They say good things come to those who wait. So the $349.99 Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5 should be one of the best dang things to happen to Wear OS 3. It’s sporting the shiny new Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 Plus chip, Mobvoi’s signature battery-saving dual display, and a new digital crown, and it’s the first Wear OS 3 TicWatch. And if this watch had arrived six or seven months ago, I’d be saying, “Winner winner chicken dinner.”
But that’s not what happened. The TicWatch Pro 5 was supposed to launch last fall, and then over Christmas. Instead, after months of silence, the TicWatch Pro 5 arrived two weeks after Wear OS 4 was announced. And in a few months, Samsung will likely start the onslaught of next-gen Android smartwatches. All of this leaves a big question mark over the TicWatch Pro 5’s place in the Wear OS ecosystem.
As a result, I’m neither over nor underwhelmed. I’m mostly just whelmed and a little sad at how an otherwise good Android smartwatch got shafted by bad timing.
Subtlety is the name of the game with Mobvoi TicWatches, and the Pro 5 is no exception. This is your typical sleek smartwatch that nobody’s going to look at twice, especially if you end up with the all-black model like I did. I love a good pop of color, so that was a bummer, but don’t despair. You can pick brighter default silicone straps or more elegant leather straps at checkout. That, plus the colorful watchface selection, helps mitigate the nondescript case design.
This time, Mobvoi has added a textured bezel and replaced the Pro 3’s pushers with one flat side button and a digital crown. Is it a unique digital crown? Not by a long shot, but it makes navigating menus with sweaty fingers a lot easier. Scrolling with the digital crown is also more enjoyable thanks to the haptic feedback, and boy howdy will you do a lot of scrolling. (More on that below.) The haptics aren’t the strongest, so you may be disappointed if you prefer a more distinctive buzz. As for the side button, I appreciate that it’s less prone to accidental presses than the pushers were.
Overall, the Pro 5 has a masculine vibe — partly due to the style, partly because of its honking 50mm case, which wears large even for its size. End to end, the lugs are actually wider than my wrist, which means I’ve got to wear it extra tight compared to smaller circular watches. (I can stick six chopsticks, three on each side, through the gap between the lug and my wrist.) That said, it’s not a chore to wear considering its size. Without the straps, it weighs 44.3g and is 12.2mm thick, and I’ve worn similarly sized smartwatches that were heavier and thicker. For example, the case alone on the 47mm Garmin Epix 2 is 53g and 14.5mm thick. I can usually feel bigger watches pull on my skin when I swing my arms while running, but it wasn’t too bad with the Pro 5. It didn’t catch on my hoodies or spring jackets, though it’ll be a tad more difficult for petite folks if you like shirts or outerwear with narrower sleeves.
In pursuit of multiday battery
The Pro 5’s greatest strength is its multiday battery life. You can get an estimated 80 hours, with quick charging when you do need to top up. In testing, I’ve gotten pretty close to that 80-hour mark — though how Mobvoi achieves this may or may not be to your liking.
Mobvoi’s secondary ultra-low-power (ULP) display does a lot of the heavy lifting here. Technically, it counts as an always-on display, but not in the same way as the always-on displays of other flagship smartwatches, which keep the OLED screen on but dim the watchface and (usually) drop the refresh rate way down. Instead, the TicWatch spends most of its time using the ultra-low-power display, a black on gray segmented LCD like a retro Casio digital watch. There’s no backlight until you raise your arm, and then you get a single-color backlight, which changes depending on your heart rate. You won’t see your shinier Wear OS watchface unless you fully wake up the watch. Basically, you’re only making full use of the OLED display a mere fraction of the time. It’s a fine tradeoff if battery life is your number one priority, but it’s meh if you want everything an always-on OLED has to offer. Think fun animated screens, vibrant colors and pretty blacks, better indoor visibility, or just a more modern overall experience.
