- Lightweight, sporty design
- Accurate HR and GPS data
- Useful battery modes
- GPS signal inconsistencies
- Google Fit syncing issues
- No speaker
It feels like a long time since Puma signed its 10-year partnership with the Fossil Group - and, after 18 months of work, we now have the first piece of kit from the new duo, the Puma Smartwatch.
The dull name doesn't give too much away, but, expectedly, Puma's first foray into the world of smartwatches focuses primarily on workouts and activity.
That's a difficult area to compete in nowadays, with the Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Versa 2 locking up the budget end and the Apple Watch Series 5 remaining the undisputed ruler of anything above $200.
The Puma Smartwatch sits in the middle of this pack. It's , running Google's Wear OS and debuts with GPS, heart rate tracking and a swim-proof design. That really puts it head-to-head with the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which seems the most natural alternative watch for Android smartphone users.
Does it do enough to justify its place among the sports-focused smartwatches? We've been living with the Puma Smartwatch in order to find out.
Puma Smartwatch: Design
We first saw the Puma Smartwatch back at IFA in September, and our initial impressions were favourable - this looked like a solid first effort from the design team.
That was with the white model, which features a rose gold trim around the bezel, though there's also a black variation with a grey bezel and, our review model, the enough-to-blind-you yellow.
Picking up this model is, obviously, a brave decision, but keep in mind the straps are interchangeable. If you just want that yellow/black bezel, you can simply scout around for a less jazzy band.
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In terms of specs, though, all three models are the same. You get a 44mm face (so, not the best for those with slightly smaller wrists, but also not a behemoth), a 1.19-inch AMOLED display (with the option for an always-on screen) and an 11mm thick case that's also waterproof to 5ATM.
That's thin, matching around the same thickness as something like the Fitbit Versa 2, which also means you shouldn't find yourself catching it on keyboards, doors and, well, anything else life throws at you.
Like the rest of the Wear OS clan, Puma's watch has little design features to help it stand out from the rest of the pack. The bezel is accented with the iconic Puma logo, which is also matched by the same detail on the adjacent side.
When we had another play around with the Puma Smartwatch at the sports brand's headquarters in Nuremberg in October, the design began to remind us of the Fossil Sport and Emporio Armani Smartwatch 3.
This is likely Fossil Group's influence in the design process, which, when we asked Puma's global creative director, Torsten Hochstetter, was described as a "very 50-50" partnership.
In all, we think this is a solid design for active users. It still doesn't necessarily blow us away, but it does achieve exactly what it sets out to, and that's remaining light, yet sturdy, for workouts and daily use.
And there could be more expansion in design in future devices, though Hochstetter indicated it's not clear whether Puma will be with same yearly cycle as the rest of Fossil Group's partners.
"We need to get feedback from this first watch. Things evolve so quickly and we just need to spend our time really making sure that whatever we put out there is true to what Puma is all about," he said.
Puma Smartwatch: Features and Wear OS
It may come with a svelte design, but there's still a respectable amount of features locked inside the Puma Smartwatch - GPS for location tracking, NFC for contactless payments and a heart rate monitor.
This should come as no surprise, obviously - these features have been standard in Fossil Group's partners since the last generation, but they're still essential in a fitness-first smartwatch.
Unfortunately, though, as we point out with every watch running the software (and there's lots), Wear OS is just not a great experience.
It's definitely become more powerful and speedy with the introduction of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 3100 processor, but it's a far cry from what you get with Apple, Fitbit and more.
And this isn't necessarily a criticism of the apps, watch faces or more low-level smartwatch functions - all that stuff is fine, and probably on par with all but Apple.
This is really more about fitness and health tracking, which is held back by the mind-numbing usability of Google Fit and the endless cohort of on-watch (Google Fit Workout, Google Fit Workout, Google Fit Breathe) and smartphone cronies (Google Fit and Wear OS by Google) required to get the most out of it.
Again, repeating what we've said in other reviews, things are definitely better than a couple of years ago, but there's far too much emphasis on Move Minutes and Heart Points.
If you care about sleep tracking, your resting heart rate or actually want to pick some health and activity goals (like, say, you can on Fitbit), Google Fit can't do much for you.
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There's still an extremely questionable balance between simplicity, which is necessary when you're making an activity watch aimed largely at casual sporty types, and in-depth daily activity feedback, required to keep people invested over the long-term.
As we say, things like Google Pay, Google Assistant and Tiles are good features we can live with, but the Puma Smartwatch - and any other sporty Wear OS watch - has an innately low ceiling due to Google Fit's limitations.
Now, you could make the argument the Puma Smartwatch should also have the same new features as Fossil Gen 5, too, but, really, that's the inclusion of a speaker and some slightly improved internals. It should definitely have the latest features, we just don't consider it a dealbreaker in this instance.
Puma Smartwatch: Tracking
In this section, we typically show off a few graphs comparing how the watch compares to a rival device - in this case, we were testing the Puma Smartwatch against the Fitbit Versa 2 and Apple Watch Series 4.
However, such is the demented nature of present day Wear OS and Google Fit, our two test runs with the device have seen us encounter two different, yet equally catastrophic, problems.
First, GPS. We were testing the Puma's location accuracy against the Apple Watch Series 4. To do so properly, the devices need to be away from a phone and taken on a run. Simple enough, right?
Wrong. While Apple's smartwatch is able to independently find a signal within around five seconds of indicating you want to start a workout, the Puma Smartwatch could not.
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It took around two minutes of looking at the 'Acquiring GPS' tag for us to lose patience, before starting the run without signal and then getting a buzz on our wrist a minute or so later.
Potentially, this was to indicate it had found the signal - however, if it can't, distance will still be estimated. We're still not sure whether it tracked through the accelerometer.
GPS inconsistencies - or just flat-out refusal to work - isn't just a problem in this watch; pretty much every device since the arrival of the Fossil Group's Gen 4 has struggled with this. And that's not to say every device will suffer the same issues, but it's definitely something to keep in mind.
However, this is also compounded by the second problem - syncing.
Post-workout, we would have usually been able to check if the Puma tracked our location, but whatever exercise we did track on the watch refused to sync through to Google Fit on our phone. This is a new problem, and one we've not encountered before on a Wear OS device, but we can't say we're surprised.
We tested the Puma Smartwatch with an iPhone, which admittedly isn't as friendly with Wear OS as Android smartphones, but, frankly, this really shouldn't be an issue, either.
For what it's worth, the data the Puma Smartwatch did collect (which we can see on the watch) seemed bang in line with the two smartwatches we tested against. Average heart rate was within 1-2 BPM of the Fitbit, and location was within 0.1km of the Apple Watch.
Puma Smartwatch: Battery life
One of the plus points in the latest generations of Wear OS - and likely due to the more efficient Qualcomm processor running the show - is the new battery modes.
Obviously, how much juice you get is relative to how heavily you're using the device, and this still can't reach the week-long benchmark set by the likes of Garmin and Fitbit, but it's good.
It means that you can have the choice to go for big use and charge it back up the same day, or you can strip back features like heart rate and the always-on display and get a couple of days.
You can also create a custom setting, if, say, your usage is fairly consistent and you want to get through a certain period without having to charge it.
We found it to have offer around 24 hours in standard use, but the fact there's now options at your disposal to tune the device to your habits is a nice feature.
How we test