TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE Review – Only as Good as its Weakest Link

TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE Review – Only as Good as its Weakest Link

This Summer has been full of Android phone announcements and launches, but not too long ago we got a new smartwatch, too. The TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE was announced in July, but the LTE connectivity that gave it its name was not available until mid-August. After using the TicWatch Pro 4G for a few weeks with LTE enabled I am finally ready to give this watch a full review.

Before we dive in, here’s a little back story on the TicWatch Pro 4G. The original TicWatch Pro was launched over a year ago with only Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It was Mobvoi’s first entry into the more expensive premium smartwatch territory. The TicWatch Pro 4G retains the same design and most of the specifications but adds more RAM and LTE connectivity. Can Mobvoi’s best hardware and clever ideas do enough to overcome Wear OS‘ shortcomings? Let’s find out.

Specs TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE
Size 45.15 x 52.8 x 12.6, 47.4g
Colors Black
Display Glass Gorilla Glass 3
Case Materials Polyamide & glass fiber, stainless steel bezel, aluminum back cover
Watchband Silicone (interchangeable), 22mm
OS Wear OS
Phone compatibility Android, iPhone
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
RAM/Storage 1GB RAM, 4GB storage
Network 4G/LTE FDD
Display 1.39-inch AMOLED (400 x 400 px) + FSTN LCD
Connectivity Bluetooth v4.2 + BLE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
GPS GPS + GLONASS + Beidou
Sensors PPG heart rate sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, e-compass, ambient light sensor, low latency off-body sensor
NFC payments Yes, Google Pay
Battery 415 mAh
Military Standard 810G Withstands temperature shock of between -30 °C and 70 °C; operational between -20 °C and 55 °C; 57kpa pressure; 44 °C solar radiation; 95% humidity; salt fog; sand and dust; shock
IP rating IP68 + pool swimming suitable

TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE Design

When I think about the design of the TicWatch Pro, one word jumps out at me: chunky. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a big watch. The display is big, the body is thick, and there’s a lot of material around the watch band lugs. Comparing the dimensions to other smartwatches on the market, I was surprised that it’s actually not much thicker than the norm. The overall design and size of the body just make it feel bulky.

Watch designs have a lot more variance than what we see in smartphones today. That means there will be people who love and people who hate the design of every watch. It’s extremely personal. The TicWatch Pro is no different in that regard. Some people love the chunky, industrial, knurled metal look, while others prefer a more clean and simple profile. I tend to fall in the latter category, but I don’t find the TicWatch Pro to be ugly. I’ve had no problem wearing it on my wrist for over a month.

The nice thing about the TicWatch Pro’s design is there’s not a lot of unnecessary flair. Industrial designed smartwatches typically go over the top trying to look like a “real watch” with a fake dial around the display. Mobvoi didn’t go overboard here. The knurled edges around the display and power button are just enough to accent the industrial design. The included silicone band is decent enough as well, but you’ll probably want to swap it out (the band pictured above is from Clockwork Synergy).

Dual-Layer Display

The TicWatch Pro 4G has the same display as the original TicWatch Pro. That means a 1.39-inch OLED panel (400 x 400) with an LCD overlay. The dual-layer display is the standout feature of this watch as far as I’m concerned. It’s a two-pronged approach that equals no comprises for the wearer. The feature is nothing new as it’s the same one in the original TicWatch Pro, but it still shines.

The OLED display is good but not super remarkable. It’s crisp, bright, and has good colors. You’re paying for a premium watch and this is indeed a premium OLED display. The negatives I would normally talk about when it comes to a smartwatch display, such as visibility in sunlight, are solved by the LCD panel.

The LCD display is much easier to see in direct sunlight

That LCD panel is transparent and it sits on top of the OLED display. When the OLED display is off, the LCD kicks in to show the time, date, battery level, steps, and even heart rate. That’s where the secondary display really comes in handy. One thing that annoys me about smartwatches is you pretty much have to disable the “always-on” display if you want good battery life. With the LCD panel, you get the benefits of an always-on display without the battery drain.

“Essential Mode” is another great feature of the secondary display. When the battery reaches critically low levels, Essential Mode kicks in. This mode essentially turns the watch into a “dumb watch.” You can see all of the information that is displayed on the LCD panel (time, date, steps, etc), but the smart features (i.e. the OLED) are inaccessible. This allows the watch to remain useful for a long time after a normal smartwatch would be dead weight on your wrist.

