After realising I’d been with my last smartwatch for around four and half years, and that it was slowly being left behind in the Android Wear stakes, I started looking around for a suitable replacement. Fossil’s range had been on my radar for some time with the way they looked, but perpetual reports of a battery that couldn’t see it through day and sluggish performance had closed them off. Then they got Google involved with the behemoth snapping up Fossil’s R&D division to take advantage of some “unique” wearable tech, and rumours started circulating that they were collaborating whilst going into production with the latest chipset and things got a bit more interesting. A few months on and we’ve just had the release of the Gen 5 – can it finally live up to the expectations of performance coupled with aesthetics?
Getting the specs out of the way, the Fossil Gen 5 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 processor which should be quicker and less power hungry than its predecessor. There’s an AMOLED touchscreen display, 1 GB of memory (plus 8 GB of storage), heart sensor, GPS, WiFi, accelerometer, NFC, mic, speaker, vibration and gyroscope. Oh, and it’s swim-proof too. Complimenting the on-screen controls, there are three physical buttons on the side, with the centre one working as the multi-function home/apps/power/scroll option, and the others being assignable as shortcuts for whatever is used the most. The face is a good size at 44 mm and has a reasonable profile in line with most other classic watches. There’s around a 3 mm bezel between the edge of the watchface and the case, so it doesn’t fill the whole space which some might expect. The one being reviewed is the Carlyle HR with the leather strap, which is actually silicone inside leather and has a tough and durable feel to it, but there are several others available with the same tech. The quick release strap mechanism also means that these are easy to swap out with other Fossil options, or with any standard 22 mm design.
In the box it’s pretty standard fare for any tech product – power cable and guarantee. There’s not much else, though I’ll give Fossil their due, it’s a nice touch in the way the shipping carton is also part of the product packaging. Switch the Fossil Gen 5 on and it’s the usual Android Wear setup and pair with a phone. The Wear 2.0 app is essential here and will do all the heavy lifting for the installation and any mandatory updates. Once it’s up and running it’s time to delve into the options and get it how you want it. Pretty much everything is on from the start, so if you’re using it to track every move you make there’s little to change. Pairing with a WiFi network means it’ll continue to sent notifications and use “OK Google” when your phone’s out of Bluetooth range, and GPS logs data for fitness tracking, weather reports and general location detail. The build-in heart rate sensor needs no calibration and simply wants to know how often it should take your pulse. If you do use Google’s assistant you can expect her to communicate via the speaker too so you don’t need to glance at text for whatever you’ve asked which is a surprisingly nice addition. Thanks to the RAM and CPU it’s all snappy and smooth with little to no lag noticeable.
All the functions do come at a price though, and that’s how long the watch can function for. Have everything turned on and it’ll last a day at best. There’s some saving with the always on screen dimming after a couple of seconds to simple black and white, but it still uses power to do that. Those worried that the battery issues of the past have carried through might well be right to be concerned… however, a quick swipe down to the quick menu shows it’s been thought about by the bods at Fossil. With several presets it’s possible to configure the power usage and get more (or less) life from the smartwatch. Daily, Extended and Time Only let you decide whether to charge daily, every couple of days, or weekly, respectively. If none feel right you can dive into Custom and switch options on and off, as well as telling it when Bluetooth should shut down. With almost everything on except tilt to wake, OK Google detection and location, I’ve been getting around 40 hours between charges, which isn’t bad for a wearable with fairly heavy use. Of course, in the first week there’s been a lot of fiddling around and playing with settings, so I expect it to improve a little over time. When it gets down to 10% it suggests switching on the battery saver mode which turns the Fossil Gen 5 into a simple timepiece with a default Fossil watchface. This will keep the power going for a good few hours, but will need the wearable to go on charge before returning to its normal mode. Let it get to 1% and this mode will activate automatically. Full charge takes 1 – 2 hours so at least it’s not too long to wait for it to be ready again.
One of the core advantages of smartwatches is the ability to customise the look and function and there’s no difference here. Fossil provide a good range of default faces that range from classic to contemporary, each with configurable widgets, and it’s easy enough to install a manager if you’re looking for something more bespoke (my go to is Minimal & Elegant). When the main screen is off a dimmed version of the display is always visible, though the inbuilt faces are a touch too bright and can’t be dialled back, hence the third party app. The side buttons are great for short-cutting to apps like the torch or timer functions, and a press of the dial gets you into the list of installed apps. There’s the basics pre-installed, and a reasonable amount of additional ones for more functionality. With basic call handling (including taking calls through the watch itself) and Google assistant’s voice recognition for messaging, it means not having to fumble around with your phone for the core stuff. Native support exists for a lot of the social media apps, and Google’s own Fit is on hand to manage the workouts. If you use contactless payment a lot it supports Google Pay through the NFC chip too.
There’s something nice with the way the Fossil Gen 5 is put together – the blend of style and substance on offer just works. It’s packed with everything that a device needs, even though there’s a chance you won’t use all of them. That’s part of the issue with a lot of wearable tech though, they’re full of fancy additions that they need charging regularly and it’s a balancing act for manufacturers, so that’s where the enhanced battery options come into their own as a software option. At £279 currently, it’s not exactly the cheapest option, but then it’s far from the most expensive too, and there’s a lot of value packed in to it. The display is big and clear, if a bit useless in direct sunlight even with the boosting options; there’s a solid build and feel to the case and buttons; being waterproof is a nice touch, as is the wireless fast charge. Fossil have managed the design element in the past, and now it looks like they’re on top of the technical side too. If you’re looking for a smartwatch on Android then this should be near the top of the list.
The Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch range is currently exclusively available on the company’s website, and registering with them can net a 15% off voucher if you’re interested in picking something up.