TicWatch Pro Review
- Flagship-class feature set
- Competitively priced
- Excellent battery life
- Stylish design
- Limited fitness tracking options
- Laggy performance
- No cellular option
- Review Price: £219.99
- 1.39-inch 400 x 400 OLED display
- Secondary FSTN display
- NFC w/ Google Pay support
- Heart rate and GPS tracking
- Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
What is the TicWatch Pro?
The smartwatch scene has grown somewhat stagnant in recent years. The obvious (albeit expensive) choice for iPhone users is, as ever, the Apple Watch. Android users have a wider range of choices, but they’re predominantly from fashion brands and come with fairly inflated price tags as a result.
There are small pockets of innovation in the Wear OS space, however. Chinese AI company Mobvoi is one such entrant. In the past, the company turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to finance the creation of both its TicWatch S and TicWatch E wearables. Now it’s looking to shake up the space by offering something verging on unique and affordable with its follow up, the TicWatch Pro.
The TicWatch Pro’s biggest selling point is its insanely long 5-30 day quoted battery life, which it achieves using an intriguing dual display design.
TicWatch Pro – Design
Mobvoi has built on the clean, minimalist design work seen on its previous two smartwatches. The Pro’s body is predominantly matte black plastic but against expectations, the finish doesn’t look cheap or toy-like. That said, you could argue that the likes of the Apple Watch or original Huawei Watch look a little more luxurious overall.
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There’s a more premium-looking brushed metal bezel on its top, which comes in either silver or black, depending on your preference (the watch strap’s buckle is also coloured to match your choice). It’s detailed with seconds markings engraved along the inside chamfer which add a bit of interest to the bodywork’s clean form.
Two sizeable metal hardware buttons protrude out of the right side of the casing, serving as makeshift crowns, at least from a visual perspective. The back of the watch is covered by a stainless steel plate that houses the watch’s charging contacts and an optical heart rate sensor.
The lugs blend into the form of the main body with a pleasingly subtle curvature and can accommodate any 24mm watch band you fancy. I myself found the included band more than good enough, however.
From the outside, the ‘hybrid strap’, is wrapped in a fine layer of leather with real stitchwork that helps the Pro emulate the aesthetics of a traditional timepiece, but flip it over and you’ll find a heavily textured silicone underside. Not only does it add additional flexibility and comfort when worn but, by combining materials this way, the strap can also be worn while exercising. It’s also worth mentioning that the watch features quick-release springs, so should you need to replace it or decide to change it, you’ll be able to do so without any additional tools.
TicWatch Pro – Screen
Whilst Apple has popularised the square-faced smartwatch, it’s the Android contingent that continues to strive for the ideal round-faced alternative. In the case of the TicWatch Pro, the fully circular 1.39-inch 400 x 400 OLED is very attractive. There’s no ‘flat tyre’ to speak of, colours and contrast are rich and defined, and the resolution is crisp enough to accommodate fine details within watch faces. Text is clearly rendered and individual pixels are barely visible, provided you don’t bring the watch right up to your eye.
Mobvoi has cunningly built a secondary display on top of the OLED panel that shows the conventional smartwatch interface. There’s a transparent FSTN layer that sits in front of the OLED to serve as a secondary low-powered screen. When the OLED is off, the FSTN display jumps into life and displays the time, date, steps, battery life and with the press of a button, your current heart rate. It effectively looks as though someone has compressed an early 90s Casio on top of the TicWatch’s colour display.
It’s a clever move that makes for a far more resource-friendly, always-on option compared to using Wear OS’s native alternative. But it isn’t without issue.
For starters, it makes the screen fairly reflective. It also doesn’t really suit the aesthetics of the Pro. For a watch comprised of smooth curves and subtle chamfers, that large digital display is the smartwatch equivalent of sticking a DeLorean’s gullwing doors on a 2018 Lamborghini Aventador; it looks out of place.
Mobvoi has tried to side-step this cosmetic faux pas by including the likes of the Zoran Wear OS watch face. The face lines its various graphical elements up with the physical ones on the FSTN display perfectly in a bid to make a more seamless experience when jumping between to two screens. Personally I think it would have made more sense for Mobvoi to create an analogue watch face for the FSTN display, as this would have better suited the circular design.
