Highlight - With an excellent display, speedy performance and a fun, innovative UI the Ticwatch 2 ticks many of the right boxes
Earlier this year, Mobvoi caught the attention of the world’s tech media for launching a Kickstarter campaign for their Ticwatch 2, a smartwatch that did things differently, all the while feeling familiar. Different since it doesn’t run Android Wear, and familiar due to the fact that it looked and felt like a watch, as well as offering all the features that we’ve become accustomed to in a watch such as this. The Ticwatch 2 runs TicWear, a version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop that’s designed to run on a smartwatch, and a version of Android that doesn’t rely on Google all that much. Coming from China, the TicWear OS leans heavily on Yelp for nearby recommendations, as well as its own search and OS tools to do what Google Now would on an Android Wear watch. When it was on Kickstarter, the watch quickly became known as a cheaper alternative to Android Wear and other smartwatches, while offering a similar feature set. Now, it’s available to purchase by anyone and everyone, starting at $199, so the question is whether or not the Ticwatch 2, going it alone, is worth the asking price?
In the Box
Unboxing the Ticwatch 2 is a fun, if not trivial experience. The watch itself is packaged in what appears to be any other watch box, and the unit is positioned in the center of the cardboard box on a little cushion. This is slick presentation, and while everything here is cardboard, and there’s nothing to scream about material wise, it does feel as though you’re unboxing a watch. We have the Oak version to review here, and with its brown leather strap, you could be fooled for thinking this were a “real watch.”
As for what you get alongside the watch itself, users are treated to two small boxes, one of which has the quick start guide – which those cautious of buying from a Chinese firm will be happy to know is detailed, and all in English – as well as the microUSB cable and the wireless charging pad. The Ticwatch 2 does indeed charge with other wireless chargers, but the magnetic base include here looks and feels good. All-in-all, you get what you’d expect in a smartwatch package here, nothing more and nothing less, but it’s all presented very nicely.
Right from the start, we’ve said that the Ticwatch 2 does things a little differently, and this is the case on the inside, too. Instead of the Snapdragon CPUs a lot of other smartwatches are using, the Ticwatch 2 has gone for a dual-core 1.2 Ghz MediaTek MT2601 with 512MB of RAM. As for storage, the watch has a fairly standard 4GB of it, but 800MB of it is reserved for transferring music to it, to listen to with Bluetooth headphones. Speaking of which, there’s both Bluetooth 4.0LE as well as WiFi 802.11 b/g/n on offer here. The Oak version here has a top portion which is 316L stainless steel, while the underbody is polycarbonate. The display is a 1.4-inch 400 x 400 OLED affair, with a pixel density of 287 dpi. Sensor wise, the Ticwatch 2 is packed full, with both GPS as well as GLONASS, and an optical heart rate sensor that has a proximity sensor built in, as well as the usual accelerometer and gyroscope. The whole package is powered by a 300 mAh battery, which is charged via wireless charging.
As for the casing itself, the Ticwatch 2 is 42mm wide, 1.4-inches across the diagonal, and is 11.95mm thick. It has a water-resistance rating of IP65 and also features a standard 20mm watch band fitting, too.
Design and Build
When I first took the Ticwatch 2 out of the box, I was immediately impressed by the overall fit and finish that the company have achieved here. The stainless steel on the Oak version we have looks good, the crown – which is also a button – looks good and even the display is set well here. The leather strap, which is often an afterthought for a smartwatch feels well-made and wouldn’t look out of place on a “real watch” but then again there’s nothing to write home about the look of the strap, it’s a brown leather strap and that’s all there is to it. This isn’t to take anything away for the build of the Ticwatch 2, as it’s well-made and feels solid on the wrist. This is certainly a cut above some other smartwatches, and it’s far more impressive than most would expect from a Chinese smartwatch such as this.
Design wise, the team brought in Scandinavian designer Mika Nenonen and the philosophy behind the design of the Ticwatch 2 was to make something that looked like a watch. At this point, the idea of a smartwatch looking like a real watch seems almost cliché, but the team has very much succeeded in this goal. The Oak version we have, looks like a classic watch you would find for sale in a store, and while it might be a little “old” in its look, the classic stainless steel finish could easily be tied with whatever type of watch strap you want. There’s actually very little to write home about here in terms of design, which is a good thing, meaning there are few complaints. If there are complaints, it’d be the size of the watch itself. Here, it’s difficult to get around the fact that this is clearly a watch designed for the wrists of those in Asia, as a Westerner like myself has larger wrists, and it looks a little small on my wrist. This is because the team have clearly chosen to create a watch that is thicker than it is wide, and you can see the watch sort of “rising” out from your wrist, as it’s not the thinnest watch at over 1cm thick. The strap fitting is of the 20mm variety, not the usual 22mm variety, which again makes it appear a smaller watch on the wrist of some.
