I’ve been wearing a Smartwatch since the Original Pebble came out, so I’m not new to this space, I’ve seen watches evolve, platforms be born and die, but none has been so resilient as WearOS, previously called Android Wear. In this review, I look at the TicWatch Pro, a big, masculine looking smartwatch with a few tricks.
Disclaimer: Mobvoi has sent me this watch for review. I used it for a little over a month in smartwatch, and have been testing the Essential mode as well. No money has exchanged hands between Mobvoi and MTT, and no one at Mobvoi is looking at this content before it goes live. In my testing, the watch has received a single update, to WearOS 2.2.
- Main Screen is colourful and large
- Secondary Screen is perfectly legible in daylight
- Battery is pretty great
- Charging cradle is nice
- Ancient Processor
- Sofware quirks with second screen
- Is a Thicc boi
- 1.39” 400×400 AMOLED display
- Secondary FSTN display layered on top
- Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 Chipset
- 512mb RAM
- 4GB Internal storage
- 415mAh internal battery
- NFC for Google Pay
- Heart Rate sensor
- 22mm watch band
For a more exhaustive look at the spec sheet, head on over to the TicWatch Pro page on Mobvoi’s website here
I’ve not been quiet about the fact I don’t like big watches. I have smaller diameter wrists, so the larger the face, the weirder the watch looks. Now the TicWatch Pro is on the larger side of diameter for me, where it gets weird though is the thickness. As the kids would say, the TicWatch Pro is a THICC BOI. Coming in at 12.6mm it doesn’t sound all that bad, the problem is that there is no intention of hiding or masking that thickness with curves or any smart trickery, the TicWatch Pro is a big boi, and you’ll notice it.
Build quality though is impeccable, I really can’t fault it here. Made with a carbon fibre reinforced Nylon (according to Mobvoi) the TicWatch Pro is a stiff but impact resistant case, with the stainless steel ring around the frame for enhanced rigidity, the TicWatch Pro feels like it’s worth every penny they’re asking for it, and then some. My favourite feature of the TicWatch Pro’s hardware is actually something really simple, the strap. The Strap that Mobvoi include with the TicWatch Pro is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen. Seen on the wrist it just looks like a leather watch band, but face down with the strap open, it’s a silicone band. Mobvoi ship a silicone lined leather watch band and I love it. Sure you can still use normal watch bands, But I really like this one, even if it is a bit stiff at first.
If I had to criticise Mobvoi for one thing here, it’s the final fit and finish, Nothing feels bad, but the 2 crown buttons have a noticeable play in them, and the stainless steel ring around the edge of the face has noticeable edges for me to feel. The individual parts feel great, but just lacking the final bits of finesse to make them perfect.
Doing a hardware tour, up front is of course the screen, the 1.39” AMOLED screen is really quite nice, though I find the ambient light sensor is a bit too aggressive and dims the screen too much, and when the screen is already on the dim side, to begin with, I’ve started manually adjusting my brightness because of this. The TicWatch PRo’s cool USP is the secondary screen layered on top of the AMOLED display. This is a type of LCD screen called FSTN (Film-compensated Super Twisted Nematic) kind of like the segmented ones seen on old Casio watches. The Reason Mobvoi implemented this is that for the most part, smartwatches aren’t actively being used, they’re on your wrist in ambient mode or with the screen off. Well, even an AMOLED screen in low power monochrome mode still takes a relatively large amount of juice compared to this FSTN tech. This screen isn’t backlit though, because that would consume a lot of juice, kinda defeating the point of the energy-saving screen. So whilst the FSTN screen in ambient mode is super useful during the day, it’s practically useless at night.
The rest of the face is covered by this stainless steel frame, and honestly, I’d rather it not be there, or at least not have the minute denotations on the face, if you’re not using an analogue watch face, they look stupid and weird, and I’d prefer the option of not having them.
The Left-hand side of the watch has absolutely nothing to show you other than the lovely carbon fibre reinforced Nylon shell, it’s bare. The Right-hand side is a little more busy, with 2 buttons and a microphone hole. The Top button is a power button when the watch is off but acts as a home button most of the time, and an app launcher when on the watch face, sounds confusing, actually is very simple. The bottom button is actually mappable, so whilst it comes set to TicExercise, I quickly changed mine to Google Pay so I can Pay with the watch when I don’t have my phone out.
On the rear of the watch, we see something different, a stainless steel plate holding the innards in, with 4 small Torx screws in each corner. In the centre of this steel plate is the heart rate monitor apparatus, which is nice to see as not all WearOS watches have heart rate sensors.to the left edge, we have 4 pogo pins for charging the watch on the charging cable/cradle that comes included, this is a very strong magnet and you’re unlike to have alignment issues, the Watch is snapped into place with such force that sometimes It is hard to get it out. Lastly, there is a teeny tiny slit on the edge of the plate, and this, I believe is the built-in speaker on the watch, which is super cool.
Overall, the Ticwatch Pro is very well-built, but make no mistake, this is a very masculine looking watch. You can wear it if you present and Identify as female, sure, go ahead, I can’t and won’t stop you, but it’s not a very elegant watch, that’s for sure.
This is actually going to be a lot more positive than I initially expected it to be. Whilst I’ve been “in” with Smartwatches since the Original Pebble, I have purposefully tried to steer clear of Android Wear (now WearOS) after my initial experience with it. Now to be fair, this was a long time ago, and not only have the brands and hardware improved, but the Software has also undergone at least 2 major interface overhauls as well, and man, am I impressed.
