Fossil has a bold mission for 2016: to launch 100 wearables from eight of its fashion brands before the year is out. And no matter how many of the 100 promised devices turn out to be worthwhile, you have to admire what the company is doing. Making such a big push won't just be good for Fossil, but will also raise the bar for everyone else.
The Q Marshal is one of these devices, and the twin sibling of the Q Wander, both of which are serious on style and less concerned with other features. These are smartwatches that want to be mistaken for classic timepieces, and the Marshal certainly carries the look and feel of a proper watch. At $295, it's also as expensive as some more feature-fitted options out there.
The question is, does the Marshal have enough style to justify the lack of substance, and its price?
Fossil Q Marshal: Design
The Fossil Q's USP was clear and simple from the start: design, design, design. Fossil is starting with a watch first and working in the technology, rather than vice versa. Yes, there are a couple of features beyond Android Wear, which I'll get on to, but Fossil is out to make a smartwatch for the watch lovers.
It's also a bit of a beast, with a 45 mm case that's 14mm thick, making it just a smidge smaller than last year's Q Founder. It's chunky, but unlike some smartwatches it feels more intentional here. For those of you with wrists on the smaller side β like mine β it's perhaps not the best choice, unless oversized watches are your thing, in which case this is right on the money.
The tachymeter-style ring around the Marshal's face further adds to the rugged feel of the watch, as does the crown (but psst, it's actually a button in disguise), while the Wander has a more elegant look without the bumps.
The Marshal is weighty too, which again makes it feel like you're wearing a classic watch and not a piece of technology. However, like the Samsung Gear S3, the IP68 rating means you can splash it a bit and shower with it, but don't take it for a swim unless you want to end up with a dead weight on your wrist.
Our review unit came with the brown leather band, but you'll be able to pair it with any 22mm strap you like. I really like the brown leather, which, everything else considered, makes for the best looking Android Wear watch I've used to date, even if I wish it were a tad smaller. The Q Wander, the Marshal's sister watch, is more aimed towards women, but oddly enough has the same 45mm casing.
What I'm less impressed with on the Marshal is the display. The 1.5-inch 360 x 360 resolution isn't poor on paper, but in sunlight I found the screen washes out noticeably. Then there's the flat tyre along the bottom of the display, which makes room for the ambient light sensors β and really shouldn't be there. The screen tech is fine, but it's hardly eye-popping and is trumped by the Huawei Watch, Samsung Gear S3, and even the Ticwatch 2.
That might sound harsh, but other manufacturers have managed to build the sensors in without compromising on screen space, so our expectations are higher than they once were. It may only consume 10% of the screen, but it's noticeable, and a big black mark against the Marshal. Change it for 2017 please Fossil.
Fossil Q Marshal: Features
The Q Marshal is thin on features, but for people who want a smartwatch that flashes in looks and not functions, that might be ok. This is very much the Android Wear show, and so the quality of your experience with the Marshal will heavily depend on how you find Android Wear as an operating system.
I love how zippy it is on the Marshal, which is thanks to the Snapdragon 2100 processor. I haven't experienced the lag I've had in some smartwatches when Android Wear starts bombarding me with notifications.
One tap of the crown button β remember it's a button, not a working crown β will wake the display or dim it depending on what state it's in, while a second-long press will take you to the main Android Wear menu.
As with other Android Wear watches, some of the faces display less information when in their dimmed state, helping to keep battery suck to a minimum and giving the Marshal a more classic look when it's not being actively used.
The big noticeable omission on the Marshal is a heart rate monitor, something we've become accustomed to seeing on today's smartwatches. However, I suppose it depends on how much of a big deal that is to you personally. The Marshal is definitely not a watch for running with β it would be uncomfortable, for starters β but there are benefits to being able to check your resting heart rate throughout the day.
The Pebble 2, for example, takes a reading every ten minutes of the day, but can afford to do so with the rest of the device being so undemanding on battery.
The watch does pack in a basic step counter and sleep tracker, which feed into your fitness platform of choice, be it Google Fit, Apple Health, Jawbone etc, but in 2016 these feel like an afterthought. Anyone after a smartwatch that would make for a good health buddy, you're better off looking elsewhere.
As mentioned, most of your smartphone interaction with the Marshal will take place through Android Wear. There is a Fossil Q app available for your phone, compatible Fossil's trackers and hybrid watches, but this won't work with the Marshal, despite suggesting otherwise. It's worth pointing that out so you don't spend hours trying to get them to work together as I did.
There is a Fossil Q app on the watch itself, but this is just a hub for your watch faces. There are a bunch of great custom watch faces for the Marshal and Wander, and the Q app simply provides a way to organise them.
In sum, the Marshal feels like the classiest Android Wear show around β but it's still Android Wear, and that's another place I think it falls down. Google's wearable OS feels so far behind rival platforms right now β even my editor and chief Android Wear defender Paul Lamkin would agree with me here.
We're still waiting on Google to give its OS an overhaul, which now won't happen until next year, and until then we're more or less using the same operating system Google launched two years ago.
Yes, there have been some welcome improvements, but it still feels behind the crowd. Granted, this isn't so much a criticism against Fossil as it is Google, but I can understand why some companies are jumping ship to make their own software right now; I wonder if Fossil might be better to do the same.
Fossil Q Marshal: App and battery life
Fossil promises 24 hours of battery life on the Marshal, which is about what I've been getting. At the most I managed to squeeze out a day and half, but that was with reduced usage. It's not a lot of time to go on, but then that's the nature of smartwatches at the moment.
I can't see anyone wearing a watch this chunky to bed, which should ease the pain of charging it each night. Still, battery is still the big thing that separates this β and many of its ilk β from the classic watches it imitates.
Fossil's made a wise choice in opting for a small magnetic charger that looks very similar to the Apple Watch's, and much better than the Q Wander's large and rather bizarre charging stand.
- Feels like a classic watch
- Good customisation
- Zippy software
- Light on extra features
- Will be too big for many
- Expensive for what it does