Truly Wireless earbuds. They’re not new, but boy are they advancing fast. When I tried my first set of truly wireless earbuds a few years ago they were… not great, poor sound, rough fit, terrible battery life and connection issues galore, now, most of those have been fixed, how do Mobvoi’s first entrant fare?
- Insane Noise Cancelling
- Great Sound
- Great Battery Life
- Cool Colours
- Buggy as all hell.
- In-Ear detection hit and miss.
- Not comfortable for all ear types.
Disclaimer: Mobvoi provided me (Dom) With the set of TicPods free for review. No money has exchanged hands between either company, but I do get to keep the TicPods after the review is over. The TicPods have been used with my KEY2, Key2 LE, Xiaomi Mi A2, Huawei P20 Pro, Mate 10 Pro. The earbuds received no firmware updates in the month-long review period.
Was actually somewhat caught off guard when the TicPods Free arrived. As, for their asking price of £120, the case feels cheap. Super cheap, as in “wow, is this a finished version” cheap. The lid to the case, something you have to interact with every time you want to use the buds, is a thin, lightweight, cheap feeling plastic is a complete contrast to the bottom weight part of the base with strong magnets.
Aside from that crappy lid, the case is actually not too bad. Looking at it from the front, there is a TicPods logo with two holes either side, this is for the status LEDs of the buds themselves. Turn the case to the right shows you the left-hand side, which has nothing but the lanyard loop, one of which comes in the box, but you can use anything really. On the right-hand side is the MicroUSB charger, something I’m really not happy about with the TicPods Free. MicroUSB needs to go, and it can’t just go on phones and tablets, it needs to go on peripherals too, as those are more prevalent than the phones. On the rear of the case is nothing but the hinge. On the bottom is the standard regulatory info.
My unit is the striking Lava colour, and boy is it pretty. They also have a navy blue colour and an AirPod cloning white, trust me, you want the Lava ones, these are the coolest colour for sure.
The buds themselves are, shall we say, inspired heavily by the AirPods. They aren’t a complete 1:1 clone, but, especially if you have the white ones, people might think you have AirPods. They’re more squared off than The AirPods are, and the part that goes in your ear is a little more bulbous and of course, has silicone tips instead of the hard moulded plastic of the AirPods, but unless you’re looking at these super close, I’d mistake them for AirPods.
The buds are moulded for each ear, so the way they lie in the case is for which ear they go in. Taking one out of the case shows you the Charging Pogo Pins on the stalk, the IR sensor under the ear part for in-ear detection (more on that later) and two microphones, one at the bottom of the stem as it is closer to your mouth, the other one is at the top for noise cancelling. The buds are all plastic, but they don’t feel cheap. I wouldn’t want to drop them, but I feel that if I did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for them.
Fit wise, I’m a bit of a weird case, since damaging my jaw, very few In-ear type headphones are actually comfortable for me due to my now deformed inner ear, meaning things that go in my ear canal are potentially very painful. The TicPods aren’t excruciatingly painful for me to wear, but I can’t really wear them for more than a half hour, and I pretty much cannot wear them when talking, which is a shame. I asked some others to try them on, and every single person said that they just slipped into their ears perfectly, they just “knew” when it was right as it just clicked into place, so at least Mobvoi’s claims about an ergonomic fit are true for most people.
This is where the TicPods blew me away. I was expecting them to be good, but not as good as they were, and one of the big reasons that the TicPods sound so good? The insane noise cancelling they do. I’m unsure if it is passive or active, but if it is passive, this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best passive noise cancelling I have ever used.
With pretty much no ambient noise, you are just left to notice everything else about the sound. I’m not quite ready to say that these are the best sounding Bluetooth earbuds I’ve tested, but they’re pretty close. They do rival my Be Free8’s from Optoma yet cost £80 less, and that’s very impressive.
The TicPods aren’t the bassiest headphones, in fact, they’re somewhat light in that regard, but I don’t mind, it means that in tracks like “Bishops Knife Trick” by Fall out Boy, or “Up in the Air” by 30 Seconds to Mars, I can hear more of the instrumentals instead of just having my head rattled into oblivion, which I happen to prefer.
Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t studio monitors with a flat frequency response meant to help you edit the next Mozart, but they’re flatter than most mainstream earbuds, they still emphasize the mids a bit too much for me, but I think this is actually a pretty good middle ground, and once again due to the insane noise cancellation, the soundstage somehow manages to feel vast. These aren’t Open backed studio monitors, but these don’t feel like the closed-off in-ear buds that they are.
