(Pocket-lint) - Ever since Apple launched the AirPods there's been a scramble to ape the design and offer a true wireless set of headphones as an alternative.
TicPods offers one such example, with an AirPod-like design, but packed with a lot of tech and promising a more affordable experience. But with a market now rich with true wireless headphones, where do the latest TicPods 2 Pro fall?
- Each earbud: 16 x 17 x 40mm; 4.4g
- Case: 24 x 32 x 71mm; 29.5g
- IPX4 water protection
True wireless headphones offer a range of possibilities for designers, with the case being a big part of the package. That's one thing that Mobvoi get right, as the case for the TicPods 2 Pro is nicely put together.
Sure, all these things are pretty much the same, but we like the textured top to the case and it's just about small enough to slip into a pocket and forget that it's there. Pop the lid and the earbuds are nestled inside the charging case; you get four hours of music from the headphones, 20 hours total from the case.
As to the TicPods 2 Pro earbuds themselves, the design doesn't really do them any favours. They are a hard plastic construction, with a hard insert for your ear. That's basically the same as the approach taken by Apple, except we found the TicPods uncomfortable to wear for any length of time - if your ear isn't the right shape, they might never really fit.
That leads to a range of problems, not insignificantly that they don't seal in the ear, meaning they don't block external noise to any great degree. That might not matter if you're sitting at home, but get on public transport and you basically can't hear your music. There's no isolation of the type that's afforded by an earphone with a silicone tip - and that means you'll have to turn them up louder than you should to keep listening.
That also impacts on the headphones' ability to offer the best sound: you can pack the best drivers in the world into these headphones, but if they don't fit your ear, the delivery of music is going to be compromised. Which is exactly what happens here.
Perhaps it's just us having the wrong shaped ears - and that is a factor to some degree - but there's nothing you can do about it if they don't fit your ears, unlike many alternatives. The best advice would be to try before you buy, if you have any opportunity at all. The TicPods 2 Pro is affordable, but if it hurts to wear them, then you're better off getting something that fits properly.
One thing that is attractive is the IPX4 rating, mean these buds resist the odd rain shower or a bit of sweat.
Packed with tech
- Gesture control
- Touch control
- Voice control
Where Mobvoi wants to impress is with technology. These headphones are packed with tech skills, meaning you can touch the stalk of either earbud to do various things, like changing the volume with a stroke up or down, which works pretty well.
You can also double-tap to perform some actions. Skip track is the default, but through the Mobvoi app you can change this to play/pause. However, you can't have both, i.e. one control per side, which is a bit of a backwards situation given that the TicPods 2 Pro do so much.
A long press on an earbud can be used to trigger a voice assistant on your phone, be that Siri on an iPhone or Google Assistant or Alexa on your Android phone (you'll get the option to set which you want when first use the function on Android). To support this, the TicPods 2 Pro also offers its own trigger - "Hey Tico" - that will let you do much of the same and it gets around the confusion of saying "Hey Siri" or "Hey Google" and having another device respond.
You can then use voice to change the volume and skip tracks. Through assistant support on your phone you basically interact with any of the functions offered by those services too, so it's a useful inclusion.
Finally there's something called TicMotion. This is designed to let you shake your head to reject a call, or nod to accept it. We didn't get it to work and with the fit of these headphones not being very good, a vigorous shake of the head might see an earbud go flying out of your ear. That's one way to avoid callers, we suppose.
On top of that, we also had some ghost triggers of the voice assistant. Just out strolling on a sunny winter's day, we had Google Assistant fire up three times when we'd not asked for it nor touched the headphones to trigger it. It's slightly random and slightly hit and miss - and that's the takeaway experience of the TicPods 2 Pro.
The accompanying Mobvoi app will let you make some adjustments, although it's not essential to the main functions of these earbuds. You can change the sound profile to move through music types or to boost the bass, for example, update the firmware, as well as access help pages - although these aren't in English, they're in Chinese, and there's Chinese text on some of the images in the app too, suggesting it's been a half-baked transfer job for English speakers.
- Some connectivity woes
- No sound isolation
- Good sound quality
Connecting the TicPods 2 Pro to your phone is pretty easy. You can use the app to scan the QR code in the pack or you can do it manually. Once connected, pretty much everything works from the off - so far so good.
Now, the thing about true wireless headphones is that there are a number of different factors that affect the performance. Firstly there's connectivity. While we found the connection to our phone to be pretty good, we did find some instances when there was a slight drop-out, meaning a slight imbalance between left and right, especially when walking and listening.
On the whole the connection to the phone was maintained, but it wasn't as solid between the TicPods as some others we've tested recently, like the Jabra Elite 75t, for example.
Then we have the audio performance. As we've said, the TicPods 2 Pro don't seal in your ear, so in noisy conditions you'll be tempted to turn them up to head over the background noise, which cuts right through. There's no active noise cancellation (ANC) - only noise cancellation on the mic when making calls - but this wouldn't really work on these headphones because of the poor fit.
The sound quality itself is actually pretty good, with support for aptX HD on compatible phones bringing high quality streaming rates. The TicPods offer a rich sound, with plenty of bass, lots of volume, and you can really hear how good they sound when you cup your hand over the outside of your ear.
In terms of battery life, the performance isn't stellar - four hours is rather average when you can get nearly a good 30 per cent more from rivals. The case extends things to 20 hours, which is reasonable, but again not class-leading, with the Pro model losing out to the normal TicPods 2, which will give you a little longer - the sacrifice being most of the smart functions.
You do get fast-charging of the earbuds, however, with an hour from just five minutes in the case - and it's hard to complain about that.
There are things that the TicPods 2 Pro get right: these buds are pretty good value for money, coming in at under £120 with an immediate discount on launch; and the sound quality is pretty good if they fit your ears. If you're lucky enough to get a good fit and you find them confortable, then these are effective AirPod alternatives.
The lack of any sort of noise isolation is the big downside, though, especially as you can get silicone-tipped true wireless headphones for not a lot more cash - and they offer and experience that's much more satisfying.
Aside from some connection drop-outs and the odd ghost trigger of the voice assistant, the tech in the TicPods 2 Pro isn't bad and it's useful to have a range of ways to interact. But if the fit means the buds are too uncomfortable to wear, as we found for our ears, then none of that really matters.
Alternatives to consider
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1
The Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 is a similar price, more comfortable to wear, fits better, and offers a longer battery life than the TicPods 2 Pro. The sound is great too.
Jabra Elite 75t
These buds are a bit more costly, but offer a better fit and comfort, great sound isolation, a useful hear-through function, and a full range of controls from the buttons on both sides. Not only that, these earbuds look great too.