Hands on: TicWatch S review

An affordable entry point for Android Wear 2.0

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

Mobvoi’s affordable Android Wear 2.0 smartwatch may not be flashy, but the TicWatch S ticks lots of boxes for its price.

For

  • Affordable price
  • Android Wear 2.0 onboard

Against

  • No cellular or NFC connectivity
  • Fixed strap

It may not be a household name yet, but Chinese company Mobvoi has quietly been making moves worthy of your attention. 

Part owned by Google, with interesting work in AI and one of the few wearable success stories on Kickstarter, it’s now preparing to launch its TicWatch S and E smartwatches. 

Themselves Kickstarter-funded projects, each with similar specs, we went hands-on with the TicWatch S at IFA 2017. If you’re in the market for a new Google-powered wearable that won’t break the bank, you may want to read on.

TicWatch S price and release date

As a Kickstarter project, there’s a whiff of “it’s ready when it’s ready” with the TicWatch line. But Mobvoi have a good track record of delivering, having already successfully brought the TicWatch 2 to market through Kickstarter. 

So the promise of a Q4 2017 release date for the TicWatch S and E (expected to be in November) can probably be trusted.

With early-bird pricing for the pair now over, you’re looking at $199.99 (around £155 / AU$250) for the TicWatch S, and $159.99 (about £125 / AU$200)for the TicWatch E.

Design and display

There’s a toy-like quality to the TicWatch S and E, using plastics in their construction and silicone rubber for their straps. 

Available in white, black and lime, it means they are lightweight, with the TicWatch S having a minute-marked bezel and action button housed to the left of its display.

While they’re not going to interest those who want their smartwatches to mimic the look of a high end traditional watch, the TicWatch duo are comfortable to wear, and have a great display. 

We saw the TicWatch S’s 1.4-inch, 400 x 400 resolution OLED display in action, and it was vibrant and bright. It’s also a full circle, too – no “flat tire” area at the bottom of the display that plagued the early Android Wear devices. Each has water resistance up to an IP67 rating too.

For those interested in the cheaper model, the TicWatch E looks slightly smaller with a less-busy bezel and the option of removable straps, something not offered by the TicWatch S in the hope of improving GPS performance.

The TicWatch S weighs 45.5g with its strap, and measures 13mm thick. On the TicWatch S, the band also has a “breathable” design, which makes use of a hollowed-out section around your wrist to prevent too much sweaty build up when in full-on workout. It’s certainly the more fitness-orientated of the two devices.

Internally, each makes use of a 1.2GHz dual-core Mediatek processor, GPS, a heart rate monitor, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, but don’t feature cellular connectivity or NFC. So no phone-free web-reliant app use here, or contactless payments.

Performance and interface

Without final software to test at the IFA 2017 conference, and the inability to give its fitness-tracking claims a proper sweaty test, we’ll have to reserve judgement on some of the performance claims of the TicWatch S until we’ve had more substantial hands-on time with the wearable.

But there’s a few interesting design choices that suggest Mobvoi has carefully considered the performance-to-price ratio. For starters, the lack of a cellular connection has been chosen as to push battery life towards a claimed 2 days of mixed use, which sounds pretty good if true.

And the choice to put the GPS antenna in the band (at the sake of making the strap interchangeable, it must be said) could be smart if it delivers the improved accuracy it claims to.

In terms of interface, final models that ship to users will be running Android Wear 2.0, with a slew of Mobvoi’s own apps carrying over from the devices which previously ran the company’s own OS. 

This includes the “Tic Fit” suite, an option alongside Google Fit, which will track steps, heart rate, calories and nutrition intake – whatever that last one proves to be. There’s also a Music Player app that will let you take a selection of tunes on the go with you for a phone-free sonic workout. A dozen or so other Mobvoi apps will be available to download at launch too.

Running non-final software at the show, it’s difficult to judge precisely the performance of the onboard Mediatek processor – something akin to a budget option when compared to Qualcomm alternatives. But if the watch on show at IFA 2017 was indicative of the final device, it seemed more than responsive enough for our needs.

Early verdict

If you’re looking for a smartwatch that would slide unnoticed alongside some formal evening wear, you’re going to want to look elsewhere. But if all you’re interested in is getting Android Wear 2.0 features in a fun, affordable package, then the TicWatch S could be worth checking out. 

We’ll have more on the wearable when it launches fully later this year.

  • IFA 2017 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.