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Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Review
r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

We regularly see questions asking which watch is recommended by users of this subreddit.

Of course everyone can look at their own watch and either recommend it or not to newcomers. But we rarely hear comparisons by actual long term users, not just journalists testing each watch for a few days.

Being a Wear OS developer (and enthusiast!) since 2014 I get to use multiple devices at the same time, often having watches on both of my wrists, so I think I can provide a slightly different perspective.

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra vs TicWatch Pro 3 GPS

I buy my own watches (duh!) and not only use them for “work” (i.e. to test my various apps — all screenshots show Bubble Cloud watch faces 😎), but I genuinely enjoy fiddling with them to bring out the most. Here are some of my experiences with these three that I have now.

TicWatch Pro 3

TicWatch Pro 3 GPS (2020)

I am actually in the process of selling my original TWP3. I ordered it on the day it was released in 2020, it looked promising from the spec sheet and turned out to be a great watch in my experience. Here are my top reasons:

  • No worries battery life. This is key. I am OK charging my watch daily, but I never want to worry about my watch making it to the end of the day, even if it is a 40-hour “travel day” across the globe, or a day of a 14 hour workout-tracked hike.

  • Large visible screen area. For me this was the main selling point, since I started to have trouble reading the much smaller screen of my previous Huawei Watch 2

  • Enough RAM and snappy processor, so I can have any and every app and service running parallel, and I still don’t have to wait for Google Assistant to pop up

  • Reliable heart rate sensor. No wrist sensor will be perfect, but I found the TicWatch’s sensor as good if not better than the double sensor on my previous Huawei Watch 2. Added benefit is periodic 24 hour heart rate monitoring, which was not possible on my earlier watches.

  • Reasonable durability. I don’t use any bumpers or protectors, still, after 13 months no visible wear or scratches on either the case, the screen or on the stock band. If there is much dust build up, I wash it in running water from time to time. After reading about some issues, haven’t tested swim readiness though.

TicWatch Pro 3 GPS Ultra (2021)

I upgraded to the Ultra hoping it will be as good as last year’s flagship but with longer software support and maybe some improvements. If it’s as good, I can sell the older model for a reasonable price. After a few weeks I am pretty happy with the Ultra:

  • Battery life is as good as the year-old model, which is welcome news for two reasons:

  1. This is good testament to the battery health of the year-old device, it still holds up without noticeable degradation

  2. The newly added heart monitoring features (more on them below) did not shorten the battery life

  • Both OLED and FSTN screens look the same to me. Again, good testament to the quality of the 2020 model: no burn-in or fading in a year.

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Screen brightness TWP3 Utlra (left) vs year-old GPS (right)

  • Same chipset. I would have liked to see at least more RAM in the updated model, 1GB is enough, but more would have made it more future proof.

  • Improved heart rate sensor. They call it “HD PPG” vs “PPG” in the previous model. I find the new sensor more reliable, more on this below.

  • Improved durability on paper. They mention fiberglass nylon body and Gorilla glass screen and higher rated water resistance. I can only report on the feel, the screen indeed seems to be less fingerprint prone, and the watch band that came with the watch is thicker and made from a different more rubbery material (I actually liked last year’s band, in fact nothing stops me from using it on the new watch, as they are the same size)

So, the good news is that this feels like the same great watch, the smaller changes they made are mostly for the better. Besides the slightly changed case design (you have to look carefully though to spot them!) here are the bigger user facing software changes I could spot:

  • The Essential mode app now has a setting for backlight color and you can control the schedule when the watch enters or exits Essential mode independently now. I almost never use Essential mode, so I have no experience with these. It’s good to know the watch has a mode that can be enabled if I cannot charge the watch for an extended period of time (supposedly 45 days!)

  • TicHealth now has a new section called “24 physical and mental status monitoring”, which shows momentary “Mental fatigue” and “Energy level” readouts every half an hour or so (need to be enabled in the settings group “Labs”). The Mobvoi app on the phone actually can show historical values in daily, weekly and monthly resolution, but I am yet to see any real benefit of this data for health or fitness.

