Looking for a bargain in the truly wireless earbud market can seem like a futile task. There are a lot of very cheap options that come in around £50, but you’ll struggle to find any quality there, and aside from the solid Jam Ultra headphones we’ve not come across much that impresses under £100. Most decent sets cost north of £150.
The Mobvoi TicPods Free buds stand out as an excellent wireless option at £119.99. They don’t quite match the battery life and sound quality of more expensive options, but they aren’t a long way behind on either front, and they offer a solid fit and build that’s great for wearing during exercise.
It’s fair to say the TicPods’ design, and indeed their name, call to mind Apple’s AirPods. The long stem on the buds is a look that you’ll either hate or be OK with – I don’t think anyone will love it – but those long stems are at least put to good use on the TicPods, because there are touch controls built in. Sliding a finger up or down the stem changes the volume, a double tap skips songs and a long press pauses playback or brings up a voice assistant (the TicPods are compatible with both Siri and Google Assistant).
The tapping and sliding works well, but I found the long press was hit and miss. It was far easier to just take out the right earbud if I wanted to pause my music. Trying to hold a long press while exercising was particularly tricky and I quickly gave up trying while running. Also I found that if I took the buds out and held them in my hand for any reason, the long press control would be activated repeatedly so I’d come back to a podcast a couple of minutes down the line.
When it comes to fit, the TicPods differ from the AirPods by having a full bud that sits deeper in the ear canal. This blocks external noise and does result in a more secure fit when sitting at your desk or during low-intensity activities. However, when things get really sweaty the bud can slip out of the inner ear so you have to adjust them occasionally to avoid them falling out. The protruding earbud also means the TicPods are a touch uncomfortable to wear under a tight hat or headband.
However, the sealed fit provided by the bud is a bonus when listening to music because it improves sound quality noticeably. Although things are improving, truly wireless buds are never going to be the best option when it comes to top-notch audio fidelity, but the TicPods were solid enough. Things got a little harsh in the higher ranges when I turned up the volume and, unlike other wireless options, there’s no way to customise the sound, but the TicPods will satisfy most ears when it comes to audio quality.
The TicPods connected quickly and easily to my phone and laptop, and you can listen to just the right bud if you want. You can’t do that with the left bud, which is a little annoying because in the UK the left headphone is the one you’d wear by itself when cycling, keeping the right ear open to hear overtaking traffic.
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Battery life is three to four hours on the TicPods, with an additional 14 hours of juice in the case. Top-end truly wireless buds usually offer five hours of charge, while the extra battery life from cases varies a lot, but the TicPods are pretty much middle of the pack on this front.
There are three different colours to pick between. I found the red a little ostentatious, especially given the dangling design. The navy is more subtle, while the white makes them look even more like AirPods.
The TicPods sit nicely between budget truly wireless buds and top-end options, offering the build quality and most of the features of the latter while costing substantially less. If you are chasing a bargain set of headphones and are completely set on wireless buds, they’re your best bet, though if you can accept the mild inconvenience of having a cable between the buds wireless sets like the Jaybird Tarah and Plantronics BackBeat FIT offer better sound and battery life for well under £100.
Buy from Mobvoi (opens in new tab) | £119.99
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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