The one thing I would like next time around is AptX and AptX HD support, these really feel like they deserve it.
These will most likely outlast you. Mobvoi quote 18 hours of battery life on their site, which, whilst technically true, is not continuous listening. The buds get 3-4 hours of use on their own, and when dead you pop them into the case to charge up, then you have another 3-4 hours. The case is able to supply about 4.5 charges to the buds, which is pretty great, but eurgh that MicroUSB charger.
There is a nice lady in your ear telling you when the buds are low, but both Android and iOS now offer Bluetooth Peripheral battery levels, but it’s always nice to be told in a nice calm manner, if you really wanted a third way, check out the Mobvoi app.
Whilst It wasn’t comfortable for me, I wore the TicPods free for a 2.5-hour train ride to London for a work trip and the TicPods Free certainly had more juice left in the tank, but I didn’t. I can’t think of the last time I travelled somewhere for more than 4 hours in a while, so I haven’t been able to test these fully, but unless you’re constantly travelling, these are likely to outlast you.
This is where most of my issues with the TicPods Free came from. The first day I had my TicPods free, the very first day, It took me 30 minutes to get them connected to my phone because they just wouldn’t go into pairing mode, so I just kept putting them back into and taking them out of the case in the hope that it would trick them, as I knew the buds weren’t dead because they had Green LEDs on the case, the buds just weren’t waking up.
Once they were awake and connected to my phone they worked really well until I tried to use them whilst having my TicWatch Pro and my Mi Band 3 on at the same time unless I turned one of those off first, the TicPods really didn’t like to be connected. So those weird bugs aside how was the intra-bud connection and the connection to the phone when working? Actually really good.
Starting off with the Intra-bud connection, this is one of the better ones, I wouldn’t go as so far to say better than the NFMI connection on my Be Free8’s, but better than the bud to bud connection than my Liberty Lites. The bud to phone/device connection was a little less rosy though, for audio only, the TicPods Free were fine, but they had some serious A/V sync issues with Video, whether it be on my Phone, my Windows PC or my Chromebook, the buds where always a half second behind, and it really grates on you quickly.
Lastly, Bluetooth 4.2, seriously guys? My £60 Soundcore Liberty Lites are Bluetooth 5, the £40 Xiaomi AirDots are Bluetooth 5, what gives Mobvoi? was it development time? issues with the chargers? I have no idea, but when cheaper competitors are utilising newer Bluetooth standards than you, that is a bit crappy.
The Miscellaneous section of my reviews tends to focus on things that are worth mentioning, but not enough to have their own section, so I clump them together here. For the TicPods Free, there are only really two things to talk about, the Touch Controls and the In-ear detection.
Starting with the In-Ear detection, it’s just kinda buggy. I’ve had it detect that I’ve taken it out of my ear when I haven’t touched it, I’ve had it notice I’ve taken it out of my ear, but when I put it on the table sensor gets a little bit covered and thinks it is back in my ear so starts playing again, I’ve even had it not notice I’ve taken it out of my ear. It’s a great feature when it works, but unlike the AirPods, this isn’t quite that reliable yet. Maybe once a firmware update hits, who knows.
Next is the touch controls, mostly because these things are a freaking mess. There are touches, swipes, long taps, each bud can have the same gesture but invoke a different response. Even after a month of using the TicPods I still get it wrong and call up Google Assistant. The one gesture I do really like is the volume control, wherein you slide your finger up and down the stalk of the bud to change the volume, but even this isn’t faultless, as sometimes IT only works on one of the buds, and I have no idea what makes that happen, but even my favourite gesture is buggy on these.
So what do I think of the TicPods Free? I’m kinda annoyed because they sound really good, and they have great noise cancelling and great battery, but man are these things buggy as all hell. The Gestures are too complicated for my liking, but I can live with them if everything else worked perfectly, but the In-Ear detection is buggy, and sometimes just connecting to a phone is hard, I know I’m a niche use case changing phones every few weeks, but it shouldn’t be this hard.
If Mobvoi fixed the in-ear detection, the connection issues and the A/v Sync issues, I can happily start recommending these to normal people, even at £120, but as it stands right now? These need a bit more work.