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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 (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab)

$130 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

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.

  • Got these off Kickstarter, have worked pretty good. They need to update gesture controls.
  • They need to make them customizable. Because the only thing you can do with them in the Mobvoi app right now is read the user manual.
  • Bought off Kickstarter too but the noise isolation I found to be pretty rubbish, I could hear everything around me. They are also quite bulky and stick out. I've bought the Jabra Elite 65t which sound (and look) a lot better. I've given my Ticpods to my mum - she loves them!
  • The noise isolation is going to depend greatly on how well the tips fit in your ears, and since larger tips can interfere with the charging case, that could make TicPods a non-starter for a lot of men. They're just about the perfect size for women and teens, though!
  • At that price, you are better off with Jabra elite 65t which is on sale right now at $119. Even cheaper if you are first time Express customer.
  • The Jabra Elite 65t need button presses for their controls, including long-presses for changing tracks that can cause discomfort from the pressure you're pushing the button (and thus the buds) into your ears with. The fit on the 65t seem better for larger ears, while the TicPods are easier on smaller ears. It's certainly an alternative, but the choice is going to largely depend on the user's ear size and how well they handle the pressure from either set of buds.
  • This is the problem. Headphones, earbuds, etc. Are first and foremost a way to listen to music. As such, sound quality needs to be the primary consideration, as these products are how we get lost in the music. But this review has maybe 2 brief, and unflattering mentions of the sound quality, and the rest is devoted to how buttons and functions work. I'm a tech geek, but primary function has to be an A+ before I care about gestures and voice integrations. This review in that light puts these buds in a $10 skullcandy will sound better category
  • There was enough info to conclude the sound is very clear but lacking in bass. I don't think they are in the same category as Skullcandy, as those are lacking in detail AND have mediocre bass. But to be fair, if you are putting sound quality as the primary consideration (and I applaud you for that), then why would you even look at these? Wireless is still not as good as wired, and the only earbuds I've heard with studio grade detail, imaging, and mind bending bass extension is HTC's Usonic. For myself, I have no problem carrying Sennheiser full size open backs or Ghostek soDrop 2's (wired) into work, and I use those because Usonic is perfect for getting "lost in the music", but sometimes you can get a little TOO lost! Lol. As the tech stands now, fully wireless earbuds are not for the audiophile. I found a compromise when I HAVE to be wireless in the Jaybird X3, but I have not found airpods or similar products that have arrived where I would want them to be.
  • They sounded fine. The bass isn't amazing (they're earbuds, so that's not surprising or bad, since I don't need hella bass blasting directly into my eardrum), but it's not that muddy, either. Treble is fine and rarely got that tinny for me. Normal audio quality was clear and crisp for me so long as I got the TicPods seated and sealed properly in my ears. I didn't spend as along talking about audio quality in this review as opposed to the functions and the overall use because while I am a heavy, heavy, heavy music listener and headphone user, I don't like to get into the "wine snob" grading of the sound quality, which while something technically objectively definable is an aspect of headphones that also is subjected to a lot of personal taste, preference, and bias. After a decade of staticky, often blown out, poor quality production headsets in college and local television stations, my ears aren't the subtle detail bloodhounds they were when I lived in my headphones in high school.
  • Yeah, thanks for avoiding the wine snob evaluation ;)
    I find myself using the watch more as well, as if I'm listening to a jam I really like, I'll play it to death. I guess the repeat function would be better, lol. Thanks for your replies :)
  • Hi Ara! Big bummer on only using the right pod, as I use the left when going one-eared. And not being able to skip back is a deal breaker. I had a few questions: Do these seal so tight that you have to be careful pulling them out? Did you notice any dropouts? If you had to compare sound quality with any other headphones (wireless, semi wireless, wired), what are these similar to?
  • They do not seal so tight I have to be careful pulling them out. As stated, the fit for my ears was gentle. No skipping back is a huge bummer, but I have a watch I can use for that. Not ideal by any means, but a workaround. As to sound quality, I think they're better than my Bludio A2 daily drivers, and they're almost as good as my Samsung Level On Pro over-ear headphones, just a tiny bit more lacking in bass. The sound quality was clear and crisp so long as I got the TicPods seated and sealed properly in my ears. Tinniness for me usually meant I didn't get the tips in quite right.
