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Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review: Decent rugged smartwatch letdown by Wear OS

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review
(Image: © Android Central)

Wear OS hasn't gotten much love recently, and while Google rolled out a new Tiles feature that easily lets you view news headlines and your fitness goals, the platform as a whole needs an overhaul. Wear OS 2.0 was introduced last year, and while it brought forth a new interface, the underlying problems with the platform haven't been addressed yet.

That said, there are a few decent options if you're looking for a Wear OS smartwatch for under $200. Google-backed Mobvoi, in particular, has released a decent number of smartwatches in this space over the last two years, and the TicWatch S2 is a rugged variant of the TicWatch E2. Both smartwatches debuted earlier in the year, and I've been using the TicWatch S2 on and off for the last two months. Here's what you need to know about the smartwatch.

The good

  • Decent value
  • Rugged design
  • Waterproof up to 5ATM

The bad

  • Charging limited to 5V/1A
  • One-day battery life
  • Wear OS is still finicky
  • No NFC

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 What I like

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review

At its core, the TicWatch S2 is a more rugged version of the TicWatch E2 that launched earlier in the year. Both smartwatches share the same internal hardware and have a 1.39-inch OLED display. The only difference is that the TicWatch S2 is rated for MIL-STD-810G, making it resistant to the elements. That corresponds to a $20 hike in the price over the E2, with the TicWatch S2 retailing for $180.

The TicWatch S2 has a very utilitarian design, and it's easy to make out that this is a rugged smartwatch. There's a huge bezel around the watch face with a chronograph engraving and a single hardware button on the right. The smartwatch is relatively thick at 12.9mm, but because of its polycarbonate design, it comes in at just 35.2g.

The included silicone strap is comfortable to wear throughout the day, and the smartwatch has standard 22mm lugs, allowing you to switch out the strap with your own bands. That's a welcome change from last year, where the GPS antenna was integrated into the band. This time around, the module is inside the watch, and you can use any 22mm band with the S2.

Sure, the design of the TicWatch S2 isn't for everyone, but I had no problems with the way it looked. There's also a Glacier White verison (opens in new tab) that gives the smartwatch much more flair.

The TicWatch S2 has a utilitarian design, but it has a lengthy list of features and can take a beating.

When it comes to the software side of things, the TicWatch S2 is running Wear OS 2.2 along with Mobvoi's custom fitness tracking apps, called TicHealth and TicMotion.

One of the more interesting features in TicMotion is its ability to detect swim strokes, and as I recently took up swimming, this was very useful. It automatically recognizes various kinds of swim strokes, and you can also set custom lengths for the swimming pool.

The Snapdragon Wear 2100 platform may not be the latest, but it still manages to do a decent job. The TicWatch S2 also has 4GB of internal storage and 512MB of RAM, and in day-to-day usage, the interface was fluid for the most part. Wear OS by itself has a lot of issues, but more on that later.

Fitness tracking in general was pretty decent — you get move reminders for every hour, and TicMotion can automatically detect workouts. The S2 also has 24/7 heart rate monitoring, and you can easily view the data on Google Fit or TicHealth.

The 1.39-inch OLED panel is vibrant, and I could see the display even under harsh sunlight, but there's no ambient light sensor, so you'll have to adjust the brightness manually. Overall, there's plenty to like with the TicWatch S2 — it isn't the most feature-rich smartwatch around, but it has a rugged design and at $180 it is one of the more affordable options you can pick up right now.

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 What needs work

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review

The first time I tried to charge the TicWatch S2, I fried the charger. It turns out the charging cradle is designed to work with charges that go up to a maximum of 5V/1A, and while I was using a Tronsmart Titan that dynamically allocates power based on the accessory attached, the S2's cradle isn't designed to work with such chargers.

Lack of NFC and continued issues with Wear OS bring down the TicWatch S2.

There is a warning at the back of the charging cradle about the maximum input voltage, but Mobvoi should've ideally mentioned it somewhere in the package, where customers will actually end up seeing it. So I had to request another charging cradle and dug up an old 5V/1A wall plug to connect it to. It's irritating to have to carry another wall plug just to charge one device.

Mobvoi says the 415mAh battery on the TicWatch S2 will last two days between charges, but that hasn't been the case in my testing. I got just a day's worth of use out of the battery, and while the battery level didn't go below 15% on any given day, you'll still have to charge the TicWatch S2 every night.

You're also missing out on NFC, so you won't be able to use Google Pay to make payments from the smartwatch.

Finally, a lot of the problems I faced with the S2 have nothing to do with the hardware. Wear OS continues to be unreliable even after all this time, with delayed notifications and the occasional lag when swiping through menus.

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 Should you buy it?

Mobvoi TicWatch S2 review

As this is a fitness-focused smartwatch, Mobvoi should've added more buttons on the side and an altimeter. It's still decent value for what's on offer, but at $180 you start noticing some of the omissions — NFC in particular. There's also no speaker on the S2, so you won't be able to take calls on the smartwatch.

Samsung's Galaxy Watch Active is a much better alternative that costs the same (opens in new tab). The Galaxy Watch Active has a more modern design that makes it resemble a regular smartwatch, and it's available in more colors. It has a smaller 1.1-inch AMOLED screen, but the panel itself is arguably better, and it is also rated for MIL-STD-810G. Best of all, though, is the fact that you can use the smartwatch for NFC payments thanks to Samsung Pay integration.

