- Nails the classic timepiece look
- Alexa is a helpful addition
- Exercise HR accuracy is good
- Largely shambolic wellness data
- Unconvincing blend of design and features
- Software is slow
When Fossil first journeyed down the route of E-Ink displays back in 2019, it felt like an exciting development for the hybrid smartwatch world.
There were kinks to iron out with the software, sure, but the premise of fitting a battery-efficient screen behind mechanical hands felt like a clever alternative to anything that had come before. There was something charming about the E-Ink, too - a technology we hadn't really seen in smartwatches since the days of Pebble.
Fast forward to 2023, and Fossil has now given its Gen 6 Wellness Edition smartwatch the same treatment. Much of the core concept remains the same, though there are plenty of on-paper improvements, as well: the watch features a new heart rate monitor, SpO2 sensor, the addition of Alexa, automatic workout detection and a tweaked dashboard.
There's certainly been an improvement in some areas, but this is still a hybrid smartwatch that mostly leaves us scratching our heads. We've been testing over the last couple of weeks - here are our extended impressions.
Design and software
While the last-gen Fossil Hybrid HR had more of a plasticky feel, the Gen 6 Hybrid Wellness Edition looks and feels much classier.
The 44mm stainless steel case means it's slightly too large to be a unisex option, and it's also considerably chunkier than a traditional timepiece, but it does at least look the part on the wrist.
We've even had it mistaken for a regular timepiece on a couple of occasions, so we'd say Fossil has nailed the brief on delivering the kind of look that hybrid hunters will want.
That's about where the wins ends with regard to the design, though. As we'll explore further below, this classic styling means it's a pretty poor fit for things like strength training, running or sleep tracking. In fact, it only really feels suitable for idle wear and the odd bit of walking.
Like before, the E-Ink display is found on the inner ring of the watch face, acting as a kind of sub-dial, with a physical section containing hour markers on the outside.
The hands, too, are still physical, and cleverly move out of the way of software when you begin to use the two pushers and crown to interact with the display.
It's a neat system in theory, and there are certainly occasions (like when using Alexa or when the hands line up to show you what you're about to select in menus) that it works seamlessly and allows you to read the screen perfectly. But it still has its poor moments, like when the physical hands block your heart rate reading during a workout, and the software is generally very slow.
We're relatively forgiving of this lag, due to the nature of E-Ink, but, even still, the delay from pushing a button to seeing the E-Ink screen react is painful.
There's no way to quickly skip through menus on the Gen 6 Hybrid, and you'll often overshoot where you want to be because it can feel like the side button or crown didn't register your press.
The fact it's slow isn't the only issue, either - it can also feel unintuitive.
The crown can twist, for example, but this does nothing instead of providing a much easier way to navigate around the dial.
As we've found previously with the 'up' and 'down' pushers, it can also get pretty confusing which one you should be pressing at certain points on the screen.
We do still like the E-Ink display, though, all told. It's clear in direct sunlight, and a firm double tap of the covering glass will bring up a backlight for when you need it in the dark. It's just a shame the wider integration hasn't been improved on much between generations.
Companion app and smartwatch features
Though the design certainly has some level of appeal, we're not totally convinced that the array of smartwatch features will really be enough to move the needle.
The most notable addition is Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, which is able to provide text-only responses to your queries. It does this both quickly and accurately for the most part, and we do think it's the kind of feature that does belong on a hybrid smartwatch.
We can't say we're personally huge advocates for voice assistants on smartwatches, but, for anyone who is, this is a nice addition.
The problem is that this is about the extent of the excitement.
The Fossil companion app is nice and clean, but it doesn't really have a lot going on outside of selecting new E-Ink watch faces and customizing the shortcuts of the two pushers. We're not expecting a full app ecosystem, obviously, but there's not a lot to keep you interested here.
Music control, in our experience, is also pretty sketchy - often staying stuck on a song and not updating very often - and features that would feel like natural fits, like contactless payments, are scarce.
Notification support is also present, and you get good control over which apps and messaging services will filter through to the watch. Like with Alexa responses, this is presented nicely around the mechanical hands, and it does help give the watch that sneaky-smart feeling.
Still, though, while we're sure some will find the barebones feel refreshing, we still think the smartwatch experience just doesn't really have much personality or identity about it.
Activity tracking and accuracy
Given the additions of SpO2 monitoring, automatic workout tracking and a new heart rate sensor, we were hoping the Gen 6 Hybrid would perform pretty strongly when it came to fitness and health tracking.