My only issue with this compromise is visibility. I have tragically bad eyesight, and it’s hard to see the ULP display in dimmer indoor lighting. The backlight helps, but you have to raise your arm to activate it. I would have appreciated a manual backlight button. It’s not a major issue, but it’s annoying when you want to quickly glance at the time. Outdoor visibility is also middling, as you can tell by the photo above. We took this on an overcast day, and I had to hold my wrist just so for the camera to show more than a darkened screen.
There’s also an upgraded Essential mode, which extends battery by limiting you to the ULP display. Now, you can schedule when the watch enters Essential mode or use a smart Essential mode, which automatically switches the watch to Essential mode while you sleep or if you take off the watch for more than 30 minutes during your scheduled timeframe.
It’s also hard to tell how much the W5 Plus chip plays into the Pro 5’s battery life. Many months ago, Qualcomm told me that the chip’s hybrid architecture results in 50 percent longer battery life while also doubling performance, reducing size, and enabling multiday battery life. There is a noticeable improvement in battery life compared to the 4100-powered TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra GPS I tested last year, but it’s more likely a combination of the new chip, plus the ULP display, Essential mode, and the Pro 5’s massive-for-a-smartwatch 628mAh battery.
So yeah, the Pro 5 can last you multiple days. But as always, battery life depends on your individual usage, and your mileage will vary as to how many
Where’s that W5 Plus oomph?
The shiny new Snapdragon W5 Plus chip was a big reason why I waited for the Pro 5 with bated breath. Not only is it the first smartwatch to feature the chip in the US but Qualcomm also promised significant gains over its previous wearable chips. I don’t know what I expected, but so far, I haven’t noticed a huge performance boost over 4100-powered Wear OS watches.
On the one hand, apps launch quickly, and navigating through menus is zippy. This is also true of Wear OS 3 on 4100 watches. All the effort Mobvoi puts into extending battery life can lead to unnecessary latency as well. For instance, in the morning, when I’m exiting Essential mode, it takes a while for Wear OS 3 to boot up again. It’s not egregiously slow, but I dunno, folks. When you say the W5 Plus brings double the performance, that kind of noticeable lag is the last thing I want to see. This might be a Pro 5 issue, however, as Essential mode is a Mobvoi-exclusive — I can’t recall anyone else sticking an old-school segmented display and an OLED in the same space.
It’s possible we’ll see a bigger performance difference when Wear OS 4 launches later this year. In that sense, having the W5 Plus chip at least helps to futureproof the Pro 5. (Especially since we have no clue yet whether 4100-powered watches will even support Wear OS 4.) So yes, the lack of noticeable W5 Plus oomph is disappointing, but for now, I’ll reserve judgment until I can test some other W5 Plus smartwatches.
No Assistant, too many apps, but good health tracking
As far as the overall smartwatch experience, the Pro 5 shares the same strengths and pitfalls as other Wear OS 3 watches not made by Samsung or Google. It handles the basics — like calls, notifications, and contactless payments — with aplomb, but there are quirks to be mindful of.
The big one is that there’s no Google Assistant — or any digital assistant for that matter. Google hasn’t said Assistant is a Samsung or Google exclusive, but it’s not on any other Wear OS 3 watch yet, and who knows if and when Google will get around to including it. As with other Wear OS 3 watches, you’ll also have to download a separate app to pair the watch — in this case, the Mobvoi Health mobile app. The last thing I want is another app on my phone, but that’s just how Wear OS 3 works. At least you get access to Google’s suite of services (i.e., Google Wallet, Google Maps, YouTube Music, etc.) and third-party apps via Google Play.
Unlike Fossil’s and Montblanc’s Wear OS 3 watches, the Pro 5 won’t be compatible with iOS at launch, and Mobvoi declined to say whether that would change down the line. Am I peeved that Wear OS is increasingly Android-only? Yeah, but iOS users flock to the Apple Watch, and you can’t blame Mobvoi for focusing on somewhere it can actually grow its business.
