TicWatch Pro 2020 Review – Upgrades that matter
The Wear OS ecosystem is not nearly as crowded as the Android smartphone ecosystem. While there are dozens of companies pumping out Android phones, smartwatches are mostly made by just a handful. Fossil Group, which includes brands like Skagen, Misfit, Puma, Michael Kors, and more, makes up a large chunk of the Wear OS options. Mobvoi stands out from this crowd by being an upstart competitor, and they recently released the TicWatch Pro 2020.
The TicWatch Pro 2020 is an upgrade to the original TicWatch Pro that launched in 2018. Mobvoi did launch an LTE upgrade of the TicWatch Pro 2018 last summer as the TicWatch Pro 4G. The TicWatch Pro 2020 slots into this lineup by offering the same specifications as the TicWatch Pro 4G, but minus the unimpressive LTE — essentially coming out as the true successor to the 2018 model.
Mobvoi once again has included their usual suite of personal touches to help improve the Wear OS situation. Are these enough to make the TicWatch Pro 2020 not only good through the lens of Wear OS, but a good smartwatch in general? Let’s find out.
|Specifications||TicWatch Pro 2020|
|Size||45.0 x 12.6mm, 58.5g|
|Display||1.39″ AMOLED (400 x 400 px) + FSTN LCD, Gorilla Glass 3|
|SoC||Snapdragon Wear 2100|
|Memory||1GB RAM, 4GB storage|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth v4.2 + BLE, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n|
|GPS||GPS + GLONASS + Beidou + Galileo|
|Sensors||PPG heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, e-compass, ambient light sensor, low latency off-body sensor|
|NFC Payments||Yes, Google Pay|
|Durability||Military Standard 810G, IP68|
Note: The TicWatch Pro 2020 was provided for review by Mobvoi. However, they did not have input on this review.
Hardware & Design
As I said when reviewing the TicWatch Pro LTE, you’re either going to love or hate this design. Smartwatch design varies much more than smartphones and people are very picky about fashion choices. I can’t really tell you if this watch looks nice or not. Personally, I’m not a fan of big, chunky industrial-looking watches. You may love them. I would really like to see Mobvoi change-up the design of the Pro series as this is basically the third time we’re getting this design.
What I can do is talk about the build quality and how it feels. There are four components that make up the TicWatch Pro 2020’s design: the display, the bezel, the body, and the button. I’ll talk about the display in its own section, but let’s talk about the other parts here.
The bezel is metallic (black or silver) and it has the same faux number dial that was on the original. The display is recessed slightly below the bezel, which provides nice protection against dings and scratches. The bezel ring sits atop the watch “body” which feels like a high-quality plastic with a matte finish. The very bottom of the watch, the part that touches your wrist, is silver metal. The buttons on the side are either black or silver and they feel very high-quality as well. The buttons feel solid and they offer a satisfying click when pressed.
The TicWatch Pro 2020 is marketed and priced as Mobvoi’s premium smartwatch and it certainly feels premium. It’s not lightweight, but it’s also not overly heavy on the wrist. Style preferences aside, I’ve never had any issues with the build quality. Fossil watches are notorious for having hardware defects, but I’ve never seen complaints about TicWatches. To conclude, this is a well-built smartwatch.
The most unique feature of the TicWatch Pro series continues to be the dual-layer display. This is a smartwatch that actually has two displays and they work together to solve one of Wear OS’s biggest problems.
The first display is a 1.39-inch OLED panel (400 x 400). This is what you will interact with most of the time. It has good colors, gets decently bright, and makes the Wear OS UI look crisp. As smartwatch displays go there’s nothing particularly mind-blowing about it, but it looks nice.
The second display is an LCD panel that sits atop the OLED screen. When the OLED display turns off, the LCD panel kicks on and displays the time, date, steps, and battery level. The trick here is this LCD display uses very little power. You can check the time and other small details without the battery-draining OLED display. Wear OS devices are notorious for having bad battery life, so any time you don’t need to light up the full display is a good thing. Another benefit of the LCD panel is great readability in bright sunlight.
I raved about the dual-layer display in my review of the TicWatch Pro LTE and my thoughts remain the same here. At its core, a smartwatch is a watch, after all. I love features that allow me to continue using the device as a watch even when the battery is nearly dead. That’s exactly what Mobvoi’s “Essential Mode” does. When the battery would normally be too low to use the watch, Essential Mode turns it into a “dumb watch.”
My one gripe with the dual-layer remains as well. I would love to be able to customize the watch face for the LCD display. The watch face Mobvoi uses is based on their “Zoran” watch face, and while it’s perfectly fine, being able to customize this would take it to the next level.
Software & Performance
The TicWatch Pro 2020 comes out of the box with Wear OS system version “H” and November 2019 security patches. This is the same Wear OS we’ve seen for a while now. In theory, Wear OS is great. I like Google’s philosophy on how a smartwatch OS should operate. The Tiles offer quick access to common things, notifications work well and are easy to respond to, and the app selection is good enough for what I need.
Performance is the biggest issue with Wear OS and that’s why it’s so important that the TicWatch Pro 2020 has 1GB of RAM. In fact, RAM on a Wear OS device is more important than the processor. The TicWatch Pro 2020 is using the 2-year old Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip instead of the newer 3100 chip, but that actually doesn’t matter that much. 1GB of RAM, on the other hand, is essential for a modern Wear OS smartwatch.
