Mobvoi TicWatch E3 Review: Right Smartwatch, Wrong Time


Mobvoi TicWatch E3 face-on, on the wrist.

Mobvoi TicWatch E3 review: The right smartwatch, launched at the wrong time

“At almost any other time, the fast Mobvoi TicWatch E3 would be a solid buy provided style isn’t at the top of your list of requirements, but the lack of information on an update to the incoming Google/Samsung Wear platform means it’s prudent to wait and see before diving in.”

  • Snapdragon Wear 4100 makes it fast
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Comprehensive, accurate health tracking
  • Plastic case isn’t stylish
  • No information on a future Wear update

The Mobvoi TicWatch E3 is the second smartwatch to come out with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip inside, and it’s a big deal. The processor makes Google’s Wear OS faster, smoother, and easier to live with each day, plus it improves the battery life. It’s also the number one reason you should be considering buying the TicWatch E3, but the shadow of the incoming Google/Samsung Wear platform also hangs over it.

The situation puts the TicWatch E3, and anyone considering it, in a difficult position. Let’s look at it in more detail, to see if it’s wise to wait and see what happens in the world of Android smartwatches over the next few months.

Design

The best watches are “part” of you, by which I mean something you want to put on each morning and enjoy looking down at throughout the day, and not only to check the time. The Mobvoi TicWatch E3 isn’t that kind of watch. It is a piece of technology, where design has come second to fitting the latest processor.

Mobvoi TicWatch E3.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Understanding that, and assessing if you’re comfortable with the trade-off, is the first stage in deciding whether you can live with the TicWatch E3. It’s not an ugly smartwatch or an uncomfortable one, it’s just bland and plasticky. Unforgivable if it cost $400, but more understandable at $200.

The TicWatch E3 looks different from the TicWatch E2, with stubby, squared-off lugs attaching a quick release 22mm strap to the simple round case, which is made of plastic. There are two buttons on the side, set at the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions, which have a nicely dampened action. The top opens the app menu, and the lower button defaults to Mobvoi’s TicExercise app, but it can be altered in the settings. The E3 is just under 13mm thick, and the screen measures 1.3 inches and has a substantial bezel running around the edge.

The screen is bright and colorful, but the massive bezel is a distraction although the 2.5D glass does make swiping comfortable. It feels durable too, and has an IP68 rating so it can be worn when swimming. The strap is easily replaced with another, and Mobvoi will sell you some more colorful versions.

Mobvoi TicWatch E3 on the wrist, seen from the side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Ticwatch E3 is neither desirable nor hateful, it’s just there on my wrist. I’ve put it on and forgotten about it until it reminds me with a notification. This is both good and bad. The smartwatch is undeniably comfortable and lightweight, but it’s not something I’ll ever look at with more than indifference due to its plain style.

Performance

Why should you care about the TicWatch E3? The reason is the Snapdragon Wear 4100, a shocking rarity in the world of Wear OS smartwatches, and is only found in the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3. The fast, up-to-date chip replaces the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100, which has been ubiquitous for far too long. The TicWatch E3 may not have the looks, but it certainly has the power.

Top side of the TicWatch E3.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Snapdragon Wear 4100 eliminates two of those annoying Wear OS problems, namely slow speeds and short battery life. It makes Wear OS drastically more responsive than any Snapdragon Wear 3100-powered smartwatch. It flows and glides through Tiles, quickly and without hesitation shows notifications as you scroll through the list, and even the previously lengthy setup process is considerably faster than before. Paired with 1GB of RAM, it makes Wear OS pleasurable to use, and that’s a huge step forward.

The TicWatch E3 may not have the looks, but it certainly has the power.

What about the battery life? Some Snapdragon Wear 3100 smartwatches struggle to make it a day before needing a recharge, and only a few last deep into a second day. The Ticwatch E3, if you turn it off overnight, will just about make it two working days (with a single workout tracked with GPS) before needing a recharge. That’s with all-day heart rate monitoring active, and the always-on screen showing the time constantly. Not bad at all, and if you don’t track a workout it will last about 36 hours. A handy Essential Mode kicks in when the battery is almost fully depleted, ensuring you can still see the time. Charging is slow though, with about two hours needed to fully charge.

Software and fitness tracking

The Ticwatch E3 runs Wear OS — version 2.26, H MR2 installed on my review model — so it operates in a familiar way, with swipes and taps to navigate the menus. There’s no rotating crown or bezel here, so the software is controlled only by your finger on the screen. By default Mobvoi’s menu system is a 4 x 4 grid of scrollable icons, rather than the standard single-line scrollable list, but it can be changed if you prefer. I found it was slightly easier to find what I wanted, but missed the way Wear OS’s menu system places the most recently used apps at the top of the list.

I have had a few issues with software reliability. It has completely locked up once, requiring a hard restart to bring it back to life, and TicExercise refused to stop a workout, and then lost the records when it finally gave up later in the day. Changing data, such as when the TicPulse app is reading your heart rate, sometimes overwrites what’s on the screen, making it impossible to read without exiting and re-opening the app. None of these issues have been repeated, and a software update could fix these bugs in the future.

