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Mobvoi Ticwatch 2 Review

2016-08-02 18:00      Digital Trends

If you’re an Android Wear enthusiast and need something to hold you over until Android Wear 2.0 is released later this year, feast your eyes on the Ticwatch 2. It runs Ticwear 4.0, an Android-based operating system built by a Chinese company called Mobvoi, which was founded in 2012 by ex-Googlers.

Mobvoi is a Google-backed company that is known for Chumenwenwen, its voice assistant and search service that’s used in apps like WeChat. This technology has also been powering Android Wear devices in China since late 2015, because Google can’t use its own services like Google Play and Google Now in the country, seeing as they are blocked by the Chinese government. Mobvoi is one of the first Chinese companies the search giant has financially backed since it left the country in 2010.

A pre-cursor to Android Wear 2.0

The Ticwatch 2 is how Android Wear should have started out. It’s packed with a built-in GPS, a heart-rate monitor, 4GB of internal storage, a microphone, and a speaker. You can answer and make calls, as well as respond to texts and instant messages. Call quality was stellar for a watch, but we couldn’t get over how odd it was to talk to our wrist.

While the disadvantage for burgeoning watch operating systems is that there are few apps, that’s not a problem for Ticwear. Since the OS is Android-based, all you have to do is connect it with your phone via the Ticwear app and then download the Android Wear app to connect it to the framework. That way, all Android Wear-supported apps work with Ticwear. The only downside is that you can’t open these apps on your watch — but that’s something we hardly ever did on Android Wear smartwatches, anyway.

The OS itself is fairly smooth, but there are occasional hiccups where you may have to perform an action twice for it to register. The watch also can be laggy, but it’s infrequent. Unfortunately, the lag may be due to the dual-core MediaTek processor and 512MB of RAM powering it instead of the software. If the processor isn’t powerful enough, that will hurt the watch’s chances.

In terms of design, the user-interface is sleek and well made. It’s better looking than Android Wear, at least where notifications are concerned. Where Google opts for a bright, white theme for the OS, Ticwatch goes black, which is not as harsh on the eyes and less distracting. Of course, that changes with Android Wear 2.0, which will introduce an overall darker OS theme.

Ticwear 4.0 is based on multi-directional swiping, something that Google is moving away from in Android Wear 2.0 — the upcoming update makes the OS navigation more vertically streamlined. Still, Ticwear is incredibly easy to use and understand from the get go. Swipe to the left to access pre-installed apps like the Dialer, Calculator, Calendar, Fitness, Recorder, Timer, Alarm, and more.

You can access the Mobvoi AppStore via the Ticwear app — but it’s in Mandarin, so it wasn’t helpful. The Kickstarter says users will be able to “download more Ticwear apps through the Ticwear App Store,” and Mobvoi told Digital Trends that an English version will arrive when the watch launches.

Swiping right, or saying “OK Tico,” activates a Google Now-esque voice assistant. It basically runs Google searches, but you can ask it to perform functions like calling or texting your contacts, setting reminders, or asking it the weather. The assistant is mainly useful for performing those types of actions — using it for voice search is useless.

We asked, “How old is President Barack Obama,” and the first result would be Obama’s Wikipedia page with an option to open it on the phone. On an Android Wear watch, Google pulls the relevant information you’re asking for so that you can see it immediately on the watch. Ticwear can still do that, but it’s limited to a few, specific questions.

On the topic of the voice assistant, we noticed that many sentences it produced weren’t grammatically correct. The OS also had similar errors. One notification occasionally crops up in Mandarin, and the entire Help section in the Ticwear app is also in the Chinese language. Mobvoi assured us that a perfectly tuned English version will be available at launch. Other languages will follow, though Mobvoi didn’t give us a timeline for when languages beyond English would be supported.

The rest of the OS navigation is straightforward. Swipe up, and you’ll find the notification hub. Here, you can tap on notifications to interact with them, or swipe them away. Because Ticwear accepts Android Wear apps, it’s easy to respond to messages from apps like Facebook Messenger — just use the voice input, or select from preset phrases. You can only customize these default replies for SMS, which is unfortunate, because it would be nice to be able to add a few more for all messaging apps. A lot of these actions are a lot more user-friendly and intuitive than what is available currently on Android Wear — though that may soon change when Android Wear 2.0 arrives.

Finally, swiping down from the watch face gives you several various “Quick Cards” to scroll through. It takes a little bit to get used to, but you’ll see watch settings, the weather, music controls, a step tracker, and network settings. They’re all self-explanatory, and you can open up the weather app and the Fitness app in these respective screens. You can arrange the way you want these screens displayed in the Ticwear app.

Supplementary features

Ticwear also attempts hands-free controls with gestures, and they’re mostly the same ones from Android Wear. Place a palm on the watch to switch it to ambient mode; lift your wrist and look at the watch to wake it; twist your wrist twice to answer a call; and flick your wrist up and down to either pull down the settings menu or pull up the notification hub. The latter is a little difficult to pull off quickly, so you’re better off just using your fingers.

The device also supports iOS, but the features are much more limited than what you’d find on Android.

You’re supposed to be able to add music to the watch — that’s what the 4GB of music is there for, but we haven’t been able to figure out how to download it to the device. There’s no music app pre-installed on the watch, and any instructions are only written in Mandarin.

Features like the GPS are only useful if you trigger an activity, like an outdoor run, in the Fitness app on the watch. Even then, you will only be able to see your data, including your GPS tracking, via the Ticwear app.

The Health app is a little more useful, allowing you to monitor and see your heart rate data, get sedentary reminders, as well as immediately glance at your steps and distance traveled over the past week. You can sync your fitness data with Google Fit, which is a plus, but other services would be welcome.