Slick, inventive smartwatch that falls flat as a fitness wearable owing to woeful GPS tracking.
- Clever twin display
- Bright, sharp screen
- Notable sleep tracking functions
- Innovative dual strap
- Dire GPS tracking
- Sluggish processor
- So-so battery life in smartwatch mode
The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro is the most inventive smartwatch I’ve had the pleasure of wearing in a while. The dual-layer screen combines both a basic LCD display and Wear OS in full, glorious AMOLED, while the strap is leather on the outside but skin-sensitive silicone on the inside. Mobvoi’s designers clearly know what they’re doing.
But as a fitness wearable it falls flat, with some of the most comically bad GPS detection I have ever seen. It’s so bad that it’s possible my unit was faulty, but frankly I wouldn’t recommend you take that gamble.
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Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020 In Depth
There aren’t too many companies using Wear OS (né Android Wear) in 2020, but TicWatch maker Mobvoi is one of the manufacturers still clinging on. This is the company’s seventh wearable and its most powerful.
It’s not quite the most expensive. While the 2020 TicWatch Pro has an RRP of £230, for £250 you can get the TicWatch Pro 4G, which lets you leave your phone behind without missing a call. They’re pretty similar otherwise, though you can see a full specs comparison on the TicWatch site (opens in new tab).
In fact, neither are hugely different from the original TicWatch Pro, which first hit shelves in mid-2018. The 2020 model doubles the onboard RAM to 1GB, but it still uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 – a chip that is now more than four years old. While it’s less sluggish than the original, it’s also not as responsive as the Snapdragon 3100-powered Moto 360.
Of course, there’s a good counter-argument to this: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Speed aside, the TicWatch Pro did very little wrong as Wear OS watches go. It looked decent enough, with the rugged design of an outdoorsy timepiece, and it has a secret weapon that’s absolutely ingenious: two screens.
That’s not to say there’s a hidden screen on the back or anything. There are two displays on top of each other, with an AMOLED screen topped by a more basic LCD number. The idea is that when you’re actively using it, it’ll use a typical 400x400 smartwatch display, capable of animating smoothly and showing millions of colours. When you’re not, it reverts to a LCD digital watch display you can glance at.
The intention is mainly battery saving, but it has another advantage too. Because certain data is still displayed on the LCD panel, you don’t have to worry about readability in bright sunshine. This is very handy for runners, because run data is one of the things that will show up in this more basic format. It’s very, very clever.
Mobvoi even allows you to abandon the AMOLED screen entirely with a feature called Essential Mode, which disables most of the smart features. Here, the TicWatch Pro essentially becomes a glorified digital watch, showing just the time, date, steps walked and heart rate (on demand). While you’d be nuts to spend £230 to use this basic level of functionality all the time, it’s certainly nice to know that you can keep it running if you spot that you’re getting low at the end of a day. This mode, if used exclusively from a full battery, can last up to 30 days – more than enough time to take the watch on holiday without a charger.
There’s one more clever design trick Mobvoi should be congratulated for – the strap. On the outside, it’s soft Italian leather which sounds like a nightmare for exercise, but on the inside it’s “skin-friendly silicone”. It’s surprising you don’t see this kind of practical design more often, frankly.(opens in new tab)
Tracking Activity With The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
Like every wearable since the first Fitbit, the TicWatch Pro is constantly estimating your step count based on arm movements. Determining accuracy and comparing that against other wearables is a fool’s errand: you just need any wearable to be consistent with itself. As long as you can confirm that you’re moving more each day, then you should be in better shape in the long run.
What’s slightly confusing is the blend of Google Fit and Mobvoi’s own fitness app, TicHealth. While both are diligently counting your steps, only Google Fit gets its own widget by default – though you can add TicHealth as one too.(opens in new tab)
It doesn’t really make much difference which you use, though Google Fit does have the Heart Points system, which is probably a bit more welcoming to novices. Here a minute of activity translates into a Heart Point with the aim of accumulating 150 by the end of the week. It’s a simple way of translating globally-recognised recommendation into an easy to follow metric (opens in new tab).
Most important here is that, as mentioned earlier, Mobvoi takes step tracking seriously enough to include it in the low-power Essential Mode. For obsessive step counters, it really is to be applauded that you can get 30 days’ worth of step counting off a single charge.
Smart Features On The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
Of course, if you switch on Essential Mode, you miss out on all the smart features, which would be a pity because the TicWatch Pro is packed with them: message notifications, calendar events, weather, contactless payments and so on. Google has even introduced a handwashing timer to help people wash their hands to government recommendations while coronavirus is still in circulation.
There’s also Google Assistant – and unlike the Moto 360 or Fitbit Versa 2, it will actually speak back with a (somewhat tinny) voice out of the built-in speaker to answer your questions. I found the Snapdragon 2100 really slowed things down here, and it was a pretty frustrating experience, but your mileage may vary. Ultimately, being able to ask your watch questions is quite a neat party trick, but one that isn’t that much more convenient than just consulting your phone.
While Wear OS has waned in popularity over the years, it has now matured into a very appealing wearable operating system. And that means there are plenty of other apps to download. Not every Android app has a Wear OS partner, but big hitters like Spotify, Uber and Strava are all there.
