TicWatch Pro review: Layered displays make it a battery champ

Wear OS hasn’t been taking the world by storm lately. The tech world has all but abandoned it and the fashion brands that adopted the software haven’t pushed the needle forward. Things have been stagnant for over a year. Notwithstanding Google’s lack of effort to improve Wear OS, some truly innovative and fresh hardware could really give things a boost. The new TicWatch Pro from Mobvoi does exactly that, with a radical approach to improving battery life. Instead of trying to cram a larger battery into a giant, ungainly watch case, they stacked a power sipping LCD display on top of a standard OLED, allowing a dual-screen setup to handle battery management. How well does it work? Well, let’s take a closer look.

 

Design

The TicWatch Pro is a big watch with a 45mm diameter. It carries the size well, however, with a sporty look and comfortable fit. I have small wrists and generally prefer a smaller watch like the Skagen Falster at 42mm, but this large newcomer didn’t bother me. It’s much better for daily wear than a tank like the LG Watch Sport and there’s room for all of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end smartwatch. The combination of stainless steel and a hard nylon reinforced with glass fiber make it durable but lightweight, so while it pushes the line with heft, it doesn’t cross it. It’s also not going to win a beauty contest, but the utilitarian design gets the job done.

The back of the watch is a stainless steel plate attached to the hard nylon case, and a heart rate sensor comes standard. Like the recent TicWatch E, charging is done via metal pins in lieu of wireless charging, but it’s easy enough to use the magnetic charging puck. The pins always align and there’s no fuss. As is the trend these days, the charger doesn’t come with its own wall adapter, so you’ll need your phone’s or a spare to plug it into a wall outlet. The strap is a skin-friendly silicon on the inside with Italian leather on the outside, so it looks great and is much more sweat resistant than an all leather strap. It has quick-release levers like the TicWatch E as well, which is always appreciated, and third-party 22mm straps can be fitted. The speaker is a small cutout near the bottom (at left in the above picture) and gets reasonably loud, if not a little tinny.

There are two buttons on the side, with the top functioning as the power and back button. It’ll also bring up the app drawer and a long press will activate Google Assistant. The bottom one is customizable and can launch the app of your choice. A double click will open Google Pay and a long press can activate Essential Mode (more on that later) or turn off/restart the device. A microphone sits between the two buttons. The watch has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance.

Hardware

 TicWatch Pro
AnnouncedJuly 2018
Released July 2018
Displays1.39″ OLED (400 x 400) + FSTN LCD
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
RAM 512MB
Internal storage4GB
Battery415mAh
Charging Magnetic charging puck connects to metal pins
SoftwareWear OS
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2 / Wi-Fi 802.11bgn 2.4GHz
SensorsHeart rate, accelerometer, gyro, magnetic sensor, ambient light sensor, low latency off-body sensor, with NFC and GPS
Measurements45mm diameter
ColorsBlack, silver

Software and Performance

There’s not much that differentiates one Wear OS watch from another when it comes to software. As I’ve said many times, if you’ve used a Wear OS watch, you’ve basically used them all. Two things stand out with the TicWatch Pro, however. The first is the fact that it’s feature packed. It has GPS for advanced fitness tracking, NFC for Google Pay, a speaker to make and receive calls on your wrist, a heart rate sensor, IP68 rating and a premium build. All that’s missing is LTE, but that’s a rather niche feature for smartwatches and requires an additional monthly expense with your wireless carrier.

The second is the main attraction of this watch. It has two screens stacked together! The first is an FSTN (Film compensated Super Twisted Nematic) LCD that looks like an old-school digital Casio. The second is a high-res OLED display that functions through the LCD, which becomes transparent when off. Why does this arrangement exist? Let’s dive into this one.

The watch has two modes: Essential Mode and Smart Mode.

  • Essential Mode uses the LCD display, which provides the time, date, step counts and heart rate data. It’s ultra power sipping and can provide up to 30 days of battery life. New features will come with future OTA updates as well, such as calories burned, distance traveled and speed. The watch is a capable fitness device in Essential Mode.
  • Smart Mode uses the OLED display and provides the regular Wear OS experience. The LCD screen becomes transparent when off, allowing the OLED display to function without compromise. Up to two days of battery life is possible in Smart Mode and users can manually switch between the two modes to extend battery life significantly. The watch can also be set to automatically switch to Essential Mode when the battery is low, providing another three days of power.

