Fossil has become a big player in the world of Android Wear smartwatches, but not all of its watch brands have joined the fray. The Diesel On Full Guard marks Diesel's first night at the party, and it's brought along a couple of tricks to show off.
Diesel has opted to both replicate and enhance what it currently does on analog watches with the Full Guard, and it hopes it's the first in a new series of smartwatches.
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But does it live up to its promise? Can it join the growing pantheon of good Fossil smartwatches or will it fall to the wayside? Here's our verdict on how Diesel sits in the landscape of Android Wear smartwatches.
Diesel On Full Guard: Design
When it comes to analog watches, Diesel's style ranges from a more elegant simplicity to an industrial behemoth that looks like a movie prop from Blade Runner. With the Full Guard, the Italian fashion house has settled for something in between.
This is a very industrial design. The stainless steel frame feels like it's being piled on top of with sharp black buckles and exposed screws. This looks, and feels, like it wants to scream about how tough-yet-beautiful it is.
That's only amplified by the straps, comfortable-yet-thick bands that have rivets in them - just in case you weren't sure what look this watch was going for. It is unapologetic about what it wants to look like, and you can either get on board or move along. For the most part, I enjoyed how the watch looked, though I could probably do without said rivets.
It's also a pretty chunky smartwatch, with a 48mm-wide face and 12mm thick. Compared to other thick watches, like the Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon, you can really feel it on the Diesel this - sometimes it felt like it was going to fall off my wrists.
I'm not exaggerating either. If you have your band even a bit loose, you're gonna feel that watch face tug at the strap just a little. So keep it fastened tight.
As for the rest, you've got IP67 water resistance, a Qualcomm 2100 Snapdragon processor, a 1.4-inch 454 x 454 AMOLED display, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. In our testing, the display was a highlight. It's bright and colorful and Diesel actually uses it to do cool things, which we'll get to in a bit.
The Full Guard has three buttons on the right side. There's a top and bottom button that are customizable, so that you can click them and get shortcuts to your favorite apps (I went with the dial effects and stopwatch myself). There's also a rotating crown for rotational input that can also be clicked like a button - just like the Michael Kors Access Grayson, a fellow Fossil smartwatch
Overall, while the Full Guard is certainly a good looking watch that you could easily mistake for a giant, industrial piece of jewelry, it is quite chunky. I've got bigger wrists and like a larger watch, but the Full Guard sometimes felt too much even for me.
There are other colors as well, including a completely black face with a brown band, as well as options with a black metal band and a gold one.
Diesel On Full Guard: Features
Perhaps to make up for a lack of fitness features, many of the fashion-focused smartwatches we've seen have tried out other interesting ideas in the software - and the Full Guard is no different. To separate itself from the pack, Diesel has been screaming from the rooftops about the software features on the Full Guard. One of those features, an AI called T-ON-I that comes with a companion app, was not ready at the time of the review. When available, T-ON-I will remind you about your step counts and stuff like that.
Right now, though, the big features are all about the watch faces. You've got six faces here from Diesel, all inspired in one way or another by analog Diesel watches. Some of them do simple things, like display your battery life and activity (read: step counts) in an easy-to-see manner. Some of them do more unique things. The Infinity watch face, for instance, comes with a really cool 3D effect that makes it look like your watch face is a bottomless pit you can stick your finger into, which I definitely didn't try to do...
There's also the Heads Up watch face, which contains a HUD that you can bring up with a double tap near the top of the watch face. The exact spot you have to hit is a bit tricky, and you'll sometimes spend frustrating seconds continuously tapping to hit it, but when you do it brings up an overlay that gives you a whole bunch of information on your watch. You have battery life, connectivity, activity, weather and time zones.
The final watch face allows you to build your own. Now, all of the watch faces are extremely customizable. You can tweak every color, down to minute parts of the face you didn't even know existed. This is stuff like watch tracks and plates and index and concave ring. It's fun to play with and customize, but there are so many options that anyone who isn't a hardcore watch fan might end up feeling lost and just giving up on it.
However, the build a watch face lets you create your own watch face from scratch. It's still complicated to do, but seeing your own watch face come together with all those options is a neat thing. You can even save them and sort them by watch face color.