If you're looking for something with Wear OS, your best alternative is the Fossil Sport. But that particular option costs $275, and although it's powered by the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform and has NFC, it has the same software issues as the TicWatch S2.

3.5 out of 5

The TicWatch S2 is still decent for what it costs, but you get so much more from the likes of the Galaxy Watch Active. Google needs to reassess what it wants to do with Wear OS, because right now, it doesn't measure up to what Samsung and Fitbit are offering in this space.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

  • I've had a smartwatch on my wrist for about a year, and I still don't get why EVERY article has to state how terrible and awful Wear OS is.
  • I was about to type this. I haven't had an issue with wearOS but every time it's mentioned on here it makes it seem like it's the worst thing ever created
  • When you had Samsung or Apple, you quickly find out why. Subjective of course but I left Wear OS a long time and have 0 plans of returning to it.
  • Lol I have a Samsung phone and I returned my Galaxy active and as a Samsung user I still don't understand why
  • because when compared to a real watch like the apple watch, it looks like pure trash. Apple watch is a decade ahead of android watches.
  • Agreed! I really enjoy my WearOS Fossil watch. Is it perfect? No, but for ANDROID integration it works really well. I take the time to customize what gets sent to my watch so it is really relevant to my needs. If I were an iPhone user, I would totally use an Apple Watch, but I am not.
    I'm not a Samsung fan so that's why I didn't consider the Tizen watches from them.
    Fossil makes some really nice looking watches that work great.
  • I've got an E2 and quite like it. I actually think wear OS is a nice OS, especially when compared to tizen, although I do agree it could use more love from Google. In my opinion the thing that really shows it up is that crappy Snapdragon 2100, and i don't think the 3100 world be much better... I don't know a lot about the Exynos Samsung put in the galaxy watch but it seems to be far better. Almost like it was actually designed to go into a watch. I wish i could install Google apps on the galaxy watch...
  • Yep. I would love to use Google Voice over crappy svoice but the experience with galaxy wear if superior over Wear IMO
  • Yeah bixby is terrible compared to assistant. I'd also prefer Google fit and Google pay... It kind of sucks that the NFC is totally worthless.
  • and that's exactly the reason why I stuck with the S2 over the Galaxy, might not look as fancy, the battery might not last as long, but the fact that it has access to the full Google App store makes it all better
  • I've had the Ticwatch E2 for a couple of months. I find your review of the S2 strangely negative, since the E2 watch has been quite stellar. The watchface looks great. What's this huge bezel you speak of? Not on my E2. The battery is the best I've encountered in my 3 Wear OS watch history. Easily lasts 36 hours with the watchface always on. That's quite exceptional, in my book. It supports all kinds of watch faces that work great. Wear OS is thoroughly fine. I really don't understand the negative review unless you're working for Apple!
  • Ticwatch E user here, and the bezels are smaller than most normal watches. I lost count of all the different faces I have... using X-gen by Thema at the moment. My son has had all generations of Apple Watch. I feel no jealousy.
  • I find nothing wrong with the platform or the software. I refuse to buy a replacement wear OS watch until the BATTERY lasts more than 12 hours. I have anxiety all day watching how fast the battery drains. My phone lasts 2 days. I won't be a person who charges their watch at lunch.
  • Seems like a powerful and under utilized Wear OS let down by this poor review. I understand this is authors perception but not fair with folks who may use this article to get distracted from WearOS. Also, I am not sure about the reasoning to expect premium features from economical products. I believe this Watch is providing lot of powerful features using WearOS for fraction of price. I have 2+ years old Huawei watch and is still going strong and am enjoying it even without major update. Fortunately or unfortunately, WearOS is not a proprietary platform like Samsung, Apple or others and this allows many vendors to adopt it without creating their own new platform. So it is up-to them on how to build and exploit its features.
  • I just tossed my Ticwatch S. Battery was toast after only 1 year and 4 months, and a replacement battery is non-existent. The back cover disintergrated when it was removed to see the battery. Great watch but I'm not paying that much for something that can't get at least 2 years of use. Shifting to a hybrid with a replaceable battery.
  • I got tired of waiting on El Goog to fix wear OS, so I went and bought a Garmin Vivoactive 3. Does everything I want, tracks my cycling, has GPS, sleep tracking built in, great battery life. I couldn't be happier. I see a LOT of the Vivoactive devices out there in the wild, only a couple Galaxy watches and lots of apple. Looks like I made the right decision not to wait on the new generation of Wear devices. I'm actually not happy about it, but at this point, life goes on.
  • The hate for WearOS is greatly exaggerated. I've had a WOS device of different brands on my wrist constantly since the OG Moto 360. All have worked exactly as I needed.
  • There's nothing wrong with wear os, it's the terrible hardware that kills the experience. I recently owned a tic watch pro lte and really wanted to keep it because it integrated so well with my pixel... Had to go back to my Galaxy watch because of the terribly slow cpu, inaccurate gps, incredibly slow wrist screen on gesture, and short battery life. I tried disabling all tic software, including using adb, with no results. The 2100 and 3100 are just too slow for modern demands, heck they were slow when originally released.
    Tldr; nothing wrong with WOS, the lack of quality hardware is what kills it.