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 support ends June 2018

Fitbit has announced that formal support of Pebble watches will end on 30th June 2018.

After acquiring Pebble's software division when the Pebble closed down at the end of 2016, Fitbit pledged to keep the back-end servers that support Pebble's online services running until the end of 2017. And with this recent news the support has extended by a further 6 months.

The servers run the Pebble software API, and support some of the watch features such as:

  • Voice recognition
  • Timeline pins from applications
  • Text messages and email via iOS
  • Pebble app store and forums

Can I own my own top level domain?

In 2013 the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opened up the market for new Top Level Domains (TLD) that allowed companies to register their own domain extension.

The idea being that instead of visiting mail.google.com to access your Gmail, you might instead use the address mail.google. The .com is gone – to be replaced with .google – so that Google could use domains such as search.google and calendar.google and blogger.google for their different services.

Hundreds of brands have subsequently applied to run their own TLD, including the like of Amazon, Apple, the BBC, BMW, Delta Airlines, and Microsoft – and are starting to use them for their web presence. But I was wondered if it was possible for an individual to get and run their own TLD.

Could I, for instance, apply to run the .bloomfield top level domain, and use the domain richard.bloomfield for this blog? Now that would be the ultimate vanity domain name!

I'm not sure if any individual has ever tried to apply for one. Certainly it would be pretty expensive:

  • A one-time application fee of $185,000 to apply for each TLD
  • A quarterly fee of $6,250 for maintenance
  • A per-transaction fee of $0.25 (once you go over 50,000 transactions)

And that's just the fees I would pay to ICANN. I would probably need to maintain a few servers to run my TLD and domain registry, and I'm sure there would be a few other costs involved. So unless I become a multi-millionaire, I doubt if I'll be taking control of .bloomfield any time soon.

That time I wrote an email system

When I started university back in 1990 the computer systems available were a lot more primitive that today.

Desktop PCs were only made available to college students the year after I joined, so for the first year of my Computer Science studies I only had access to mainframe systems, and in particular a VAX VMS system.

This was the type of terminal I had to use, which had an 80 x 24 character screen.

There was a big darkened room in the basement of my faculty building that housed row upon row of these terminals, and it was common to see student hunched over the machines for hours upon end – although not necessarily doing college work.

We didn't have the internet to distract us, but we make a lot of use of the mainframe's internal email system (called "MAIL") to keep in contract with friends. This was before the days of mobile phones, so the email system was one of the few ways to keep in contact with classmates and friends.

The problem was that the university soon realised that the student's use of email was overwhelming the ageing mainframe system – and so they introduced a daytime email ban. Between the hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm on weekdays students were barred from accessing the email program.

Getting around the ban

Of course, resourceful Computer Science kids like me, with lots of free time on their hands, soon found way to bypass the ban.

We quickly realised that the ban was being enforced by the use of a script – in the VMS language these were called Digital Command Language (DCL) scripts. The script checked the time, checked whether the user was a staff member or not, and then decided whether to run the MAIL program or issue an error message.

And so in order to bypass the ban, all it took was the writing of a slightly modified version of the script that didn't do the staff check. Simple.

Of course, after a while the university IT staff soon realised that students were still accessing the MAIL program, so they tightened up security by implementing changes to the security using access control lists that implemented a more effective ban.

An email program written in DCL

The DCL scripting language was actually quite powerful, and you could write small applications in it. I had grown quite interested in the language during my long hours in the lab and had already written a number of small utilities, such as an application launcher, that a number of my fellow students were using.

So it occurred to me that I might be able to also write a primitive email client as well.

The mechanics of it were actually quite simple. The program would launch a text editor where you would write your message. Then, when the text editor closed, it would save the file in a common directory and prompt the user for a username and email subject. Details of the filename, sending username, recipient's username, and email subject were then written to a log file.

When the recipient then accessed my email program, it would scan through the log file for any matches of their username, and present the details of the emails to them.

The user could then choose from options to delete or reply to the message.

