Review: Mobvoi Ticwatch E Android Wear

I've been testing out the Ticwatch E for the past 10 days, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts.

I had been hunting around for a replacement for my Pebble watch for the last few months, based on the fact that Fitbit are shutting off the servers that support it in a few months. I also wanted to see what advancements had been made with Android Wear since the LG G Watch I bought 4 years ago.

My requirements for a smart watch were that it had to:

  • Work with my Android phone – thus ruling out the Apple Watch
  • Have a simple design, a round face, and not look like a sports watch
  • Be easy to update and install apps
  • Be not too expensive 

Android Wear

The Ticwatch E runs on Android Wear version 2, which is a new development for Mobvoi, as their previous Ticwatch models ran on a bespoke operating system called Ticwear OS. The support of Android Wear was important to me, as I would be free to install whatever apps I wanted, rather than having to wait for the manufacturer to decide to provide updated.

Android Wear 2 seems to be a big step forward from the original Android Wear OS, and it's good to see the Google are providing regular updates that bring additional refinements. At the moment it's on version 2.8, which brought improvements to notification displays and battery life.

Battery

I had been slightly concerned that the battery life for the watch, as some reviews had expressed problems with it running out of juice during the day. And indeed, when I first got the watch, the battery did seem to die quite quickly. But after 2 full zero-to-full charges, the battery life improved considerably.

Ten days on, I find that I'm disconnecting the charger cable at roughly 7.00am every morning, and by the time I go to bed at 11.00pm there's about 40% left of the battery. I keep the screen brightness set at level 2 (out of 5) which is plenty bright to see inside – although it could be a bit dim in bright conditions outside.

I put mine on to charge every night, but if you wanted to use your watch for sleep tracking then you might need to find another time during the day to charge it.

Design

I like the simplicity of design of the Ticwatch E, and the fact that it doesn't have thick bezels with numbers written on them. The watch case is quite visibly made of plastic, and doesn't look very "premium" when compared to other smart watched that cost twice the price. It's more like a Swatch watch, and more suited towards casual dress rather than formal-wear.

Ticwatch E

One thing that may annoy some people is that the watch has it's one physical button on the left side of the dial, which is the opposite side to pretty much every watch ever sold. I'm not sure why they made this decision, but it suits me rather well. I'm left-handed, and wear my watch on my right wrist, and so I can press the button on the left easily without obstructing the screen. Right-handed people may not like this design feature as much!

The watch face that I use is one of the ones from the Pear Watch Face app.

I'm not sure whether I'll stick with the silicone watch strap. It's fine and does the job well, but I may switch over to a leather strap in the coming weeks. The supplied strap comes with quick-release notches that would make swapping to another 20mm strap quite easy.

Fitness features

The watch comes with step tracking, inbuilt GPS and a heart rate monitor. I've not tested these features very much. The step tracking between my phone and watch seems to differ during the day, but the Google Fit app seems to decide upon one of the values to use.

The heart rate monitor is not running all the time – presumably to save battery life – but can be enabled on demand when you're exercising.

This isn't the watch for you if you want a lot of fitness tracking features. You might be better off with a Fitbit or another dedicated fitness tracker, but it does seem to do the basics quite well.

Price

I got my Ticwatch E from Amazon, and it cost £117 (approx. €132). You can alternatively buy direct from Mobvoi for around €123 at the moment with after a 20% promotional discount has been applied. 

When you compare this to the likes of the Apple Watch which costs between €279 (series 1) and €379 (series 3), and the Samsung Galaxy Gear S3 watch that cost around €300, then the Ticwatch is quite cheap in comparison.

Pebble has closed

I was pretty upset to learn about the demise of the company that makes Pebble watches.

I’m a big fan of the Pebble devices, and have a Pebble Time watch on my wrist right now. I use it throughout the day to screen the numerous alerts that arrive on my phone.

I was also looking forward to getting a new Pebble Time 2 watch, but that’s not going to happen now, because all manufacturing of Pebble devices has been cancelled.

For the last 9 months I’ve been wearing both my Pebble watch and a Fitbit Charge HR. The Pebble is for my notifications, and the Pebble is for health tracking. And with the new Pebble Time 2 on the way, and with Pebble seeming to move more and more in the health tracking direction, I had assumed that in the near future I’d be ditching the Fitbit and using just the Pebble for everything.

But that’s not happening now.

I’ve been doing some research over the last couple of days to try and see if there’s anything out there that can replace my Pebble. But most of the smartwatches out there don’t suit my needs. They have a poor battery life, and don’t have an always-on display. And many of the fitness trackers can’t handle mobile phone notifications very well.

I did look at the Fitbit Blaze as a possible pebble replacement, but I don’t really like the styling and I think the functions beyond fitness tracking are very limited at the moment. That all could change, of course, in the future, as Fitbit has acquired technology and staff from Pebble. So maybe in the next couple of years they’ll make a Fitbit that’s also a decent smartwatch.

But at the moment, I can’t see any natural successor to the Pebble. It had such a unique feature set that there’s nobody even close. And there seems to be very few companies innovating in the smartwatch industry at the moment. Indeed, a number of companies have pulled out of smartwatches altogether – and even the Apple Watch isn’t setting the world on fire.

So for now, I’m hoping that my trusty Pebble Time keeps going for as long as possible.

Two months with a OnePlus One

OnePlus One

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the release of the OnePlus One mobile phone since it was announced just over a year ago.

