Wear OS, formerly known as Android Wear, is an interesting platform to say the least. In theory it’s the best and smartest stuff you could put on your wrist. In practice, it’s a gamble.
While the software has advanced over the generations, the hardware seemingly hit a plateau a year or two back. And, whereas the first few years of smart watches was largely maintained by phone makers, today’s models often come from traditional watch makers.
Fossil is one brand that’s been in the watch game for decades and who has spent more than a couple of years dabbling in Wear OS. Its latest effort, the Gen 5, pushes the hardware forward a bit, offering up better performance and battery life.
What is the Fossil Gen 5?
The Gen 5 runs just under $300 and comes in two key flavors: Carlyle HR and Julianna HR. The main difference here is that the former is sold in unassuming black and silver cases while the latter is offered in a rose gold face and has a more ornate aesthetic.
All versions of the Fossil Gen 5 come with the same 44mm body with replaceable 22mm bands. Not only does Fossil provide a ton of options in bands, but it’s easy to find them through Amazon and other outlets. The straps included with the watch have a quick-release mechanism so replacing them takes but a moment.
Whereas most of today’s Wear OS watches have 4GB on-board storage and 512MB memory, the Gen packs 8GB storage and 1GB RAM. Moreover, it is also one of the few wearables to include the Snapdragon 3100 processor.
Also tucked inside the watch is a speaker so wearers can take calls and hear alarms and Google Assistant responses. Moreover, an update scheduled for this fall will make it the first Wear OS device to allow for answering calls when paired to an iPhone.
In theory all of this means better performance, more room for music, and more efficient battery life. What about practice?
Performance and Experience
There’s nothing that Wear OS can do that isn’t represented in the Fossil Gen 5. This means animations, Google Assistant, speaker, and Tiles functionality. This alone puts this watch ahead of much of its competition.
Setup is incredibly easy and gets you through the initial process much quicker than in the past. From pairing to the phone and setting preferences to choosing a watch face, it’s seamless.
Speaking of watch faces, Fossil has thrown in dozens of designs, many of which have alternate colors and configurations. There’s plenty to get you started whether it be digital analog, minimal, or busy. The same goes for complications, or the widgets that display on the watch face.
Should you not find something you like in the Fossil app, you can always head to the Google Play Store where there are free and paid watch faces.
While gestures and tiles are convenient for interaction, we did find the hardware buttons to feel more natural. Once we got the feel for how each worked, we regularly used them as opposed to swiping through menus.
Although the bands are very easy to swap out and clean, we did find that the silicone material picks up and collects dirt, skin, and the other junk that comes with sweating in the summer sun. We suggest giving them a good wash in the sink every few days just to keep from getting a little gross and/or stinky.
Battery and charging
One of the main draws to the Fossil Gen 5 is the number of battery modes available. Wearers can choose from four options, each with varying degrees of functionality.
On the one end you can have a full-fledged Wear OS experience with all of the bells and whistles. On the other is a traditional watch experience that’s barely anything but a digital time piece.
Between the Daily and Time Only options are customization features like radios, always-on display, speaker, touch-to-wake, NFC, and more. Suffice it to say, the smarter you want your watch to be, the shorter the battery life.
We’re accustomed to taking our watch off at night to charge it so we’re content to keep everything active. With that said, many longer days (7AM-11PM) found us with around 25% or so at bedtime.
We did toggle a few things off in the custom mode just to see how much it would impact battery and we noticed it extended us anywhere from 10-15% more at the end of a day.
Charging is relatively easy as the cable/pad sticks to the back of the watch via magnetic pull. There’s no real wrong way to orient the Gen 5 because the pins can touch anywhere along the halo rings. This is much more convenient than it sounds as nobody wants to fuss with exact placement as they head off to bed.
Our review unit was an all black Carlyle HR which had soft silicone straps. And, while it much look a little utilitarian, we’re drawn to the idea of a dressier or fancier strap we can swap out for more formal occasions.
Should you buy the Fossil Gen 5?
The Fossil Gen 5, for whatever it’s worth, is the best Wear OS experience we’ve seen at this price point. It blends leading edge watch hardware, excellent battery management, and software that finally feels cohesive.
If Wear OS is the platform you’re attracted to, there’s no question that the Gen 5 is the way to go in mid-2019. It might come at a higher price than others but the extra hardware does make a difference in performance.
Sure, Wear OS is robust, flexible, and really smart, but it’s sometimes too much for the average person. Sometimes you’re paying for things you don’t actually use.
A lot of consumers are content with activity trackers and watch experiences like what Samsung offer in its Watch Active line. They’re far smarter than what you would have gotten just 1-2 years ago and they come in about $100 cheaper, too.
We’re big fans of Google Assistant, Google Maps, and the ways Google ties its wearables to its other devices. Notification management is excellent and highly customizable and we appreciate the watch faces and apps.
Fossil does a great job of creating an experience that doesn’t feel like a watch with software tacked on for no reason. Credit goes to both Google and Fossil here.
Although Wear OS seems to have stalled for the most part, we don’t mind where it is as we wind down 2019. It keeps moving forward ever so slowly, and we’re glad to see watch makers stepping up the hardware.
You can learn more about the Fossil Gen 5 at Fossil’s website where it’s available in a number of configurations. Both the Carlyle HR and Julianna HR cost $295 as of today. It’s also at Amazon with the same pricing for both models.