Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review

Wear OS at its best, but new speaker skills offer mixed results
Fossil Gen 5
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The Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch is the fashion latest smartwatch, and yes, it continues to run on Google's Wear OS operating system.

Fossil's veritable army of Wear watches is one of the few positives for a platform that continues to struggle to make waves against the likes of Apple, Samsung and Garmin.

With Gen 5, it's about fitting more smarts into a design that continues to look and feel like a 'dumb' watch. For Gen 4, we got sporty features like a heart rate monitor and GPS. Now Fossil is improving its communication powers, adding a speaker to let you take calls from your wrist. That onboard speaker will also improve existing features like Google Assistant.

We also get Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, which means the Fossil Sport is no longer the only watch in Fossil's Wear family to reap the benefits of the new smartwatch chipset. Most notably, there's a promised improvement with battery life.

But has Fossil done enough with Gen 5 to get us excited about Wear OS again? We've been putting it to the test to find out. Here's our verdict on the Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Design

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review

In pure aesthetics, this is a beautifully designed watch. If you wear it people will compliment your choice. The 44mm body feels big and bold, but the quality of the design creates an understated effect. It is powerful, but not overpowering, and exactly what we were expecting after all the great work Fossil has done to slim things down but still retain that attractive look.

We were testing the black silicone model of the Carlyle HR, with Fossil's Gen 5 watch also coming in a more dressier looking Julianna HR model. Both models offer interchangeable 22mm stainless steel and leather strap options if you need to mix things up on the looks front. There are also a myriad of digital watch faces to pair up with it including Fossil's own, ranging from the classic to something more quirky.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch
Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch

At the heart of this Gen 5 watch is the 1.3-inch touchscreen AMOLED display that packs a 328ppi-pixel-resolution punch. It's readable in all light conditions and while there is a ‘sun boost’ option, visibility is rarely an issue. The touchscreen generally performed well too and there is the option to set up basic gesture controls (twist, flick, shake) to replace scroll and swipe, which worked fine day-to-day.

In addition to touchscreen navigation, there are three physical buttons on the side of the body, including the crown, which acts as a scroller and shortcut to activate the assistant.

The two remaining buttons can be set up for quick access to selected apps. That crown operation was smooth and very effective when scrolling through apps and alerts and remains still one of the nicer features that comes built into Fossil's smartwatches.

One thing you can't question is that Fossil knows how to make a good-looking smartwatch that you'll want to wear – and be seen wearing.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Wear OS and speaker performance

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review

While you're still getting a smartwatch that plays nice with Android and iPhones, it's clear that the Wear OS experience is still better if you've got a Google-powered smartphone. Google has sought to bring greater parity with the features you can use on Wear OS irrespective of what compatible phone you use. But it doesn't feel that much has changed enough on that front.

Essential reading: Best Wear OS watch faces

While not a night and day distinction, the range of features available to Android users certainly puts iOS users in the shade. Calls, email, text – the potential for communication is much broader for Android users. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the level of assistance felt different depending on which phone the watch was paired with.

Fossil says an iOS fix is coming later this year, but until it arrives, rating these experiences does not feel like a fair comparison.

The big new hardware feature here is the speaker, which now enables you to listen to music out loud, but perhaps more usefully, take phone calls. With no LTE connectivity here though, you still need to have your phone in close proximity to make use of the added functionality.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review

Call quality on the Gen 5 is not a pleasurable experience, however. Crackles and hisses, which have been reported by other users, were a regular feature during our testing. This is a pretty glaring deficiency for such a vaunted feature. At times it was impossible to maintain a coherent conversation.

Texting on the other hand was a joy; the screen is big enough for comfortable data entry and the voice capability opens up the options for on the hoof messaging. Your phone can stay in your pocket for some operations, but not all.

Interplay with Spotify and podcast apps was good. Google Pay is available here too. The possibilities to incorporate the Gen 5 into a more connected home or lifestyle is certainly there. Saying that, connectivity was not constant in our time with it.

There were instances when connections were lost at random and the vaunted voice assistant didn’t always respond to even simple requests. When it did though, the interaction with calendar, agenda reminders and other voice activated apps and commands made it a really positive feature.

Ultimately, this feels like Wear OS as we've seen it before. There are some highlights, but on the whole it still has some horrible niggles that mean it's not the seamless smartwatch experience we pine for.


Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Fitness & heart rate tracking

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review

As on Fossil's Gen 4 watches, Google Fit is at the heart of all things fitness and sports tracking. Nike Run Club now also comes preinstalled, but you can of course make use of third-party apps found inside the Google Play Store. You've still got built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor here too, with the hope you'll find it a decent sports watch replacement.

Read this: Understanding your running watch stats

In our testing, it generally performed well. In practical terms, the silicone strap was suitable to wear during workouts after pushing that heart rate up. Yes, it's a fashion watch first, but it can handle getting sweaty too.

It kept pace with the connected GPS tracking skills on the Fitbit Charge 3. Mapped data in a mixed urban-open area didn't throw up any surprises, which is a marked improvement from what we found with the performance of Fossil's Gen 4 duo.

Fossil Gen 5 review

HR accuracy compared: Polar H10 chest strap (left) and Fossil Gen (right)

The heart rate monitoring was pretty consistent for a range of workouts and outdoor bike rides, though in some sessions against a Polar heart rate chest strap monitor it came up short in terms of accuracy.

The Gen 5 didn't pick up some of the heart rate spikes, then tended to exaggerate those spikes in other parts of the session. One session saw the chest strap record an average of 92bpm while the Gen 5 clocked the same session at 118bpm.

The results echo a lot of what we found with Fossil's last-generation smartwatches. They simply don't cut it for intense heart rate-based training.

Away from fitness, Fossil now pre-loads the heart health monitoring app Cardiogram, which can perform regular heart rate checks. Those checks all seemed consistent with chest strap readings, though there were instances when not being connected to a phone meant blank spots in the data.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Battery life

Fossil’s claims of 24-hour battery life in the standard battery mode were backed up during our tests – with a couple of caveats.

After a day of regular use and approximately 6.5 hours of sleep, the battery lasted the course. Night time heart monitoring is a useful feature to tap into, but the drain on the battery may leave you short if you favour early morning workouts. An hour was generally enough to get power levels back up to full.

Gen 5 now brings new battery saver modes, which come courtesy of Qualcomm's latest processor. These modes only power features when they are in use, while there's also a time-only setting that worked fine during 2.5 days of our time with it. With prudent charging this is a smartwatch with strong battery performance.

The magnetic ‘Rapid’ USB charger is easy to use and performed well. Simply align the pins on the charger with the sphere on the back of the watch and let magnetism and electricity take care of the rest.


Fossil Carlyle HR
By Fossil
The Fossil Gen 5 looks great, has some really nice details and is an able, if not spectacular, fitness tracker. There are a range of features that will appeal to Android phone owners, but the distinction between the iOS and Android experience with Wear OS is still markedly different. Until that is fixed, iPhone users should keep that in mind. The addition of the speaker adds a new dimension to interacting with Google Assistant and generally performs well apart from when it comes to call quality. As a smartwatch, the Gen 5 is another step in the right direction, but Wear OS has to do much more to convince us that it should be picked over its stronger rivals.

Hit
  • Attractive design
  • Impressive voice interaction
  • Solid fitness tracking
Miss
  • Poor call quality
  • Intermittent connectivity
  • Slow to react to commands


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