TicWatch Pro Review: Two Displays Aren’t Better Than One

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Smartwatch battery life has always been abysmal, though companies are improving their devices every year. These days, you can eke out a day and a half with an Apple Watch or a Samsung Gear Sport, and Fitbit's new Versa can last four days on a charge. But Wear OS watches built on Google's smartwatch platform still underwhelm when it comes to battery life, so the Chinese upstart Mobvoi came up with a solution for its new Wear OS watch, the TicWatch Pro.

Thanks to a unique layered display, this $250 device can last up to two days in Smart Mode and up to a month in a stripped-down Essential Mode.

But while it’s an interesting concept, the Ticwatch Pro is not worth the money.

Display: Innovative, but slightly strange

The top layer of the TicWatch Pro's display is an always-on LCD panel that looks more like an old-fashioned dumb watch screen. That's because Mobvoi is using a transparent monochrome FSTN, or Film-Compensated Super-Twisted Nematic, LCD panel, which doesn't look very high-end but can last for ages. The bottom layer is a much more colorful OLED panel.

I like the idea of the TicWatch Pro, which manages its battery life by making the LCD panel the go-to spot for telling time at a glance. If you want to use the watch's smart features, you turn your wrist or tap the face to activate the OLED screen. From there, you can access apps you've installed on the device from the Google Play app store, or launch native apps such as Weather or Workout.

The dumb LCD screen looks a little dated, and there's no way to change its interface. You see the time, date, steps walked and battery percentage, and if you short-press the crown-like button on the top right side of the watch, you can see a reading from the Pro's heart-rate sensor.

The OLED smart screen is more customizable, though you can't set it to stay on indefinitely. You can switch between watch faces or install new ones from the app store, and it's there that you can access the features you'd expect from a smartwatch.

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The LCD screen is easier to see in bright sunlight than the OLED face, but some more personalization would make using the watch in Essential Mode more appealing.

Design: High-end, but bulky

In a market where many smartwatches ship with cheap-looking sporty straps, the TicWatch Pro looks like a classy timepiece. The bezel and case backing are made of stainless steel, and the watch band is black leather with a silicone underside to make working out more comfortable. My one complaint is the silicone's ridged pattern, which leaves marks if you wear the band tight enough to accurately track heart rate.

The watch's interface is fairly easy to navigate. The touch screen is flanked by two buttons on the right edge of the case. The top button opens the app drawer, with its familiar Wear OS look, and the bottom opens the native Fitness app. That app is more useful than Google Fit Workout, which also comes preinstalled on the watch, because it activates GPS. If you use Fit Workout, the watch looks for your phone’s GPS instead.

Unfortunately, the TicWatch Pro is just too large for those with petite wrists. The case is 45mm in diameter and 12.6mm thick, which drags it from fashionably oversized to just plain massive. If you're looking for a smaller fitness-focused smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa and the 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 are worth a look.

Battery Life: Impressive, at a cost

You can switch pretty effortlessly between Smart Mode and the battery-saving Essential Mode, which turns the watch into a low-tech timepiece. A long press on the bottom side button activates Essential Mode, which is easy enough, but you have to reboot the watch to put it back in Smart Mode. That takes at least a minute, which makes switching between the two modes less than seamless.

The watch automatically defaults to Essential Mode when the battery dwindles so you can squeeze an extra three days of life out of it. After two days of mixed Essential and Smart Mode usage, I was down to 50 percent battery life.

Mobvoi says it plans to make the watch more useful in Essential Mode, because the device's health sensors are still active even if the smart display is not. But for now, you can't track workouts in Essential Mode, or see notifications, or do anything else that would make a smartwatch worth buying.

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If you value battery life above all else, the TicWatch Pro is tough to beat. If you use the watch almost exclusively to tell time, you could get by with charging it once a month. But by using the device in power-conserving Essential Mode, you won't have access to the features that make this watch smart. So what's the point?

Wear OS: Same old problems

The TicWatch Pro is also a victim of Wear OS, a wearables platform in desperate need of an overhaul.

You have to pair the device to both the Wear OS app (which works on iOS and Android phones) and Mobvoi's own app. Mobvoi's app is pretty bare-bones, but you can customize notifications and set up Google Assistant in the Wear OS app. The watch has a microphone, which you can activate by long-pressing the top button on the side of the device.

TicWatch Pro's performance is far too slow for a smartwatch circa 2018, thanks to an older processor (Qualcomm's Snapdragon 2100). Instead of seeing what I wanted when I opened an app, launched a workout or viewed a notification, I was greeted by a spinning wheel for at least a second.

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Rumor has it that the next generation of Wear OS watches will have powerful new chips, which will make them run faster and last longer. That could make the TicWatch Pro's battery life, which is its key selling point, essentially irrelevant.

Bottom Line

I love Mobvoi's cheaper, sportier Wear OS watches, even though they last only a day on a charge, because they offer exactly what you want from a smartwatch: notifications, apps and solid fitness-tracking features, plus the same on-board GPS and heart rate sensor. For $100 more, the TicWatch Pro should improve upon those cheaper devices.

But unless you really hate the idea of charging yet another accessory in your life (and believe me, I sympathize), there are better smartwatches you can buy. Fitbit's $199 Versa is smaller and more stylish with a more full-featured app, plus it’s better at tracking workouts and sleep. And for iPhone users, there's no question: The Apple Watch with GPS is without a doubt the smartwatch to beat.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.