  • The tight suction is why I don't use my HTC Active or Symphonized headphones often... It feels like it will rupture my eardrum if I'm not careful. I had to be careful with my ears anyway because of work, so I don't want to go ripping them out! The Jaybirds don't have that problem if I use the foam isolation tips, but it's a hassle rolling the tips to compress them before sticking them in your ear. They seem to need reseating after a few minutes anyway. Somehow, HTC nailed fitment with the USonic design (for me, anyways). The body of the bud keeps it from going in too far, and if I rotate them slightly on the way in, then give them a little backwards twist, they will stay locked in and comfortable for a very long time. If it were possible to get that same sound and be wireless with ANC, it would be awesome. The ANC would be impossible over Bluetooth because of latency, but I'd be fine with just the sound quality without cancelation.
  • I totally agree with your complaints on this product. I got these off their indiegogo campaign and I think they are really well made albeit a few missteps. The gesture controls should be double tap = next track, hold = previous track and/or google assistant, single tap = pause/play. The case seems a bit flimsy and closes too easily as well. And for some reason, I am not able to use a single bud, the music pauses when I remove either bud and I cannot play the music until both are in my ear. Also, I'm the opposite in terms of fit, my right ear fits perfectly and the left ear is a bit off, but I know my left ear canal size is different from my right one (right one is bigger so I guess that makes it fit better).
  • IMO these are not good for this price or even half the price. I ordered them from Indigogo and decided to return them the same day they arrived. The sound quality is not good at all (literally no bass); I'm sure there are worse out there, but I haven't heard them. Some of the gestures worked fine, but 6/10 times that I took one of the earbuds out, the music kept playing. They also feel a lot cheaper than I expected. Normally I don't leave negative reviews, and maybe you'll have a different reaction, but I'd say "save the receipt" The one positive was realizing how good my Pixel Buds sounded by comparison and how much more reliable the gestures were (they always work on pixel buds).
  • LOL? you can't skip tracks? DOA!
  • Oh you can skip forward, you just can't skip backwards without using Google Assistant.
  • Upgrading the tips to Comply greatly increases the sound quality (more bass) and isolation. The only bummer is that they don't fit well in the charging case with the comply tips. But, I just remove them real quick when charging.
  • IMO, Ticpods are a big disappointment. I was very patient with Mobvoi for all the production delays during their Indigogo camapign. The Ticpods arrived 6 months after the order was placed. There is a very noticeable audio-video latency (Tested on iPhone 6S, 7, X, Note 9, OnePlus 6)
    The touch controls are very erratic, work 60-70% of the time.
    Connection drops with the phone when on calls and it's very frequent.
    Music tracks break once in a while. Tried to file a refund and ship it back to Beijing and HK but those ass***** refuse to reimburse more than 20$ for shipping. It is impossible to ship it at that rate to any of those locations from India. The support team is totally useless. Over and above I have to pay 25$ duty for a half baked delayed product. I feel cheated by Mobvoi. The support team is unresponsive unless I ping them twice. I am still in talks with them to return this piece of s*** hardware. I will probably put my money on the new wireless earbuds from Marshall. To hell with the touch controls. Furthermore, the Mobvoi app is usless, haven't been able to update the firmware on Android or on iOS devices as it shows v(NULL). Contacted support to see if the firmware fixes the issues so I don't have to waste money on return shipping, they told me they'll push the update to my account, no reply since 4 days even after giving them my user details. DISAPPOINTING MOBVOI! VERY DISAPPOINTING!
  • The TicPods I had were out of sync with each largely out of the box. It wasn't 100% of the time, but they were out of sync enough to be annoying. That hasn't happened in awhile, but was still very annoying when I first got them.
    They will drop audio for a brief moment regularly. Honestly, I don't think these are near the price they are asking for them based on the quality of actual use. I bought them of the indiegogo and regret it. They aren't worth the $75 I paid for them.
  • Yep, having the same issue and waiting for a firmware update from Mobvoi. The support staff told me to hold on. 1 month since I got them after a 6 month wait and I still haven't used them for more than 30 minutes because the video/audio us out of sync. However, I think it can be fixed with a firmware update. Try running Youtube via a mobile Safari/Chrome browser. There is no lag (not true for desktop/laptop though). Even Netflix and Prime have no lag on mobile devices, only on PC/Mac and youtube app, the lag is unbearable, I guess it has something to do with the audio codec that youtube uses. But have no explanation why the lag vanishes on youtube in mobile browsers.