Chinese firm Mobvoi — founded by ex-Googlers — has a history of making connected watches that stretches back to its original TicWatch and TicWatch 2 running the proprietary TicWear OS. Around this time last year, the TicWatch S and E were launched with Wear OS (then Android Wear) on board, and they were praised for their quality and excellent value proposition.
Now, Mobvoi is back with a premium Wear OS smartwatch, the TicWatch Pro. It offers better build quality and adds NFC, but the real star of the show is a transparent second display for more efficient always-on functionality with the promise of excellent battery life. Let’s see if it can live up to that billing.
TicWatch Pro on the left, next to the smaller TicWatch E.
|Device OS||Wear OS by Google|
|Dimension||45mm x 12.6mm|
|Display||1.39” OLED 400 x 400 + FSTN display|
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100|
|Memory||RAM: 512MB / Storage: 4GB|
|GPS||GPS / AGPS|
|NFC Payments||Google Pay|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth: 4.2 / Wi-Fi: 802.11bgn 2.4GHz|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, Gyro, Magnetic Sensor, PPG Heart Rate sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Low Latency Off-Body Sensor|
|Days of Use||Smart Mode (Wear OS): 2 days; Essential Mode: 30 days|
|Water Resistant||IP68 (up to 1.5 meters for up to 30 mins; swimming not recommended)|
|In the box||TicWatch Pro, magnetic charging doc, user manual|
|Display||The transparent second display is a surprisingly good idea.|
|Battery Life||It's the key marketing message for the watch, and it doesn't disappoint.|
|Features||With NFC for Google Pay and improved GPS, it rights the wrongs of previous TicWatches.|
|Build quality||Premium materials to match the premium price tag.|
|Processor||The SoC is more than 2 years old, and performance certainly suffers at times.|
|Size||It's pretty chunky. If you wanted something inconspicuous, this is not the one.|
|Price||Not extortionate, but there are cheaper options out there with similar feature-sets.|
Hardware and build quality
When you first pick up the TicWatch Pro, it instantly feels like a premium product, maybe even more so than you'd expect for the $250 price tag. It has a reassuring weight to it, without being too heavy, and the materials used are clearly of higher quality than the plastic on the S and E. The casing is made from nylon reinforced with glass fiber, and it’s plenty sturdy. The bezel and rear cover are stainless steel, and while I’m not a fan of what I see as unnecessary bezels on watches (especially smart ones), it does at least look okay on the TicWatch Pro, adding to its “premium” credentials. I was a little concerned about the strap on first inspection since it’s a hybrid of leather on the outside and silicone on the inside, but it’s rather comfortable to wear. That said, the quick-release strap does make it easy to swap out if you’d rather install something different.
I don't often wear a watch, but when I do it’s a Withings Activité Steel (see above — you might recall that Withings became Nokia but is now Withings again). It's really just a fashion accessory for me, and I like it because it’s small and minimalistic. Even though it’s capable of tracking steps, I rarely sync it. I’ve never really been excited enough by Android Wear/Wear OS devices to use one every day, although I have spent some time with the TicWatch E before. My first concern, then, was that the TicWatch Pro would be too big and bulky for my liking. It’s certainly not slender, due to that dual-display design, the inclusion of GPS and NFC, and a bigger battery, but after wearing it for just a couple of hours it wasn’t obtrusive enough for me to care. I’m sure it will depend on the size of your wrists and your own preference, but it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who’s previously worn a smartwatch with any regularity.
If you have used a Wear OS watch before, you’ll know that battery life is often a concern. The biggest decision you have to make in that respect is whether or not to use the always-on display function. This gives you glanceable information at all times without waking the device, but it understandably hits the battery pretty hard. Mobvoi’s solution to this problem is a transparent secondary display that sits on top of the standard OLED panel. The top part of this Layered Display is an FSTN (Film compensated Super Twisted Nematic) LCD panel. It shows the time, date, step count, and battery level at all times (see below image). The benefit of this is better battery life, which I’ll get to a little later on. The quality of the 400x400 pixel main OLED display is perfectly acceptable, although it’s often not bright enough for me when automatic brightness is switched on. I'm not sure if there's any kind of oleophobic coating applied to the screen, but it definitely picks up more fingerprints and smudges than is probably acceptable. That's a minor complaint, though.
Unlike most smartwatches, the TicWatch Pro has not one but two hardware buttons, and Mobvoi has put them on the right side this time. Pressing either button will wake the watch if it’s asleep. Then, the following presses perform the following actions:
- Top button, single press - App list
- Top button, long press - Google Assistant
- Lower button, single press - Configurable to the app of your choice (opens Mobvoi Health app by default)
- Lower button, double press - Google Pay
- Lower button, long press - Power menu (Essential Mode, Restart, or Power off)
It’s useful to have some extra button options, especially since one of those is customizable so you can open any app with it. I set it to instantly take my heart rate, but I’m sure there are much more worthy applications for some of the things you might often do with your watch. If you plan to wear this watch while exercising, the IP68 rating against water and dust is a welcome bonus, although Mobvoi does not recommend that you swim while wearing it.
Alongside the TicWatch Pro in its handsome box, you’ll find just two other things: A user manual and a magnetic charging unit with a USB-A plug on the end. The charger is no different to that which comes with most other smartwatches and has a satisfyingly strong magnetic click when you attach the watch to it.
Software, performance, and battery life
At this point, it seems to be common knowledge that Wear OS is not very good. I can confirm that this is still true, and it’s easily the worst thing about this device. The reason I’ve never really been very interested in Android Wear or Wear OS is that I don’t think it really solves any problems. It does bring you even closer to your notifications, but for the last couple of years, they are what I’ve been trying desperately to get away from. Therefore, no smartwatch.
