The last time we looked at Chinese startup Mobvoi it was for the Ticwatch 2, a keenly-priced all-rounder of a smartwatch that impressed in many ways but was let down by lack of apps. It was the single biggest bit of feedback Mobvoi got, and now it's back with an answer (or two) in the Ticwatch S and Ticwatch E, both of which come running Android Wear.
It's a significant departure from the company's Ticwear OS, which we loved the design of, even if the overall ecosystem was wanting. It may not be such a surprise considering Google has invested in Mobvoi in the past, and that Ticwear was based on Android anyway, but it felt like Mobvoi was carving out a nice little space for itself in a market largely dominated by two main players. Although some of Mobvoi's apps have been carried over to the new smartwatches, you're very much getting the standard Android Wear 2.0 experience here.
So, why two models? The Ticwatch S is designed to be the sportier of the two, with a more breathable strap and the look of a smartwatch made for active folks. However both watches feature a heart rate monitor, built-in GPS and are identical in all of their software features. Ying Zhou, Mobvoi's business director, did say that the GPS performance will most probably perform better on the S as the antenna is build into the strap, where on the E it's in the body.
Despite that, the S is still just a smidge larger with a 45mm diameter face, while the E measures 44mm. Both smartwatches make use of a single button and come in just one size. "This is a cost and practicality consideration for a startup whose resources are constrained," said Zhou.
Sadly, Ticwear isn't the only casualty – the Tickle strip, a thin touch-sensitive veneer for interacting with the Ticwatch 2, has also been ditched. "That was a very difficult decision for us because we're very proud of that little feature," Zhou told me during my demo. She also said the battery will last between one and two days, so maybe just a tad more than the Ticwatch 2, but not a lot more. It has, however, moved from IP65 to IP67, making it a bit more water resistant, but still not enough for a swim.
The Ticwatch S definitely feels like the more premium of the two, as reflected in its higher price tag of $199 next to the E's $159. That's the planned retail price – Mobvoi has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the new duo, and early backers will be able to pick up the watches for less. Mobvoi told us that both are planned for a Q4 launch this year.
Holding onto ideas
Despite moving over to Android Wear, Mobvoi has kept some of its apps on board. The primary ones are its health apps, but even the calculator, alarm and flashlight apps are Mobvoi's own. "Fitness turned out to be one of the central themes of how people use wearables," said Zhou, citing the reason Mobvoi wanted to keep its stamp on that bit of the software.
Mobvoi's voice assistant has also been replaced by Google Assistant, which raises questions when it comes to launching this in China, a country where Google's services are banned – Zhou said that it's something that Mobvoi is thinking hard about. She also explained that the company was "actively exploring the scene with Google" regarding support for the Ticwatch 2 – ie whether it will get the update to Wear 2.0 as well.
Once again, Mobvoi is balancing price against features and design, but I can't help but feel this is a show of defeat. Zhou kept telling me how Mobvoi sees itself better placed as a contributor, not competitor, to Android Wear, but as a result it's lost some of the unique identity it had in the Ticwatch 2. I get it, but still think it's a shame we didn't get to see Mobvoi's smartwatch flourish on its own.