  • TicPulse got a new section called “Heart health monitoring” (it has to be enabled under the new setting option “Labs”). It displays warnings if any arrhythmia is found. In the few weeks I’ve worn the watch I got one “AFib alert” warning last night, so I am watching out for any problems:

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Heart rate tracking

With the earlier model I sometimes experienced obviously bad readings, when the watch would detect double or half my actual heart rate for periods of time. I attributed this to my wrists being quite hairy, adjusting the fit always corrected this. Good news, with the HD sensor in the new Ultra watch seems to have sorted this out, though I cannot be sure, since it very seldom happened with the old model as well. Here is a (totally not scientific) example:

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Top: TWP3 GPS worn on right wrist, Middle: TWP3 Ultra worn on left wrist, Bottom : Polar H9 chest band

You can see even in the correctly detected section (after the first 30 minutes) the resolution of the heart rate values seem to follow the measurements of the chest band more clearly on the newer TWP3 Ultra.

Galaxy Watch 4

I wrote a lengthy first impressions and AMA of the new Samsung watch when it came out. I even did a detailed comparison with my TicWatch Pro 3 then. Those were based on my immediate experiences, and in the coming weeks I eventually switched back to using my TicWatch Pro 3, and even went ahead to upgrade to the Ultra. Here are my reasons:

  • The main reason for the TicWatch Pro 3 / Ultra is their battery life. I can do 2-3 hours of exercise tracking, full night sleep tracking, all features enabled and still cannot dip these below 50% in 24 hours. In my experience the GW4 lasted 24-30 hours on a charge, but for piece of mind I had to top it up before or after exercise. The only saving grace is the ability to reverse wireless charge it on the go from my Samsung phone, though in the weeks using the GW4 I only did this (had to do!) once.

  • TicWatch high visibility FSTN screen is practical in bright sunlight, though I always found it ugly. It is impossible to see the GW4 ambient screen in bright sunlight, and there is no option there to switch to transflective LCD. Active mode screen is bright enough on both TicWatch and Galaxy watch, but it requires effort (tilt or tap) to see the time.

  • 45 day essential mode (though the only reason I would have used it if I forgot the charger on a trip, but here I can charge it with my phone’s reverse wireless capability)

  • Mobvoi app syncs workout / health / sleep data to Google Fit. Samsung Health doesn’t do this, you need 3rd party app if you want to keep your health data in Google’s cloud. I actually ended up syncing Google Fit into Samsung Health using the mentioned Health Sync app, since I like Samsung Health better than Google Fit. It would be ideal if the Mobvoi app could sync to Samsung Health directly.

Problems, potential dealbreakers in the Galaxy Watch 4:

  • Phone Notifications never appeared correctly on the GW4 for me, most probably because of broken Galaxy Wearable app. Even though I am using a Samsung Note 10 Plus, I couldn’t fix notifications even after several factory resets, data clears and reinstalls.So I resorted to using the peek card functionality of my watch face app and my Notification Icons app, which in tandem provided a good replacement, but still, regular Wear OS in TicWatches have always shown phone notifications without any issues.

  • Too short battery life (less than 30 hours) and extremely slow charging (slightly faster if cooled, which is admittedly quite pathetic). Even if it can do a full day on a charge, that means I have to constantly watch battery levels carefully, and I know it is bad for battery health to constantly need to fully charge then fully deplete the battery. It was a great relief to go back to the peace of mind the 3-day battery means in the TicWatches. I still charge it daily, but this means I can keep the charge level between 40-80%, seldom needing to fully charge, and always having at least a full day’s worth of battery in any case.

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4
  • Even after several software updates, the heart rate sensor in the GW4 still doesn’t work correctly for me. Again, this could be due to my hairy arms (though I got desperate enough to shave off the hair under the watch at one point – and it didn’t even help!), but while the older TicWatch produced double HR readout occasionally, the GW4 could never track a complete workout for me without either missing part of the heart rate, or have similar double or half readouts.