There is one thing that I wish the secondary display had: customization. The “watch face” that is shown on the LCD can’t be changed. It’s a perfectly acceptable watch face, but I’d love to be able to customize the clock font or decide which information is displayed.

4G LTE Connectivity

Connectivity signal strength

LTE is obviously a big part of the TicWatch Pro 4G. After all, it’s in the name of the device. It’s also a big deal for Wear OS as a platform as this is the first device with Google’s smartwatch OS to have LTE connectivity (Android Wear had a few). You can only use the TicWatch on Verizon’s LTE network, which does cover most places, but it’s unfortunate to only have one carrier choice. This is the first watch I’ve had with cellular connectivity, so I was very curious to see how it would impact my usage.

A typical smartwatch stays connected to your phone with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Basically, as long as you stay in the same building your watch will be connected. Adding LTE to the mix means you can go anywhere. The watch will always be able to communicate with your phone. You’ll still get notifications and be able to use Wear OS apps on the watch. So long as your phone is connected to the internet somewhere, the watch will function like normal.

The TicWatch Pro 4G requires its own line on Verizon, so you can also make calls, accept calls, and send/receive text messages. This all happens independently from your phone. If you want to leave your phone at home a lot, this is a convenient way to stay connected without a bulky phone in your pocket. LTE allows the watch to essentially operate as a little phone on your wrist.

With all the positives aside, there’s one thing that has consistently popped in my head while testing the LTE features: Wear OS isn’t ready for this. Most Wear OS apps still require a direct connection to the phone (i.e. Bluetooth). Spotify for Wear OS doesn’t support listening to music on the watch (Google Play Music does). The Facebook Messenger app doesn’t support viewing conversations; all you can do is reply to notifications. I’ve also had mixed results with actually receiving notifications when I leave my phone at home. I seem to miss some when I’m using LTE.

In my testing, battery life with LTE enabled is substantially worse than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth only. With LTE enabled I would barely get through the day before Essential Mode kicked in. Without LTE, I was able to easily make it through the day without Essential Mode. This likely has a lot to do with the reception in my area. I don’t get a great Verizon signal at my house, so the watch was searching for it a lot. More on battery life later on.

Sadly, at its current state, I don’t think LTE on a Wear OS device is a compelling selling point. There are times when it comes in handy, but I don’t think it justifies paying for another phone line. If you find yourself wishing you could leave your phone behind a lot, maybe it’s worth it. I went into this being pretty skeptical of cellular connectivity on a smartwatch and I feel like my preconceived notions were correct.

TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE Performance & Battery Life

Testing the performance of a gadget is usually reliant on comparing it to something else. Does it feel faster or slower? I haven’t used a Wear OS watch in a long time, but all I hear about is how it’s slow and laggy. The TicWatch Pro 4G has the older Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and 1GB of RAM, which apparently makes a pretty big difference in performance compared to the original with only 512MB. I can’t comment on how it compares, but to me, Wear OS is kinda sluggish.

The performance issues were extremely noticeable while performing the initial setup. Apps were being installed in the background, the Wear OS tutorial kept popping up, and the watch was stuttering badly. I feared the performance was even worse than everything I had heard. Thankfully, once everything was installed and the setup was complete, things got better.

However, compared to Tizen 4.0/One UI 1.0 on my Samsung Gear Sport, Wear OS still feels slower. It did get better the more familiar I got with the OS, but when I went back to the Gear Sport I was immediately reminded of how much snappier it feels. That’s not great when you’re going from a brand new device to one that is over 2 years old.

All of that being said, I don’t think performance is a big enough issue to not recommend this watch. If you’re in the market for a Wear OS device, performance is just something you’re going to have to live with, and I do believe 1GB of RAM makes a difference.

Battery Life

The TicWatch Pro 4G is equipped with a 415mAh battery, the same size as the original TicWatch Pro. As mentioned in the LTE section, using the cellular connection has a big impact on battery life. However, even when I disabled LTE and used it with just Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, I was a little disappointed in the battery.

If you use the LTE connection a lot, you will absolutely need to charge the TicWatch Pro 4G every night and maybe run into Essential Mode before the day is over. With LTE disabled, I was able to comfortably get through the day, but I didn’t have enough left to keep it off the charger overnight. I would qualify this as good battery life, but it’s certainly not great.