The bigger issue with the TicWatch E3 is due to a different software update. Happily, the E3 has the power to make Wear OS mostly pain-free today, and notifications are mostly delivered, but it’s still frustrating when they don’t, or you realize you have to have a specific Wear OS app installed to receive them, as in the case of Outlook. But it’s the future that’s the problem. The Google- and Samsung-created Wear platform will be out later this year, and there’s no news on when, or if, the E3 will get an update. When Digital Trends asked Mobvoi about its plans, the response was:

“Mobvoi are a close partner of Google and have even received investment from them, but there hasn’t been any official confirmation on any update timings from Google as of yet.”

Mobvoi’s statement puts the onus on Google here, and while the wording suggests an update is possible, it doesn’t say one will definitely happen, or when. While your smartwatch won’t stop working, the lack of information regarding an update to Wear should be a consideration when purchasing today, as it may make your new smartwatch feel quite old, quite quickly if it’s not on the update list.

Health and fitness tracking

Mobvoi installs a host of its own health and fitness apps, all of which require you to sign up with Mobvoi’s services to make the best use of them. If you don’t, some data is not shown. Most of the fitness-related apps replicate the functionality provided by Google Fit, and it’s annoying the SPo2 and heart rate sensor apps both require a Mobvoi login first. Other apps include an ambient sound level app called TicHearing, a stress and relaxation app called TicZen, and an auto sleep tracking app called TicSleep.

Heart rate sensor on the TicWatch E3,
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You can use Mobvoi’s TicExercise app or Google Fit to track workouts, and either can be assigned to activate with a press of the lower button on the case. Both do the same job, and there is no benefit to using one over the other. Apart from TicZen, there’s little reason to dive into Mobvoi’s apps at all. Why are they there? Mobvoi calls itself a software company rather than a hardware company, so collecting data is important.

Comparing the TicWatch E3 with the Apple Watch SE, both heart rate sensors returned the same measurements, and the SPo2 sensor matched the Apple Watch Series 6. Step count and calorie burn mostly matched too, meaning the TicWatch E3’s accuracy is in line with other, similar products. The smartwatch found a GPS signal, and recorded location data during a walk without a problem.

The TicWatch E3 works very well as a casual fitness tracking wearable, but Mobvoi’s own apps are mostly superfluous, with no obvious reason why you’d use them over Google’s suite of fitness apps.

Price and availability

You can buy the TicWatch E3 today for $200 or 180 British pounds through Mobvoi’s online retail store, or from Amazon.

Our take

There’s a good case to be made for buying the TicWatch E3 right now. It’s not that expensive, it has the fastest processor inside, it’s light and comfortable to wear, and Google’s Wear OS software is better here than on almost all other smartwatches. It also does all the health and fitness tracking you could want.

But equally, there are a few good arguments against it. It doesn’t have much style and you won’t want to show it off, plus the bezel around the screen is obnoxiously large. The software has some stability issues, and most importantly there’s no word on whether it will ever get an update to the brand new Wear platform coming later this year.

It’s a difficult situation. It’s really the smartwatch we’ve been looking forward to, just launched at the wrong time. While the TicWatch E3 makes good sense if you’re set on buying a Wear OS smartwatch right now — it’s not the priciest example, so if it’s left waiting for an update later on it won’t feel like such a bad deal — but patience will pay off here. There’s often a sweet spot for buying new products, and the TicWatch E3’s arrival is just in that place where it’s wise to wait and see what happens with Wear and any new smartwatches we expect during the second half of 2021.

Is there a better alternative?

All Google Wear OS smartwatches are in the same situation as the TicWatch E3 when it comes to an update to Wear. The new software will reach some existing smartwatches, but probably not all, and exactly when it’ll happen is totally unknown. If you own an Android smartphone, then looking at non-Wear OS smartwatches like the $180 Amazfit GTR 2 or $140 GTR 2e, or a wearable like the $230 Fitbit Versa 3 is a better bet until more is known about Wear and its updates.

If you own an iPhone, the $270 Apple Watch SE or $400 Apple Watch Series 6 should be at the top of your list. The Apple Watch integrates perfectly with iOS, has superior functionality when linked to an iPhone, and is a joy to own and use.

How long will it last?

The plastic case and IP68 water resistance rating, along with the easily replaced rubber strap, make the TicWatch E3 very durable. Google delivers regular updates to Wear OS, but few include notable new features. As explained already, there’s no information on when or if an update to Wear will arrive on the TicWatch E3. The TicWatch E3 will last for two years at least, but the software is in danger of feeling very out of date before the end of 2021.

Should you buy it?

No. It’s wise to wait and see what the new Wear platform brings, and the new hardware released with it, before deciding. The TicWatch E3 is a good buy, but we recommend waiting for a few months to have all the final information regarding Wear to hand before deciding.

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