Remember when the AirPods were launched? Remember the chatter about design, the use of full wireless headsets, on the control system? For better or for worse, Apple once again managed to polarize the market and to me today, a little ‘sorry to start the review of TicPods Free comparing them to their most famous rival.
I’m sorry because TicPods Free is a well-made product with lots of good ideas, which is a hypothetical world could shine with its own light, and not live in reflection and in the eternal comparison with AirPods. But if there had not been Apple’s headphones, I wonder if the crowdfunding campaign for the TicPods would have ever seen the light. And then I’m also trying the white version, so …
The Free TicPods arrive in a small and rather anonymous package, without a great endowment: beyond the headphones and the relative charging case, we find a pair of alternative rubbers (smaller than those applied by default), a rubber strap to attach to the custody and a rather particular cable.
The included cable, in fact, forks and has two connectors for output: micro USB and USB-C. The case of TicPods Free is charged via micro USB, but at least those who have a smartphone with the latest Type C connector will not have to carry two cables. A small consolation, despite the cable included with the TicPods, is really short, unfortunately.
Design & Comfort
The TicPods Free are presented as well-built earphones and give an excellent impression of solidity: the body of the headphones is smooth and shiny, with the sole exception of the touch panel that extends the fist cheek, characterized by a striped texture. On the inside of the earphones, in addition to the charging pins, we also find a small blue LED that flashes to indicate when the headphones are in pairing mode.
The case, on the contrary, appears a bit ‘ rawer than the earphones, but has nothing out of place: on the front, we find two green LEDs that indicate the charging status of the case and the earphones, while inside the usual magnetic connectors for charging the earphones. On one side the micro USB input, on the other two small holes to attach the rubber strap, convenient to find and pull out the case when it is on the bottom of a pocket. The cover has the same striped texture that is on the headphones and has a magnetic closure.
The earphones seemed more comfortable than I expected, judging from the big end that goes to slip into the ear. In the long run they can be a bit ‘uncomfortable like all headphones like that, but personally, I started to feel some annoyance only after several hours of use. A pity that there are only two sizes for the grommets, which could leave someone unhappy.
There is not too much to worry about using them in the rain, because TicPods resist sketches, as evidenced by the IPX5 certification.
But the aspect that has convinced me the most in everyday use are the proximity sensors , which automatically send Pause / Play music when the shows or put back to the ears: in this case, the user experience is really excellent and impeccable, and I would dare to say that it has nothing to send to the operation of the AirPods.
The TicPods Free has pleasantly surprised me in many ways, and in general, the user experience has been surprisingly smooth and pleasant, even if with a few nicks here and there.
The thing that convinced me the most is how they manage to control the multimedia playback when you insert or remove them from the ears: as soon as the parades, the music pauses and how much you wear them again, after a pleasant sound of confirmation, the song will start exactly from where you left it. It is nothing that has not already been seen elsewhere (not only on the AirPods, but also on the Huawei FreeBuds, for example), but the impeccable operation à Apple has pleasantly surprised me.
One of the main features that differentiate these headphones from most of the full wireless earphones are the touch controls: on the rod of TicPods Free, in fact, there is a capacitive panel with which to control the headphones. On both earphones, a double tap advances on the song, while dragging the finger up or down you can adjust the volume ; holding down for 2 seconds on the left earphone sends you to Play / Pause, while a continuous tap for 2 seconds on the right recalls the default voice assistant (Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby or whatever you want).
Although at first, I was not enthusiastic about the prolonged pressure, in the long run, I changed my mind: with full wireless headsets it often happens that you want to adjust the position, and a system based on a prolonged tap avoids false contacts. The 2 seconds needed to start these commands may seem really very long, but in reality, I found myself using this input system much less than I thought: after all, to pause the music just remove the headphones from the ears.
Volume control via slide works well enough, but at the same time, it is relatively inconvenient. Let me explain: in controlled environments, for example at this time, sitting in the office to type the review, the slide works well and does not miss a shot. But when you use it distractedly, while you are moving, it often happens that you can not control the volume as you would like, and maybe change songs by mistake. The workaround I’m using is to hold the headset steady (between thumb and middle) before adjusting the volume (with the index): in this way, I can use the gesture well, even when I’m walking.
Remaining in the theme of gesture, I would have liked the ability to customize the controls, especially to have a key to send back.
Of course it is also possible to answer calls: to do this, just double tap on one of the two earphones (while holding down, you refuse the call): the call quality is quite good, tendentially better than other headphones I’ve tried, but currently TicPods Free suffers from a problem. During calls, sporadically, the left earphone is disconnected and the call can only be heard from the right one. In over a month of use it happened to me about three times, but fortunately, the firmware update 022 should fix the bug (as long as you are able to install the update).
The audio quality is remarkable, especially in relation to the price and the full wireless nature of the headphones. The bass is surprisingly intense but always pleasing, even if in some pieces tracks end up covering a bit the mid frequencies, which are perhaps the most sacrificed part of the spectrum. The highs do not shine like the bass and the headphones are lost something in the higher frequencies, but all in all do not disappoint, especially when you are quite isolated from the outside world.
About sound insulation, TicPods Free do very well, provided you have the right rubber pads. As already mentioned, unfortunately in the sales package there are only two rubbers, which may not be suitable for all ears. This is a bit of a shame because the shape of the earphones offers a good isolation, and to this is added also some kind of Active Noise Canceling software side included in the TicPods. So, basically, the sound insulation would be very good, and if it turns out otherwise, I strongly suggest you try to change rubbers (maybe buying some of those in memory foam, always excellent).
Remaining in the audio field, unfortunately lacking support from Qualcomm (the codecs supported are SBC and AAC), but despite all, I have not warned the latencies between audio and video. Although online some users complain about this kind of delay, I tried the headphones with YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video, with Android, iOS and Mac, but in all the tests the audio was always synchronized with the movies.
The worst user experience with the TicPods is I have registered without a doubt with the app: both on Android and iOS. The localization is ridiculous. When you add the headphones there is no check that they are actually connected or not (in short, it’s just a card with no value) and the firmware update check is performed even if the headphones have never been connected to the smartphone (what do you control, then?). Fortunately, the app serves “only” to update the firmware, which is still giving a lot of problems to the community. Personally, I managed to install the update only after contacting the support to ask for the OTA to be forced.
The TicPods Free can be purchased on the official website at $129.99: the price is fairly honest in relation to the product, although it must be said that the AirPods are often found at about ten euros more. For the same price, the most loyal Apple users can have reasons to continue to prefer Apple headphones, for all the other TicPods will be a good buy.
Despite some problems with touch controls, TicPods Free are among the most interesting full wireless headsets on the market: good audio quality, excellent autonomy, and user experience make it an excellent choice. Even for those who do not want to spend too much money.