Mobvoi Ticwatch S2 review

At $180, you won’t care about the TicWatch S2’s utilitarian looks

Your style rating will take a hit with the TicWatch S2 on your wrist, but your bank account won’t.
Your style rating will take a hit with the TicWatch S2 on your wrist, but your bank account won’t.
Your style rating will take a hit with the TicWatch S2 on your wrist, but your bank account won’t.

Highs

  • Fantastic value
  • Tough body and water resistance
  • Heart rate monitor and GPS
  • Good battery life

Lows

  • Lacking style
  • No NFC
  • Some software features not available yet

If you want your smartwatch to take a pounding, and perhaps keep up with a more active lifestyle, what choices do you have? After all, the majority are made for looks, not for toughness. Mobvoi has stepped up with the TicWatch S2, a smartwatch that doesn’t mind getting knocked or scraped once in a while.

With a $180 price tag, it’s also one of the most affordable smartwatches on the market. We’ve been wearing the S2 for a few days to see if a hard-wearing smartwatch is the ideal long-term companion.

Unpleasant design

Let’s get this out of the way. The TicWatch S2 is unpleasant to look at. It’s a watch destined to be worn by those who are unaware of how good a watch can look — even smart ones — and are content knowing their choice of wrist wear won’t look any worse if it gets a kick in the teeth every now and then.

Yes, the TicWatch S2 is watch-shaped in that it’s round, but the design aspects are just nods in the general direction of what someone thought a watch should look like. There are numbers around the bezel, a big button where the crown should be, and a moulded polycarbonate body. It’s quite thick at 12.9mm, and the matte black color makes it faceless. It’s a masculine design too, unlikely to appeal to everyone, and it isn’t going to look its best on small wrists. A white version will apparently come in the future, which may lessen the masculine look.

Positives? The polycarbonate body’s texture feels great, the entire watch is very lightweight, and the silicone strap is comfortable. The button on the side is also easy to locate and push, even with gloves on, and the tall bezels should keep the face free from accidental scuffs or scratches. There is a good reason the TicWatch S2 looks like it does. Mobvoi has engineered it to meet military toughness specifications, giving it a MIL-STD 810G rating against temperature, dust ingress, and water resistance to 5 ATM.

The TicWatch S2 is the definition of functional, utilitarian smart wrist wear.

Unlike the original TicWatch S, the 22mm strap is removable using quick release clips, and the GPS antenna is inside the watch rather than in the strap. The screen measures 1.39-inches and has a 400 x 400 pixel resolution. We had no problem seeing it outdoors, but there’s no ambient light sensor, forcing you to adjust the brightness manually. We had it set to level three out of five, and it was fine for most conditions. Viewing angles are good, text is easy to read due to the size of the screen, and it recognizes gestures without a problem.

The TicWatch S2 is the definition of functional, utilitarian smart wrist wear. It’s not going to turn heads, but it’s not uncomfortable or frustrating to interact with. If that’s enough for you, then the TicWatch S2 won’t disappoint. Mobvoi can do stylish too, as it proved with the TicWatch C2 recently, but it didn’t do the same with the S2.

Performance

Mobvoi has chosen the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 over the newer Snapdragon 3100 for the S2. Mobvoi told Digital Trends the Snapdragon 3100 is still new and may need more optimization, but the company felt it could do everything it wanted to accomplish with the Wear 2100, while keeping prices low. This echoes Kate Spade’s opinion on not using the 3100 in the Scallop 2 smartwatch. Neither stops us being disappointed the latest processor isn’t inside.

Mobvoi Ticwatch S2 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The watch runs the latest version of Google’s Wear OS platform, which is an improvement over the older versions, especially when navigating. It’s still swipe-based, but it’s more logical than before, and more helpful too. A swipe to the right opens Google Assistant to show general information about your day, including traffic alerts and calendar reminders. The TicWatch S2 can be set up to listen for an OK Google wake-up word, and this worked well in the home. More ambient noise means getting the watch closer to your mouth before it operates.

Swipe to the left and you get a selection of fitness metrics and access to Mobvoi’s TicHealth suite, found inside the standard Mobvoi app from Google Play. Alternatively, long-press on the screen and you can swap to Google Fit. This is more preferable, as the Google Fit experience is considerably better than TicHealth, which seems to take the long way round for everything, and requires yet another registration to use. It also has massive, intrusive ads on the main splash page of the app.

More than a day out of the battery beats many other Wear OS watches.

Wear OS runs relatively smoothly on the TicWatch S2. It can get a little stuttery when zipping through notifications — which are still a long list, just more viewable and interactive than before — but the watch faces look great. There are more choices than on previous Mobvoi watches too, and they’re a definite design improvement. We’ve been using the TicWatch S2 connected to an Honor View 20, but it will connect to iOS devices too, but with fewer features active.

We generally have no complaints about performance on the TicWatch S2, and Wear OS feels way more complete than older versions, and usable on a daily basis without frustration.

Fitness and features

The tough body makes the TicWatch S2 ideal for outdoor use. It tracks steps and heart rate, interacts with Google Fit and Mobvoi’s own TicHealth app, and has built-in GPS. The GPS worked well when we used it on a long walk, and it quickly found and maintained the signal. Using Mobvoi’s TicHealth app on the watch makes it clear when the GPS is active too, with an obvious green arrow icon on the screen. What it doesn’t have is NFC for mobile payments, which is a shame. Mobvoi said it wasn’t a high priority for its customers, and leaving it out helps keep the watches thinner and cheaper.