Despite this, the collective effect of the dual display means the TicWatch Pro is actually one of the most legible smartwatches in any lighting condition. The brighter the ambient light, the easier the FSTN display is to read, the darker the surroundings, the more visible the backlit OLED panel becomes. This was a challenge that Sony tried to face with the transflective LCD on the SmartWatch 3 and whilst it achieved the same goal, Mobvoi’s solution makes for a better viewing experience overall.
TicWatch Pro – Software and Features
Since the notable jump to Android Wear 2.0 and its subsequent rebranding to Wear OS, the underlying software experience from smartwatch to smartwatch is markedly the same and has been for some time. Differentiation has to come from the level of personalisation on offer and from any additional features manufacturers decide to add.
Out the box, the TicWatch Pro comes with three preloaded watch faces. Ruler is the default face, showcasing a black, white, silver and red motif, an analogue face and the date along with battery, heart rate and step count complications. Guardian drops the heart rate complication and strikes a more modern look whilst also exchanging red accents for blue, whilst the aforementioned Zoran face leans into the retro stylings of the FSTN digital display but dresses everything in black, white, grey and blue instead.
Dive a little deeper and you’ll find that Mobvoi has actually included a total of 23 different first-party faces that offer a pleasing range of both analogue and digital options. What’s more, practically every face boasts some additional level of customisation, whether it’s swapping out a complication or changing the face’s accent colour (often called a ‘theme’).
Unfortunately, the TicWatch doesn’t make use of Wear OS’s support for rotational input, so twisting either of the buttons on the side of the casing does nothing. Instead, you’re tied to tapping, swiping and the standard fare of wrist gestures, meaning you can flick through notifications or scroll through text without laying a finger on the display.
As smartwatches go, the Pro is as feature-packed as they come. Save for any form of cellular connectivity you get Bluetooth (4.1), WiFi, GPS and NFC. There’s 4GB of internal storage too, so you can technically stream music directly from the watch to Bluetooth headphones if you so wish.
NFC means that the TicWatch Pro supports Google Pay (formerly Android Pay), which in my experience is one of the great conveniences of owning a smartwatch. The lower of the two hardware buttons is also programmable, so with a couple of presses you can summon a means of contactless payment.
It’s no secret that the Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor is already pretty long in the tooth, but it’s also still one of the best options for wearables out there and until Qualcomm actually launches the new wearable chips it’s been promising everyone, manufacturers like Mobvoi are unlikely to jump to another SoC.
The Pro is actually the company’s first Snapdragon-powered smartwatch following on from the MediaTek MT2601 chip that powered the TicWatch S and E. It has already proven that it’s capable of powering Google’s wearables operating system but in 2018 it feels slow and sluggish out the gate. You’ll be very aware of how long apps can take to open and swiping around the UI you’re almost guaranteed to run into stutter and lag, which is a shame as the experience is otherwise, rather pleasant.
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The watch includes integrated microphones and a speaker too, so if you want to, you can make and take calls directly on the watch, or ask the Google Assistant questions and receive responses, solely with voice. The audio quality isn’t anything special, as is to be expected on such a small device, but the microphone proved surprisingly capable at understanding my queries despite notable background noise.
Beyond watch faces, Mobvoi hasn’t added all that much to the Wear OS experience on the TicWatch Pro, and the inclusions that are there do genuinely add value. Beyond the standard gamut of Wear OS apps, you’ll spot six additional entries: Essential Mode, Step Ranking, Mobvoi Privacy, Heart Rate, Health and Fitness. With the exception of the privacy app, which holds a wealth of regulatory information concerning Mobvoi’s handling of your personal data, I’ll be getting on to what they all do, next.
TicWatch Pro – Fitness Tracking
Through both its hardware and design, you can tell that the TicWatch Pro has been built with a streak of fitness usage in mind. The heart rate sensor boasts 24-hour tracking (although this isn’t enabled by default), the watch is IP68-certified, so it can deal with moisture and sweat without issue and as I’ve already mentioned, there are multiple first-party apps focused on activity tracking built in.
