$99 buys you a useful, but plain, Android Wear watch

Who knew you could get a heart-rate sensor, GPS and vibrant display for less than $100?

When you think about all the Android Wear watches on the market, you probably recall LG, Huawei, Michael Kors or Tag Heuer. Google typically partners with heavyweights in tech and fashion. So it's intriguing to see a small, obscure startup like Mobvoi offer its own Android Wear watch. What's most interesting, though, is the Ticwatch E's price tag: just $99.

Of course that's only if you buy the Ticwatch E on the company's Kickstarter project before it becomes more widely available. When that happens, it will cost $159 and you'll be able to get it on Amazon or Mobvoi's website. A higher-end version called Ticwatch S will cost $119 on Kickstarter, and $199 at retail. Even after the early bird period, though, that's still the cheapest Android Wear 2.0 watch around right now.

What you get for those prices is surprising; Mobvoi didn't cut corners. Both models sport a bright round 1.4-inch screen with a 400x400 resolution, a heart rate monitor and a GPS sensor -- features that some more-expensive devices lack. Our demo unit of the Ticwatch E was responsive, and Google Assistant was actually faster than on competing devices I've tested. That's particularly impressive given Mobvoi uses a Mediatek processor here instead of a higher-end Qualcomm option. During our preview, Google Maps was also quick to locate us, despite being indoors.

With their bright colors (white, black and lime are available) and silicone rubber straps, the Ticwatch S and E both look and feel cheaper than the competition. While you can swap out the standard 22mm band on the E version to make it prettier, you're stuck with the default non-removeable strap on the S (or Sport) flavor. That's because the latter's GPS antenna is built into the band. Mobvoi figures the S model is more appropriate for a fitness-oriented crowd, so it made the entire device lighter. It also designed the S' strap to be "breathable" by carving out a hollow underneath to avoid sweat buildup.

Mobvoi said it included only "essential hardware" that it believes its users would need, which explains why neither version has a cellular radio. That omission not only keeps the watches slim and lowers costs, but should also allow for longer-lasting batteries than the competition. Depending on how you use it, the company says each device should last between 1.5 to 2 days.

Mobvoi also says it will include five of its own apps on the watches, such as Tic Fitness, Health and Music Player, which lets you store and play music on your watch. These are carried over from the core app suite on the Ticwatch 2 and can't be uninstalled. The inclusion is meant to please fans of the company's existing smartwatches, which run Mobvoi's own OS. As many as 15 other apps from that system will be available for download from the store, too. Since the apps weren't on our demo unit, we couldn't tell if they would actually be useful or feel more like bloatware.

Ultimately, we can't determine whether the Ticwatch S and E will hold up after long-term use based on our brief preview. People who are style-conscious probably won't appreciate the watches' distinctly plastic, toy-like appearance. But those who couldn't care less about looks and are more interested in trying out Android Wear 2.0 on a budget should hit up the team's Kickstarter page before they're sold out.

Update: This article was edited to clarify that it is the S model that has a nonremovable band instead of the E version. Also, as of 5:50pm ET, the early-bird pricing of $99 for the E is no longer available on Kickstarter.