Even today the Chinese manufacturer still maintains a certain air of mystery and supposed exclusivity by maintaining an invite-only means of ordering. They also run promotions every now and again to enable people without an invite to order, such as the one-hour sale they had at the end of October – and that’s how I got mine.

The OnePlus One is not sold in high street or online shops – it’s only available to order from the manufacturer’s website. It’s also not on sale in Ireland, but you can easily use Parcel Motel to bypass delivery restrictions.

I wasn’t 100% convinced I’d like this phone before I ordered it.  I was worried that the handset would be too big, because it has a 5.5 inch screen – a significant step up in size from my old 5 inch Google Nexus 5. But in actual usage it feels very comfortable in my hand. I can just-about operate it with one hand, but the far edges of the screen are a bit of a stretch. I’d also say that it occasionally digs into me when I’m sat down with it in my jeans pocket.

The screen and camera are both better quality than my previous phone, and everything just seems to run a bit quicker.  But by far the biggest improvement over other smartphones I’ve had is the battery life.  I fiddle with my phone pretty-much all day, and I found that after a year’s usage of my Nexus 5 that the battery was running down by late afternoon.  Not so with the OnePlus One, which has a huge battery capacity.  I’ve never come close to running out of battery, even when I’m out of the house for 12-14 hours.

One other difference the OnePlus One has over its rivals is the operating system.  It run something called CyanogenMod, which is a variant of Android. However, there’s no steep learning curve when switching from other Android phones – it’s just like Android, but with a bunch of extra options and features available.

The price is also a bargain in comparison to other mobiles.  My 64GB model cost £269 (about €360 at today’s exchange rate), but the 16GB version cost just £229 (€305).  That’s compared against €699 for the cheapest iPhone 6 from the Apple store, or about €650 for a Samsung Galaxy S5.

All in all, I’m very happy with the phone, and would recommend getting one if you are able.

4G/LTE Restrictions in Ireland

One thing to note with the OnePlus One is that it only supports a limited number of 4G (LTE) frequencies. It supports bands 1, 3, 4, 7, 17, 38 and 40.  Currently in Ireland, Vodafone uses band 20, Meteor uses bands 3 and 20, and 3 use band 3.

So you should be fine to connect using 4G with Meteor or 3, but if you’re with Vodafone you’ll have to make do with 3G.  Having said that, I’m with Vodafone, and I get download speeds of 15 or 16 Mbps on the 3G HSPDA, so I can totally live without 4G.

Why I won’t by buying the Nexus 6

I’ve been a fan of the Google Nexus phones for a couple of years, and have written in the past about getting my hands on a Nexus 4 and a Nexus 5 before they were available in Ireland. And like of lot of other fans, I was quite excited to learn what was coming next.

The major attraction of the Nexus mobiles is that you were able to get a top-performing phone at a discount price, but with the new Nexus 6 announced yesterday, you’re still getting a top-performing phone but it’s now got a premium price tag attached. And, let’s face it, the screen is way too big!

With the Nexus 6, they have deviated from a winning formula, and potentially upset a lot of fans.  The whole point of getting a Nexus 4 or Nexus 5 was that you could ditch those expensive mobile contracts, buy a reasonably-priced smartphone SIM-free for about €350, and save a fortune over the life of a phone.  The Nexus 6 price is more likely to be cost €650 SIM-free in Ireland – almost double.

It’s interesting that Google still intends to keep selling the Nexus 5, which is still a strongly performing phone, even if it is a year old now. It understands that a lot of people are not interested in the ‘phablet’ sized Nexus 6, and so have kept the Nexus 5 available for sale.

But here’s the thing… I’m an early adopter of technology, and I like to feel that I have the ‘latest and greatest’ technology, and have got used to replacing my mobile every year. But at the moment, I have no upgrade path. I have no motivation to put my hand in my pocket and hand over some money.

So for now, it seems I’ll be keeping hold of my Nexus 5 – which will probably come as bad news to my wife, who had plans to take it off me once I upgraded.

Ordering the Google Nexus 5 in Ireland

Update 19/03/2014: The Nexus 5 and 7 are now available to purchase SIM-free direct from the Google Play Store in Ireland. The Nexus 5 is also available as part of a contract from Three Ireland and Meteor.

I’ve written about how I’ve ordered the Nexus 4 in the past, and a few minutes after the Nexus 5 was released to the public today I had already ordered one for myself, and I thought I’d share how I did it:

  1. To access the Google Play store to order the phone you need to appear as if you’re in the UK. For this you need to use a VPN or Proxy service. I use VPNUK to access the play store, and they have a 7-day free trial if you want to give them a go – but any similar service will do – lots of other people seem to use “Tunnel Bear”.  If you already have an active Google account, you may need to use the privacy/incognito mode of your browser, as sometimes the Google browser cookies will continue to identify you as being in Ireland even when you use the VPN.
  2. Have a UK delivery address ready to use.  I use Parcel Motel for this, and you can use their Northern Ireland address for delivery – more info on using Parcel Motel.
  3. You need to have a credit/debit card that is registered to a valid UK address, but it doesn’t have to be the same address as you’re using for delivery. I’ve heard of people that re-register their Irish credit card with a UK address, use PayPal, or use a UK prepaid credit card, but I can’t comment on whether any of those work.

The Nexus 5 is available in both Black and White, and is priced at £299 for the 16GB model and £339 model – and both come pre-loaded with the latest version 4.4 (KitKat) of Android.

My Google Nexus 5 - just arrived today!
My Google Nexus 5 – just arrived today!