Ticwatch S review : A new affordable smartwatch hero?

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The Ticwatch S is a good Android Wear watch for the price. We love Mobvoi’s suite of health apps, strengthened by the built-in GPS. The heart rate sensor is iffy, and we wouldn’t recommend this if you’re strictly looking for a sports watch, but otherwise Mobvoi has delivered a solid Android Wear experience with a flavor of its own.

Hit
  • Price
  • Mobvoi’s apps
  • Built-in GPS
Miss
  • No NFC
  • Heart rate accuracy not great
  • RIP Tickle Strip

Ticwatch S

Since the death of Pebble we’ve been holding out for a new cheap smartwatch hero. Can the Ticwatch S take the mantle?

Ok, so the Ticwatch E is actually cheaper of Mobvoi’s two new watches, and if you’re looking for an Android Wear watch that won’t break the bank, be sure to check out our full review. The Ticwatch S is the sportier model (hence the S) costing $40 more, though in many ways it’s the same smartwatch.

There are a few differences to be aware of, however. Both also mark Mobvoi’s Android Wear debut, replacing what was a proprietary OS. Was the switch worth it? We’ve been living with the Ticwatch S for a couple of weeks to find out. Here’s the full verdict.

Design

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

The Ticwatch S and Ticwatch E offer similar experiences but differ greatly in design, and despite the higher price of the S model I prefer the look of the E. The Ticwatch S isn’t offensively ugly, but just a more generic sports watch. It’s cosmetically similar to the LG Watch Sport, with the rigid polyurethane design, though it’s less chunky than the LG and lighter too – 45mm wide and 13mm thick. I’ve been testing the yellow version, but you can also pick it up in a less energetic black or white.

What you can’t do is change the straps. That’s because Mobvoi has built the GPS chip into the strap on the Ticwatch S rather than the watch body (as it is in the E). You can detach the straps to replace them should they get worn down, but you’ll only be able to swap in other Ticwatch S bands, where the E allows you to swap in any 20mm band of your liking.

Mobvoi has once again gone against the grain by sticking the single button to the left of the face, not the right. It takes a little time to get used to this, but the benefit is that you’re less likely to press it with the back of your hand, which you might be prone to doing in any weight sessions at the gym.

As for the screen, I’ve no complaints. It’s a 1.4-inch OLED display with a 287 ppi; pretty par for the course.

Features

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

The side button is the only way to interact with the watch beyond the touch display. Sadly Mobvoi has ditched the Ticwatch 2’s ‘Tickle Strip’ which was a touch-sensitive veneer on the side of the watch used for scrolling around menus. It’s a shame that’s gone because it was one of Mobvoi’s more unique ideas, but sadly it was cut to keep costs down.

And then there’s Android Wear, the bedrock of the Ticwatch experience. Like the loss of the Tickle Strip, ditching Mobvoi’s proprietary OS will make it harder for these watches to stand out in an ever-crowded market. I understand why Mobvoi had to do it; Android Wear is a huge ecosystem to compete with when you can just join it. Still, it’s a shame.

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

That said, Mobvoi’s DNA still runs through Android Wear on both these watches, particularly in fitness where Mobvoi is including a handful of its own apps out of the box, along with all of the Android Wear 2.0 apps you’ll be able to download, of course.

Like most other Android Wear makers, Mobvoi is putting its stamp on the software in watch faces too. There are plenty to choose from out of the box, including some themed to the colors of the watch, but you have an endless catalogue of alternative Android Wear faces if none of those do it for you.

One omission I’m especially sad about is NFC. So you won’t be able to use Android Pay on the Ticwatch S (or the E for that matter). I get that it keeps the cost down, but as a cheerleader of wearable payments it’s always going to be something I’ll notice.

Health and fitness

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

Naturally, we’ve had higher expectations of the Ticwatch S as a fitness wearables than the E, even though they both offer the same feature set. That meant we were happy to overlook some of the shortcomings in the E when it came to accuracy, but with the S it’s a different story.

First off, I really like Mobvoi’s fitness suite. Yes, there are apps like Strava and MapMyFitness on the Android Wear store, but it’s nice to have something out of the box that doesn’t feel like an afterthought. The Tic Health app is where you can see your progress from the day, presented in some very Apple Watch-esque rings. And when I say Apple Watch-esque, I mean it’s almost been lifted out and dropped into the Ticwatch.

Swipe down and you’ll get a breakdown of your day: steps, distance, active hours, calories burned and exercise minutes. I also really like the layout of the smartphone app, which nicely digs down into those exercises to surface metrics like pace, step frequency and step length.

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

The Fitness app on the watch is where you can start a workout, with a choice of outdoor run, outdoor walk, indoor run, cycling and freestyle modes. Freestyle breaks down gym sessions into sets, but won’t track reps like Garmin or some other Android Wear watches do (to varying degrees of accuracy). My favorite app on the Ticwatch is Step Ranking, which shows how your day’s steps rank on a leaderboard of people in the local area. Mobvoi also has a heart rate app for checking your heart rate at any moment.

However that heart rate sensor isn’t spectacular when it comes to exercise, especially at higher intensities.

Ticwatch S and E first look: Android Wear brings apps, but removes identity

You can see in the graph above, as I was hitting some hills towards the end of my workout, the Ticwatch struggled to keep up with those peaks and troughs. If you’re just looking for something to get you off the couch, the heart rate tracking performs OK, but just don’t expect anything near the level of the Garmin Fenix 5 or Nokia Steel HR.

It’s pretty much the same experience we had on the E. Like I said, we’re willing to be more forgiving on that one as there’s less onus on the fitness elements. GPS has performed accurately in our testing on the Ticwatch S, and having it built into an Android Wear at this price is great to see.

Battery life

Battery life is, again, par for the course. I’ve got about a day and a half, two days when I really stretched it. That’s the same as what my colleague Husain got with the Ticwatch E. Obviously if you’re using a lot of GPS then you’re going to hammer the battery harder, but unless you’re taking it on a marathon, you should have enough to push beyond a day.

(wareable.com, https://goo.gl/mmyHp1)

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