Smart watches, they’ve been around now for a couple years predominately in the Android Wear or Apple Watch varieties. They are still largely seen as ostentatious gimmicks. They make a statement, and are more style than functional currently, but for those that do like the odd convenience of receiving discreet notifications on your wrist, using fitness functions, or for even taking calls ‘Dick Tracy’ style, your choices are now pretty plentiful in either of the two flavours mentioned above.
Until now, the only other big players that have deviated are Samsung with their Tizen OS based watches, and also Pebble, which started off being crowd funded on Kickstarter, and have most recently funded their third successful Kickstarter campaign for their third generation of devices. Others have created ‘smart fitness’ devices like the Microsoft band, or Fitbit, but no others have really come close to encroaching on what has been established in Android and Apple varieties.
Enter the Ticwatch
The Ticwatch is an Android-based smart watch that hails from China, and made by a company called Mobvoi, who are a mainly a mobile voice search platform. Mobvoi is the only firm in China equipped with its own Chinese voice recognition, semantic analytics, and search technologies.
Now, the Ticwatch itself actually runs it’s own version of Android (5.1 right now), it has its own App Store, and is beautifully functional. I’ve been lucky enough to have the privilege of securing an early unit that is being trialed for a western release later this summer. In terms of aesthetics, it is very similar to the first generation Moto 360 with its edge-less circular face, but looks slightly more elegant, lighter, and of course, no flat tire.
The specs of the unit are similar to all the current smart watches out there, it has 4GB storage, 512MB RAM, and a dual-core Mediatek processor. Rather than ramble on about the technical aspects, I can tell you that the OS itself is super snappy and is a joy to use. Without further ado, here are the features I feel that the watch offers that set it apart from what is out there right now:
Full Android 5.1 – yes you’ve read that right. Whilst it does pair with a companion app like Android Wear, you can get into developer mode and mess with it using ADB over Wifi if you’re that way inclined. Better yet, you can even activate a mode to allow it to be managed using the Android Wear app for compatibility!
Trans-reflective LCD – it’s not AMOLED, but in my opinion, it has something much more suited to its usefulness. This display means that even in the strongest sunlight or glare, the wach face is completely viewable without having to crank up the brightness. The only caveat to this is that to compensate, the colours wash out in glare, but this is worth it as far as usefulness is concerned. In regular light and indoor areas, the screen is gorgeous and animation snappy. I think that all smart watches should have this type of screen, it makes total sense!
Tickle Strip – this is a thin touchable strip on the right-side of the device that you can slide your finger against to easily scroll through areas of the OS, messing with volume, or long notifications easily without touching the watch face. It is really handy when scrolling lists and emails (yes it handles text in emails very well on its screen, too!) and I’ve used it more than I anticipated I would. It is slightly on the sensitive side, but very handy once you get used to it!
Speaker – You can actually make and receive calls directly from the watch, and it works surprisingly well. As cringey as it sounds talking through your watch, it works very well in a bind and I’ve used it unabashed when I’ve had my phone charging in another room, and I’ve had to take a call. Calls are loud and clear! Other than this, notifications come through with a tone that is pleasant and discreet. I’ve not messed with changing this yet.
Voice Dictation – Unfortunately, the actual search part of this facility wasn’t working yet, but it does show promised as it picks up my funky spoken English quite well. I’ve replied to some chats through Facebook Messenger and Telegram to friends who were oblivious to the fact, which is a testament to its accuracy. I’d say it is still behind compared to Google and Apple in this functionality for accuracy, but it isn’t far off!
Compatibility with both IOS and Android – In case you’re on the fence, this is fully compatible with both OS’s.
There are many more features I can talk about, including the fitness tracking apps, the excellent notification management that are better linked, and can be independently controlled compared to Android Wear, the fact it can be charged wirelessly, and that it is compatible with watch face software like Watchmaker, but I’ll leave the nitty gritty for another time.
Why you should care
You should just be aware that to successor to this gorgeous watch is making its way west side in summer and it has a very large chance of success. The current version has been out in China for about a year, and their second version will have some nice upgrades, including a smaller 42mm watchface at a higher resolution, GPS, optional SIM slot and Sapphire glass.
Aside from this, it is possibly one of Google’s best kept secrets,
as Mobvoi received £60M of funding from them late last year*, the company, and watch itself actually has ex-Googlers working on it, and lastly, it is being closely followed by both Microsoft, and Bill Gates specifically, not to mention that the engine of choice for search on the watch is Bing at present (probably because you can’t use Google in China!).
To round off, I am told that when the watch does release over here, it will retail for under $200 so under £160 of your British pounds. The version of the watch I’m testing has Gorilla Glass 3, is IP67, and from my tests, battery life is a little over 1 full day (I’ve personally gotten a little over 30 hours on a single charge, I’ve noticed this increasing slightly after a few more charges). You can expect the Ticwatch 2 to last around 1.5 – 2 days.
* [Update: We have since learned that Mobvoi raised previously unannounced funding rounds so the amount invested by Google is lower than the £60M quoted in the article, and is instead noted as a minority stake by Mobvoi. The amount invested remains undisclosed at this stage]