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Galaxy Watch 4 HR sensor is trash for me 🙁

  • gimmicky new health measurements: body-fat, blood pressure, ECG are great in the first couple of weeks, but body-fat measurement stopped working for me, blood-pressure measurement needs monthly calibration with a real BP monitor, I calibrated twice then forgot about it!), ECG doesn’t provide anything more useful than the “Heart health” readout of the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra. If anything, TicWatch’s automatic monitoring is better: once I felt funny, so I tried to take an ECG measurement on my GW4, but of course it kept failing to measure anything, I got so frustrated I finally decided to give up before I got a real heart attack 🙂

  • missing wrist gestures for one handed operation. I implemented something similar in my watch face app (see my post Implemented missing single handed wrist control for notifications on Galaxy Watch 4), but having this baked into the OS, and working with any watch face and system notifications is just better.

r/WearOS - Longer term experience with TicWatch Pro 3 vs Ultra vs Galaxy Watch 4

Great things about the TWP3 which are the same or similar in GW4

  • TicSleep: Samsung adds stress, snore detection and more frequent blood oxygen monitoring, but a known problem with Samsung Sleep tracking is that it almost never detects any deep sleep. It was fun to find out that I don’t snore, but having a more reliable readout on deep sleep is more valuable for me.

  • TicHealth: Very low power consumption exercise tracking. I can track a 8-12 hour long bicycle trips with heartrate and GPS and still have battery to spare on the TicWatch Pro 3 and Ultra. The GW4 battery cannot do anything close. On the other hand Samsung tracks strength training and 50 other sports, which is a big plus now that Google mutilated Fit.

  • Transcribed audio notes: is a great feature in the Mobvoi app, Samsung voice recorder also does transcription, they actually do it on the watch

  • Stand up alert: Both TicHealth Samsung Health have it. Samsung adds auto tracked stretches.

  • Google Assistant can be sideloaded on the Galaxy Watch, and it has Bixby built-in. Google Assistant is of course natively present on the TicWatches, and hopefully Google will eventually fix all its problems.

GW4 features I wish the TicWatch would have

  • much better haptic engine. TWP3 has a weak vibrator motor. GW4 has a proper, purposeful and strong haptic feel

  • touch sensitive bezel for scrolling – very practical!

  • wireless chargeability. My biggest fear with the TWP3 / Ultra if I forget to take the charger on a trip with me, or lose it / break it.

  • much much much improved quick panel on GW4 (hopefully this is part of Wear 3):

    1. you can pull it down on any screen, not just the watch face. Similar to the notification shade on Android

    2. it is multi page, and can hold any number of toggles, including all settings: BT, Wifi, GPS, Always-on, flight-mode, BT headset, theater mode, bed-mode, NFC, screen brightness, DND, Ringmode, Sound volume, power, battery saver, and more!

    3. and it’s fully customizable, you can move your favorite toggles to the first page and organize the rest into more pages

    4. each toggle show actual state, e.g. BT toggle shows the battery level, or wifi toggle turns blue when enabled etc.

  • higher confidence waterproofing. I never trusted the TWP3 after reports of failing sensors after a shower or hand wash. The Ultra is higher rated, but the GW4 has 5ATM written on its back, and it feels sturdier to tell the truth.

  • fall detection (the latest software update even added fall detection during inactive times)

  • thinner, smaller case but having exact same screen size

  • bigger RAM and a little more storage capacity (GW4 software actually uses up most of the double storage), with built in software to take advantage of it (image and music sync, and built in gallery, music player)

  • the ability to seamlessly switch my Galaxy Buds bluetooth headphones between phone and watch without pairing is a big advantage. Headphones never worked well with the TWP3, but I also almost never need this. Not using LTE, I always have my phone with me

  • Wear 3 recent apps button, the “keep last app open” functionality and other features are easy to get used to, even though I implemented similar features in Bubble Clouds

Which one to get?

As a Wear OS app developer I am still very excited to see Samsung on “our” side, producing Wear OS watches again, but personally, I went back to using the TicWatch Pro 3, this time the Ultra variant. Maybe in a next iteration Samsung will get it right. It has great promise, but worry free battery, reliable notifications and good heart rate sensor in the TicWatch Pro 3 Ultra brought me back.

If you see a good deal on last year’s TicWatch Pro 3, it is still a better choice imho than the current Galaxy watches, but at a similar price I recommend getting the Ultra.

Author: greg

the dev