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TicPods 2 Pro hands-on review: An affordable AirPods alternative with AI smarts

These AirPod rivals pack AI in a tiny, affordable package

(Image: © Future)

For

  • Attractive design
  • More affordable than AirPods
  • AI-based gesture controls

Against

  • Not very comfortable
  • So-so audio

There are plenty of cheap AirPods knock-offs on the market, but few of them have artificially intelligent features and useful gesture controls. Chinese AI company Mobvoi improved on last year’s pair of stemmed AirPod rivals, the TicPods Free, with a new model for CES: TicPods 2 Pro, an affordable pair of Bluetooth wireless earbuds that pack in voice, touch and gesture controls in a pint-sized package.

TicPods 2 Pro price and release date

The $99 TicPods 2 and $139 TicPods 2 Pro are available to preorder now on Mobvoi’s site and Amazon. Mobvoi is discounting the price of both earbuds by 10% until Jan. 15, so you can snag a pair of TicPods 2 for $89 and a pair of TicPods 2 Pro for $125.

The pricier Pro model offers advanced voice and gesture controls, in addition to dual-mic noise cancellation, which the base-model TicPods 2 lacks.

(Image credit: Future)

TicPods 2 Pro design

TicPods 2 Pro look almost identical to Apple’s second-gen AirPods, except they come in a variety of colors (Navy, Ice and Blossom), as opposed to the AirPods’ now-iconic plastic white.

Mobvoi redesigned this year’s TicPods to resemble the AirPods even more: The company decided to forego the interchangeable silicone tips that made the TicPods Free more customizable and isolated the audio. Mobvoi says the redesigned TicPods 2 earbud makes it possible to channel sound directly into your ear while dual-mic noise cancellation makes it easier for other people to hear your voice over ambient noise. (The TicPods don’t offer active noise cancellation like the AirPods Pro do.)

The TicPods 2 Pro charging case saw the most obvious design overhaul from the 2019 model: The case is now 40% smaller and resembles my contact lens case more than a case for my earbuds.

(Image credit: Future)

TicPods 2 Pro comfort

In my hands-on time with the TicPods 2 Pro, the one thing that stands out to me is comfort — in a bad way. Without silicone tips, the plasticky TicPod earbud presses against my ear so much so that I can only wear these for about a half hour before pulling them out.

This is an incredibly personal preference, so some TicPods 2 Pro buyers might love the shape and feel of these earbuds. But I can wear my AirPods for hours without any issues, so the TicPods 2 Pro design is just different enough to make a huge difference in my comfort.

TicPods 2 Pro audio quality

With TicPods 2 Pro, Mobvoi added the ability to personalize the equalizer settings in the Mobvoi app. This means you can pump up the bass (or even bump up to extra bass) or select settings for different music genres, such as jazz or pop.

The audio quality overall in my testing has been just OK. The equalizer settings are indeed different, but they all sound a bit tinny — even the bass-forward profiles. It could be that these earbuds just don’t fit my ears that well, but I wasn’t very impressed by the TicPods 2 Pro’s audio quality.

(Image credit: Future)

TicPods 2 Pro special features

Mobvoi is betting big on artificial intelligence, and that’s clear in the features it put in the TicPods 2 Pro. The Pro integrates with your phone’s default voice assistant (Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa, etc.) with its own wake phrase: “Hey Tico.” The Pro also senses your head gestures, and knows to reject a call when your shake your head twice and accept it when you nod twice.

I haven’t spent enough time with these features to get a sense of how useful they could be, but in my early tests, I found the head gestures to be gimmicky (though they worked as promised) and the voice controls to be quick but not more convenient than simply saying, “Hey Siri.”

Mobvoi brought the TicPods Free’s touch controls over to the TicPods 2 and 2 Pro. The earbud stem can sense your fingertip and recognize different motions trigger different actions (swiping to control volume, tapping to skip tracks, etc.). Those motions are still just as effective and genuinely useful.

The TicPods 2 Pro also offer language translation, but my attempts to use it have failed.

Outlook

Mobvoi isn’t going to woo any AirPods buyers with TicPods 2 Pro, but I appreciate the company’s creativity. The touch controls, which you can also find in the cheaper TicPods 2, are actually useful, while the head gestures are negligible. The charging case redesign is a welcome change, but the new earbud tips could use some work.

I plan to hand over the TicPods 2 Pro to a colleague to see if the earbuds’ comfort issues are unique to me. Stay tuned for a full review.

Be sure to check out our CES 2020 hub for the latest announcements and hands-on impressions from Las Vegas.