A confusing company
I once heard someone (his name was Adam, if I remember correctly) say that Mobvoi reminds him now of OnePlus “back in the day,” whenever that was. I was on a call with Adam and two other enthusiasts and we were discussing how weird Mobvoi’s product launches had become. Mobvoi first hit my radar a couple of years ago when I noticed a coworker wearing the original TicWatch, and I asked him about it due to its minimalist design cues. Shortly thereafter I bought a TicWatch C2 Classic, a more modern and sleek version of the TicWatch, but subsequently returned it because of the poor performance that Android Wear was (and to some degree, is) famous for; it was a decent product that was being pulled down by the OS, but I didn’t end up formally reviewing it and just moving on.
Anyway, back to Mobvoi. You might have stumbled across this gem, which I reviewed only a few short months ago…this was a product that missed the mark in one area, but I let it slide because its audio performance was better than it should have been for the price tag. Believe it or not, I knew about the Mobvoi Earbuds Gesture in August when I backed the project on indiegogo. This is one of the weird things about Mobvoi—they’re an established company who frequently relies on crowdfunding to get things off the ground. Still, the early backer price was too good to pass up, so I went for it.
What puzzles me, though, is where this product sits in the line of “Tic…” products, and while these don’t share the “Tic” moniker, they aren’t even on the website yet. And don’t even get me started on their website…
Everything in its place
There is undoubtedly a need for companies like JLab and Mobvoi to provide budget-friendly products—not everyone can afford the highest-end Bose and Sony products—and this budget-friendly experience doesn’t come through in the unboxing experience at all. But things break down quickly from there.
The design of the Earbuds Gesture (a terrible product name) is familiar to almost everyone, but I am not a big fan of what I’ll call “stem-style” earbuds made popular by none other than Apple (you might know them better as “AirPods”). To me, stem-style earbuds in 2020 are like collar-style headphones from several years ago—they’re a flash in the proverbial pan, and not ideal for most—but they have now, and will likely always have, a cult following.
The case is oblong and feels cheap, and the top is ridged horizontally. The hinge mechanism feels brittle at best, and the buds themselves have stems that reflect the ridged design on the lid. The lid as well as the buds are held in place with decent magnets, so it’s not a total loss here. The case design, much like Mobvoi in general, is confusing. The right bud sits on the right side of the case, but faces an awkward direction such that you can’t easily remove the bud and place it in your ear without first repositioning it in your hand. Physically removing the buds from the case is also awkward thanks to a combination of the magnets and the poor case design, which prevents you from getting a good hold of the buds. Putting them back in the case is just as weird and awkward.
Not doing any favors
The Mobvoi Earbuds Gesture are buds that are supposed to sit in your ear canal, however, the silicon tips make that tricky (at least for me). Right off the bat, adding some foam ear tips to these would make a huge difference in fit and comfort, and the questionable fit in my ear had a negative impact on audio performance.
Audio performance is certainly an area where the Earbuds Gesture need the most improvement. The best description I have for the sound from them is ‘stuffy,’ where I believe the engineers were going for ‘bassy’ but the likely low-quality components didn’t translate that at all. The sound was passable—but far from great or even good; these buds are the D-student who only shows up half the time and ruins every single group project they’re in.
The buds don’t offer ANC, which is understandable because of the price point. With a good, snug fit in the ears, there is a decent amount of passive noise isolation. They do play independently of one another as well as together, and even while they’re both in the case (a bug which I’m sure will be addressed with an update). There is no primary bud, and there is a very minimal bluetooth audio delay when watching content. The onboard microphones are bad, although not as bad as they could be. When I asked Jordan how things sounded when I called him, his answer was “…like you’re calling me from 2002.” But, since Jordan has a general hatred for Mobvoi, I thought I’d try something a bit more objective with the Earbuds Gesture:
Nobody asked for this
When one examines the product name, terrible as it is, they might assume that the “gestures” being referred to are touch-based—and while that is a feature of the Earbuds Gesture, it is not where the fun ends.
Indeed, when you receive a call, you can simply shake or nod your head to decline or accept the call, respectively. I tested this a few times, and it works surprisingly well, although I can imagine a scenario where the gesture control isn’t working for someone in public and wondering what exactly they’re trying to accomplish. Still, the head-motion gestures worked far better than the touch gestures, which require pretty aggressive taps to register on the buds.
Mobvoi’s app experience is lackluster at best, and for the Earbuds Gesture I found the app to be mostly useless (I almost titled this section of the review “Hot Garbage,” but thought that was a bit harsh). It was nice to see the buds in the app (unlike the TicKasa headphones), but there wasn’t much to do with the app other than viewing battery levels, turning on (or more likely, off) the head motion gestures, and get a quick briefing on how to use the touch gestures.
It must be a duck
I really want budget-friendly products to ‘wow’ me, but at least for now, that isn’t happening, certainly not with the Mobvoi Earbuds Gesture. Then again, what more might you expect from a tech company who will sell you a watch, a security camera, a treadmill and a pair of headphones all in the same transaction? It’s entirely possible that I’m being a bit too harsh, but time and time again I find myself disappointed with Mobvoi products. The latest generation of TicWatches seem promising, but I’m not convinced they’re going to be worth the investment, and even given the early backer pricing of $65, which is 50% of list price, my answer to “should you buy these” is simple: don’t.
What’s the alternative, then? Well, Jordan and I are both big fans of Jabra’s Elite series wireless earbuds. I currently own both the 65t and the 75t, and will be getting the 85t in the future for sure (also, I’m the one who got Jordan on the bandwagon–he also has the 75t). And while the 65t are a nearly a few years old, they are easily found for under $100 and are in my opinion a far better overall performer than the Earbuds Gesture. The 75t are–get this–the same price right now as the Earbuds Gesture will be at launch, $130. The math there is pretty straight forward, if you ask me.