The program was very basic, and not always stable. Some of the time the log file would get corrupted from multiple people trying to write to it at the same time. But for the most part, it served as an effective email system for the couple of hundred students that knew about it.

Short lived success

My basic email system lived for around 6 months, completely undetected by the IT staff, and sent and received in the region of half a million messages. I had to keep clearing down the log file periodically, as it wasn't indexed and a full file scan as the log file grew was taking longer and longer. 

Then at the start of the new academic year – my second year – a revolution happened. A new lab of Windows 3.0 desktop PCs appeared, with the Eudora email client installed and proper POP3 email accounts, and students soon lost interest in using email on the mainframe.

The reduced load on the VMS system meant that the MAIL program restrictions could be lifted, and the need for my email utility disappeared overnight.

In fact, all interest in the lab of VT terminals quickly dried up, as their fixed character screens were viewed as quite primitive in comparison to the GUI available on Windows. But I'll always have a soft spot for VMS mainframe systems and the DCL scripting language.

After university I even tried to get a job with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) who made the VMS computers – but I suspect I came across too strong in the interview!

Maybe I should look into getting a VM running OpenVMS so that I can revisit the operating system one last time.

Hifi Downsizing

My interest – and for a while, obsession – with hifi music began when I was still in school.  

Marantz Receiver
Marantz Receiver

I had been given a second-hand Marantz receiver (combined radio and amplifier), which looked very impressive, with lots of buttons and dials – but I quickly realised it didn’t really do anything on its own.

I would need to get some speakers, in order to actually hear some music. And if I wanted to listen to anything other than the radio, then I would need some other components – or separates.

So, at a time when most people were buying an all-in-one music centres or ghetto blaster, I was being indoctrinated into the world of hifi separates. The idea espoused by audiophiles was that a single-box solution was a compromise in terms of audio quality. The only way to chase the dream of true high fidelity music was to buy separate components, often from different specialist manufacturers.

And so it was, over time that I added more separates into my collection – a tape deck and a CD player – and I also replaced the second-hand receiver with a separate amplifier and tuner. However my quest for incremental improvements in audio quality wasn’t yet satisfied. To try and eke out the last drop of sound quality I would end up buying a separate DAC (digital to analogue converter) to try and improve the sound from the CD player. I would also upgrade all the interconnect cables, connect all the power sockets to a surge protector, and isolate each component from vibration on its own glass shelf.

hifiathome

Before the end of my 20s I had acquired a very impressive set up, which sounded amazing. And every time I moved house since them, over the last 15+ years or so, each separate was packed away in its original box, transported to the new location, and then faithfully reconnected at the other side. It was a labour of love to set up my hifi in each new living room, but in recent years I realised it was also a wasted effort.

With the advent of streaming services like Spotify, I had stopped buying and listening to CDs, and I didn’t even own any cassette tapes any more. Indeed for the last 2 or 3 years I had only ever used my hifi for playing back music on my phone or tablet. All my CDs had been ripped to MP3s, or the music was available on Spotify. And so everything except the amplifier and speakers fell into disuse.

Hifi Downsizing

It was earlier this year, as we were having a clear-out prior to moving out of our apartment, that I finally cut the cord (metaphorically) and got rid of the stuff I didn’t need. Gone was the tape deck for which I had no tapes. Gone was the CD player that didn’t really work properly. Gone was the DAC that never really added anything. And gone was big glass stand that it all sat upon.

I’ve kept the amplifier and speakers, as they’ll still be used – but for now they’re in storage while we live in temporary accommodation and hunt for our new house. And in the mean time, I’m making do with an old pair of shelf-mounted speakers powered by a tiny little amp called the Gemtune SA-36A. The amplifier is simplicity itself – on the front it only has an on/off switch and volume control, and on the back are sockets for speakers and a single music source – and it works perfectly with the Spotify playlists on my phone.

It’s not a true audiophile system, but for the amount of music I actually listen to at home (as opposed to the amount I imagine I will listen to), it’s good enough – and it also doesn’t take up half the room!

Gemtune SA-36A Amplifier
Gemtune SA-36A Amplifier