All of the customizations have a unique feature borrowed from Diesel's analog watches. Basically, the Full Guard lets you apply a filter over the watch face that changes color based on how you move the watch. So if you tilt the watch a little bit, your blue filter will turn red. Or if you tilt it just right, you'll get a half red/half blue watch filter. It's a cool effect, mimicking an optical illusion by changing the color using the accelerometer and gyroscope.
Finally, the big gimmick on the Full Guard is something called Dial Effects. There are three of these - weather, activity and Do Not Disturb - and they're essentially filters that live on top of your watch face. For instance, if it's raining and thundering you'll see rain and thunder in the weather effect. Activity will fog up your display with virtual dust unless you get moving on your step goal; the closer you get the more dust goes away. The Do Not Disturb effect only shows up when you have Do Not Disturb mode on, and it looks like your glass is cracking as more notifications come in.
These are neat ideas, but in practice won't be to everyone's liking. For example, the dust effect just makes your watch face look ugly until you do your goal. It certainly worked for me, heaping shame onto me until I got moving, but some might just find it annoying. The Do Not Disturb effect is the best one, as you can easily and quickly understand how much you missed while watching a movie or during a meeting.Though for those of you with notification anxiety... this might not be the best one for you.
It's hard to compare the Full Guard to software features in other smartwatches, like the world clock ideas from the Tambour Horizon or the purely cosmetic grunge setting on the Cory Richards, because there is no real comparison. It's just too different. It has some interesting ideas in how to play with notifications and how to replicate an analog watch experience in a smartwatch, but it also feels partially baked. This, however, is a good solid base for the nest Diesel On Full Guard, where Diesel can improve upon the good ideas and rid itself of the ones that just don't fly.
Diesel On Full Guard: Hardware
That story carries over to the hardware of the Full Guard. Having three buttons on an industrial smartwatch seems like a good idea. Of these, the two customizable buttons are king. It makes it that much easier to switch between Dial Effects when you can just click a button and not have to go to the Android Wear 2.0 menu screen at all.
In fact, the three buttons make it easy to get around fast. If Fossil's long play here is to figure out a way for you to live solely on your watch faces, it's getting there.
The third button, the rotating crown, is the one that'll give you the most trouble. It works in theory, the idea of using a crown to navigate is a wonderful one that makes things much easier. However, this crown is stuck between two pieces of metal that impede your ability to twist it - especially if you have bigger fingers. My fingers are pretty slender, but I had trouble turning the dial, I can't imagine someone with larger fingers having better luck. Further, clicking the crown in feels kind of pudgy. It's a little like pushing a chocolate chip into peanut butter if, err, you know what feels like.
Speaking of inelegance, swiping between watch faces can sometimes be a bit difficult because the sharp edge of the bezel will catch your finger a few too many times. And you need to start the swipe out by the bezel because if you don't it might not register your swipe in the first place.
The ideas here are good, but there are just too many quibbles that hurt the experience. This is the story of the Full Guard, same as it was in software, same as it is in hardware.
Diesel On Full Guard: Battery life and connectivity
The biggest concern on the Full Guard is battery life. Diesel is promising a full day of use on a 370mAh battery, fairly small compared to the 410mAh in something like the Tag Heuer Connected Modular, but in my experience that has not happened. Instead, I'll see the watch fall off after about eight hours of use, with the Dial Effects turned and brightness set to auto. For instance, I put the watch on at about 10am and it started to wind down at about 6pm. Another day, I put it on at about 8am and saw it wind down at about 4pm.
One reason for this is because of connectivity problems. I tested the Full Guard with both an iPhone and Android phone, and both times I would see the Full Guard lose connection every so often. I'd try to reconnect, have little success and have to try again. We've had some connectivity problems with Fossil Group smartwatches before, like with the Fossil Q Accomplice. All this Bluetooth activity obviously taxes the battery, likely causing battery life drain. On iPhone, there was also an issue connecting to Wi-Fi. These connection fits didn't happen all the time, or even every day, but they did mostly happen when I walked away from my phone for a while.