The Fossil Q Explorist HR joins the Venture HR in ushering in the next generation of the Fossil Group's smartwatches that run on Google's Wear OS. These proper smartwatches have come a long way from the first gen days of screens with flat tyres and bulky watch cases.
Last year's Explorist was undeniably one of our favourite smartwatches. It looked the part, did a great job of embracing its physical features to add more smarts and had a lovely display to show off Google's OS.
Despite the attractive design (and the price) the Explorist didn't however deliver the full Wear experience. It wasn't so much the lack of sporty features like GPS or heart rate, but more the surprising omission of NFC to enable Google Pay contactless payment support. It's a feature we've been crying out for for some time on Fossil's clan of connected watches.
Essential reading: Best Wear smartwatches to buy
So this time we are getting that NFC to enable Google Pay. But that's not all. We're also getting built-in GPS, a waterproof design and a heart rate monitor. The latter of which was was one of the most requested smartwatch features according to Fossil Group.
Priced at $255, which can go up to $275 depending on how luxurious you want that design to be, the Explorist HR is still one of the more affordable entries into the world of smartwatches.
So have the extra features now housed inside that attractive watch body raised the bar for Wear smartwatches? We've been living with the Fossil Q Explorist HR to find that out. Here's our full verdict.
Fossil Explorist HR: Design and build
I think it's fair to say that we were fans of being out seen with the Explorist. Unlike the Venture HR, this is Fossil's fourth generation watch that's aimed at men. The options on offer are bigger (46mm compared to 42mm), bolder and have that distinctive industrial-style, machined look that lets you know it's a Fossil watch.
The model we had was near identical to the 2017 edition of the Explorist, featuring the same matte blue metallic casing with stainless steel bezel and buttons complemented by a tan leather strap. It's no surprise that the colour combo is firmly on trend and again helps to make this one of the best-looking Wear watches out there.
The similarities with last year's model don't end there. You still get a gorgeous 1.4-inch, 454 x 454 pixel resolution AMOLED display with no black tyre in sight. The 22mm straps are interchangeable once again, which you are most certainly going to need to do if you're planning to put some of those new sports tracking features to good use.
There are still three physical buttons on the side of the watch. The middle one launches you into the app drawer, can be held down to launch Google Assistant and can be twisted to scroll through screens. The buttons above and below the crown are programmable and by that we mean can be used to create quick shortcuts to your most regularly used apps.
Around the back is a big new addition in the shape of the heart rate sensor. Before Fossil Group launched its fourth gen smartwatches, only the Misfit Vapor featured a heart rate monitor. But that's all changed now. While the sensor does protrude slightly from the watch body, it doesn't really impact on the way the watch feels like to wear. While it's jumped up a millimetre in thickness from 12 to 13mm, no doubt to accommodate the extra hardware features, it's not something we can honestly say we noticed. This is still a really nice watch to wear and it's not going to weigh heavy on your wrist.
We do of course need to mention that the Explorist HR is now fit for the pool. With a 3ATM waterproof rating, it can survive a dip in water up to 30 metres. Just make sure you ditch that leather band for something more suitable first.
Fossil Explorist HR: Wear OS
The Explorist is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 2100 processor with 512MB of RAM and it comes with 4GB of storage. So it's all pretty standard on the performance front. Things all run nice and smoothly. It's also packing Google's smartwatch operating system, bringing you all those staple smartwatch features. So notification support, the ability to download apps directly on the watch, access to Google Assistant and sports tracking via the revamped Google Fit.
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So what is Wear like to use on day-to-day basis? Is it all that different from what it was like using it on the Explorist? Not really, if we're being totally honest. The features that seem to stand out the most for us are notifications and Google Fit. But for very different reasons. It still feels like notification support is still not quite as polished as it is on the Apple Watch or the Samsung Galaxy Watch. It has got better and notifications appear as soon as they pop up on your phone. Acting on those notifications still feels a bit on the fiddly side.
From a navigation point of view, Google has rolled out some changes to the way Wear works and they're definitely welcome changes in our eyes. Wear is going in the right direction as far as making its OS better optimised for that small screen, but improvements can still be made to make it feel more intuitive out of the box.
Then there's Google Fit, which has recently been revamped and feels more on par with what Apple and Samsung currently offers in the health and fitness department. The more simplified approach to staying active and chasing those Move and Heart Points works well. But the Fit Workout app definitely still needs work in terms of how it presents data on the wrist during and after a tracked session. You'll need to make sure you update to the latest version of Fit through the Play Store and we'd definitely recommend getting that Fit watch face too.
The inclusion of NFC now means the Explorist HR gets some Google Pay love too. Contactless payments from the watch works in entirely the same way as it does on the Venture HR. After setup, the process is seamless and crucially, it's really easy to use once you're up and running.
Fossil Explorist HR: Sports tracking
Along with NFC and a swim-proof design, the two other headline features on the Explorist HR are the heart rate monitor and the built-in GPS. That means you can leave that phone behind and still map your runs and rides. But you might not want to give up on taking your phone or grabbing a heart rate monitor based on our experiences. Much like we found with the Venture HR, while it's great to see Fossil plug in this extra features, they are not the best performing.
The heart rate monitor is your now pretty standard optical, light based kind we're used to seeing on most smartwatches, which can used for both on the spot readings and to show your heart rate in real-time during workouts. As far as on the spot readings go, it's perfectly adept at delivering reliable data when we compared it to the Garmin Forerunner 935 and the Polar H10 chest strap. Taking that reading is straightforward enough (it's done inside the Google Fit app), but one UI niggle is that the app hides away readings, making it seem like it hasn't successfully taken a reading at all.
HR compared: Google Fit (left) and Polar H10 (middle and right)
The bigger problem though is performance when it comes to working out. We put the Explorist HR through its paces with some interval running to test how reactive the sensor would be to the spikes and drops in our heart rate. As we found with the Venture HR, it tends to overestimate heart rate at the beginning of workouts by a considerable amount (some times by 20bpm). HR average and max HR readings looked off from the Polar H10 chest strap too and you can see from the graphs the difference in the readings.
Things are a little better on the GPS tracking front, although it takes a good few minutes to pick up a signal. Mapping accuracy appeared fine in our experience while distance and pace were roughly in the same ballpark. Like the heart rate monitor though, you can find better performing watches when it comes to sports tracking.
Fossil Explorist HR: Battery life
While Fossil Group has excelled in bringing more features to its smartwatches, the same sadly cannot be said about improving the battery life. The Explorist HR should offer all-day battery life and that is exactly what we got.
If you're not using intensively over that day you can probably squeeze a day and a half out of it by tapping into the battery saver mode. If you factor in tracking an activity with GPS or making use of the heart rate sensor though, that has a noticeable impact on battery performance.
It's not the zippiest of chargers either taking a couple of hours to get from 0-100%. So if you forget to charge it over night, you'll need to grab that charger.
- Still a great looking watch
- Google Pay has been added
- Comfortable to wear
- Disappointing sports tracking
- One day battery life
- Doesn't come with sporty strap in box