Again, I have to compare to the other smartwatch in my life, the Samsung Gear Sport. The Gear Sport has a smaller 300mAh battery, but it vastly outperforms the TicWatch Pro 4G. I can go nearly three days on a charge with the Gear Sport. In fact, I don’t even keep the charger in my bedroom. It’s good enough that I don’t bring the charger with me if I’m going to be away from home for the weekend.

Like the performance issues, I see this as more of a Wear OS problem than a TicWatch Pro 4G problem. Tizen/One UI seems to be a more efficient smartwatch OS. Mobvoi is trying hard to overcome the Wear OS shortcomings with Essential Mode and the great dual-layer display, but battery life is still just okay.

Software & Fitness

I’ve already been tough on Wear OS when it comes to performance issues, but now it’s time to talk about how it actually functions. It was interesting to go from Tizen/One UI to Wear OS because the two have very different approaches to navigation. Tizen/One UI is a more button-heavy experience, whereas Wear OS uses more gestures.

At first, Wear OS just felt wrong because I was so used to using a button to go Back. However, as I’ve gotten used to it, I think I actually prefer the swipe gesture. As someone who lives in a colder climate, I certainly appreciate physical input (gloves make that a necessity), but the swipe gesture feels more natural.

Another thing that Wear OS does better, at least in my opinion, is notifications. You can quickly and easily swipe a notification away when it pops up on your watch. Tizen/One UI makes you tap a button and scroll down to “Clear notifications.” I generally like the way notifications are designed and presented as well.

Overall, I like the design of Wear OS and for the most part it’s intuitive to use. Even though my brain was hardwired to do things the Tizen/One UI way, it didn’t take long to pick up Wear OS. Another advantage Wear OS has is a much better app and watch face selection. I don’t use a lot of apps on my Gear Sport, but I did on the TicWatch Pro 4G.

Fitness

You can’t talk about a smartwatch without mentioning the fitness features. That’s one of the advantages of having a device that’s physically on your body at all times: it can track activity. Mobvoi includes their own suite of fitness apps as well as Google Fit, but they’re pretty standard fare.

TicExcersice is a workout tracking app that you can use to manually start one of six workouts presets. TicPulse is for heart rate monitoring and it can passively take your heart rate with minimal battery drain. Most exciting to me was TicMotion, which is an AI-powered app that is supposed to automatically track runs and walks. Unfortunately, I found this to be pretty unreliable.

First and foremost, it didn’t always detect when I was doing an activity. I tried it with walking, biking, running, and general activities. When it did detect I was doing something it would take a while to start and it would end very quickly if I stopped for a moment. And then it would fail to restart again.

Now, I hate to keep bringing up the Tizen/One UI, but Samsung really nails the auto-tracking feature. The Gear Sport does a great job of differentiating between walking, running, and biking. It will even give me credit for an “Other workout” if I’m doing yard work. I love that. I was excited about the TicMotion feature, but if you want accurate workout tracking you need to start them manually.

Conclusion

Reviewing a smartwatch is very different from reviewing a phone. When we review Android phones it’s easy to simply compare to other Android phones. But with smartwatches, Android users have two platforms to choose from: Wear OS or Tizen/One UI. The TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE has two paths of competition.

In terms of Wear OS devices, the TicWatch Pro 4G is easily one of the best if not the best you can get right now. The dual-layer display is a genuinely game-changing feature. I now want it on every smartwatch I use. Also, if you’re interested in LTE connectivity, the TicWatch Pro 4G is essentially your only choice.

Performance-wise, the TicWatch Pro 4G seems to be the best you can get right now for Wear OS. While the battery life isn’t phenomenal, it’s not catastrophically bad either. The fitness features leave a lot to be desired, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is a smartwatch first, fitness tracker second.

If you’re in the market for a Wear OS smartwatch, I have no problem recommending the TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE. Even if you don’t need the LTE connectivity, I think it’s worth it for the 1GB of RAM. The watch is available from Amazon and Mobvoi’s website for $299.

However, if you’re not committed to Wear OS, I do think Samsung’s watches offer a more polished smartwatch experience. You miss things like Google Assistant and Google Pay, of course, but the trade-off is worth it in my opinion. Some people assume that Samsung watches are only for Samsung phones, but that’s simply not true.

Google is letting down companies like Mobvoi with the current state of Wear OS. The TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE is a great piece of hardware that is held back by software. I hope Google takes Wear OS seriously someday because devices like the TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE deserve it.

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