RAM is important on a smartwatch because it greatly affects how fast things feel. Generally, on a smartwatch, you want things to be easily within reach so you can jump in and out quickly. RAM plays a big part in this, so the jump from 512MB to 1GB can have a tremendous impact.
I don’t have any complaints about performance on the TicWatch Pro 2020, except one. I haven’t noticed any lag or choppy animations anywhere. Swiping through the UI is smooth, apps open quickly, and lift-to-wake is prompt. My only real gripe with performance is how long it takes for apps to install on the watch, but that’s something I’ve noticed on all smartwatches.
Mobvoi has included its own suite of fitness apps as well. This suite consists of TicExcercise, TicPulse, and TicMotion. The first two are not much different from Google’s own included fitness apps and feel a bit unnecessary. TicMotion, on the other hand, is an AI-powered app that is supposed to automatically track workouts.
As I mentioned in my review of the LTE model, automatic fitness tracking is a feature Wear OS is missing. Samsung has this functionality on its smartwatches and it’s super handy. I’m glad Mobvoi is trying to fix this, but TicMotion feels unfinished. Workout detection often doesn’t work or starts tracking long after I’ve started. Again, I think it’s smart of Mobvoi to try to fill a gap in Wear OS functionality, but I don’t see much reason to use their fitness apps over Google’s.
Battery life is one of the most important aspects of any smartwatch. The TicWatch Pro 2020 passes with flying colors in this regard. The dual-layer display really makes a big difference in battery life. I can get about two days of normal use on a single charge, and then I can get up to 30 days once Essential Mode kicks in.
Speaking of Essential Mode, as I touched on in the Display section, this is one of the best features of the watch. You can enable it at any time or it will automatically come on when the battery is critically low. This allows you to still see the time, date, battery, and even continue to track steps when the watch would normally be useless. It’s great.
Charging the watch is done with the included magnetic cradle. The watch snaps in firmly and charges decently fast. My only gripe with the charger is that the cable is attached to the cradle, so you can’t plug the cradle into a microUSB or USB-C charging cable you already have plugged in somewhere.
The Platform Problem
If you read a lot of smartwatch reviews you’ve probably noticed a trend when it comes to Wear OS devices. People talk about the platform being stagnant, devices with poor battery life, laggy performance, etc. A common conclusion for these devices is “good…for Wear OS,” implying even the best Wear OS device can’t stack up to the competition.
There are several problems with the platform, and for the most part, they affect every Wear OS device. The latest chip that Wear OS devices can use is the Snapdragon Wear 3100, which is nearly 2 years old. Despite that, it’s common for watches to still launch with the Snapdragon Wear 2100, which was launched in 2016. Why? Sadly, the benefits of using the Snapdragon Wear 3100 aren’t that noticeable. There’s not much incentive for manufacturers to use a 2-year old chip over a 4-year old chip. That’s not good.
So hardware limitations are certainly part of the problem, but the Wear OS software is not without blame. Samsung watches with smaller batteries can easily outlast Wear OS devices with bigger batteries. This has caused manufacturers to take matters into their own hands with custom battery-saving tricks. Fossil includes several special battery saving modes, and, of course, Mobvoi adopts the dual-layer display.
All of these factors make it difficult to review Wear OS devices. You can look at a device like the TicWatch Pro 2020 in the vacuum of the Wear OS ecosystem and say it’s really good, perhaps also one of the best. However, looking at the big picture of smartwatches in general, it doesn’t stack up to Samsung watches or the Apple Watch.
Basically, it all depends on what you’re looking for. Platforms are very powerful. If you own an iPhone, you’re likely not interested in anything but an Apple Watch. Likewise, if you’re a Google fan, you may not consider anything but Wear OS. I’m a fan of Samsung watches, but there are certain Google-focused things you can’t do with them (most notably: Google Assistant). If Wear OS is your platform of choice, you’re not getting the best that smartwatches can offer.
As I’ve mentioned several times, the TicWatch Pro 2020 is essentially the same as the LTE model, just without LTE. My conclusion about that watch was that the 1GB of RAM was reason enough to upgrade. I didn’t find the LTE to be super compelling. With that in mind, the TicWatch Pro 2020 is a worthy upgrade over the original TicWatch Pro. You get an important specification bump without unnecessary LTE, which is an overall win.
Reviewing Wear OS devices can sometimes feel repetitive. My conclusion usually boils down to the same thing I mentioned in the “Platform Problem” section: “good…for Wear OS.” Compared to other Wear OS devices such as the Fossil Gen 5 or Skagen Falster 3, the TicWatch Pro 2020 has the same basic specs. You lose out on the newer Wear 3100 chip, but you’re making up for it with the unique dual-layer display.
Wear OS devices ultimately fall into two groups. There are the high-end watches that have 1GB of RAM and probably cost too much for what they are. Then there are the affordable watches that still have 512GB of RAM and sometimes lack features like NFC. If you’re serious about smartwatches, the first group is what you should consider. The TicWatch Pro 2020 is firmly in that group and it’s one of the best Wear OS watches that you can get.
Should you buy the TicWatch Pro 2020? If you are a fan of the design language Mobvoi uses and you’re okay with Wear OS, I don’t think you can go wrong. It has the same important specifications as other high-end Wear OS devices, plus you’re getting the super useful dual-layer display. $259.99 may be a lot to pay for a smartwatch, but you’ll be happy with performance and battery life.