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There’s reason to be skeptical of the $80 TicWatch GTH’s health tracking

Mobvoi has announced a new smartwatch, but unlike the TicWatch Pro 3, it does not use Google’s Wear OS software, and it’s not round either. The TicWatch GTH smartwatch has its own proprietary software, and is square in design. It’s also much cheaper than the TicWatch Pro 3 at just $80. The company is promoting the GTH as a smartwatch for health tracking, but we should be careful about how much faith we put in both the wearable’s sensors and Mobvoi’s claims regarding its ability.

The TicWatch GTH includes a selection of sensors we’re used to seeing on wearables, such as a heart rate sensor and an SpO2 (oxygen saturation) monitor, plus more unusual features like skin temperature monitoring. Although it’s not going all-in and saying it considers the GTH watch as a wearable that will detect symptoms of COVID-19, there are enough mentions of it in the press release to put two and two together. This is a problematic path to tread.

Health-tracking sensors

The release states that blood oxygen saturation is “a key indicator of COVID-19, even before other symptoms are present.” It also says that the skin temperature monitor “checks if you have an above-normal temperature.” As fever is one of the more common symptoms of COVID-19, the GTH’s implied ability is clear, without being explicitly stated.

However, monitoring blood oxygen saturation levels is only advisable for patients with COVID-19, according to advice from the U.K.’s National Health Service and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both state that pulse oximetry sensors should be given to symptomatic patients at risk of severe disease. Advice also refers to patients using a dedicated medical-grade pulse oximetry monitor, rather than a consumer version fitted to a wearable like the TicWatch GTH or other popular alternatives.

Additionally, despite saying the skin temperature sensor will “enable you to make smarter decisions about your health,” Mobvoi goes on to say that “skin temperature monitoring is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions or for any other medical purpose. It is intended to provide information that helps you manage your health. Significant changes in ambient temperature may affect the accuracy of the measurement.” A digital thermometer is still the recommended device for establishing your body temperature.

The concern is that by linking these sensors to detecting COVID-19, wearers may misinterpret results, potentially leading to either anxiety or a false sense of security, due to the TicWatch GTH not being a medical-grade wearable. In a briefing, Mobvoi told me that the device is “not a doctor on your wrist,” but the company still indicated that the GTH “can be used as an early warning system.” No information was available on the sensors being upgraded or different than others available on wearables already.

TicWatch GTH features

That’s not to say there aren’t benefits to either sensor. Skin temperature can be used to better understand general health (when monitored over time, as skin temperature varies a lot during the day), or for ovulation. SpO2 data is helpful for sleep tracking, and for specific activities where oxygen levels may vary, such as mountaineering.

Dubious health-monitoring benefits aside, the TicWatch GTH looks a lot like the Apple Watch, with a square body and crown set on the upper-right of the case, but a considerably larger bezel. It’s made from metal and has 2.5D curved glass over the 1.55-inch, 360 x 360 resolution screen. The watch is water resistant to 5ATM, so it can be used when swimming, plus it has 14 different workout modes, sleep tracking, and a 260mAh battery for up to 10 days of use. It doesn’t have GPS or Wi-Fi, and relies on Bluetooth to connect to your phone.

The Mobvoi TicWatch GTH will be available through Amazon and Mobvoi’s own online store for $80, or 70 British pounds.

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