Google’s TicWatch Pro 3 is the first Wear OS watch to use a newer, faster chip designed to breathe new life into the stagnant smartwatch line – but doesn’t do enough to manage the uphill task.
Made by the Chinese tech firm Mobvoi, the new watch costs £289.99 and competes directly with Fossil’s Gen 5, as well as Samsung’s Galaxy watches on Android. It’s a big watch that manages to avoid being chunky, looking fairly nondescript with a black plastic body and silicone strap. It is quite light but designed for fairly large wrists – I had the strap pulled to its second-tightest position.
The large 1.4in screen has a trick up its sleeve: two displays laid directly on top of each other. The top layer is a low-power basic LCD “essential” display showing the time, date, steps and battery level but not notifications. Beneath the LCD display is a crisp and bright AMOLED screen that lights up when you are actively interacting with the watch, including showing apps, notifications and a standard smartwatch face.
It is a clever solution for extending the battery life but not being able to see notifications at a glance is annoying and the switch between the two is quite jarring as the faces look nothing like each other. Instead, you can have the main screen stay on all the time like a regular smartwatch – which defeats the purpose of the dual display.
The watch has two buttons, one for accessing apps and another that opens an exercise app by default but can be changed to launch another task. Neither buttons rotate for scrolling like those on competitors.
One of the biggest problems with the watch is its weak haptics for alerts. Even set to its strongest setting, you are more likely to hear the motor than feel its vibrations. I routinely missed notifications and calls even with the watch strapped on tight.
Screen: 1.4in AMOLED + LCD display
Case size: 48mm
Case thickness: 12.2mm
Band size: standard 22mm
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100
Operating system: Wear OS
Water resistance: IP68
Sensors: barometer, ambient light, gyroscope, heart rate, SpO2, microphone, speaker NFC, GPS
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, wifi
Smoother performance and two-day battery
There’s no doubt that a newer, faster and more efficient processor really helps the TicWatch. Everything is smoother, faster and more responsive with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 than other Wear OS watches, such as the Fossil Gen 5 using the previous Wear 3100 chip or older.
The TicWatch’s battery life varies greatly depending on the features enabled. In its default state with the basic display on all the time and without the tilt-to-wake gesture enabled for the main screen, you can get close to three days of use between charges. With the always-on main display option enabled, that drops to two days, which is still double most Wear OS watches. Turn on 24-hour heart rate and blood oxygen monitoring and you’ll have to reach for the charger every day and a half.
A 25-minute run using GPS and heart rate consumed about 3% of the battery, which is fairly good for a smartwatch and long enough to last a marathon.
The watch also has an “essential mode” that turns off everything but the basic screen showing, time, date, steps and your heart rate, plus sleep monitoring, allowing it to last up to 45 days between charges. You can turn it on manually or automatically when the battery hits 5% to make it last a bit longer.
Mobvoi expects the battery in the TicWatch Pro 3 to last for at least 500 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. The battery cannot be replaced, however, ultimately making the watch disposable.
The watch is generally repairable but the company says doing so is not possible outside China and so offers an out-of-warranty exchange programme in the UK instead, with discounts of between 30% and 40%. It is recyclable but does not contain recycled materials. Mobvoi does not offer recycling schemes in the UK. The watch ships with a USB-A charging cable but not a power adaptor.
Wear OS is improving but continues to lag behind the competition in terms of features and design. Used with an Android phone you get solid notifications (if you can feel them), access to Google Assistant, widgets and a reasonable number of third-party applications. It also has Google Pay for contactless payments.
But there are problems with features such as simple scrolling, where it’s very easy to accidentally tap something when you’re just trying to swipe your way through a list. The TicWatch is also not running the latest “H-MR2” version of Wear OS, which was announced by Google in September 2020 with significant feature and speed improvements and rolled out to competitor devices in December. Mobvoi will support the watch with software updates for two years from release and has provided two updates within the testing period.
Also worth noting is that Wear OS currently has no support for storing music for offline playback (such as when running without a phone) from streaming music services, not even Google’s own YouTube Music.
Note, too, that you cannot use it at all with Android phones that do not have Google Play Services, such as Huawei’s recent handsets. You can use it with an iPhone with limited functionality but I would not recommend it.
Health and apps
Wear OS has a few health features built in with the Google Fit apps but the TicWatch ships with a suite of its own separate health and fitness apps including TicBreathe, TicExercise, TicHearing, TicOxygen, TicPulse, TicSleep, TicZen and the TicHealth app, which brings the readings all together.
Most of the apps are self-explanatory and work well enough, monitoring stress, heartbeat with abnormal rate alerts and blood oxygen saturation, alongside the usual steps and activity monitoring.
It does not feature an ECG sensor for monitoring for arrhythmia and I had issues with the accuracy of some apps. The sleep tracking produces detailed data but the time-to-sleep stats were way off, the resting heart rate was lower than I’ve ever recorded before and the smart alarm that is designed to wake you up at the right time in your cycle didn’t work.
Tracking runs worked a lot better, with a good amount of data including pace, cadence and distance recordings – similar to that produced by a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar. The heart rate data was a bit variable but produced a good average reading, and the data took a long time to sync after a run. The TicExercise app caters for a number of activities including cycling, rowing, swimming and yoga but cannot automatically recognise workouts like competitors.
The data is synced to Mobvoi’s servers rather than being kept purely on your device or phone, and can be viewed in the Mobvoi companion app on your phone. From there, you can export activities to Google Fit, Strava and Runkeeper. It works fine enough for the basic fitness and health tracking but variability in some more advanced data makes me question its accuracy.
The watch is rated for IP68 water-resistance (at least 1m depths for 30 minutes) and “pool swimming” but not to the level of rivals that are often rated to depths of 30-50m.
It has a speaker so you can hear Google Assistant answers and take calls from your wrist with an Android phone.
A recent update added date and backlight customisation to the essential display.
The TicWatch 3 Pro GPS has a lot of potential but ultimately misses the mark.
The new Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip solves the remaining performance problems of previous Wear OS watches. The battery life is reasonable. The screen looks good and the dual-layer design is a smart way of prolonging battery when you really need it.
But Wear OS just isn’t as slick or fully featured as rivals, the more advanced health-tracking features have accuracy issues, it is running old software compared with rivals and it is not cheap, costing £290. The deal killer for me is the weak vibration motor; I missed notifications I wouldn’t have wearing rivals, which just isn’t good enough.
The battery cannot be replaced and the software will only be supported for two years from release, ultimately making it disposable and losing it a star.
Pros: good performance, good battery life, big screen, dual-display, good notifications, Google Pay, standard 22mm straps, TicHealth fills the gaps in Google Fit health tracking.
Cons: weak vibrations/alerts, Wear OS not as good as competitors, health-tracking accuracy issues, no offline music playback, battery not replaceable, only two years of software updates.