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.

Will you be buying the new iPhone X?

Here in Ireland the new iPhone X will be available to pre-order from the 27th October at 8.01am.

The iPhone X (the 'X' being a roman numeral, so it's pronounced 'ten') page on the Apple web site already lists the prices as:

  • €1,179 for the 64 GB version
  • €1,349 for the 256 GB version

That's a lot of money for a mobile phone. For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8 sells for about €650, and the OnePlus 5 starts at €500 – half the price of the iPhone X. So is this latest iPhone worth the money? Is it twice as good as those Android phones?

No!

Are people still going to queue up to buy it?

Definitely!

The thing is that this is an Apple product, and Apple products are not just phones or computers – they're aspirational items. They are premium products that people are willing to pay premium prices for.

A BMW 5 series costs roughly twice as much as a Skoda Superb. Both are lovely cars, and drive you from A to B in relative comfort. But the BMW isn't twice as good as the Skoda – it isn't twice as fast, or twice as comfortable. So when you buy a BMW you are paying for much more than the car – you are paying for the brand.

You are paying to own a car that proclaims its own expensiveness. That's why premium products have such obvious branding on them. Because after all, why would anyone pay more for a product that looks identical to the much cheaper equivalent?

In the 10 years since Apple first released the iPhone they have successfully positioned it as not just 'a' smartphone, but 'the' smartphone for people to aspire to.

People might justify (to themselves or others) buying the iPhone X for the superior operating system, or because they think it has the best screen, best camera, or best looking handset. But at the end of the day, they are really buying it for what it says about them.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If owning the iPhone X makes them happy, then good. I'm happy for them. I may even take an interest if one of my friends or colleagues gets one – just as I would be interested to look at their brand new BMW – but not enough to part with the cash for either the phone or the car myself.

I used to own an iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4 back in the day – and I still think they're nice devices – but I couldn't justify to myself to keep paying the premium prices for successive iPhones, and I switched over to Android instead.

I guess that value for money matters more to me than brand – even if I do still lust over the latest and greatest technology out there.

Data Roaming in the USA

I go over to the US a few times each year, and I want to continue using the data on my mobile phone. However, roaming data charges can be expensive.

The roaming data charges, per megabyte (for prepay and contract phones) on the Irish networks are:

And as anyone knows, one MB hardly goes anywhere these days. I sometimes use as much as 200MB a day, so if I used my Eir SIM for roaming data, it could cost me over €2,000 a day!

Data Bundles

Of course, there are often roaming data bundles available, but you need to shop around for the best deals, and set them up in advance:

  • Vodafone – Red Roaming – 200MB of data for €2.99 per day
  • Vodafone – Connect Abroad – 100MB of data for €18.45 per day
  • Eir – USA Data Add-on – 200MB of data for €19.99
  • Three – No data bundles available

The Vodafone Red Roaming is clearly the best value for money, and that's the roaming deal I use for my trips. I just need to be careful to ensure that my APN is correctly configured.

Signing up for Red Roaming

Vodafone prepay and contract customers need to elect to use Red Roaming to avail of the roaming deal. It can be set up in the "My Vodafone" self-care web site, or by texting the word 'RED' to 50020 to opt in.

It's worth noting that if you run out of credit on Vodafone prepay you may be automatically de-subscribed from Red Roaming without notification, and then end up paying a lot more for data.

You also need to remember that the 200MB per day allowance runs from midnight to midnight Irish time. So if you're in Los Angeles (8 hours behind Dublin) your allowance runs from 4pm to 4pm each day.

What about a Roaming or USA SIM?

One other option to consider, if you travel a lot is to get a specialist roaming SIM card (available from a number of companies), or a SIM card for a US cellular network.

A typical offer of a specialist Roaming SIM is one from Roam Mobility, where it costs $10 to buy a SIM card, and then another $21.95 to buy 1GB of data. Similarly ZipSIM charges $30 for 1GB of data.

The US network T-Mobile also offers a Prepaid International Tourist Plan, which gives you 3 week of voice, texts and 2GB of data for $30. That's not a bad if you're visiting for more than a few days and also expect to make phones calls and send texts.

Dual SIM Phones

Sometimes the best deal for roaming data is from someone that isn't your regular mobile provider. And unless you fancy switching to another mobile number while you travel, you may want to consider getting a dual-SIM mobile phone.

I have a OnePlus 5 mobile that can take 2 SIM cards. So I have my regular Meteor/Eir SIM for use at home, and a second prepay Vodafone SIM for mobile data roaming.

When I'm travelling, I can have both SIM cards active in my phone at the same time. I can set my Meteor SIM to be used for calls and texts – so that I can contact family and friends – and set the Vodafone SIM to be used for data.

SIM & Network Settings

I just need to remember to switch the mobile data between Meteor and Vodafone each time I get on the plane.

OnePlus 5

I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of my new OnePlus 5 phone.

I’ve been a OnePlus fan for a while now, having migrated from using the Nexus phones. I like to have a high-spec phone, but don’t like paying the premium prices that the likes of Samsung and Apple demand.

I used to have a OnePlus 1 and currently use a OnePlus 3 (my wife has the OnePlus 3T as well), but about 2 weeks after a bought by OnePlus 3 I managed to put a huge scratch across its face – and I’ve been looking at that scratch for about a year now. It wasn’t bad enough to warrant buying a replacement OnePlus 3, but now that the OnePlus 5 is out I have the excuse to upgrade handsets.

If you’re planning to buy one yourself, you might be interested in this referral code that will get you €20 off accessories when you buy a OnePlus 5. Here’s the link: https://oneplus.net/ie/invite#W5ZGN6VN63274F

Vodafone Ireland Red Roaming APN

I was using Vodafone Ireland for roaming data while I’m visiting the USA, but was concerned to see my prepay credit being eaten up incredibly quickly.

The Red Roaming plan is meant to give me 200MB of data a day for €2.99, but after only using about 5MB of data and sending a couple of texts my €25 of credit was gone!

I checked the Vodafone terms and conditions and found out that the 200MB allowance is only available on the “Live” and “Blackberry” APNs. My phone was set to use the “ISP” APN (isp.vodafone.ie) and as such was being charged something like €6 per MB.

Be sure to have the correct APN selected, or it could cost you!

I’ve changed the APN to now use the “Live” APN (live.vodafone.ie) and my credit isn’t disappearing as before.