The TicWatch Pro handles Wear OS as well as most of its competitors, although its aging Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset (it was two years old in February) does throw the occasional spanner in the works. Seemingly basic actions like pulling the quick settings down will sometimes cause lag, but the worst I’ve seen is when opening up Google Pay, which can take an age to activate (up to 6 or 7 seconds) when using the lower button double press shortcut and when it’s not been used for a while. Embarrassingly, this happened the one time I tried to use it when getting on a bus with a queue of people behind me. Performance issues aren't so bad or frequent that it's enough not to recommend the watch, but it does stop it from quite competing with the very best Wear OS watches out there.
Aside from what comes as standard with any Wear OS device, Mobvoi has added a few of its own apps, mostly focussed on health and exercise. The Fitness app can be used to monitor your heart rate and progress during a run, cycle, walk or gym routine. The Health app tracks your steps, distance, and calorie burning through the day, and a separate app can be used to record your heart rate on the fly.
The other unfamiliar name you’ll see in the app list on this watch is “Essential Mode,” which relates to the key feature of the TicWatch Pro. The second screen I touched upon earlier is on by default and activates whenever the phone is asleep. This gives you glanceable information at all times while using very little battery life. If you want, you can turn on Wear OS’ normal always-on mode, rendering the transflective display redundant. You can also go the other way. By switching to Essential Mode, you get only the secondary display at all times — the main display is completely turned off.
This sounds crazy since you’re essentially turning your expensive smartwatch into a useless dumb watch, but it’s not quite as simple as that. For starters, the health and fitness tracking still functions in this mode, so the steps shown on the display are true and up-to-date. If you want to check your heart rate, you can still do so by pressing the lower button. It will work it out and then flash it up on the screen, but not for long, so you have to make sure you’re paying attention.
That’s about all you get in Essential Mode, which is still fairly good considering it can increase your battery life to anywhere from 5-30 days, or at least that’s what Mobvoi claims. Without Essential Mode (Smart Mode, as it’s called), you get a perfectly fine two-day battery life — maybe a little bit more in my testing, but that will depend on your usage.
It’s unlikely you’d pay $250 for the thing and then only use it in Essential Mode, so you may never have a reason to get to 30 days without charging, but it’s a good option to have. Incidentally, since I’ve only been using the TicWatch Pro for about a week, I can’t say how long it actually lasts when it’s purely in Essential Mode yet. When this is posted, I’m going to switch it over and run it down, before adding my findings as an update to this review — so bear with me on that one. I will say that the two days of battery life in Smart Mode on is more than respectable compared to most of its competitors, so that’s definitely a plus.
Should you buy it?
The TicWatch Pro is a great high-end Wear OS watch that has some useful additions from Mobvoi in the form of its own health and fitness apps. Its two-day battery life is acceptable, definitely aided by the clever secondary display, and in Essential Mode with most of the smart functions turned off, you can get even more life out of it while still tracking your steps and checking your heart rate from time to time.
It's chunkier than the TicWatch E, but it's also much better.
It’s by no means a perfect smartwatch, however. The chipset is over 2 years old at this point, and there are situations when performance is less than stellar — using Google Pay can be painful, for example. At $250, the TicWatch Pro is a little more expensive than competitors such as the Misfit Vapor or Fitbit Versa, but compares favorably against some of the more premium offerings from fashion labels or the Huawei Watch 2. At this price, some might be disappointed not to have LTE, but that probably won’t be a deal breaker for most people.
The biggest issue for the TicWatch Pro is that it's not the best time to buy a Wear OS watch right now. Qualcomm should finally be delivering some updated wearable chips later this year, and there's a distinct possibility that Google will announce a Pixel watch at its October hardware event. Furthermore, there are growing rumors about an upcoming Wear OS Galaxy watch from Samsung. If you're happy to wait a few months to see what happens, you might find that there are more compelling options available to you.
Where to buy?
The TicWatch Pro costs $249.99 and comes in Black or Silver color options. It’s an Amazon Prime exclusive in the US, UK, DE, IT, and ES until August 15th. Thereafter, it will be exclusive to Amazon in those same countries until September 30th, before going on general sale elsewhere. In all other regions, it’s available directly from Mobvoi. Outside of the US, pricing is as follows: £219.99 / €249.99 / CAD371.99 / AUD369.99.
Battery lasted 28-days in Essential Mode
As promised, once I finished my initial review, I charged up the TicWatch Pro and set it to Essential Mode so I could test the endurance of the battery. Mobvoi's lofty claim is 5-30 days, albeit with only the time, date, steps, and remaining battery showing, plus the ability to periodically take your heart rate still intact.
I took the watch off the charger on July 16 and the battery finally gave up on August 14 — that's a total of 28 days, and not far off the top end of Mobvoi's advertised range. I'd say that's a good result, although I can't say the TicWatch Pro was all that useful in that time since Essential Mode is so limited. I was able to tell the time and get an idea of my steps, better than most non-smart watches but nothing more than my phone can already tell me. I measured my (almost worryingly low) heart rate a couple of times a day, which was handy, I suppose.
Aside from the questionable usefulness of a bulky smartwatch without many of its smart features, the other problem is that it actually lost several minutes while in Essential Mode. By the time it ran out of juice, my TicWatch Pro was more than four minutes slow. That might not seem too bad, but it was enough to have me missing buses and running late for events. The basic function of any timepiece is to accurately tell the time, so I hope this is an issue that Mobvoi can fix in a future update.