Open Thinkering


Smartwatch ramblings

Update: I ended up buying a Garmin Venu 2S, which I’m really happy with. An in-depth review of this newly-released device that I found particularly helpful can be found here.

Earlier this week I bought, and then returned, a TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE. I’m writing this to organise my thoughts a little bit. There’s a good chance it may end up being useful only for my own purposes, but that’s never stopped me putting things out into the world. So… if you’re not interested in smarwatches (or technology purchasing decisions) you may want to stop here.

By way of background, I’ve had an Amazfit Bip for at least a couple of years. I can’t actually remember when I got it, but I do remember that I had to import it. For a sub-£50 smartwatch, it’s pretty incredible: a battery life of over a month, GPS run tracking, customisable notifications, and Gadgetbridge support.

The problem, such as there is one, can succinctly be described as “I spend too much time staring and scrolling at my phone”. My crafty idea was therefore to replace the Bip with something that didn’t just serve up notifications (that cause me to check my phone) but instead allows me to replace some of the core functionality of my smartwatch. In other words, I want to be able to:

  1. Make/receive phone calls
  2. Compose/reply to messages (SMS, Telegram, ideally Signal)
  3. Listen to music (not just control it on my phone)
  4. Pay for stuff in shops
  5. Not worry about charging it every day

The aforementioned Ticwatch was the only device compatible with my Android phone that seemed like it would do the job. It gets good reviews. The Apple Watch seems like it’s a marvellous bit of kit, but it only works with iPhones (not even iPads!) and even Samsung’s smartwatches require their own devices for activation.

I had high hopes, therefore, when I received the Ticwatch, especially given how deep Team Belshaw is into the Google ecosystem at this point. It runs Wear OS which, although I’d heard mixed things, couldn’t be that bad, right? I almost kept it. I really did. But here’s the three reasons why I ended up sending it back:

  • Battery life — I’ve been entirely spoiled by the always-on, transreflective display of the Amazfit Bip which, as I’ve already said, lasts a month between charges. To do the same with this watch meant charging at least once per day (despite the ‘three-day’ claims)
  • Underwhelming ecosystem — the apps available on Wear OS feel a bit like the situation with the Nokia N95 I had over a decade ago. In other words, people scratching their own itch (which is great) but the whole thing not feeling like a unified whole.
  • Vodafone exclusivity — to get independence from my smartphone, the Ticwatch had to have a Vodafone eSIM. While there are some workarounds, in the UK I’d still have to a) change networks, as eSIMs are only available on Vodafone, O2, and EE, and b) pay a lot more than the £10/month I’m sending to giffgaff.

Looking at other smartwatches compatible with my device presented a bewildering array of options. So, to help, I created this Venn diagram:

Venn diagram with 'cellular connectivity' / 'battery life' / 'music storage'. The overlaps are numbered.

Here’s the categories in each overlap, as far as I see them:

  1. Nada/nothing
  2. Ticwatch/Fossil (plus the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music)
  3. Amazfit/Garmin

You could argue that 2-3 days for a 4G/LTE smartwatch is all one can expect in 2021 and that, therefore, Apple and Samung’s offerings should be in the middle of the Venn diagram. But if this was a four-circle diagram, there would also be “not locked to a particular vendor” so they’re not getting that accolade.

This, then, is the current state of play, as far as I see it in late April 2021. I’m very tempted by the Garmin Vivoactive 4 or 4s which does everything apart from cellular connectivity. It even syncs Spotify playlists for offline listening, which is useful when out running. Garmin Pay is also supported by my bank. Another option would be an Amazfit GTS 2 or 2e.

The outlier is the Garmin Instinct Solar which has a fantastic battery life and can, as the name would suggest, get a top-up charge from the sun. However, no music nor contactless payments, and the sun doesn’t shine in my home office (nor as much as I’d like it to in northern England, to be fair).

I won’t lie, I have considered getting an Apple Watch, but I’m not going back to that ecosystem, cosy as it was for a time. Nor am I getting into bed with Samsung. So at the moment, the conclusion to this blog post, I’m afraid, is a very big ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

(I did warn you.)

4 thoughts on “Smartwatch ramblings

  1. Hi Doug, I have one of the Samsung watches, and FYI you need an Android phone to use it, but it doesn’t have to be a Samsung brand one. I’ve used it with a Pixel in the past, and you have to install the Galaxy Wearable app, but then it works fine with other Androids.

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