Ticwatch S and E review: Affordable Android Wear

Smartwatches are still a bit of a tough category; there are so many in the market now, but it’s hard to say that they have really penetrated the lives of the masses. Android Wear opened the market to a wide range of wearables, from the useful to the overly simplistic to the gaudy and expensive. It’s been tough to really love any of them. Android Wear still feels a little sterile, even boring, especially considering how little it actually adds to the experience of using a smartphone.

Pretty much any smartwatch can fill the role of a notification center and alternate way of sending messages and taking calls. Sport-oriented Wear devices also track your steps, as well as your location during various forms of exercise, and some even have features like NFC-driven payments via Android Pay. Aside from that, the core of Android Wear is pretty much the same from device to device, which makes the overall experience a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing.

That’s where the Ticwatch came in. Powered by a custom version of Android, creator Mobvoi wanted to give smartwatch beginners a different avenue into the space. With a simple but effective quirk — a touch sensitive side which could be ‘tickled’ for scrolling and selection — the Ticwatch carved out a niche, keeping its price low enough so users would feel comfortable giving it a try.

In Ticwatch’s new entry, that feature has been jettisoned to offer a more affordable product. In doing so, Mobvoi has put itself in a strange middle ground between the people who actually might like Android Wear and those who are just trying to save a buck. The result is the Ticwatch S and the Ticwatch E.

The Ticwatch S is the sportier of the two. The one we used was more eye-catching than most. David even  wore it in a number recent videos and a lot of people asked what he was wearing. It comes in a highlighter green-yellow that, as David puts it, screams “I WORK OUT.” There are expected pitfalls to the design; the straps are proprietary and the color makes it difficult to wear outside of casual and workout environments. It certainly won’t work with a suit. During our recent trip to Hawaii, it didn’t take long for the rubberized band to get dirty. For a supposedly sporty watch, it’s a bit troubling how quickly sweat and general wear and tear can soil it.

These problems disappeared with the Ticwatch E, which showed up in matte black that would blend in a little better. Other versions of the Ticwatch E look even better, but we appreciated the black on black nonetheless. The E is compatible with any 22 mm band, and has a GPS nested within the watch itself, rather than hiding it in the band. We don’t have the screen on in shots of the Ticwatch E because our unit had a problem. Without any drops or bumps, the screen got stuck showing a context card and now flickers like crazy. We have only seen this happen to our unit, but felt the need to mention it. Consider our cautionary tale when you think about the E version’s lower price tag. Your mileage may vary with a watch in this price range.

Both watches sport just one button on the left, which feels too squishy for good tactile response. The watches’ plastic bodies frame it so we didn’t know if we actually pressed it until something happened on the screen. Putting the button on the left side makes these watches a bit different, but it also feels a bit unnatural.

The rest of the specifications are the same. The 1.4-inch OLED screen looks great on both devices handles the “always on” functions well. Both use Mediatek processors, which have held up so far. The watches feature 4 GB of internal storage, which can be used for localized music playback through Mobvoi’s included application.

The S and E feature 350 mAh batteries which, boosted by the omission of cellular radios, have lasted up to 2 days, but definitely closer to 1.5 during average usage. Expect to charge these watches nightly to ensure they don’t go dead in the middle of the day. The included charger has a strong magnet which snaps right into place. The cable is flat and minimal, so we didn’t have any trouble bringing it on recent trips.

See also: Best GPS running watches

What else makes the S different from E? Aside from the cosmetic changes and location of the GPS antenna, the S also comes with a Mobvoi-developed health suite, which works quite well. The app shows Apple Watch-esque circles illustrating your calories burned, your steps, and even your nutritional intake likely derived from a baseline total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). The interface on both the watch and the connected smartphone app are appealing and work well enough for casual fitness tracking. I used the watch for Sleep as Android tracking and it worked alright,  but forced me to shift the charging time of the watch to midday so it would have enough juice for nightly tracking.

The heart rate monitor and GPS work as well as expected. A wrist-mounted heart rate monitor is never as accurate as other methods, but it is nice to have when the desire to check our vitals strikes. The Ticwatch E is not afforded these features, making it more for those who just want a wrist-bound notification center compatible, with a few other apps to suit their needs.

Mobvoi ticks a lot of the right boxes with their devices, but we miss the touch sensitive strip. It’s absence only makes the Ticwatch S and E blend in to the already-crowded Android Wear market. For the money, you are also paying for completely plastic bodies, which do not instill a high level of confidence.

So who needs this kind of device? Fans of the Ticwatch are kind of left in the cold without the features that separated their beloved smartwatch from the droves of Android Wear devices, so they would just stick to the Ticwatches they already wear. Android Wear enthusiasts have a massive library of watches from which to choose. Some of them are somewhat competitive to the price of Mobvoi’s latest attempt. It seems the user who may only cautiously try a smartwatch for the first time could use the Ticwatch as that starting line. At $159 for the Ticwatch E and $199 for the Ticwatch S, at least they can rest assured their wallets won’t shrink too much in giving a smartwatch a try.

Could this be your first smartwatch? At this price, why not consider it? The latest that the Android Wear OS can offer is here for you to try in the Ticwatch E and S, even if the experience is proportionate to the price point.

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