Fossil Gen 5 full review

While there are a wealth of Wear OS smartwatches to choose from nowadays, the Fossil Group, which includes brands like Armani and Diesel, has been the principal reason behind the platform’s continued relevance and presence in the wearables space.

If you cut out fitness trackers and look at smartwatches specifically, when it comes to manufacturers, the three biggest players are Apple, Samsung and Fossil; so when the company launched a new generation of its own-brand smartwatches, we were more than curious to find out how it might be taking the fight to its most prominent competition.

One of the biggest aspects that’s held Fossil’s smartwatches - and all Wear OS smartwatches back, for that matter - is that the manufacturers don’t have all that much control over the software or internal hardware at play.

The Fossil Gen 5 smartwatches bring about some notable upgrades in both regards, however, that might finally render them worthwhile alternatives to the next Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch.

Want to see what else is worth buying? Check out our 'Best Smartwatches 2019' rundown.

Price & Availability

While the price of Fossil’s smartwatches has slowly crept up over the years, they still stand toe-to-toe with Samsung and undercut Apple with this latest-generation of watches.

Across the six body styles available at launch, all variants of the Gen 5 cost £279/$295 - roughly £/$100 less than the base price for a Series 4 Apple Watch and around the same price as the smaller 42mm Samsung Galaxy Watch.

Fossil released its Gen 5 range at the start of August 2019 across multiple markets, including the US, UK, France and Japan. You can buy them directly from Fossil, or order them on Amazon, with shipping available from September 26th.

Want to see what else is worth buying? Check out our 'Best Smartwatches 2019' rundown.

Design & Build

There are six finishes of Fossil Gen 5 to choose from, split across two discreet body types: Carlyle and Julianna - the former playing to more traditionally masculine stylings, the latter to more feminine; toting embellishments like inlaid rhinestones and a more liberal use of rose gold in place of titanium grey or black.

Whichever model you swing for, the Gen 5 uses a 44mm casing, which seems well-proportioned, even on more spindly wrists. Its 12mm depth means the watch doesn’t protrude too far either, providing a sleeker appearance compared to some of its predecessors and reducing the risk of catching it on something in day-to-day use.

The stainless steel casing itself is a mix of polished and brushed finishes that catch the light playfully. The left side houses an outlet for the new integrated speaker while the right sports two physical buttons along with a central rotating crown, which can also serve as a button in its own right.

Our review unit is stylishly unassuming in its understated all-black finish and includes a black silicon strap that's flexible and comfortable to wear, even whilst working out. However, the Gen 5 can also be had with leather straps, steel link straps and even a fine metal mesh option.

The watch’s design doesn’t limit you to Fossil’s own strap options either, accommodating any standard 22mm watch band of your choosing. What’s more, the included band’s quick-release pins make it easy to swap straps out without any additional tools, which paired to the myriad of watch faces that Fossil has included make it easy to change up the look of your Gen 5 in a heartbeat.

Flip the watch over and you’ll find a smooth, rounded plastic back with an optical heart rate sensor in the centre surrounded by two concentric silver rings. These are a feature that Fossil first introduced on last year’s generation 4 watches which completely reworks how these wearables charge and it's a huge improvement.

The rings serve as contact points for the updated USB charging cable, which attaches magnetically but supplies power directly, instead of via wireless induction - which was not only slower but far more likely to become misaligned - leaving your watch out of power.

To round out the design, the Gen 5 retains the swim-proofing of its predecessor, meaning it’s rated for up to 3ATM (30m). Fossil promises that it “can be worn while swimming in shallow water or showering” and while we didn’t take it for a swim, it held up perfectly well when exposed to a running tap and after being submerged in some fresh water for a short time.

Software & Features

Most manufacturers don’t (or can’t) readily tinker with the base Wear OS user experience that runs on their smartwatches. However, the Gen 5 still benefits from a few new tricks.

For starters, the user experience now has a ‘Tiles’ section, which lets you add what are effectively widgets to the interface. Swiping left from your main watch face previously took you to the Google Fit Goals screen but now you can append additional ‘tiles’, such as a timer, the weather, news headlines and more; all accessible with additional swipes to the left.

It’s a nice tweak to the Wear OS experience that adds greater functionality to the Gen 5, without needing to jump into the apps menu (accessed by pressing the crown) every time. Beyond that, the software experience and interface remain relatively unchanged from previous Fossil smartwatches, save for a few hardware-related capabilities which we’ll come onto later.

Fossil’s also clearly been paying attention to the prominent new Wear OS apps that have surfaced on the Play Store of late. There’s now a Nike Run Club app and a Spotify app, both of which come pre-loaded on the Gen 5 - likely as a way to appeal to Apple Watch converts, although the latter still doesn’t offer offline playback support, as you’d find on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch line.

There are three watch faces to choose from, all with interchangeable complications like access to the Google Assistant and the Cardiogram app with a single tap, however, dive into the companion Wear OS app on your smartphone and you’ll find a wealth more faces to choose from, including Fossil-exclusive offerings that ape or pay homage to the company’s more traditional analogue timepieces.

Changing out watch faces is simply a case of long-pressing on your current face, choosing an alternative face and tapping to select it. You can also customise faces while in this mode by tapping the cog icon that appears at the bottom of the screen. To sweeten the experience a little further, Fossil even includes a dedicated Wear OS app on the Gen 5 that lets you save and categorise any custom watch faces you might want to jump back to.

Audio & Display

The addition of a speaker means that alarms now come with sound (if desired), the Google Assistant can respond with a voice of its own, not just with on-screen information and, if you want to, you can take calls without Bluetooth headphones - so long as the watch is still paired to your smartphone.

