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(Pocket-lint) - Mobvoi has plugged away with smartwatches over the years, relying on Google's Wear OS operating system to run the software show. During those years, though, its own presence on the software front has grown and - until a Wear OS 3 update arrives sometime in 2022 - it's relying on a mix of Google's current smartwatch operating system and its own system to try and make its connected timepieces desirable.

At the top of Mobvoi's stack for 2021 is the TicWatch Pro 3, which makes improvements to the design over its predecessor, and includes new features like SpO2 blood oxygen monitoring and Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor. But does all this make the TicWatch Pro 3 a truly standout Wear OS smartwatch in the here and now?

Design & Display

  • Dual display 2.0
  • Measures: 12.2mm thick
  • 22mm interchangeable bands
  • 1.4-inch AMOLED display, 454 x 454 resolution

While Mobvoi's cheaper smartwatches have generally offered more sporty exteriors, the Pro has been the one in its collection to offer that more classic watch appearance. You're definitely not going to mistake it for a traditional timepiece, but it has some design characteristics to make it feel like a more classy affair.

There's a black 47mm watch case made from stainless steel with plastic, partnered with a 22mm silicone strap with orange stitching. A simple pin mechanism around back means these are straps can be swapped out for new ones quite easily.

That stitching on the strap gives it the feel of something more luxurious, but ultimately means you're getting something that's actually a better fit for getting sweaty with. As a package it's been slapped with an IP68 water resistance rating, making it safe for taking it pool swimming too.

Front and centre is a 1.4-inch AMOLED touchscreen display that can also switch to a FSTN always-on display, offering longer battery life while still being able to display information like the time and data like step counts and real-time heart rate.

When the AMOLED screen is in play, it's a nice, bright colourful place that offers good visibility outdoors - though like a lot of AMOLED screens it can struggle slightly in brighter outdoor light. 

Along with swiping your hands on that touchscreen display, there are two physical buttons to launch into the app screen and offer a quick shortcut to Mobvoi's TicExercise app. These buttons twist as well, though for no real use, which is a shame as extra functionality like scrolling through screens would be great.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 3

Around the back is where you'll find the sensor array, along with the magnetic charging port where the (quite small and slightly flimsy) charging cable clips into when the watch needs powering up. 

The TicWatch Pro 3 has been a comfortable watch to live with on our wrists overall and offers some nice improvements over the last Pro too. You're still not going to mistake it for a normal watch, but it's a design that's lighter, fits more snug, and finally feels like a look that's going in the right direction for this company.

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Software & Performance

  • Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100
  • Will be upgradeable to Wear OS 3 (from 2022)
  • Works with Android and iOS
  • Works with Google Pay

The TicWatch Pro 3, like the Pro models that came before it, runs on Google's Wear OS smartwatch platform. The good news is that it will be upgradeable to the new Wear OS 3 being built by Google and Samsung. At the time of review, however, it remains 'stuck' on Wear OS 2.

That brings all the usual Wear OS staples, such as compatibility with iPhones and Android phones, giving you features like notification support, payments, watch faces, access to the Google Play Store to download third-party apps, with pre-installed Google apps like Google Fit and its new hand wash timer app. If you want LTE connectivity, there is a Pro 3 LTE model, but that will bump up the price for that extra untethered support.

It's not vanilla Wear OS here though, as Mobvoi piles on plenty of its own apps, most that are health and fitness related, as well as a new Voicememo app. While the same swiping gestures will lead you to your notification stream, quick settings and Google Assistant, there's a new-look app screen that displays onboard apps in groups of two instead of a stream. 

Even with those extra Mobvoi touches, this still feels every bit like a Google smartwatch with an operating system that works well for most of the part, but as a whole still doesn't feel like the complete package just yet.

What you can't fault is how speedy things feel. That's thanks to Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform powering performance, alongside 8GB of storage and 1GB RAM. While it's not quite the latest Wear 4100+ platform announced by Qualcomm to power Wear OS smartwatches, it still delivers a satisfyingly slick, smooth experience on the whole.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 19

Setting up the watch is still achieved from Google's Wear OS app and you'll need Mobvoi's own app too to view health and fitness stats from its own apps. Mobvoi has given this app an overhaul in terms of look, but it's still a bit clunky in places. Hopefully the move to Wear OS 3 will improve the off-watch experience, though it might be a bit of a wait to find out if that's the case - we don't know when in 2022 it'll happen, or whether there will be further delays on top of that.