Of course, there is an upside to all of this, and that’s that the Ticwatch 2 will fit just fine on the wrist of ladies as well as those with thinner wrists. This has been a common complaint of some smartwatches, with many of them being too large for a lot of wearers, and while this means it doesn’t “suit” my wrist, it does mean that the Ticwatch 2 is the sort of watch that will appeal to those who have little success with these watches in the past.
All-in-all, the Ticwatch 2 is a good-looking smartwatch, and one that doesn’t try too hard to be anything it isn’t. With few flourishes, it could be easy to dismiss this as a “boring” design, but that wouldn’t be fair to say. The stainless steel finish looks great, the display is set beautifully and the fit and finish is excellent overall.
The 1.4-inch OLED display in the Ticwatch 2 deserves a special mention. I’ve seen and worn many a smartwatch, and the display here is the best I have seen. It’s so close to the glass that, when in ambient mode, it looks to me as if I have a piece of paper strapped to my wrist. It’s very bright, the colors are vivid – without going too far – and it’s very readable, even in direct sunlight. The display here is very, very impressive and is clearly a high point of the overall package. It’s very responsive and silky smooth to touch, and it doesn’t take too long to wake up when lifting your wrist, either. An excellent display, this is one of the best bits about the Ticwatch 2, without doubt.
The overall look might be great, and it might have a display, but what is it like to wear? The short answer is that it’s like wearing a watch, it’s about the same sort of weight as a standard watch, and the strap is standard, too. It’s perfectly comfortable to wear, and unlike other watches this year, I had more than enough in the strap as standard, with a lot of fittings punched in to that will appeal to even the smallest of wrists, as well as some of the largest, too. There are no complaints here when it comes to comfort, the only thing to be aware of is that, due to the thickness of the watch, it does look kind of “tall” on the wrist, which might be one of the bigger giveaways that it’s not a “real watch”.
As many will already know, the Ticwatch 2 doesn't run Android Wear, which is not to say it doesn't run Android, because it tuns Ticwear, itself based off of Android 5.1. During my testing with the Ticwatch 2, I was testing Ticwear 4.4.1, which is the latest version at the time of writing. At first glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that Ticwear were nothing more than a skin of Android Wear as there are a lot of similarities, but there are subtle, yet very important devices.
Starting with the phone app, dubbed "Ticwear Global" and available from the Play Store, getting the watch connected is super-easy, and there's actually not too much different here from Android Wear. There are, however, some subtleties that are a little annoying. For one, there'a persistent notification that you cannot dismiss, and there's no setting for this. Speaking of which, there are nice settings like the option to disable notifications when the screen is on. Otherwise, the phone app doesn't do all that much, there's the ability to change the watch face from the phone app, as well as a dedicated health center for the health features of the watch.
The main attraction, of course, is the Ticwear side of things on the watch itself. Navigating the OS on the watch is like moving different circular panes up and down, side-to-side. Starting with a pull down from the watch face, the first panel is some simple toggles for a silent mode, which is the moon icon, as well an airplane mode and then battery life figures for both phone and watch, with a blue ring circling the display to visually show the battery life of the watch. Swiping to the right of this delivers another pane of quick toggles, which features a quick way of changing the brightness, an option to toggle tilt to wake, a button to find your phone (which works as advertised and is a great feature). Swipe again and you get a good-looking music controller, swipe again and you'll get the weather app (with an option to speak the weather aloud) and finally a quick look at your health stats. These can be changed from within the phone app under the "quick cards" menu.
Elsewhere, there are of course notifications, and for the most part the Ticwatch 2 handles these brilliantly. When one comes in, you can raise your wrist to see it go full screen, scrolling down will give you the option to clear it, or action upon it. In the below shots, we've given you the examples of replying to a Hangouts message, which works quickly and the voice recognition software is sufficient enough to reply with your voice. Handling notifications is really easy on the Ticwatch 2, and dealing with them is nice and straightforward, they're kept in the same place as they would be on Android Wear, you just pull up from the watch face and there are your notifications. There are no cards here a la Android Wear, and for a lot of users I think this would have a positive effect on things, as it's more approachable and a lot easier to understand. Notifications are well-explained in the quick start guide, and very intuitive over all.
The biggest thing to take away from Ticwear is that there is no Google. The Internet giant just doesn't exist in China, and so bringing it to the West, they have had to seek alternatives. There's a virtual assistant here just as Google Now is part of Android Wear, but searching nearby uses Yelp - which I actually quite liked, and results are presented well to users. I found that this was a bit of a mixed bag overall. You can certainly ask the watch to remind you to call your wife back, and you can schedule appointments, ask it to start a timer and so on, but there were more than a few times where I got the message of "It is not supported yet." Basic smartwatch stuff is the sort of thing that this assistant can help you with, but this is one part where most users will miss Google the most.
