off the precipice, but its feet as yet still touch the ground. The EU authorities have accepted the notice, but paperwork does sometimes get postponed, revised, lost, or forgotten. By now, the U.K. and EU alike would likely welcome a face-saving compromise—one that spares the U.K. the humiliation of asking to be released from the exit process it triggered, one that protects the EU from the disruption of losing its most economically dynamic and militarily capable member state. The EU's own rules offer no obvious off-ramp from the looming crunch—but American help and American pressure might possibly construct such an off-ramp just in time.

Maybe the solution is postponement followed by a second British referendum on the choice between the new renegotiated deal and the pre-2016 EU status quo.

To date, though, America has played no role, raised no voice. Trump has repeatedly welcomed Brexit. His national-security adviser has long advocated it. The rest of the administration is too paralyzed and dysfunctional to remonstrate against the president's malign indifference, much less reverse it.

Why is America AWOL when Britain and Europe need America more badly than perhaps at any time since 1989? Who abdicated American leadership in a way that damages every U.S. strategic and economic interest, while also staining America’s long-standing image as a faithful and helpful ally? How did “America First” become code for “U.S. Friends Abandoned; U.S. Interests Betrayed”?

You know the answer—and it’s an answer that underscores that as lazy, inept, and frivolous as this administration appears from day-to-day, from year-to-year it is inflicting deeply serious harms that may never be healed.

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JimB
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What Trump’s Latest Outburst About Mueller Could Mean

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With his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen meeting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team this week, and with his son, Donald Trump Jr., speculating that he himself will soon be indicted, President Donald Trump apparently couldn’t contain himself anymore.

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” he tweeted on Thursday morning. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.” He added, without providing evidence, that Mueller’s team was “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want,” and called the investigators “thugs,” “a disgrace to our Nation,” and “highly conflicted.”

It isn’t clear what prompted Trump’s early-morning tirade. After all, the outburst was not exactly out of character: Trump has attacked Mueller and the Russia investigation on Twitter nearly 50 times this year alone. But it could be a sign that he received negative news from his legal team or that new indictments against his family or associates are coming down the pike.

Whereas Trump typically attacks Mueller’s investigation with the same perfunctory language—calling it a “witch hunt” and “rigged”—he was unusually specific in his accusation that Mueller’s investigators were “threatening” people “to come up with the answers they want.” He made a similar charge in August, claiming that Cohen, who is now cooperating with prosecutors in a separate investigation, “made up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’”

Trump’s outburst “could just be another rant,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York who handled organized-crime cases. But on the other hand, it could signal action on the part of prosecutors that Trump registers as a threat. He explained that prosecutors sometimes get fed up with people they know are not being honest and threaten to bring charges against them. They may also threaten a person’s status as a potential cooperator, which typically comes with reduced charges.  “My hunch is that prosecutors had some sort of ‘time to get real’ conversation with someone implicated in the investigation, which was then relayed to Trump by defense attorneys,” Honig said.

The collective hunch in Washington that Mueller is due for his next big move could also be adding to Trump’s anxiety. The special counsel’s last major indictment came in July, when he brought charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee and a top Hillary Clinton campaign official in 2016. The four-month delay since the last indictment, combined with Mueller’s intensified interest in the Trump campaign’s relationship with WikiLeaks and Roger Stone, has left some observers with the sense that the investigation, tightly bottled up before the midterms, is ready to explode.

Like Honig, former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman suggested that if Trump has learned anything about Mueller’s recent moves, it’d likely be from defense lawyers whose clients have been ensnared in the investigation. Goldman, who worked on mob-related cases in the Southern District of New York, speculated that the president may know in advance that “indictments are coming, probably tomorrow.” The special counsel’s office has a pattern of releasing indictments on Fridays.

The recent rumors about forthcoming indictments have not been baseless. Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly been telling friends that he expects to be indicted as early as this month, though it’s still unknown what he would be charged with. Roger Stone has also said he is “prepared” to be indicted “for some extraneous crime pertaining to my business, or maybe not even pertaining to the 2016 election.” (Stone’s shifting story to the House Intelligence Committee about his interactions with WikiLeaks in 2016 may have left him exposed legally.)