Mobvoi Ticwatch S2 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

TicMotion is Mobvoi’s stab at artificial intelligence on the wrist, and so far consists of active, automatic swim monitoring, including stroke type, speed, and lap time. We have not tried this out at the time of writing. It’s also supposed to have automatic activity monitoring too, but it’s unclear if this is working yet, as it didn’t recognize our activity as effectively as the Apple Watch Series 4.

Mobvoi told Digital Trends it has plans to add more software features over Wear OS to the TicWatch S2 to make its smartwatches stand out from the crowded field. These include TicMotion gestures, which will allow you to flick the watch away from you to launch apps like Google Fit. Automatic sleep tracking is also coming soon.

Dig through the app menu and you’ll find a few dedicated Mobvoi apps, such as for taking your heart rate, a localized challenge app comparing your step count to nearby Mobvoi users, and Mobvoi’s own exercise app. Through this you can select swimming, running, walking, and cycling programs with GPS. You can also set individual targets for calorie burn and step count, for example. It’s a substitute for Google Fit Workout, and doesn’t offer anything new. You can access Google Play and install other Wear OS apps.

Just $180 for a smartwatch with the S2’s feature list makes the list of direct competitors a short one.

Adding music to Wear OS is still the pain it always has been. You must install Play Music first, then transfer playlists from your account using Wi-Fi. It’s long-winded and unreliable. Once it’s done the TicWatch S2 happily connected to a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Alternatively, Spotify is available for Wear OS, but it’s a remote control for the app on your phone, and doesn’t work independently.

The TicWatch S2 is a decent fitness smartwatch, but the features that will set it apart from others aren’t active yet, which we dislike about a newly-released product. Don’t announce features that can’t be used yet, we say, and certainly don’t buy one on the promise they’ll arrive. It can’t compete with the Apple Watch’s ease of use and lengthy health and fitness feature list, or the comprehensive athletic ability of watches like the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music.

Battery and charging

A 415mAh battery lives inside the TicWatch S2, much larger than the older versions, and good for two days use, according to Mobvoi. This is definitely on the optimistic side, and we’ve been getting a full day plus a few more hours out of the watch. No, it didn’t run out of power before the end of the day, which is great news, but we’re still charging on a daily basis to ensure continuous use.

Careful use — for example using it only for an eight hour work day, and turning on the battery saver mode when you don’t need any of the complex features — would see it last for “two” days though.

Mobvoi Ticwatch S2 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Charging is completed using a magnetic plinth with pogo pins on it. We placed the watch on it with 20-percent charge showing on the display, and it reached 100-percent in about 60 minutes. The TicWatch S2 isn’t quite the battery-winner we hoped it would be, but it’s no failure either. More than a day out of the battery beats many other Wear OS watches with a Snapdragon 2100 inside. A definite plus point for the watch, but the real battery star in Mobvoi’s range is the TicWatch Pro with up to 30 days use out of a single charge.

Price, warranty, and availability

Here’s where Mobvoi wins a lot of points. The TicWatch S2 is just $180, or 140 British pounds. That’s astonishing value, and at that price, the basic design can almost be forgiven. Mobvoi provides a one year warranty against defects or faults. It’s available to purchase through Mobvoi’s own website, or Amazon.

Our Take

Not the most stylish smartwatch available, but it’s certainly one of the cheapest, and not at the expense of features either. It’ll happily keep up with the casual fitness fan’s activities, and the tough body will take a pounding too. A shrewd smartwatch buy, if you don’t mind the basic looks.

Is there a better alternative?

Just $180 for a smartwatch with the S2’s feature list makes the list of direct competitors a short one. It’s $100 less than a designer Wear OS smartwatch like the $275 Skagen Falser 2, and less than half of the Apple Watch. A Garmin VivoActive 3 Music costs $300 too. Even our favourite Mobvoi watch, the TicWatch C2 costs another $20, and the TicWatch Pro is $250. You may be able to find a decent deal on an older smartwatch, but anything current is going to cost more than the TicWatch S2.

The biggest competitor is Mobvoi’s own $160 TicWatch E2, which does away with the MIL-STD 810G rating for a cleaner, more attractive design. Otherwise you’ll have to look at a hybrid smartwatch, which can cost less than $180, such as the Skagen Hagen. You won’t get a touchscreen, heart rate monitor, or any of the Wear OS goodies, but you do get a whole heap of style and basic fitness tracking and notification features. We also like the Casio GBA-800 as a fitness tracker with style.

How long will it last?

The tough body and water resistance means you’ll have to make an effort to break the TicWatch S2. The software is currently up-to-date, and enhancements and new software versions from Google should arrive on a regular basis. It’s not known when TicWatch’s TicMotion updates will arrive.

The battery will eventually hold less charge and provide shorter usage times, but that won’t be for at least two years yet. It’s the design that’ll limit the TicWatch S2’s life, as it doesn’t have the timeless look of a traditional watch (hybrid or otherwise), or something like the Apple Watch or a designer Wear OS smartwatch. You may tire of seeing the TicWatch S2 long before it comes to the end of its useful life.

Should you buy one?

Yes, but just know you could do better in terms of style. The TicWatch S2 is excellent value, with a feature list you simply don’t find elsewhere at this price. It’s just a shame we don’t glance down lovingly at it when we want to check the time.

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