TicPods Free review: These truly wireless earbuds are almost perfect

I know what you're thinking. "Oh, look, another AirPod clone." Mobvoi's TicPods Free may share some basic design features with Apple's touch-controlled wireless earbuds — like a touch-sensitive stalk and wireless charging case — but these buds can do way more than AirPods. Mobvoi's earbuds have three gesture controls instead of Apple's lone double-tap control, proper integration for Google Assistant and Alexa, and they have noise isolation to help you block out a noisy, chaotic world and focus on what you're doing.

The Good

  • 3 easy gesture controls
  • 4 hours battery life on a single charge (up to 18 hours with charging case)
  • Compatible with Google Assistant, Siri (on iPhones), and
  • IPX5 sweatproof earbuds with noise isolation

The Bad

  • You can't skip tracks or customize gesture controls
  • Cannot use left earbud solo, only right
  • Limited earbud tip compatibility can impact fit and noise isolation

TicPods Free

TicPods Free What rocks

The TicPods Free, like the AirPods, rely on gesture controls, and so, like the AirPods, it features a short, touch-sensitive side panel, one with an almost invisibly subtle striped texture. Double-tapping acts as a skip track function on both pods — as well as accept/end incoming phone calls — while long-pressing the left pod pauses/plays the music and the right pod triggers your phone's default AI assistant. Sliding your finger up or down the touch panel on either pod turns the volume up or down, and the in-ear detection will start and stop the music when you insert or remove a Pod.

These short stalks help stabilize the earbud in your ear, while the silicone tips on the TicPods' ergonomic earbuds offer a surprisingly gentle fit, isolating noise without fatiguing pressure. Thanks to the noise isolation, you can enjoy the TicPods' surprisingly clear sound quality, even at low volumes. There are a few moments when things can get tinny, and a momentary shift or sneeze can cause the in-ear detection to briefly pause the music, but for the most part, the music was clean and clear from the moment I put the TicPods in until I returned them to their case.

The TicPods, like almost all wireless earbuds, comes in a compact charging/carrying case about the size of a pill bottle, with a short silicone strap for securing the case to a belt loop or a key strap inside your backpack or purse. Yes, this case isn't quite as small as the AirPods case, but it still easily fits in the pockets of this girl's skinny jeans, so I'm not complaining.

Let the beat go on with 4 hours of battery.

This case not only holds the TicPods in their POGO-pin charging docks; it also holds enough juice to keep your TicPods Free powered and playing music for up to 18 hours. Mobvoi advertises 4 hours of battery life on the TicPods before they need to go back to the case for a recharge, and in my time with them, I was able to stretch them to almost 5 hours in some listening sessions.

I want to use the left side alone!

"You threw off my groove!!"

TicPods Free What needs more tuning

While many wireless earbuds let you use a single bud like a BT headset, TicPods are designed to be used together. You can use a single bud, but it has to be the right one; if you shut the charging case with the right TicPod still inside, the left TicPod will power off. I one-bud on the left side, so this is a double bummer for me. After 15+ years of shoving the right cup behind my ear when I one-cup large over-ear headphones, my left ear fits its TicPod perfectly while my right ear slightly shifts and slides its TicPod around.

Let me go back! I just want to go back to the last song!

The stereo focus for TicPods Free also makes the choice to have both the left and right earbuds double-tap gesture be a skip track rather than previous/skip all the more confusing, especially with the play/pause and Assistant triggers split between the left and right ear. I'm hopeful that future updates will allow TicPods' gesture controls to be customized through the Mobvoi app, but for now, if you want to repeat a track, you'll have to ask Google Assistant to do it.

Now, I am painfully aware that earbuds — and especially wireless earbuds — are impossible to fit to every size and shape of ears. I've always had ears that are on the smaller end of the earbud spectrum, and the regular TicPod tips fit my ears almost perfectly, so ladies, congrats! TicPods are a great size for us.

For listeners with larger ears, users will probably need to find aftermarket tips for their TicPods, and they'll have to be very careful which ones they buy. Since the TicPods sit in the charging case tips-down, if you're using a wider or longer tip, the Pods might not sit completely flat in the case, possibly preventing the TicPods from charging or the case from closing.

TicPods Free *Should you buy them?

Still, these earbuds fit my left ear perfectly and my right ear nearly so, and with noise isolation and remarkably decent audio quality for an earbud, these may be my new emergency earbuds when I'm out and about on errands. The integration of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa can even help me almost forgive the lack of a previous track gesture. (Almost.)

4.5 out of 5

Not being able to only use the left pod is a big bummer for $130 wireless earbuds, but the automatic pausing when I slip one bud out to quickly talk to cashiers or family members is wonderful. The TicPods Free come in three colors — Navy blue, Lava red, and Ice white — but if you want the boring white ones, you'll have to buy them directly from Mobvoi

$130 at Amazon

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.