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Wearable Tech

TicWatch Pro tries to tackle smartwatch battery life with a second screen, and fails

Wait it out on this one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The TicWatch Pro is a unique new Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) smartwatch that squeezes two screens into its face. It's available now to Amazon Prime members for $250 (£220 or AU$370). The watch is from Mobvoi, a Chinese company focusing on AI that also makes budget smartwatches and smart speakers, such as the TicHome Mini.

But wait: This isn't a great time to get a new Google smartwatch. And, so far, the TicWatch Pro isn't living up to its battery-extending promises.

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Screen on top of screen

The double screen is what makes this watch special, in theory. It's got the sort of colorful OLED screen you see on most smartwatches, layered directly under a traditional LCD screen. The former screen handles normal data readouts while the latter one handles always-on time display. (It's an FSTN -- film compensated super-twisted nematic display -- LCD screen like those found on 1980s-era digital watches and pocket calculators, not the modern-day LCD screens found on TVs and phones.)

The second screen is actually a transparent layer, activating when the smartwatch OLED turns off. It replaces the "always-on" mode that's on Wear OS watches by default, or can be booted up in a separate "Essential Mode" that makes the watch a basic, low-powered fitness tracker. When the main watch display is off, the reflective LCD turns on, turning the TicWatch Pro into a big Casio watch of sorts that tells time, steps and heart rate. The Essential Mode also takes over when the TicWatch Pro's main battery dies and the watch shuts down, giving it an emergency battery extension. Or, press the lower button on the TicWatch Pro, and the watch can boot into Essential Mode.

But, that added second-screen mode has some serious drawbacks. First: It lacks a backlight. Second: It has absolutely no interactivity (no touchscreen, and no button controls). Third: As I discovered after wearing it for a few days, it doesn't really extend battery life much at all. I got a day and a half of battery from the TicWatch Pro with the main Wear OS functions activated, which isn't much better than any other Wear OS watch, and a bit worse than what I get from the Apple Watch Series 3 and Samsung Gear Sport. 

And, fourth: While steps are tracked in Essential Mode, those steps don't sync over into Google Fit, which what I use to track fitness on Wear OS. You could always use Mobvoi's fitness app, but I probably never will.

It's a shame, because Wear OS smartwatches are in desperate need of a battery boost. Google's Wear OS watches tend to last around a day. Other smartwatches, such as the Amazfit Bip, can last two weeks easily, and have always-on screens, but cut corners on the phone-like features. Mobvoi's dual-screen approach claims to get the best of both worlds, but I haven't perceived that battery advantage at all, and in that basic watch mode, it's less useful than the Amazfit Bip. Plus, the TicWatch Pro is big, thick and expensive.

02-mobvoi-ticwatch-pro

The second display: a reflective LCD layer, like an old-school Casio watch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Wait, or get something less expensive

If you want a great battery in a Wear OS smartwatch, wait. Google's already readying a next generation of Wear OS smartwatches this fall that promises better battery life. It's unclear how good that would be, but you'd be crazy not to wait it out and see.

The TicWatch Pro's wild multiscreen idea is an interesting spin on how to approach the always-on screen challenge in smartwatches -- or turn touchscreens into always-readable panels on other gadgets or appliances that need to sip power -- but since Wear OS watches already have a serviceable always-on display mode already, and this watch isn't blowing me away with its battery life, it feels unnecessary.

Short answer: Get the Amazfit Bip, which costs a third as much.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

TicWatch Pro specs

  • Size: 45mm by 12.6 mm
  • Displays: 1.39-inch, 400x400-pixel OLED, and FSTN display
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100
  • Storage: 4GB
  • GPS
  • NFC and Google Pay
  • Optical heart-rate sensor
  • 415 mAh battery
  • IP68 water resistance
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