And a Stone associate, the right-wing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, said earlier this week on a live-streamed video that he’d been informed by the special counsel that he will be indicted for lying to investigators. Prosecutors apparently confronted him with phone and email records that contradicted his testimony. After repeated interrogations, “my mind was mush,” he told NBC News.

Whatever set Trump off this morning, he does still appear to be cooperating with Mueller’s inquiry. Trump’s legal team is reportedly close to finishing its answers to written questions Mueller sent its way. Most, if not all, of those queries apparently have to do with the question of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia, rather than obstruction of justice—a matter Mueller has been examining since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who previously led the investigation into his campaign team.

But written answers carefully crafted with the help of Trump’s attorneys may not be enough to shield the president from further scrutiny. Mueller could still try to subpoena Trump to testify before a grand jury without his lawyers present, though Matthew Whitaker, who Trump selected last week to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, could hypothetically intervene. With Mueller’s investigation potentially continuing well into 2019, however, and with so many questions still unanswered, Trump’s most recent outburst about the probe likely won’t be his last.

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JimB
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Why aren’t chip credit cards stopping “card present” fraud in the US?

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woman inserting a chip card into a terminal

Enlarge / Chip cards help prevent fraud but only if you use them. (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A security analysis firm called Gemini Advisory recently posted a report saying that credit card fraud is actually on the rise in the US. That's surprising, because the US is three years out from a big chip-based card rollout. Chip-based cards were supposed to limit card fraud in the US, which was out of control compared to similar fraud in countries that already used EMV (the name of the chip card standard).

Chip cards work by creating a unique code for each transaction, and (ideally) require a customer to enter a PIN to verify that they want to make the purchase. This doesn't make it impossible to steal information from chip-based cards, but it does make it much harder to reuse a stolen card. By contrast, using a magnetic stripe to swipe a card simply offers all the relevant information to the merchant's card reader, which is much easier for a bad actor to steal.

Gemini Advisory now says that 60 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen in the US in the past 12 months, and most of those were chip-based cards.

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JimB
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Astounding. Chip and pin is ubiquitous across Europe
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Trump Gets NATO Backwards

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Returning from the World War I armistice commemoration in Paris, President Trump reemphasized his view of America’s European allies. “We pay for large portions of other countries’ military protection,” he wrote on Twitter, and “it is time that these very rich countries either pay the United States for its great military protection, or protect themselves.” Trump’s criticisms are, of course, nothing new—since the 2016 campaign he has routinely highlighted the ways in which free-riding allies purportedly take advantage of American largess.

But underlying the president’s position lies an assumption that is now worthy of close consideration: that the United States defends Europe, and stations troops on the continent, based on an impulse that is either fundamentally charitable, anachronistic, or both. As a result, it follows that we’ve been played by allies enriching themselves under our protection. Trump seems to believe that such altruism merits gratitude; the French, he observed, were “starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along.”

The truth, however, is that the U.S. helps Europe because in so doing it helps itself. Twice in the first half of the 20th century, the United States went to Europe to end wars that had engulfed the world. These were not acts of charity, but of national self-interest. Following the second world war, American leaders resolved not to permit such catastrophes to reoccur. Their solution was to remain in Europe, commit to its defense, and deploy troops there as a way to keep the peace. The bargain has been straightforward: America gets bases and a guarantee that we won’t have to fight alone; European allies get protection from the world’s foremost military. All get stability and peace on the continent.

[Eliot Cohen: Trump fails his rendezvous in France]

The hardheaded interests at stake in European peace informed the moves even of the great presidential idealist, Woodrow Wilson. He famously called for the world to “be made safe for democracy,” not only in light of democracy’s inherent value, but because “such a concert of free peoples” would “bring peace and safety to all nations,” including our own. “No peace can last,” Wilson said, “or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Peace-seeking Americans, wishing to be free of German submarine warfare, seeking to enjoy the benefits of free travel and open commerce, had to fight for democracy.

Some 40 million casualties later, including 116,000 Americans killed, the United States lost its patience. It was done defending European friends, unwilling to serve as the peacekeeper of last resort. America withdrew from the continent, demobilized its forces, and isolated itself. That seemed the safest course for America; in retrospect at least, it obviously was not.