Mobvoi’s own health suite is comprised of both the on-watch offerings and the companion Mobvoi app (available for both iOS and Android). Activity is broken down into three categories: steps, exercise and active hours. Progress across these three categories is shown in the form of a decidedly Apple-like rings system and your aim is to close all three rings by the end of each day.
The watch supports automated activity detection but using the Pro’s Fitness app you can record far more detailed workout information, including GPS-based route tracking and more. It’s a decidedly comprehensive experience if you’re not looking for anything too in-depth, with five discreet activity tracking options: outdoor run, outdoor walk, indoor run, cycling and freestyle, the last of which is accompanied by a weights icon but presumably works with any additional sport not covered as a generic solution.
Despite the watch’s water resistance, the notable lack of swim tracking suggests that you shouldn’t intentionally be taking the Pro underwater and Apple still seems to hold its own with regards to activity tracking for disabled users. As I already mentioned though, if you’re not looking for anything too in-depth, the Pro should have you covered, otherwise look at the likes of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music or the Forerunner 935.
TicWatch Pro – Battery Life
Mobvoi’s big selling point for the TicWatch Pro is its unprecedented battery life, which the company proclaims will grant you between five and a whopping 30 days of use per charge of its 415mAh cell. Such lofty figures sound great on paper but it’s important to understand the breakdown for Mobvoi’s numbers.
The Essential Mode that the watch features is the key to its astounding longevity but it’s not without its caveats. Essential Mode effectively disables any semblance of the ‘smart’ aspect of this smartwatch, switch the Wear OS component off and leaving you with the FSTN display, all the information that its singular watch face shows and only that information.
The promise of five days usage comes from two days of full smartwatch functionality plus an additional three days use in Essential Mode, once the Pro’s battery hits 1%. In practice, I actually managed an extra day of Essential Mode use on that final drop of power, so in a sense, the TicWatch Pro actually surpassed its own claims.
As for the promise of 30 days use on a single charge, that supposes that you only use Essential Mode, basically removing the smartwatch experience entirely, save for the option of heart rate tracking, which can be activated with a press of the button.
With general usage, I was consistently getting two full days per charge and once in Essential Mode I wasn’t even turning the watch off at night in order to achieve those additional three days use. An hour’s GPS-based fitness tracking during a two-day charge cycle does surprisingly little to the Pro’s overall battery life too. The 24-hour heart rate tracking, meanwhile, will have a more noticeable effect on how often you visit the charger.
Charging is pleasantly snappy too. Mobvoi has opted for a magnetic dock of its own design, with metal contacts for charging, in place of wireless charging as used by the Apple Watch, Samsung’s latest Gear watches and the likes of the LG Watch Style.
The TicWatch refilled to 63% charge after one hour on its dock and was full just shy of the 90-minute mark. That’s certainly not the fastest recharging smartwatch around but I’ll take it.
Why buy the TicWatch Pro?
The TicWatch Pro feels like a decidedly more grown-up wearable compared to Mobvoi’s previous Wear OS outings. It offers an inoffensive design with some nice premium touches, it’s comfortable to wear and features a well thought-out strap design. In my testing, it surpassed the company’s own claims regarding battery longevity and it’s jam-packed with features.
It boasts a similar toolset to its most capable rivals, such as the LG Watch Sport and Huawei Watch 2, but undercuts them both with an impressively competitive price tag of £219.99.
For under £220 the TicWatch Pro offers a flagship-class Wear OS experience, wrapped in a well-conceived design with a unique selling point. The design of the FSTN display may not be perfect but if you can look past that to appreciate its functional benefit, this watch makes for an option worth considering.
If you want to pick the TicWatch Pro up for yourself, for the time being, it’s exclusively available to Amazon Prime customers in UK, US, Germany, Italy and Spain. It’ll remain as such until August 15th after which it becomes a general Amazon exclusive through to September 30th. Other countries will be able to purchase the Pro directly from Mobvoi’s website.
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