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Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review: Not a looker, even by smartwatch standards

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT

The more expensive new TicWatch looks like someone scaled up an Action Man accessory

Pros 
Still a cheap way of getting Wear OS
Feels light on the wrist
Nice, punchy AMOLED screen
Cons 
It looks like a Happy Meal toy
Uses a chip from 2016
Weak battery life
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For serious horologists, smartwatches just look a bit ugly. But even in that crowded field of unsightliness, the TicWatch S2 stands above the opposition and it has the cheek to do so for £34 more than its more attractive brother, the E2, despite containing the same internals.  

Why would you pay more for a watch harvested straight from the ugly tree? Well, it does have US military-grade durability, for “outdoor explorers and extreme sports enthusiasts”. I’d question how many of those will be using a Wear OS smartwatch rather than some specialist hardware like a Casio WSD-F30 but I guess that’s a question for manufacturer Mobvoi’s market researchers.
 
For the average Joe, I can tell you that you’re better off pocketing that £34 and opting for the E2 instead.

TicWatch S2 review: What you need to know

Mobvoi’s TicWatch is a Kickstarter success story in the mould of Pebble. After testing the water with two smartwatches based on its own OS, Mobvoi decided to crowdfund a pair of affordable watches based on Google’s wearable software. The result was the TicWatch S and E, which gained a very respectable four-star review from us despite some quality control issues.   
 
Now we have the follow-up watches: the TicWatch E2 and S2. While the original TicWatch S had the GPS built into the strap, this new version has it right there in its chunky face. Alongside GPS, it also has heart-rate monitoring and swim-tracking. There’s still no NFC, mind, and swim tracking aside the main specifications are the same, right down to the screen resolution and ageing Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip.

TicWatch S2 review: Price and competition

Those specifications are exactly the same as the TicWatch E2, which sells for £146, making the TicWatch S2 quite a tough sell. In theory, it’s the premium option but despite its £180 price, it doesn’t really feel like it.

In smartwatch circles, that still places it at the budget end of premium, though, especially for a device with built-in GPS. The Samsung Galaxy Watch starts at £100 more than the TicWatch S2 and, in Wear OS Land, the now rather old Huawei Watch 2 goes for £190. Of course, if you want to undercut everyone, then the Amazfit Bip goes for an astonishing £45 and, incredibly, manages to pack in GPS and 50-day battery life.

TicWatch S2 review: Design and features

As briefly mentioned above, the TicWatch S2 is essentially the same as the TicWatch E2. The same, except it’s £34 more expensive and a hell of a lot more ugly. That ugliness is there to offer military-grade durability for extreme sports lovers and explorers but even for that tiny niche, I’m not convinced the style hit is worth taking. 
 
In the pictures here, it may look okay. That’s because the photos don’t quite do justice to how chunky, cheap and ugly it looks in the flesh. If it weren’t for the expensive 400 x 400 1.39in AMOLED screen in the middle of it, it has the feel (as a friend of mine described it recently) a child’s first watch. 

I feel that’s a bit kind. It’s more like an Action Man accessory that has been scaled up for mass production in Happy Meals. It’s remarkably chunky too, coming in at roughly double the thickness of your average flagship smartphone. The rubber strap it comes with is replaceable, popping out with standard spring bar pins. That’s fine, but there’s only so much you can do when the main watch case looks this basic.

 

In fact, even with the excellent screen it lacks a little class with the default watch face, which is a mix of dazzling oranges and blues with an awful lot going on. Less is more, guys. Fortunately, this being Wear OS it's easy enough to change, but it's certainly not helping the cause.

Still, it certainly should be durable, able to cope with temperatures ranging from -20 to 55ºC, with resistance to humidity, dust and salt fog built right into the watch. Obviously I wasn't able to test this (it gets cold in Mitcham, but not that cold), but there's no reason to doubt Mobvoi on this one.

Otherwise, it’s the same as the TicWatch E2, right down to the single button on the right-hand side and a bright, punchy AMOLED screen, which is excellent for displaying all your notifications in lovely sharp detail. Like the E2 and, indeed, its predecessors it comes with GPS and heart-rate monitoring built in but this time it adds swim tracking to its arsenal (it’s swimproof at 5ATM, meaning it can be submerged up to 50 metres).

TicWatch S2 review: Performance and battery life

This functions in exactly the same way as on the E2: you set the pool length before you begin and the watch then gives you the chance to add distance, lap or duration-based goals. As Ed wrote in the E2 review, this is good for a wearable of this price, adding on the suggested distance every time you reach the end of the pool. At the end of your swim, the watch will spit out the distance covered, the average strokes per length and your pace per 100m.
 

I was more interested in taking it out running, however. Here, using the TicExercise app, performance wasn’t too bad. At Brockwell Parkrun on Saturday, the TicWatch measured the 5km course as 4.87km. I was also wearing a chest strap and the average heart rate wasn’t too far off, measuring an average of 161bpm with a high of 177bpm, within touching distance of the 170bpm and 187bpm the chest strap recorded.
 
For most, then, the TicWatch S2 will be good enough from a fitness perspective, but how does it perform in other areas?

 
Well, there are a couple of areas where the TicWatch’s creators have clearly cut corners to keep costs down. Firstly, there’s still no NFC chip in the TicWatch S2, meaning you can’t pay for things from your wrist, which is a pity if you want to take full advantage of that built-in GPS for running excursions. If you want that, you’ll need to stump out a bit more for a TicWatch C2 or TicWatch Pro – but neither of those have swim tracking, so it’s a matter of deciding which useful feature you want to jettison, rather than having it all.  
 
Second, the Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset is approaching its third birthday. To be entirely fair to Mobvoi, the company has done great things optimising the software, because the TicWatch S2 rarely feels sluggish, generally jumping between apps without much issue. Demanding ones slow it a little but you don’t feel as if you’re missing out too much by not having the latest Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip powering things.
 
It does feel that the TicWatch S2 could benefit from the energy-saving options of the new chip, though. Mobvoi promises two days’ worth of battery life but, to me, it felt closer to one and a half. That feels disappointing given the battery has grown to 415mAh from the last generation and how good rivals are now. The Galaxy Watch, for example, offers seven day-battery life and the Huawei Watch GT can last up to two weeks.

TicWatch S2 review: Verdict

The TicWatch S2 is a highly competent smartwatch with decent fitness-tracking chops but it’s not really one I can recommend above the cheaper E2. It’s too ugly and doesn’t offer much more in terms of features.
 
As Ed said in his TicWatch E2 review, these two new wearables remain the cheapest way to get a Wear OS experience as the likes of Huawei and Samsung chase their own watch operating systems. For that, Mobvoi should be congratulated but, unless you really need military-grade durability, then the E2 will do you just fine. Use that extra £34 on a stylish new strap instead.