The speaker is loud enough for most situations and clarity is decent too, considering the entire device in which it’s contained is so small. Taking a call directly on your wrist isn’t the most elegant experience, however, the integrated microphone does a decent job of ensuring speech is still clearly parsable, even against the din of London streets. The watch’s speech recognition chops also impress in this regard.

There’s a 1.28in, 416x416, fully-circular display (surrounded by a decidedly thick bezel) which serves as the Gen 5’s face. The use of AMOLED tech is always preferred where wearables are concerned, thanks to its propensity for lower power consumption – especially when displaying black, not to mention its more vivacious colour output.

The display is perfectly sharp, colourful and resistant to typical extreme viewing angle maladies - a consideration that has far more relevance on a smartwatch than a smartphone.

One area where the Gen 5’s display does fall short of the mark, however, is brightness. The watch comes with five levels of defined brightness as well as an ‘auto’ setting, thanks to its integrated ambient light sensor. Even so, the calibration feels off, with the watch typically appearing on the dim side relative to the surrounding light.

What’s more, the always-on display mode may be perfect for glancing at the time or any pending notifications but its default low-brightness is near-impossible to see in bright sunlight. Even with the watch’s ‘Sunlight Boost’ feature toggled on, content still looks dim when fighting against midday sun viewing compared to the viewing experiences of the Gen 5’s leading rivals.

Performance & Battery Life

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Gen 5 isn’t that it’s the second-ever Fossil watch to benefit from Qualcomm’s latest wearable-focused chipset - the Snapdragon Wear 3100 - but that for the first time, the user experience offered up actually feels responsive.

Despite promises from Google to the contrary, Wear OS has always felt underpowered, with the majority of entries over the last few years pairing the older Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip with a measly 512MB of RAM (and 4GB of internal storage).

Some offerings, like the Huawei Watch 2 (with its 768MB of RAM), have gone some way to alleviating this issue but the Gen 5 proves that if you double the available memory compared to the status quo (up to 1GB RAM), the user experience is instantly made markedly and consistently better.

After initial setup, app updates and data syncing were out of the way, the Gen 5 has never felt sluggish; tapping, swiping and button presses have all been met with instant reaction and never once have we had to wait for an animation that's gotten stuck mid-stride. It makes for a refreshing experience and a renewed faith in viewing Wear OS as a reliable user experience for long-term use.

Fossil has also doubled the internal storage compared to previous generations (to 8GB), which means more room for apps and, if developers like Spotify allow it, offline media storage, which would allow users to leave their phones at home whilst on a run, while still being able to enjoy audio on the go.

The other fundamental shift in the experience offered up by the Gen 5 is with regards to its battery, or more explicitly, its power management setup.

Wear OS has previously offered a battery extending mode that shuts off some of the features of the watch it’s attached to, to prolong longevity, but with the Gen 5 you actually have four different power modes to choose from: Daily, Extended, Custom and Time Only.

In truth, Custom is more of a variation on Extended that lets you pick and choose whether features like “OK, Google” voice detection are on or off, and the watch jumps from Daily to Extended to Time Only of its own volition, as the watch’s charge drops beneath certain thresholds.

In practice, the Gen 5’s mileage varies pretty wildly but real-world longevity suggests that it's best suited to a daily charging regime. One day it finished with 40% of its juice left in the tank, on another, 15%.

If you do accidentally or purposefully skip a night’s charge, the watch still holds onto functionality, not only with its extended power mode but with the Time Only mode, which Fossil says is good for several days’ use as a more traditional timepiece.

It’s also important to bear in mind that using features like constant heart rate monitoring (nothing quite as fancy as Apple’s EKG functionality to speak of here) or Google Pay contactless payments via NFC all contribute to sapping power from the Gen 5 at a faster rate. During testing, our device lost 15% of its charge from a 30-minute run with untethered GPS activated.

One saving grace is the watch’s fast-charging, which according to Fossil grants you 80% charge of the Gen 5’s surprisingly-small 310mAh battery after an hour. In practice, our sample actually fared better than the company’s claims, usually reaching the 95% charge mark in the same time-frame.

Verdict

The small tweaks to the Wear OS user experience, paired with improved specs, markedly better performance and enhanced power management collectively render the Fossil Gen 5 an excellent all-rounder.

This jack-of-all-trades approach means it’s well suited to anyone after a smartwatch that has everything you’re likely to need, without going above and beyond. Samsung’s Galaxy Watches don’t offer the same variety of style and design as the Gen 5 range but do dole out a slicker user experience.

Meanwhile, Apple’s current and next-gen watches still trump the hardware available in the Gen 5, but as ever you pay a premium to enjoy such extras - not to mention, unlike Fossil’s offering, Apple’s watches only play nice with iOS devices.

If you're after something with a greater focus on fitness, check out the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active or our rundown of the 'Best Fitbits' available right now.

Despite becoming more expensive, the Fossil Gen 5 is the first of the company’s smartwatches that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, namely because it finally addresses one of the biggest shortcomings that’s plagued Wear OS offerings up until this point.

Specs

Fossil Gen 5: Specs

  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Altimeter, Ambient Light, Gyroscope, Heart Rate, Microphone, NFC, Untethered GPS
  • Functions: ‘OK Google’ detection, Google Pay, Cardiogram, Torch
  • Compatibility: Android 4.4+ (except GO edition), iOS 9.3+
  • Apps: Google Fit, Play Store, Spotify, Nike Run Club
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Display: 1.28-inch AMOLED, 416x416
  • Battery: 310mAh, charger included
  • Water resistance: Up to 3ATM
  • Operating system: WearOS
  • Strap width: 22mm
  • Case size: 44mm
  • Memory: 1GB
  • Storage: 8GB
  • Weight: 99g