We’ve not always been high on Android Wear smartwatches, or smartwatches in general, around here. We haven’t been alone, either — while Apple seems to have done OK with the Apple Watch, no single Android Wear smartwatch maker is seeing very good returns (even Fossil, which used partnerships with dozens of fashion brands to get more visibility for their smartwatches). One big problem with smartwatches is that so far, they’ve simply been too expensive to be valuable — they cost a lot to produce, but they add minimal functionality or convenience to users! It’s hard to justify spending over $200 or $300 on one, especially for a device that may well be outdated in just a couple years.
So, could making smartwatches cheaper be the answer to Android Wear’s sales woes? Possibly — after seeking just $100,000 in their Kickstarter campaign, a Chinese company called Mobvoi has raised well over $2 million to produce the Ticwatch S and Ticwatch E. They aren’t the most attractive smartwatches we’ve ever seen, but with a price starting at $120 right now, that might not matter as much.
You’d be right to be wary of a name you haven’t heard before, but Mobvoi isn’t new to this. Founded by ex-Google employee Zhifen Li in 2012, Mobvoi has released a handful of successful smartwatches in China running on their own operating system. They’ll move to Android Wear for their U.S. debut, which isn’t too much of a surprise — not only is Li a former Google employee, Google has invested heavily in Mobvoi and even uses some of its voice recognition technology in Android Wear. After all, the smartwatches are just a byproduct of Mobvoi’s main focus — artificial intelligence.
The Ticwatch S and E (sport and express) manage to impress with more than just Android Wear 2.0. They’ve both got a surprising amount of features for the price, with both including GPS, fitness tracking, a heart rate monitor, an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance, and a mic and speaker for making calls and interacting with voice assistants. Of course, there are some limitations, too — no LTE, no NFC for payments, and limited iOS compatibility.
The watches look similar to each other, but there are some little differences. The Ticwatch S has numbers around the bezel, with a case 13 mm thick and 45 mm in diameter. The Ticwatch E looks plainer, with a case 13.55 mm thick and 44 mm in diameter. Neither are particularly exciting as a fashion statement (and they’re going to look quite big on smaller wrists), but the 400 x 400 OLED display should look crisp. One other interesting difference between the two is that the S has the GPS antenna in the band, which should ensure more consistent performance.
The Ticwatch E and S can both still be reserved on Kickstarter for $120 and $140, but the funding period ends in a couple days. We’re still a little skeptical of smartwatches in general, but if you’ve been meaning to try one out and haven’t wanted to plunk down some of the higher prices we’ve seen, this could be a good entry point. We don’t know if it’ll work out for Mobvoi — Pebble made some popular, low-cost smartwatches, and we know how that ended — but for now, it seems like they’re worth keeping an eye on.