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Gadget of the Week: A new name comes to the wrist

There is a smartwatch for every need, and room for one more, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK as he takes the TicWatch Pro for a run

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What is it?

Until not too long ago, if you had heard of it, the TicWatch brand from Mobvoi was associated with low-cost, high-spec devices that made use of Google’s smartwatch operating system, Wear OS, in order to reduce costs. It helped that the OS allowed the watch to pair easily with Android phones, matching budget handsets to a budget smartwatch.

Now, with the TicWatch Pro 3 GPS edition, it is giving smartwatch household name brands, literally, a run for their money. It pushes the capacity, functionality and features beyond what anyone would expect from watches in its class. That said, its class happens to be the upper end of the smartwatch market, where consumers expect serious bang – or function – for their buck.

While Fitbit leads the fitness band category, Apple, Samsung and Huawei previously dominated the smartwatch segment in South Africa but, as the first major Wear OS model to arrive in the country, the newcomer ticks the box for grabbing attention. The Pro 3 GPS is also the first smartwatch to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform, representing the cutting edge of wearable technology from the company that makes the world’s leading smartphone processors.

This enhances both performance and battery life, giving it up to 3 days in Smart Mode, i.e. using all the tools that make sense – with heavy app usage bringing that down to 2 days. It claims 45 days in Essential Mode, namely using only basic watch and step-count functions, but we were unable to put that to the test in the time available.

The big differentiator is the 1.4-inch screen’s Dual Display technology, which layers a basic, low-power screen displaying only the time, date and step count in fitness band style, over a Retina AMOLED display – in effect overlaying Essential Mode on Smart Mode. The phone remains in the former state until it is raised, upon which it displays as a bright smartwatch.

Health features include:

  • TicZen, which monitors stress by analysing Heart rate variability (HRV) data and using TicBreathe to bring stress levels back to normal.
  • TicBreathe, which monitors heart rate and stress changes, and helps one relax through breathing training sessions.
  • TicHearing, which measures environmental noise between 30dB to 120 dB, and alerts the user of potential damage to hearing organs and nervous system.
  • TicHealth, a one-stop spot for all performance metrics, including high-intensity training, breathing, sleep, stress, steps, distance, and calories.
  • TicSleep, which automatically tracks sleep, and is supported in Essential Mode.
  • TicPulse, for accurate heart rate monitoring, with infrared light detection used while sleeping to avoid disturbing the user.

The device integrates well with other ecosystems, starting with a customisable watch face that allows one to pick from several hundred faces in the Mobvoi App and thousands from the Google Play Store. Compatible apps can be downloaded from Google Play, and health and activity tracking can be synced to Google Fit, Strava, Runkeeper and Apple Health.

How much is it?

R6,000 from Vodacom, Takealot and Agent Zero.

Why should you care?

Firmly embedded in the Google Wear universe, the TicWatch range pushes the boundaries of what the operating system enables on smartwatches. That means it is building both a legacy and its own skillset in harnessing Wear OS, which gives it an edge over newcomers to the OS. Samsung has now broken away from its own Tizen operating system for the first time, on the Galaxy Watch4, to bring Wear OS to its users, implying that TicWatch has bet on the right OS horse.

Biggest negatives

  • At R6,000, it will need a little more name recognition before it becomes a serious alternative for users of Apple, Samsung and Huawei high-end smartwatches.
  • It is large and appears bulky, although that is balanced by a lightweight build to provide a device that sits comfortably on the wrist.
  • The Dual Display in Essential Mode is somewhat dim, and barely visible in direct sunlight.
  • The need to download the Mobvoi app to one’s smartphone , after the watch has been set up via the Wear OS app, is frustrating. You shouldn’t need two apps to operate one device.

Biggest positives

  • An IP68 rating means it can withstand dust, dirt, sand and water, and it is suitable for swimming in pools.
  • Built-in altimeter and GPS gears it to cross-country running or trail-walking.
  • The customisable watch face allows one to upload a personal image to the Mobvoi app and set it as the watch face.
  • The wide range of health functions brings it into the realm of the Fitbit Sense and its emphasis on wellness.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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