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Mobvoi TicWatch E2 and S2 review: making the best of a bad platform

At least they are inexpensive

Photography by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

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I’ve been testing a couple nearly identical Wear OS smartwatches: the TicWatch E2 and S2 made by Mobvoi. You probably haven’t heard of it, but Mobvoi is nearly the last company (that isn’t a Fossil subsidiary) still trying to make Wear OS watches. I think Mobvoi has done as good a job as can be done with its devices.

If that sounds like faint praise for the TicWatch E2 and S2, that’s because it is. These smartwatches are not that great. They’re thick, slow, and generally frustrating to use for anything beyond the basics. But then, those criticisms apply to every Wear OS smartwatch available today.

With its new TicWatches, Mobvoi has made the best of a bad platform. But for a certain person, they could be worth it if only because of their best feature: they’re inexpensive. The E2 retails for $159.99 and the S2 for $179.99 — the only difference is that the S2 is more ruggedized.

If you absolutely want a Wear OS watch right now, my advice is to spend as little as possible on it. Save your money for when (or if) the platform gets its next overhaul. Until then, the TicWatch E2 is a cheap way to get an inexpensive smartwatch that works with Android.

Right now, that is the best you can hope for.

The TicWatch E2 (which is the version I spent most of my time testing) is 12.9mm thick with a 1.39-inch circular display, but those numbers don’t quite convey just how thick and chunky it feels on my wrist. It’s not a small watch at all, but it is at least relatively light and certainly seems to be durable.

It’s a big, round hunk of unassuming black plastic on your wrist without much in the way of adornment. I actually appreciate the look of it more than I do some of the more garish iterations of Wear OS I’ve seen — the TicWatch is honest to what it is. There’s only one button and it’s simple to swap straps. It’s a simple, basic, no-frills smartwatch.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Well, there is at least one frill: a heart rate sensor and GPS. Those features are standard issue on other smartwatches, but oddly hit-and-miss in the Wear OS world. But you won’t get NFC for payments or a speaker for hearing replies from the Google Assistant on this watch.

It operates exactly like every other modern Wear OS smartwatch. That means you have one-swipe access to settings, a Google feed, notifications, and fitness (more on that last part below). It also means that things often feel inexplicably slow and there are odd pauses and jerky animations all over the place.

This will deliver you most of the things people want from a smartwatch, but it won’t spark much joy as it does so. Still, with that low bar of expectations set, there are a few places where the TicWatch E2 cleared it with some pleasant surprises.

Battery life and nice watchfaces were pleasant surprises

It has better battery life than I’ve come to expect from Wear OS watches, for example. It’s not quite two days of life, but it’s certainly a full day and often gets into the next morning, even when you include a workout and a ton of incoming notifications. I expected worse because it uses the old Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 processor, which has a reputation for slowness and bad battery life. (Though, to be clear, the new Snapdragon 3100 is no great shakes either.)

I also found Mobvoi’s built-in set of watchfaces to be really good. The company exercised design restraint here as well, with simple and nicely customizable faces. On most Wear OS watches, I usually end up in a rabbit hole of downloading and configuring something from the Play Store. Here, I just used the onboard faces and liked them.

Less good: Mobvoi’s fitness software, which consists of TicExercise, TicHeath, TicPulse, TicRanking, and Pool Swim. They’re only occasionally better than just using Google Fit — so much so it felt like these apps only existed to make the TicWatch software look just a bit more like the Apple Watch’s rings. Mobvoi does the right thing by presenting a gazillion data disclosures before you use them, but the effect was to make me wonder why I’d trust that company with my data. I switched over to Google Fit instead of using Mobvoi’s software.

If you have an iPhone and you want a smartwatch, you buy an Apple Watch. It’s really good — especially the most recent Series 4 version. If you have an Android phone and you want a smartwatch, you… have a lot of decisions to make and options to weigh.

When Android users ask me what the best smartwatch is for them, my default reaction is usually simply to say “Ugh” and try desperately to change the subject. It’s the most honest answer.

But then, I get into it. I have already done a video about how there’s not a single smartwatch that I can recommend to most Android users. Instead, there are a lot of compromises and an entire decision tree to run through based on your priorities. Since no smartwatch that works with Android is great at everything, you have to think about what you want and then go from there.

There still isn’t an easy smartwatch answer for Android users

Asking people to answer a logic puzzle of their needs and wants is a super annoying way to talk about consumer products, but that’s the situation with Wear OS watches. So: if you use Android and if you definitely want a touchscreen on your watch that can show you lots of information and if you don’t like third-party watches from Samsung or Fitbit... then you should get a Wear OS device.

Wear OS is a platform that has been in the “Maybe it’ll get better next year” zone since it was first launched as Android Wear half a decade ago. But if all those “ifs” lead you to that Wear OS, then my advice is to not get too attached to whatever you buy. Get something that handles your basic needs and doesn’t feel like too much of an investment. The TicWatch E2 does exactly that — and no more.

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