True wireless audio is a burgeoning area when it comes to headphones, and the new TicPods Free capitalize on a lot of what we've seen work on other products, but packaged in a different way.
From the brains behind the Ticwatch E, Ticwatch S and Tichome Mini we're excited to see what this brand can do for the world of true wireless audio, as its previous gadgets were all great cheaper alternatives to the big name products in the world of smartwatches and smart home.
For the purposes of this early review, we've tried out prototype devices of the TicPods Free to get a flavor of what's on offer. Mobvoi believes this design is final, but there may be some changes before the official release.
TicPods Free release date and price
Mobvoi's TicPods Free have experienced an odd start – Mobvoi may be the company behind successful smartwatches and other gadgets, but it still took to crowdfunding website IndieGoGo to get the TicPods Free made.
The goal was originally $50,000, and at the time of writing (with 14 days left of funding) it has reached $1,244,000. That's almost 2500% of the original goal, so we know the TicPods Free are going to get made.
An exact release date for the TicPods Free is currently unclear, but it's estimated to be shipping to IndieGoGo backers at some point in July this year. After that the headphones are set to be on sale through normal third-party retailers.
The official selling price is set to be $129 when the headphones are on sale, but for the purposes of early bird sales you can get them for $79 (about £60, AU$105). We've asked Mobvoi about official pricing for Australia and the UK and will update when we've heard more.
The parallel with Apple AirPods is always going to be made with any true wireless headphones, but the earbuds here are much bigger than Apple's alternative. We found they sit comfortably in the ear when you're listening to music and won't easily shake out. Whether that means they will stay in your ear when you're out running remains to be seen, but we'll be sure to test that fully in our full review.
The TicPods Free have stems that sit out of your ear that contain the battery and touch controls. You can run your finger along the one on the right to change the volume, plus you can double tap to skip a track or hold your finger for a few seconds to boot up your voice assistant and ask a question.
One of the biggest benefits here is the TicPods Free will work with whatever default voice assistant you have on your phone. It works with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa, depending on what one you have up and running on your phone.
Functionality such as in-ear detection is here too, so once you place them in your ear you'll automatically be greeted with what you were last listening to or you can remove the right earbud and the music will pause.
We found this to work well in our limited testing, but it doesn't work with the left earbud at the moment and if that's the case on the final headphones that'll be a bit annoying.
The earbuds come in a charging case that you'll need to take with you, and it's worth pointing out you can only listen to these headphones over a Bluetooth connection. The case here is bigger than it is on the AirPods, but it's still the right size so it can slot into your pocket or a section of your bag.
With an IPX5 water resistant rating you'll find the earbuds will be resistant to both rain and sweat, but we wouldn't recommend dropping either of them in a puddle as it may cause some issues.
You have the choice of three colors too with the headphones being sold in either white, dark blue or red (but we find that shade to be more orange than you'd expect).
All three of the colors look good, but we'd opt for the dark blue ones if you're looking for the least eye-catching earwear.
Audio quality on the earbuds seemed impressive considering the size and shape of these headphones.
There's ambient noise cancellation at play as well as noise isolation and we found the volume levels to be good as well. Again, we had limited testing time so we'll be able to fully judge the audio quality in lots of scenarios with everything from Metallica to Mumford & Sons in our full review.
You'll be able to have call audio in the headphones too, but we've yet to try that out as it's an early prototype. We also found the Bluetooth connection to be sufficient.
We can't judge the battery life yet as we haven't used the headphones for an extensive amount of time, but Mobvoi claim the earbuds themselves will last for four hours from a single charge.
To get that much juice you'll have to charge them for 40 minutes, but the wireless charging case itself will offer an extra 14 hours too and it comes with fast-charging built-in as well.
That's not as good as AirPods that we found last for five hours from a single charge, but it may well be the TicPods Free last longer than the estimated time and we'll be sure to fully test for our full review.
The TicPods Free look to offer everything that makes the rival true wireless audio headsets great, but here it's for a lower price and the big benefit is its much wider compatibility.
The fact you can still use these on your iPhone makes it a great alternative to the Apple AirPods and so far it seems like the audio quality, design and battery life all add up to make a good product in its own right.
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