I’ve no problem with Mobvoi trying to grow its business, but you know what I wish it would shrink? Its list of native apps. There’s TicBreathe, TicBarometer, TicCare (a means to share health data with people via QR code), TicCompass, TicExercise, TicHealth, TicOxygen, TicPulse, TicSleep, TicZen (stress tracking), One-tap measurement, Media Controls, Mobvoi Privacy, and Mobvoi Treadmill. They’re relatively self-explanatory, with the exceptions being One-tap measurement and Mobvoi Treadmill. The former measures five metrics at once (e.g., stress, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and an overall heart health score), while the latter is to help you pair with Mobvoi’s treadmill if you happen to buy one. They’re all fine and functional, but I could do with less scrolling.
Despite the bloatware, Mobvoi’s new health and fitness tracking features are broadly on point and well suited for beginner to intermediate-level athletes. For sleep tracking, the Pro 5 can measure respiratory rate, blood oxygen, and skin temperature monitoring. It was broadly accurate compared to my Oura Ring as far as duration and heart rate, but it wasn’t quite as good at determining sleep stages. Mobvoi recently introduced a $2.99 / month VIP sleep subscription for historical sleep data, sleep songs, and more advanced sleep metrics like minimum and maximum heart rate. Personally, I didn’t find it worth the price when there are so many third-party sleep tracking apps for your phone that are just as good or better.
For outdoor activities, the Pro 5 isn’t the fastest at acquiring a GPS signal, but even when I was too impatient to wait, the final recorded distance and pace were on par with my Apple Watch Ultra. Heart rate was also within five beats per minute of my Polar H10 chest strap, though there was an occasional lag compared to the Ultra. That’s probably because the ULP display takes a bit longer to update.
Despite the bloatware, Mobvoi’s new health and fitness tracking features are broadly on point
Mobvoi’s also added more training metrics, like recovery and VO2 Max. These metrics are hard to compare between platforms since algorithms can wildly differ, but I never got results that I knew to be egregiously wrong. I’d just take them with a heavy grain of salt.
What I loved most, however, was the ULP display during my runs. When you glance at your wrist, the backlight changes colors based on your heart rate zone. This is genius because you instantly know what to do without having to scan the display for a particular metric. Is the backlight purple during my easy run? Oh, I’m in the anaerobic zone, and I should slow my roll until the backlight is yellow (fat burn) or orange (cardio). Aquamarine (warm-up) on my morning walk? Time to hustle until it’s yellow or orange. You can also use the digital crown to scroll through “tiles” on the ULP to view different metrics, but that was more cumbersome than it was worth.
Once again, timing is everything
The combination of an inoffensive design, solid health features, Wear OS 3, and the W5 Plus chip makes the TicWatch Pro 5 among the best Android smartwatches right now. That’s great, except for the fact that its thunder is (probably) about to be stolen.
Basically, the Pro 5 was so late that it’s now ironically too early
I mentioned this earlier, but the next-gen of Android flagship watches is right around the corner. Samsung typically launches its new Galaxy Watches at its Unpacked event in August. Barring production issues, I’d expect to see the Fossil Gen 7 in early fall. If rumors about a Pixel Watch 2 are to be believed, it’ll show up alongside the Pixel 8 in October. It’s possible that all three of these will launch with Wear OS 4 — did I mention Google says Wear OS 4 will bring extended battery life, too, which cuts into the Pro 5’s biggest advantage over other Wear OS watches? Also, who knows when the Pro 5 will get Wear OS 4? Mobvoi’s 4100-powered TicWatches still don’t have Wear OS 3, and rumor has it that users won’t get that upgrade until Q3. That’s nearly a year after Fossil started rolling out its Wear OS 3 upgrades. I empathize with TicWatch fans given how frustrating this whole experience has been, especially since this is a loyal and passionate bunch.
If you don’t need a new Wear OS watch this second, I’d wait and see where the dust settles. I feel guilty recommending that given that the TicWatch Pro 5 is a good Android smartwatch whose biggest sin is having bad timing. I also wouldn’t be shocked if a TicWatch Pro 6 or a TicWatch Pro 5 Ultra GPS were to come out sooner rather than later to make up for it.
Basically, the Pro 5 was so late that it’s now ironically too early. If that’s not a Shakespearean smartwatch tragedy, I don’t know what is.