As smartwatches continue to become more mainstream, traditional watchmakers are going through a transitional period. Instead of seeing smartwatches merely as a threat, though, companies like Tag Heuer and Fossil are embracing the opportunity and trying to make great smartwatches themselves. It's too early to know if "great" is the right word for this Android Wear-running watch (we'll run a full review after spending more time with it), but the Fossil Q Founder is certainly promising.
Update: This early impressions post is now dated, as you can read our full Fossil Q Founder review.
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Based on our early time with it, the Fossil Q Founder has quickly become one of our favorite smartwatches. It looks a lot like the Moto 360, including the strange flat tire display (that black bar where the screen cuts off at the bottom) – but we prefer the Founder's all-around design to Motorola's 2nd-gen watch.
It's a subtle difference, but the quality of steel band and unified look of casing, band and default clock face combine to make it clear that this isn't a tech company that took a six-month crash course in jewelry design. The Fossil Q Founder looks like a fashionable, well-designed watch that just happens to be smart.
There's no mistaking the fact that this is a men's watch, as it's certainly on the larger side. But unlike some of the giganto-watches we've seen from companies like Asus and LG, Fossil's watch size looks more like a deliberate style choice than an engineering compromise (illusion or not, that's the impression it gives off). It would fit right in on a jeweler's display shelf with other classy and predominant men's timepieces.
One note though: the Google Store's official specs for the Fossil Q Founder include a huge error. It's listed as having a 38.1 mm diameter, but our review unit's casing (not including the crown) measures at 46 mm diameter from edge to edge. The 38.1 mm measurement is for its screen only. In every other smartwatch we've reviewed, "diameter" means the diameter of the casing, not the screen.
Its 1.5-inch, 240 PPI display looks great at a typical viewing distance. That pixel density isn't the highest (Samsung's Gear S2 is 300 PPI and the Apple Watch sits at around 326 PPI), but we don't notice any pixelation of text. The LTPS LCD also has nice richness of colors and good contrast. Display is no reason to balk at this purchase.
Battery life so far seems pretty good – it only drops around 4-6 percent per hour with normal use. It does have a strange quirk, though, where it stops charging before hitting 100 percent. Perhaps to avoid overheating(?) the charging light turns blue (from the red it uses while juicing up) and stops charging when the watch is listed at around 95-97 percent. This is odd behavior that we haven't seen in any other smartwatch – if you can't use your entire battery's capacity, then why not just make the battery a little smaller?
Even with this strangeness, it still looks like an all-day battery, and we'll run a more official review later on with more detail on this.
The Fossil Q Founder joins the US$1,500 Tag Heuer Connected in having 1 GB of RAM and an Intel chip. It's not that Android Wear needs many resources right now, but its UI moves perfectly crisply, and may be better future-proofed for next year's software than its rivals with 512 MB RAM (that's every other Android Wear smartwatch).
Based on this initial time with it, we think the Fossil Q Founder is worth a look next to rivals like the Huawei Watch, Apple Watch and Moto 360. Compared to those smartwatches, Fossil's gives you the best value for a steel band version. This version runs just $295, compared to $400 for an equivalent Huawei Watch or Moto 360, and an overpriced $1,000 for an equivalent Apple Watch with steel link bracelet.
The Fossil Q Founder is available now, from Fossil's website and the Google Store, starting at $275 for a leather band version. The steel band model we're reviewing is only $20 more (smartwatch-makers usually mark up steel band models over leather ones by at least $50).
Product page: FossilView gallery - 4 images