Even with the spotty data to one side, though, which we'll get into below, the fact that a watch this chunky and heavy is being pointed towards health and activity use feels bizarre to us.
It fared pretty terribly in the gym, for example, gaining a huge scratch on the screen fairly early on, as well as dings on barbells, dumbbells and other equipment that have left fairly noticeable marks on the case. We'll take some responsibility for this, obviously, but we'd also note that this isn't something that happens with true fitness watches.
It also feels pretty unnatural to run with, and we found ourselves having to strap it on tighter than we'd usually like to in order to avoid that heavy case from moving on the wrist.
Automatic exercise detection, too, was fairly hit-and-miss. We found it pretty solid with things like running, but it seemed pretty hellbent on insisting every other form of exercise was, in fact, rowing. It wasn't.
That's a theme that continued into the data.
Active calorie burn estimates
We'd always advise taking calorie burn estimates with a pinch of salt, but this is the first area in which Fossil's hybrid delivered either flat-out incorrect data or just poorly explained data.
In this case, it's the former. Strength training sessions that were typically registered as burning 500-600 active calories by our Garmin were often only worth around 200-300 calories on the Fossil, and, while this was slightly more in line with Oura and Garmin for things like run tracking, it was still way short.
This is a problem, but it's not actually even the biggest issue. When you look back at the total active burn over a day, the Fossil seems to massively inflate figures outside of exercise. Note, this isn't your basal metabolic rate - this is 'active'.
It's particularly bad on rest days, as you can see above. On a non-exercise day, it logged over 700 calories of active burn, while Garmin and Oura correctly attributed little to none.
However, even on active days, we'd estimate that it puffs up calorie burn by at least 25%. We're not really sure how it's doing it, but it doesn't match up with typical estimates from two fairly reliable options.
We'll caveat this section by saying we don't put too much emphasis on sleep stage accuracy, given the difficulty in verifying the information outside of a sleep lab.
However, for anybody interested in this area, it's important to note that you don't get the typical array of them with the Fossil hybrid - there's only 'light sleep', 'deep sleep' and 'awake', and nothing related to REM.
Generally, the Fossil hybrid was able to capture our in-bed times well enough.
But some nights it simply wouldn't track our sleep, as shown above, and at no point did we register any 'awake' minutes.
So it's really just a measure of time spent in bed (if it records), which isn't much use for anyone looking to improve the quality of their rest.
Blood oxygen readings
One of the Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid's new features, blood oxygen data, is another one that you should probably avoid taking seriously.
When it was taken, either in the background or through a manual spot check, we were often found to be in the sub-95% zone - even rocking a spuriously low score of 91% blood oxygen (an average of 93%) on one day.
This would be a serious cause for panic in normal circumstances, and Fossil does label this as 'concerning' in the app, but the problem is that it's just not corroborated by any other device.
Our Oura Ring shows our overnight averages over this period to be either 98% or 99%, which is also matched by Garmin.
Resting heart rate
The seemingly random data continues into resting heart rate figures, which typically sat around 7-15bpm higher than the average figure tracked on the Oura Ring and Garmin.
Companies do track resting heart rate data differently, of course, with some taking an overnight average, some taking the lowest bpm from your day and others measuring your resting rate when still during the day.
However, this is the highest resting data we've seen on any wearable – so, if Fossil is recording this information differently, it should define its process so users can understand it.
Heart rate monitoring
The heart rate monitoring during exercise was actually solid. As shown above, it matches up fairly well with Garmin's readings from a session that included both strength training and a quick treadmill run.
And we typically found this to be the case during workouts - a quick glance would always see it within a couple of beats of the Garmin.
The average bpm data, fluctuations during the session, and max bpm figures are all close enough to be useful, which makes the inaccuracies in other areas (like estimated calorie burn) even more baffling, really.
If there's one thing that you're guaranteed with a hybrid smartwatch, it's better battery life than what you'll receive with a full-screen smartwatch.
It's actually one of the better areas of the watch, meaning we only had to stick it on the charger once over the two-week testing period.
Despite around 60 - 90 minutes of tracked exercise per day on average, the battery life would only really dwindle by 5-10%, which is decent going.
It's still not quite as impressive as Withings' hybrid smartwatches, with something like the Withings ScanWatch giving you closer to a month, but it's still a step up from Garmin's hybrids, which are usually around 5 - 7 days.
How we test