There’s a cool thing to note. If you turn off the always-on display, the LCD will kick on when the OLED goes dark. It’s actually a more battery efficient “always-on” display, never leaving the screen off like most Wear OS devices. I personally prefer this setup to the standard always-on setting. Watching the two displays play tag team never gets old and it’s the most innovative smartwatch advancement I’ve seen in a long time. That being said, the TicWatch Pro isn’t the first smartwatch to employ a dual-screen setup.

Casio themselves have the PRO TREK Smart, which has two LCD screens (one color, one monochrome) stacked together. It’s similar in concept, but the monochrome LCD is simply a time display without any fitness or other smart capabilities. The TicWatch Pro’s much more capable LCD is in a different league as you don’t lose everything just to extend battery life. In addition, it has a superior OLED display and Casio has an archaic flat tire on both of their screens.

I won’t bore you with a rehash of Wear OS as we’ve covered it multiple times already. As expected, it runs smoothly and glitch free on the TicWatch Pro. There’s nothing really new since the LG Watch Sport from way back in February 2017 (which also had the Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor). Google ignored Wear OS entirely at Google I/O 2018 in May, which speaks volumes about their commitment, although supposedly an update or revamp is coming “soon”. The bottom line is that Wear OS is old news with just a fairly new name.

The TicWatch Pro does pack in as many hardware features as possible to maximize the aging software’s potential. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Google Play apps – Thousands of apps and watch faces are available via the pre-installed Play Store, including favorites like Uber, eBay, Google Fit, Spotify and more
  • Google Assistant – Access the Assistant by long-pressing the top button. Get your weather, set a reminder, start your run and more
  • NFC payments – NFC is built in for Google Pay, triggered by double clicking the bottom button
  • GPS – Integrated GPS for advanced fitness tracking and directions
  • Health and Fitness – Sensors include a heart rate monitor, accelerometer, gyro, magnetic sensor, ambient light sensor and low latency off-body sensor. Both Google Fit and Mobvoi’s own fitness apps are pre-installed
  • Integrated speaker – Make and receive phone calls on your wrist, hear audible responses from Assistant and more
  • Music streaming – Listen to music with Google Play Music (and download playlists), Spotify and more
  • Water resistance – IP68 rating for water and dust (submerged to 1.5m for 30 minutes)

Battery

This is the most interesting part of the watch as the dual-screen setup focuses on battery life. The question was asked at the beginning if dual-screens lived up to the hype – And they certainly do. I easily got an entire day and night out of the 415mAh battery with Smart Mode, and when combining the OLED and LCD as needed (switching between Smart Mode and Essential Mode), I got three days between charges. I haven’t had the watch long enough to test this further, but the potential to go five days or more is very realistic. That’s a big deal for a proper smartwatch as many can’t even last a full day. With Essential Mode turned on exclusively, you’re getting a lot more functionality than a simple hybrid “smart” watch and that’ll push battery life to 30 days. If you’re mostly into step counts, heart rate data, calories burned and other fitness data, charging could be a once-per-month affair.

The included charging puck is easy to use and guides the watch into the pins effortlessly. If you want to charge from a wall outlet, just remember that Mobvoi doesn’t included a power brick in the box. It’s a disappointing and questionable omission, but also becoming more commonplace with Wear OS devices. You’ll need a couple of hours to fill the tank, but if you charge overnight, it doesn’t really matter.

Conclusion

I recently reviewed Mobvoi’s TicWatch E and the conclusion here is similar. Until Google takes Wear OS more seriously, we’re stuck in a software cul-de-sac that’s not aging like wine. The TicWatch Pro makes the most of it with a complete set of features (minus LTE) and solid specs, and a very innovative dual-screen design that doesn’t disappoint. I wish the case was a bit smaller, but it has an expansive display, large battery (for a smartwatch) and IP68 rating, so I can only complain so much. If you’re looking for a Wear OS watch today, the TicWatch Pro is about as good as it gets. And the dual-screen design makes it more compelling than the LG Watch Sport, which is ridiculously still the “flagship” after a year and a half.

The TicWatch Pro is available now in black or silver on Amazon and Mobvoi’s website for 249.99. Not bad for a high-end smartwatch that’s packing true innovation.


About the Author: Erik Slaven

He was born and raised in Virginia, but escaped to Southern CA. Started out as a BlackBerry addict until he bought HTC’s Droid Eris and never looked back. He's owned dozens of Android devices and can rarely settle on a daily driver for more than a few months. He's currently using a Galaxy S8 and BlackBerry KEYone. He rides motorcycles for fun and would live on the beach if it was legal. Marketing and freelance pr help keep the lights on.