The version of WearOS on the TicWatch Pro is version 2.2, the most recent one with a new focus on ease of navigation, and Fitness. The main experience starts at the watch face, what you can think of as your Home screen on an Android phone. Swiping from the top to the bottom gets you to the quick settings, and swiping back the opposite way takes you back to the home screen. Swiping up from the bottom gets you to your notification shade, where you can swipe, click and act on notifications. On the watch face swiping from right to left brings up the fitness details, in this case, it’s TicFitness, but on the newest update can be swapped for Google Fit. and Lastly, swiping from left to right gets you to the Google Assistant feed. Then the two button on the side, the top launches the App drawer when you’re on the watch face, but anywhere else in the OS it takes you home, And we also have the bottom programmable button, Initially paired to TicExercise, mine is now programmed to Google Pay.
This new interface for WearOS was sorely needed, as previous iterations had been becoming more and more convoluted, for instance, on the iteration before this one, swiping left and right on the watch face did nothing but open up the watch face picker, on the new one, tap and hold, and it is there instead. Why give such an important gesture to something you’re unlikely to do often, which changes the watch face?
Now, my usage of a Smartwatch is different from others, but for me, a Smartwatch is a notification screener, an “is it important” machine, and in that sense, the TicWatch Pro does really quite well. Paired with my KEY2, I can see all or as little of my notifications as I want, and for most of them, I can even act on them, which is the important bit. I use the BlackBerry Hub for my emails, so one of my quick actions is “mark as read” and the other is “Snooze” now when an email comes in, I can choose whether or not I need to look at it right now, or whether I just mark it as read, or if It’s a PR person I actually need to contact, I can respond right there, or snooze it for an hour or two for when I’m free, neat!
One thing I don’t do a lot of on my watch is use apps. Whether it be on my Pebble, on my TicWatch 2, or many others I’ve tried, I just don’t tend to need apps or at least apps outside of the default ones offered by everyone. I don’t need an Uber app on my Watch, or a standalone music player, I don’t need each one of my messaging apps to have an app on my watch when my phone just sends the main notifications to the watch anyway. But I did try some of them, and I really can’t say I’m impressed. The Play Store on WearOS is slow and buggy, the TicWatch Pro doesn’t have a dial so scrolling long lists is a pain, but overall, WearOS isn’t a bad experience anymore.
Is it my favourite Smartwatch platform? No, not even close. I still adore the UI and UX of my Pebble Time Steel, I really like the interface paradigm and design of Tizen on the Samsung watches, and lastly, despite the fact it’ll likely never see the commercial light of day, I also love the Sailfish build for Smartwatches. But When I look at how far WearOS has come, and how good and easy it is to use now, It’s hard not to be even a little bit impressed.
This is something I’m not too fond of. The TicWatch Pro is powered by the Ancient Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip from 2016. The Wear 2100 is using the Cortex A7 CPU core which was announced back in 2011, and worst of all, this is made on the absolutely Jurassic 28nm manufacturing node.
Android isn’t known for being the best on resources, and even on a watch, the quad-core SoC struggles here. For the most part, as in, about 85% of the time, the performance of the TicWatch Pro is acceptable. It’s always a fraction of a second behind, whenever I swipe and tap. I’m rarely actually waiting for the watch to do something or catch up, but it doesn’t feel like it’s connected to my movements very well, and this is something I’ve seen with pretty much everything using the Wear 2100 processor… which is nearly all of the wear watches in the last 2 years.
The worst part about this? The newer Wear 3100 was announced weeks after this, and whilst that is mostly a carbon copy of this, it does introduce a new low power DSP for ultra-low power mode, which seems like it would have been a great fit for this screen.
Honestly, better than I was expecting.
Let’s get it out-of-the-way, Mobvoi quote “2-5 days” in smart mode, you’ll likely be closer to the 2-day mark than the 5 days one, I tend to hover around the 3-day mark before getting to the point where I want to charge. The other figure is the 30 days in Essential mode, which turns off the smart features, and the leaves you with the FSTN screen and some fitness tracking features like the step count and sleep tracking. And this I am pretty sure will actually come to fruition. I wasn’t able to go a full month without a smartwatch, but with some extrapolation of the data, I figured out I would have died around the 29-day mark, so yeah, pretty impressive.
If you use the watch loads, with manual brightness set at the top-level, make a ton of NFC payments, do a GPS tracked run etc, you’ll kill it a lot sooner, but just normal usage, 3 days was where I was able to comfortably hit.
The charging scenario is pretty easy as well, whilst it doesn’t use Wi like my TicWatch 2 does, the Magnetic cradle that Mobvoi ship is one of the better ones. There’s little to no play in the fit, the magnets are insanely strong, it always aligns perfectly, and unlike the Huawei Watch GT, the cable exits the correct side. It also takes a little over 90 minutes to fully charge in my testing, which is fine as on that 3rd day where it is nearing the end, I can just put it in essential mode until I get home, then charge overnight for another 3 days.
The only Thing I want to talk about in this miscellaneous section is one teeny tiny issue I had with the second screen throughout my testing, sometimes, the transition between the FSTN screen and the AMOLED one is painfully slow, slow enough to get me to consider getting my phone out instead. I don’t know if this is just a software bug, or if the Wear 2100 is having issues interpreting when to switch, but it doesn’t happen all the time, but when It does, boy is it annoying.
So how do I finish this? It’s a really nice watch. It’s a big, chunky watch, but that doesn’t stop it being a nice watch. The FSTN and AMOLED screen combo is great, means you get low power always on time telling and an insane “essential mode” but also a nice full-colour AMOLED display.
It isn’t the fastest watch, nor is the screen the brightest, but until my TicWatch C2 comes in, I’m likely going to keep this on my wrist, despite it taking up half of my forearm.