Although I was relatively early to cover the true wireless earbuds scene back during its infancy in 2016, and reviewed the initial batch of buds from China, I haven’t covered these products much in the past two years, mainly because they got boring and tired.
Apple’s AirPods, which didn’t even exist when I first reviewed the likes of Bragi Dash and Axgio, uh, Dash, have since dominated the industry to the point that AirPods are now synonymous with the entire product line, which left Chinese brands little choice but to just follow that formula. Back in 2016 and 2017, every wireless earbud I reviewed came in different shapes and sizes. But lately, every one looks like an AirPod: Buds with elongated stems that sticks out of the wearer’s ears, and a small charging box with a lid.
In fact, smartphone brands Vivo and Realme offered their wireless buds for review last month and I declined both, precisely because I was so bored of these AirPods clones that can’t top Apple’s industry-best performance anyway.
But I’m making an exception with the TicPods 2 Pro, because it’s the most feature-packed wireless buds—it can do several things the AirPods can’t—I’ve tested since the pioneer Bragi Dash.
Hardware and design: There’s no getting around it—it’s an AirPods clone
Made by Chinese “unicorn”—a privately-owned startup valued at over $1 billion—Mobvoi, the TicPods 2 Pro are lightweight buds with elongated stems. They look very similar to the original Apple AirPods (not the recently launched AirPods Pro) in that the stems are quite long at an inch.
At least Mobvoi’s made use of the space on the stems—both the left and right stems house a touch-sensitive strip that registers taps or swipes. Tapping the stem, as expected, pause or restarts music, while sliding a finger up and down adjusts volume. The latter is a feature many wireless earbuds do not offer, not even Apple’s AirPods.
The elongated, oval-shaped charging case houses and charges the buds horizontally instead of vertically like Apple’s buds. The case is petite and lightweight, measuring around 0.9 inches tall by 2.7 inches long and 0.9 inches wide, and weighs just under 30g without the buds (add another 10g with both buds in the case). It’s small enough to fit into the same pocket along with my wallet and keys without adding extra bulk.
The buds can play music continuously for four hours on a single charge, and the case offers an additional six charges. And great news: Charging is done via USB-C instead of the outdated micro-USB.
Software: Mobvoi lives up to its name
Although Mobvoi—the name is an amalgam of “mobile” and “voice”—isn’t a household name in the consumer tech space, it’s got an impressive track record of building voice assistances in China—not just for its line of watches, but also cars—helped by a partnership with Google.
All that AI algorithm is put to use here, as the TicPods 2 Pro has several intelligent features that other true wireless earbuds lack. The first is that the buds can sense head movements: If a call comes through, the user can nod up and down to take the call or shake their head left to right to reject the call.
Another smart feature is these buds can take voice commands to trigger a digital assistant (works with both iOS’ Siri and Android’s Assistant) and control music playback with commands “play music” or “pause music.”
There’s a companion app that users can install to further customize—such as changing what tapping the stems do—or change sound EQ, but I found that the buds work well even without ever syncing with the app.
Performance and daily use: Easy and convenient
The TicPods 2 Pro performs very well. Bluetooth connectivity was steady; I didn’t suffer from dropped connections even when walking on crowded or empty streets. Latency is also kept to a minimum: I can watch Netflix or YouTube with these buds and have a relatively seamless experience.
I found the sound a bit flat for my liking, but this is only noticeable if I listen to certain genre of music. For podcasts and the aforementioned YouTube videos, sound quality is fine.
I love the ability to control the audio playback via voice, as I often walk around town listening to podcasts or music without a free hand—I could be carrying groceries or holding onto a train handle. I’m particularly impressed that the TicPods 2 Pro can correctly register my voice even on crowded streets—this is Mobvoi’s years of AI algorithm at work.
Taking voice calls can be done with a tap on the stem or, as mentioned earlier, by simply moving my head. Each bud has its own mic, and when in a phone call, one works as noise cancellation while the other take in my voice. In a couple of test calls, the party on the other line said she heard me fine, although I sounded “distant.”
But a potential problem…
There is one gripe I have with the TicPods 2 Pro and it could be a dealbreaker: The buds are not that comfortable to wear for me. Like Apple’s first AirPods, these buds don’t have rubber tips to help seal the buds in the ear canal—they just come in a one-size-fit-all hard shape. Personally, I find the shape of the buds a bit bulky.
I can deal with the minor discomfort of the buds being a bit large for my ear canal, but what if the fit problem is the other way around—the buds aren’t big enough? They could fall off easily for some. Though, to be fair, my friend wore the buds and said they fit her ear perfectly fine.
This is an issue Apple addressed with its recent update, the AirPods Pro, which have rubber tips of various sizes for better in-ear fit.
The most feature-packed wireless buds yet
Priced at $139, the TicPods 2 Pro are cheaper than the AirPods Pro and can do more. In fact, the TicPods 2 Pro can do more than most other wireless earbuds on the market right now.
Every brand is making wireless earbuds these days, and I hope more take Mobvoi’s approach: You can’t just offer us something that can do the same as Apple’s dominating giant of a product—the buds have to be able to do more.