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.
- Decent value
- Rugged design
- Waterproof up to 5ATM
- Charging limited to 5V/1A
- One-day battery life
- Wear OS is still finicky
- No NFC
Mobvoi TicWatch S2 What I like
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 that gives the smartwatch much more flair.
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
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.
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?
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. 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.
Rugged design with plenty of fitness tracking features.
The TicWatch S2 is a decent smartwatch in its own right. You get a sizeable 1.39-inch screen along with a host of fitness tracking features, and the MIL-STD-810G rating makes it resistant to the elements. That said, Wear OS continues to be full of glitches, and that ruins an otherwise excellent product.
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.