Google’s Wear OS is in a strange state these days. Relegated mostly to fashion brands from the Fossil Group or a small handful of high-end brands like Tag Heuer and Movado, it’s been mostly forgotten about by tech companies. Gone are the days of new Motorola, HTC, LG and Huawei watch releases. That doesn’t mean that solid watches are no longer available, however, and if you want to dip your toe into Wear OS waters without breaking the bank, Mobvoi has the full-featured Ticwatch E for well under $200. A round display (no flat tire), heart-rate sensor and GPS are all onboard, along with an attractive design and comfortable quick-release silicon strap. Is there a catch? Well, let’s take a closer look.
The Ticwatch E unit I have is completely blacked out with a matte finish. Other colors are available, but I prefer this stealth appearance. The body is made from polycarbonate, but it doesn’t come across as cheap. You won’t mistake it for aluminum, but it’s not at all chintzy. Most Wear OS watches lean towards the large side and the Ticwatch E is up there, but still reasonable with a 44mm diameter and 13.5mm thickness. It’s at the upper end of what I’d personally be comfortable wearing, but it doesn’t overwhelm my wrist. The sharp (287ppi) round OLED display is comparable to many recent Wear OS watches and gets bright enough to see outside on sunny days. There’s a bit of a bezel between the screen and case edge, but it’s minimal and inoffensive.
The back of the watch has a heart-rate sensor, which is absent on many watches over $200, and metal pins for a magnetic charger. It unfortunately doesn’t support wireless charging, but the proprietary unit is easy enough to attach (just don’t lose it). The other end of the charger is a standard USB plug, so you’ll need your own power brick from a smartphone, etc. to charge the watch from a wall outlet. The silicon strap has quick release levers that make swapping it out a breeze, which is a nice touch for such an affordable smartwatch. It’s also comfortable and sweat resistant, and a little reminiscent of the Apple Watch strap. The strap size is 20mm and Mobvoi has several of its own to choose from, and most 3rd party straps will fit as well.
Like many Wear OS watches, there’s only one physical button, but this one sits on the left side. It’s an unusual placement and I’d prefer it on the right, but it was easy enough to get used to. It serves as both a back button and access to the app drawer (and power button when shut down). A small microphone port sits just above center on the right side. The watch has an IP67 rating for water and dust resistance.
|Display||1.4" round OLED, 287ppi|
|Processor||MediaTEK MT2601 1.2GHz dual-core|
|Charging||Magnetic charging puck connects to metal pins|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth v4.1/BLE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n|
|Sensors||Heart-rate, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, GPS|
|Measurements||44mm diameter, 13.55mm thick|
|Colors||Shadow (black), Ice (white) and Lemon (yellow)|
Software and Performance
Android Wear 2.0 was initially installed, but it was upgraded to Wear OS. Not much differentiates it from other Wear OS smartwatches as Google prohibits skins and other software modifications. If you’ve used one Wear OS watch, you’ve basically used them all. What does set this watch apart from others, such as the LG Watch Style or Fossil Gen 3 – Q Venture, are an abundance of features that are usually reserved for more expensive models. Both a heart-rate sensor and GPS are onboard, along with a speaker for making/receiving phone calls on your wrist. The well received Skagen Falster, costing over $100 more, is missing all of those.
There are many watch faces pre-installed and a seemingly unlimited amount in the Play Store to choose from, so it won’t be hard to customize to your liking. Mobvoi has its own fitness app, which is perfectly fine for most users, and Google Fit is also installed. Mobvoi’s app provides fitness tracking data (heart rate, steps taken, etc.) and a workout program. It’s a bit redundant with Google Fit also available, but gets the job done.
Like most recent Google watches, Wear OS is fluid and doesn’t stutter on the Ticwatch E. To keep costs down, Mobvoi went with a MediaTek processor (512MB RAM) instead of Qualcomm, but the difference isn’t discernible in real world use. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor has gotten a little long in the tooth, anyway. Notifications come in through an antiquated list that’s accessible with a swipe up from the main screen. A vibration and audible ping alerts you to incoming emails, texts, Facebook activity and so on. The watch itself handles notifications very well, but Wear OS can use a new coat of pain at this point. And just to acknowledge the elephant in the room… Yes, the Apple Watch handles notifications better.
There’s no LTE option, but the Ticwatch E connects to Wi-fi for music and app downloads (and software updates), and you can make/receive phone calls thanks to an integrated speaker. You’ll still need your phone nearby as calls route through it, but it can be very convenient when your hands are full, when walking the dog, etc. I rarely consider strapping on a smartwatch these days that doesn’t have a speaker.
For music lovers, the watch works best with Google Play Music and can download playlists for offline playback via 4GB of internal storage. There’s also a Spotify app for Wear OS, but the majority of the heavy lifting is handled by the phone. Music can be controlled with the watch, however, and it isn’t a bad experience overall.
The Google Play Store is pre-installed and many popular native apps are available, such as Uber, Spotify and Hangouts, but they’re not as polished as they should be (again, unfortunately, compared to the Apple Watch). For day to day use, however, they’re generally adequate. Google Assistant is also onboard.
Battery life has been comparable to other Wear OS watches, such as the Fossil Gen 3 – Q Explorist or Skagen Falster. The 300mAh battery is a typical size for Wear OS watches and I was usually able to get through a full day and night. Heavy users and those that lean on GPS might need to top-up before nightfall.
Charging via the proprietary magnetic connector is fairly slow, taking over 2 hours to charge. If you do this overnight, it’s of little consequence. The connector easily aligns itself to the watch’s integrated pins and is almost as simple as attaching a wireless charger. The magnetic connection is weak, however, and can detach if not sitting flat on a table.
I have yet to encounter the perfect Wear OS smartwatch. There’s some great hardware out there, but Google hasn’t given the software the attention it deserves. The Ticwatch E can hold its own with much more expensive models due to a feature-rich spec sheet. Integrated GPS, a heart-rate sensor, speaker for phone calls and an IP67 rating are impressive for any smartwatch, but kind of incredible for one costing well under $200. There are two notable omissions, however, being no NFC for mobile payments and no LTE for smartphone independence. I consider both of those features somewhat niche for smartwatches and I’d much rather have an integrated GPS and speaker.
The Ticwatch E is available from Amazon, Best Buy and Mobvoi’s website for only $159.99. There are three color options and even more straps, and if you’re looking for a solid Wear OS experience for $100 less than most competitors, the Ticwatch E is an excellent choice.