By 1940—a year before Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States—Franklin Roosevelt was sounding the alarm about a possible British defeat in Europe and its implications for Americans. Should the British fall, he said, “the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia and the high seas—and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere … All of us in the Americas would be living at the point of a gun—a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military.”

[Read: Trump’s bromance with Macron fizzles spectacularly]

Another world war fought and won, American leaders resolved not to replay the catastrophic half-century of European history. There would be no withdrawal this time, and no demobilization, especially in light of Moscow’s drive for domination. Nor would the United States go it alone.

Washington led the establishment of NATO to keep, in the words of Lord Ismay “the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” And so it has. Moscow never went to war in NATO territory; Europe emerged as America’s chief trading, diplomatic, and military partner; Germany evolved into a benign power unrecognizable to Bismark or the Kaiser or the Third Reich. And America stayed.

Such are the reasons why the United States has defended Europe for seven decades, and fundamentally why it should continue to do so today.

Yes, it can be maddening when our European allies let their militaries atrophy and devote insufficient sums to defense spending. The United States has global interests and global security commitments; it defines not just Europe but the Middle East and Asia as strategically important. A militarily successful and politically sustainable NATO alliance depends on European allies bearing a fair share of the burden. In response to Trump’s criticisms, our allies have in fact moved their defense budgets in the right direction.

Yet low spending levels also represent a remarkable commentary on how unthinkable major war in Europe has become, after two millennia of nearly uninterrupted military competition and conflict. The problem surely would have been a surprise to the leaders who ended the Great War a century ago. Indeed, what the president sees as failure can also be construed as a kind of success: worrying about European pacifism rather than European militarism is a luxury we are lucky to indulge. War is unthinkable in Europe? Let’s keep it that way.

Times change. Perhaps, some argue, the continued American presence in Europe is unnecessary in light of diminished threats, or it is desirable but too expensive, or maybe the continent is best left to fend for itself. It could even be the case that war on the continent wouldn’t overly damage fundamental U.S. interests, given our diversified economy, powerful military, protective oceans and friendly neighbors.

And yet such notions have been popular before, with catastrophic consequences. Better to maintain an insurance policy among allies against threats that may or may not ever materialize. Better to build on historic success than inject greater geopolitical uncertainty at an unusually unsettled time in international politics. Better to do these things than not, because the defense of Europe serves the interests of the American people.

Trump traveled to Paris to honor those who understood this, who saw in their fight the enlightened self-interest that has served America so well for so long. We abandon Europe at its peril, and our own.

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Microsoft (nearly) dethrones Sony and Bose with Surface Headphones

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Microsoft nearly dethrones the competition on its first try with its Surface-branded premium headphones.

The new Surface Headphones ($350) are an attempt by Microsoft to enter the hyper-competitive active noise cancellation (ANC) market of expensive, premium headphones. In some ways, it's an odd choice and yet the focus on productivity (Cortana), multiple Bluetooth pairings, design, comfort, and exceptional build quality are right in line with what the Surface team delivers.

But headphones — especially ones priced this high — do not exist in a vacuum. So, when compared to some of the best on the market right now including, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) and Sony WH-1000-XM3, it is surprising how good the Surface Headphones are.

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Microsoft Surface Headphones review: all the style without the polish

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For anyone who grew up with Microsoft as the stodgy PC monopoly that wouldn’t know “cool” if it was out on a wintry walk in northern Sweden, the past few years have required something of an adjustment. It’s no exaggeration to say that Microsoft is today one of the most bold and exciting hardware design companies in the tech world. The Surface Pro has defined its own category of versatile hybrid device, the Surface Studio rivals Apple’s iMacs for sheer desirability, and the Surface Laptop would be amazing if it had a more sensible set of ports.

Into this context of design leadership comes Microsoft’s first pair of headphones from the Surface team, simply titled Surface Headphones. They are gray, as you might expect from the old Microsoft. But they’re also permeated with all the neat little design touches that distinguish the new Microsoft. Before I even laid my hands on a pair, I wanted them.