Running With The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
While all Wear OS watches ship with Google Fit, Mobvoi has sensibly decided that it’s not the best solution and has a built-in alternative, TicExercise, that’s bound to one of the buttons. It includes outdoor running, walking, rowing and cycling supported by the onboard GPS, as well as indoor options for all three and a catch-all freestyle mode for weights and other gym activity.
The TicWatch Pro’s display is excellent. Not only does it have the bonus of the LCD screen for nice clear running information as you’re running, but it manages to pack a lot of useful info into a relatively small area: a clock, your current heart rate, estimated calorie burn, distance travelled and your pace. The only downside is that I can’t see any way to customise the data on display – I personally value average and current pace when striving for a PB, but you can’t argue that it’s more data than a lot of watch apps manage to show, including Google Fit.
But there’s another “but” – and it’s a big one. GPS is extremely fast to lock on, but perhaps too damned fast, because accuracy leaves a lot to be desired. Running with both the 2020 TicWatch and my personal Garmin Forerunner 245 over three 4-5km runs, I found the TicWatch to be between 0.22km and 0.59km behind the usually extremely reliable Garmin. It may be a faulty unit, of course, but suffice it to say this level of inaccuracy is nowhere near good enough.
Working Out With The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
Working out with the 2020 TicWatch comes under the aforementioned freestyle category of the TicExercise app, and there’s really not much to it. Before you begin you can set a target number of minutes or sets if you wish, and once you start the watch shows the time per set and your heart rate. When you complete a set, tap the touch screen to begin the next set, where the watch will show you overall time alongside your current set duration.
Interestingly, if you set a target, the watch will merely buzz when you reach it and won’t end the workout automatically, leaving you to stop recording manually with a swipe to the left. After you’ve finished, it will tell you the percentage you completed of the workout goal you set (which can go over 100% if you push on through) alongside time, heart rate, number of sets and estimated calories.
All pretty perfunctory, but fine if you’re a dedicated gym devotee who already knows what works for you. If you need a bit more direction, then a Fitbit with a subscription to Fitbit Premium may be a better choice.
Sleep Tracking With The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
While the TicWatch Pro 2020 does support sleep tracking, it doesn’t do so out of the box. Instead you have to download the TicSleep app from the Google Play Store, and then update the TicHealth app for good measure, which is a bit fiddly.
The feature set is pretty good. You can view things on the watch, but you’re better off loading it up on the Mobvoi mobile app. There, you’ll find out how long you slept for, with the data broken down into Awake, REM, Light sleep and Deep sleep. It will also estimate how long it took you to nod off and give you the overall total, both for the day and as a weekly average. Alongside this data, the watch will offer tips on how to improve some of the things it tracks, which is a nice touch.
All useful stuff, but I’m slightly dubious about the heart rate tracking, which claimed unusual spikes of around 120 each night and an average heart rate of around 70. Given my Garmin watch returns an average daytime resting heart rate of 50 to 70, such spikes feel pretty unlikely during sleep (when Garmin puts me in the low 40s).
Still, this shouldn’t take away from the main qualities of the sleep tracker, and it’s definitely a nice feature to have – especially when other Wear OS devices like the Moto 360 and Suunto 7 don’t have any solutions at all.
Battery Life With The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020
Mobvoi promises that the 2020 TicWatch Pro will last between two and 30 days. That’s not a typo: it’s a massive 672 hours between the best and worst case scenario – so what gives?
In short, prepare for the worst. Mobvoi says you’ll only get between two and five days with the full smartwatch experience, and I’ve found that to be optimistic – one and a half was more typical.
That 30-day battery life is based on exclusively using Essential Mode for the duration. A more likely scenario is that you’ll switch to it when seeing you have just 10% battery remaining – but even then you should be able to eke out another three days of use, if Mobvoi’s estimates are correct, making it an excellent feature that other smartwatch makers should consider adopting.
Where Can I Wear The Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 2020 Without People Laughing At Me?
Most places, I would have thought. Like most smartwatches the 2020 TicWatch Pro is undeniably chunky but, rather than trying to pretend it isn’t, Mobvoi has embraced that with a rugged design so it appears intentional. There’s a thick, chunky bezel that has the numbers printed on the outside with the screen(s) indented slightly below them.
In other words, it may not be the kind of watch you’d wear to a black tie event, but in most places you’ll be fine. It’s just that people may assume you’re more interested in the great outdoors than you actually are.
Should You Buy Something Else?
I like the 2020 TicWatch Pro, but if you’re looking for a fitness smartwatch the answer has to be yes. The kind of GPS inaccuracies I experienced on my test runs were far beyond a fair margin of error and well into the comical.
That’s a pity because by all other measures, the TicWatch Pro is an excellent wearable. It’s decent-looking, it’s packed with features and the dual display technology is truly unique.
But without rock-solid fitness chops, it ultimately falls flat – and even if you have a dedicated fitness tracker for your runs and want an Wear OS option for day-to-day life, you’re better off with the Moto 360, which ultimately looks classier.
Alan is a freelance tech journalist and mostly covers fitness trackers for Coach.
Alan was not what you would call a big fitness guy growing up, but has been radicalised by parkrun and taken up running in a big way. Although nowhere near podium at races, as a late starter he does at least know that he can still get faster. Alan has written for ShortList (opens in new tab), Tom’s Guide (opens in new tab), Trusted Reviews (opens in new tab) and Expert Reviews (opens in new tab), among others.
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