Apps wise, there are a number of useful ones included, with a calendar app, a stopwatch and timer app, a calculator, a weather app, a voice recorder, an alarm app and a comprehensive settings app where users can change a great deal of their overall experience. Getting new apps, though? Well, this is perhaps more of a challenge than its worth in the long run. You need to get the Mobvoi Store app installed on your device first - which, due to Google Play Store restrictions, needs to be sideloaded - and then, once you have the store installed, you can go ahead and take a look at what's there. For the most part, the only things I found in the Mobvoi Store of worth were extra watch faces, and a torch app. These apps are downloaded separately, and then again, sideloaded, which is a massive step back from the way that users can install apps from the Play Store when using an Android Wear smartwatch. There are some screenshots below to give you an idea of the sort of setup here.
Making and taking phone calls on the Ticwatch 2 is fairly decent, if not predictably quiet. Just being able to take a quick call on my wrist was helpful, and I did find it helpful at my desk, as I could take a call from my fiancee on her way home, instead of having to press a phone to my ear. Of course, I wouldn't use this for long phone calls at all, but it is a great add-on to have, and it's something I wish all smartphones had. There's a dedicated dialer, as well as a quick list of favorite contacts from your phone, and it all works quite nicely. Callers said that I sounded good, and that it was the sort of reception similar to speakerphone on a smartphone, so while not a glowing recommendation, it's more than good enough. My one complaint is that it does take some time to pick up a call, but this could have been something only I came across.
Screen space is precious, and when we're talking about a 1.4-inch watch display, it's even more precious. Which is why the team behind the Ticwatch 2 put together the Tickle, which is a touch sensitive strip on the side of the watch. This is why in the photos of the watch, I've been wearing it with the crown on the "wrong" side. The Tickle allows users to scroll up and down through long notifications as well lists of apps, and then tap in the center to action a highlighted menu item. It's a fun concept, and could be considered the Ticwatch 2's "thing" just like the rotating bezel is on the Gear S3. The Tickle is a nice addition, and it doesn't have to be used. The Tiwatch 2 allows users to choose which side of the watch to have the crown - and the strap is super-easy to change, too - so it's nice to see Mobvoi trying something new, without necessarily forcing it upon users.
For the first few days of using the Ticwatch 2, I wasn't too impressed with the battery life. However, after the watch had settled somewhat, things improved drastically, and where I was finding myself at 20 percent or so at say 8PM after using it since 9AM. After a week or so of the watch settling down, it soon became a lot, lot better. Now, I can quite easily get a full 24 hours out of the watch if I wanted to. Let's keep in mind that this is with the watch on full brightness with tilt to wake - which is pretty sensitive - and if I turned these features off I could probably get more out of it still. Sure, the battery life isn't quite as good as other smartwatches, but it's more than sufficient for most users, and I would say that those willing to charge the device overnight on a daily basis would not find a problem with the Ticwatch 2.
Speaking of charging the Ticwatch 2, the included charging base is simple, but gets the job done. It's no Moto 360 charger, but it's got a strong magnet in it and it charges nice and quickly. There is a fun charging stand, but it only comes with the more expensive Onyx edition of the watch, or sold separately via the Ticwatch website. Overall, there are few complaints to be had here with battery life and charging of the Ticwatch 2. There is, however, little way of telling just what has been draining your battery, either, which is something of an annoyance, and it can leave users in the dark a little too much, really.
The Ticwatch 2 is an interesting smartwatch, and it's one that does work quite well, but it's a mixed bag of ups and downs that ultimately won't suit everyone. If we take the Ticwatch 2 as a product for the average user, or just someone that is okay to love a product for what it is, then this is an excellent smartwatch. The lack of apps and support that Android Wear has, however, might make this a device that's hard to recommend to the more tech-savvy users out there that want to make changes and expand the base functionality of such a watch. As someone that has worn many a smartwatch, the Ticwatch 2 does everything you could need it to do, but little more. If that's all you want in a smartwatch, the Ticwatch 2 is certainly an unsung hero of the category. With no Google support, however, it might not be the multi-functional tool many will be hoping for.
With an excellent display, speedy performance and a fun, innovative UI the Ticwatch 2 ticks many of the right boxes. It does so without breaking the bank, and it's a real looker, too. With no Google support and a very limited selection of apps, it might not be the be all and end all for many, but it's certainly worth consideration, especially if Android Wear doesn't take your fancy. With a new version of Android Wear launching next year, however, the Ticwatch 2's day might have come and gone.