Among other things, the Surface Headphones can be said to be the first headphones designed specifically as a carrier for a digital voice assistant. Microsoft really wants you to use Cortana with these, though they’re equally comfortable conversing with Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri. The Surface Headphones are also engineered for modern lifestyles, which means they include noise canceling (NC), deft switching between multiple paired devices, and, of course, USB-C.

Priced at $350, the wireless Surface Headphones are squaring off against Apple’s enduringly popular Beats Studio 3 and Sony’s superb 1000X M3s. That means they need to have something special to make them stand out, and they do.

The thing that’s impressed me the most about the Surface Headphones is something you won’t see and might not even notice for days. Their wireless performance is exceptional. The Surface cans keep a stable connection to the iMac at my living room desk no matter where I am in my apartment, whereas literally every other pair of wireless headphones would suffer interference from all the metal appliances in the kitchen. With the Surface Headphones, I can do the dishes while listening to a YouTube video that’s playing on my desktop on the other side of the apartment.

Microsoft isn’t offering any advanced wireless protocols here — the Surface Headphones don’t even have AptX or AAC, and they support Bluetooth 4.2 rather than the latest version 5 — however, the reliability and range of its connection are so good that they ameliorate those omissions. Pairing the Surface cans to any device is utterly painless: I got them up and running on a Windows laptop, an Android phone, and a couple of Macs with ease. Plus, Microsoft’s handoff from one sound source to another is seamless and automatic. I can listen to music on my PC, interrupt that to take a call on my phone, and then return to the PC, all without having to mess with settings or disconnect and reconnect.

The design of the Surface Headphones reminds me of Bang & Olufsen’s, both in look and feel. That means a stylish, minimalist exterior, featuring aluminum yokes, a steel headband, and a lot of high-quality plastic. The finish of these headphones is really pleasant to the touch, and that’s complemented by soft memory foam pads that seem to melt around the ear. It would have been nice for Microsoft’s design to collapse down — the way that the Bose QC35s, the Beats Studio 3, and the Sony 1000X do — but even with a more rigid shape, the Surface Headphones feel robust and fit into a compact, color-matched case.

I’m not entirely in love with the fit and comfort of these headphones. Their clamping force is quite strong, which keeps them securely on my head, but it doesn’t make me feel enveloped in the soft, tactile loveliness like the Sony 1000X M3s do. Though light and equipped with a padded headband, the Surface Headphones always put pressure on the top of my head. If I don’t have them seated perfectly, that can grow to be painful. With good positioning, I would say they rise to be considered fine, no more than that.

My absolute favorite feature of the Surface Headphones is the way you control the volume and active noise canceling. The perimeter of each ear cup is a rotating dial, with the right one handling volume (in increments of 7 percent on Windows) and the left one stepping through the 13 different levels of NC. The rotation has a satisfying friction to it that makes me want to fiddle with each dial just because it’s fun. It’s no overstatement to say that I think this control scheme is the best, most natural, and least frustrating one that any pair of wireless headphones has yet offered.

The flat surface on each ear cup is a giant touch panel, and you can tap to pause and resume music, double tap to accept calls, or hold for a couple of seconds to activate either Cortana or your device’s native voice assistant, which would be Siri on an iPhone or Google Assistant on an Android device. I’ve never been a fan of touch controls on headphone cups, and this doesn’t change with the Surface cans. My taps are well recognized when I intend to make them, but the problem is false positives. Any time I have the headphones off my head and still in my hand, I’ll trigger a half-dozen taps accidentally.

Just to score some extra techie points, Microsoft has implemented an automatic pause and resume function for when the headphones are taken off the listener’s head. If you’re on a call, they’ll mute and unmute automatically. These auto-off functions have always been hit or miss on over-ear headphones (they’re much better with true wireless buds like the AirPods), and Microsoft doesn’t improve much on the competition. The company tells me its detection system is capacitive — there are sensors inside the ear cups — but the system can be fooled if, for example, you just leave the headphones hanging around your neck.

The best way I can sum up the Surface Headphones’ sound is that it’s tuned like that of car speakers. This realization came to me while I was listening to Urbandawn’s Gothenburg Cluster, which is a fast-paced exhibition of heavy-hitting electronic beats. It comes across as just a deluge of bass through the Surface Headphones. Distorted, bloated, yet beautiful bass. The last time I enjoyed music so unfaithful to the original material was in a rented Nissan Qashqai this summer.