 Sports & Fitness Tracking 

  • Built-in GPS and heart rate monitor
  • Track breathing and monitor hearing
  • Tracks pool swimming

The Pro 3 doesn't scream 'sports watch' but it offers an impressive array of sensors, plus Mobvoi includes a host of its own apps to help keep closer tabs on all aspects of your health.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 11

On the sensor front, there's built-in GPS, but also Beidou, Glonass, Galileo and QZSS satellite support in order to offer plenty of tracking coverage for accurately mapping outdoor activities like running and cycling. There's an altimeter to measure elevation and Mobvoi's Ticmotion software to automatically track a range of activities.

There's a PPG optical heart rate monitor to continuously monitor beats per minute and track your heart rate during exercise. That sensor is also used to deliver blood oxygen measurements and stress tracking as well.

In sports watch mode, you can head to Mobvoi's own TicExercise app or a third-party app - with the former giving you over 10 workout modes, including pool swimming, trail running, indoor rowing, and treadmill running.

For running sessions, locking onto a GPS signal was swift in our testing - but ultimately we found distance tracking came up short against the Garmin Enduro watch, which also skewed metrics like average speed and pace.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 2

Heart rate accuracy for steady paced runs was generally good from the TicWatch and it was around just one beat per minute off a chest strap monitor for maximum heart rate readings. For high intensity interval training, however, maximum heart rate data was around eight beats per minute higher than what we recorded by a heart rate monitor chest strap.

For indoor rowing and cycling sessions, things improve a little on the accuracy front, particularly with heart rate monitoring, which is the crucial metric for these indoor workouts. The more stable position of the watch on our wrist seemed to be the key here to improving that accuracy.

If you're turning to the Pro 3 for 24/7 fitness tracking and monitoring aspects of your health without actually using it for serious health insights, Mobvoi offers plenty on that front too. You're getting step tracking and automatic sleep monitoring, which we found offered a mixed experience in terms of accurately counting daily steps and delivering similar sleep stage and duration data compared to a Fitbit Luxe fitness tracker.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 6

The new TicOxygen app delivers continuous blood oxygen monitoring, which you can view in the Mobvoi companion app. You can also take on the spot readings from the watch - and those readings matched up with a pulse oximeter. TicHearing is another new Mobvoi app that uses the onboard microphone to assess noise in your environment - similar to the way the Noise app works on the Apple Watch - though like the same feature on the TicWatch E3, it feels a little too over-sensitive in recognising moderately quiet sounds as being intense or very dangerous noises.

Battery Life

  • 577mAh capacity
  • Up to 3 days battery life
  • 45 days in Essential mode 

The TicWatch Pro 3 features a battery that Mobvoi says that is capable of delivering up to 72 hours in full smartwatch mode. Most Wear OS watches manage  a day or a day and half at most, so that's an enticing proposition. It's also an accurate one: you can get those three days.

Features like having the display bright and set to always-on or heavy usage of GPS tracking does have noticeable drain on battery life, of course, and will impact on that longevity. It's not a struggle to get a day or two, though, so you won't be charging it every night.

Pocket-lintTicWatch Pro 3 review photo 7

Mobvoi uses its dual layer display technology, giving you the option to switch to the Essential mode that brings in the secondary display into play. It's an always-on clear display that can show you the time, real-time heart rate data, and step count progress. Using that Essential mode can potentially get you up to 45 days of battery life.

When it's time for charging, Mobvoi has switched from the disc-shaped charging cradle for a smaller magnetic kind that clips to the back of the case - but its a more flimsy solution compared to the cradle it previously used.  

Verdict

If you like Wear OS and you're looking for the a high-powered, feature-rich smartwatch to boot, then the TicWatch Pro 3 might well be the one you want. 

It's future-proofed with that Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform, which means it can be upgraded to Wear OS 3 - something that'll happen in 2022. It's a slick performer as a smartwatch and offers reasonable sports and health features.

At a time when it's hard to recommend many Wear OS smartwatches that will miss out on that big upgrade, the Pro 3 is one that stands out for the right reasons.

Also consider

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Huawei Watch 3

While Huawei's first Harmony OS still has some maturing to do, it offers a solid overall performance, a slick look, and should get better over time. The battery is particularly standout too.

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Garmin Venu 2

If you want richer, more reliable sports tracking, better battery life, and to still get solid smartwatch features, that's what you'll get from Garmin's AMOLED-packing Venu 2.

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Writing by Michael Sawh. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 15 September 2021.