Fossil Gen 5 smartwatch review: The best Wear OS wearable you can get
Fossil is almost single-handedly keeping the Wear OS flag flying in the smartwatch market – though TicWatch gets an honorable mention – and the Gen 5 wearables are the best Fossil smartwatches yet. We strapped one to our wrist to see what it has to offer if you're looking to add a smartwatch to your daily gadgets.
The Gen 5 watches are the top of the Fossil line right now, with the key differences from the Gen 4 models being the slightly upgraded internals, extra battery modes, and an internal speaker (for answering phone calls and having Google Assistant speak back to you).
You get six different strap and color combinations to pick from, covering three black and gray options and three more stylish gold-tone variants – they all make use of 22-mm straps, so changing the look isn't too difficult. Here we're testing the most plain-looking of the set, the Carlyle HR Black Silicone.
Straight away you can tell Fossil has had four previous attempts to get this right: It's a really well-designed and well-crafted bit of gadgetry. The 44-mm casing and 1.3-inch screen might be too big for some tastes, but it's thin and comfortable on the wrist, and the two buttons and single dial feel solid and responsive.
Those buttons and the dial also mean you don't have to use the touchscreen for every operation on the watch – something that helps on a screen this small. We don't have any complaints about the style and construction of the Fossil Gen 5, and the software impresses too.
Taps and scrolls are quickly responded to, we found, and the watch was refreshingly free from lag. The headline software improvement this time is the introduction of four battery modes, which gradually switch off more and more features (like location tracking and the always-on display mode) to claim back more and more battery life.
These battery modes are partly the result of the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 under the hood, a chip intended to keep smartwatches running for longer, if not all that much faster. In the most extreme Time Only mode – where you just get the time, obviously – the battery life can stretch out for weeks, Fossil says.
We tested our Fossil Gen 5 in the default Daily Mode, finding it lasted the day with around 20-25 percent battery in the tank by bedtime. Push the activity tracking and location tracking features further, and you might run out of juice before the day is out – not ideal, but not a problem that's exclusive to Fossil.
We do like the Wear OS faces that Fossil provides with its watches, some of which mimic the classic Fossil watch look. You've got hundreds more to pick from via the Google Play Store – this sort of flexibility in terms of the look of Wear OS is one of the few advantages it has over the Apple Watch right now, where you have to stick with what Apple gives you.
As for Wear OS as a whole, it's grown to become a competent, comprehensive operating system for smartwatches: down the years the Google Assistant integration and fitness features have improved, while apps like Google Maps are really useful on the wrist (you get a buzz when you need to turn, so you don't need to get your phone out).
On top of the usual steps and heart rate monitoring, Wear OS lets you log a host of specific workouts, everything from badminton to skiing. Limited support for iOS is now built in too, so you can use the Fossil Gen 5 with an iPhone – you just don't get the same sort of tight integration with apps like Messages (so no replying from your wrist, for example), or the Apple Health app.
Wear OS is available on many smartwatches, of course. What the Gen 5 series from Fossil gives you is the software in an attractive, well-built casing, with just about all the features you'd want: GPS (for tracking your location without a phone), NFC (for mobile payments without a phone), and heart rate tracking. It's swim-proof too.
One major omission is the lack of an LTE option, so you can't make and receive calls with the Fossil Gen 5 unless your phone is nearby. That may or may not be a deal-breaker for you, depending on how you want to use your smartwatch.
If you are considering the Fossil Gen 5, it's worth remembering that the likes of Huawei and Samsung make very decent smartwatches of their own. They're not running Wear OS though, so you don't get the same level of developer support in terms of third-party apps.
There's still the question of whether you need a smartwatch (or indeed any kind of watch) at all, but if you decide that you do, then the Fossil Gen 5 is one of the best options on the market – and that assessment includes the Apple Watch. It's packed with features, it looks good, and the software is responsive and covers all the bases.
If you're after a smartwatch, it's probably because you want to see phone alerts on your wrist, or you want a better way of tracking your steps and other exercise – in both cases, the Gen 5 watches from Fossil tick all the boxes, and it's just about the best of Wear OS right now. The six different variants are on sale now for US$295.
Product page: Fossil