In an ideal world, we’d have headphones that are both technically accomplished and fun to listen to. But if the choice has to be between the two, I’d do what Microsoft has done and lean toward fun. There’s very little high-frequency excitement with these headphones, they have almost no bite, but that lends them an easygoing quality. I especially liked them while listening to The Internet’s Hive Mind and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun, both records that feature strong bass lines contrasted with sweet female vocals. The bass doesn’t bleed too much into the midrange, and if you stick to modern electric music, you’ll probably find a lot to like about these Surface cans.

I also find the bass of the Sony 1000X M3s bloomy and uncontrolled, and similar accusations can be leveled at Apple’s Beats range. In the context of its over-ear, wireless NC headphone competition, Microsoft’s Surface set lands somewhere in the middle. There still aren’t any truly great-sounding NC headphones, but the trade-off you make is the tranquility of being able to tune the world out. That’s where Microsoft’s cans acquit themselves very well, including the reverse option of amplifying ambient sounds to make you more aware of your surroundings.

As for Cortana, I don’t really have many good things to say about it. Like Bing, it’s a service Microsoft keeps trying to convince people to use, and few end up doing so. You can set up a “Hey Cortana” voice activation on Windows and via the Cortana app for Android or iOS, but that’s typically slow to respond, inconsistent, and then slow to process commands. Those who fully commit and invest themselves in the Microsoft ecosystem — which the strong portfolio of Surface devices certainly encourages — might still find some use for it. But without relying on Microsoft’s calendar, Outlook mail, or other services, I simply don’t have much reason to call on Cortana.

If you don’t bother with setting up Cortana on your phone, a long-press on either of the Surface Headphones’ capacitive ear cups will activate the default assistant of your mobile OS. I tried this with Google Assistant, and it’s exactly how Assistant should work on headphones. It’s ironic and amusing that Microsoft has done a better job with the Google Assistant interaction than its own with Cortana.

Long-pressing the side of the headphones brings up the usual Google Assistant “listening” jingle, I speak my query, and then I promptly get a spoken response. All without taking my phone out of my pocket or needing to unlock it. I can ask for the time of my next appointment, set or cancel alarms, get a weather forecast... basically, it’s the full Google Assistant in my headphones. And it works with great speed and accuracy.

Microsoft has equipped the Surface Headphones with no fewer than eight microphones: each ear cup carries two mics for picking up the user’s voice and another two mics for NC. That sophisticated audio input system helps me be understood both when inputting Google Assistant commands and talking on conference calls. You won’t get anything approaching high-fidelity sound recording from the Surface Headphones, but you will be understood when you speak, and that should be enough.

I wish I could say Microsoft’s loyalty to Cortana was something you could disregard if it’s not a match for your needs, but it actually comes at a cost. Cortana can be activated just by a voice command with the Surface Headphones, and the microphones are constantly listening out for that command, whether you want them to or not. They don’t record anything, there’s no privacy concern here, but the added power consumption seriously hampers the Surface cans’ battery life. Microsoft says you’ll get 15 hours on one charge, and I haven’t gotten more than 10. When you consider that the minimum offered by Microsoft’s competition these days is 20 hours, this is quite a major limitation. At least the Surface Headphones charge via USB-C, so I’m unlikely to ever have them without a compatible charger handy, and they can be topped up to full in two hours.

With its Surface Headphones, Microsoft has laid a foundation it can build on. Given a couple more generations of refinement, the Surface design team should have ironed out any lingering fit and comfort issues while the audio engineers can be expected to ratchet up the quality of the internals. I absolutely believe Microsoft will be one of the important headphone makers of our future. This is far from a one-off experiment.

As to whether you should own a pair for yourself, that depends. I still feel drawn toward these headphones, I enjoy listening to my music with them, and I’m constantly impressed by the speed with which they connect to my devices and the rock-solid stability of their connection. The volume and NC control dials are just a dream to use. But I don’t find them comfortable enough, their sound is a touch too unserious for my tastes, and their battery life is too limiting. Anyone untroubled by those downsides should go right ahead and grab a pair. For the rest of us, the second edition of these Surface Headphones will be one to really look forward to.

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