Think back a few years to when Android Wear was introduced and how many thought that Google had tapped into something extremely special. Having all but pulled the plug on its Google Glass endeavor, Android Wear seemed much more practical and beneficial.
As much as we didn’t picture ourselves wearing Glass, or having this little screen hovering right outside of our eye, we were intrigued. There truly was something interesting and intriguing about it — regardless of how dumb we might have looked.
Android Wear was going to fix that. We would go back to wearing watches again, relying on them for not only the time, but notifications, tracking, and so many other things. Right? Yeah, right.
Fitbit, Jawbone, and Pebble notwithstanding, the first few years and iterations of smartwatches were exciting and full of promise. We had companies like Motorola, LG, Samsung, and Huawei getting into wearables.
Android had already conquered the smartphone space on the backs of these brands; it made sense that the same would be replicated on the wrist. And, really, why buy an activity tracker when there was something much smarter to consider?
Today that landscape is entirely different. Pretty much all of those phone companies have gone stopped working on wearables with some deciding to go after VR and AR instead. But, despite that, Google has continued to refine and rebrand its wearable OS.
Known now as Wear OS, it’s the platform of choice for smartwatch makers. The problem? That list of watch manufacturers has evolved and is now largely comprised of traditional companies like Fossil, Casio, Movado, and TAG Heuer.
Somewhere along the line tech brands stopped caring so much about watches. At the same time, your favorite watchmakers got smarter and began tapping into Wear OS.
One wearable brand we’ve reviewed a few times here is Fossil. Historically, we’ve found the watches to be among the best in the space, largely because of the hardware and materials. Today finds us looking at one of its newest models, the Q Control.
Fossil Q Control
The Fossil Q Control is one of the first models under the brand to focus more on the sporty side of things. Whereas the company’s umbrella covers the likes of Kate Spade, Diesel, and Michael Kors, the main brand has been more traditional in its approach. To be more specific, it tends to focus on leather and premium bands with fashion-focused designs.
The Q Control looks unlike most of the Fossil stuff you’ve seen over the years. At first blush it reminds us of something that Samsung might produce. The black on black is not all that exciting but it’s not meant to be. This is the sort of watch you want if you’re looking to track your activities and/or live a more active lifestyle.
The Q Control also calls to mind the Misfit Vapor, another brand under the Fossil line. In fact, there’s a lot of crossover between the two models with both offering the same tracking features.
The review unit we received was all black, however there is also a rose gold version offered, too. Both have a 45mm case which comes in at 14mm thick. Water resistant up to 50 meters, you can certainly take it for a swim or keep it on in the shower.
With interchangeable 20mm straps, you can change up the look of the watch by simply sliding a pin on the back of the band. Heading out to a formal event or night on the town? You can go from sporty and uninspired to eye catching inside of a few seconds.
As we see it, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the design of the Q Control. Our main complaint, at least with the black, is that it’s pretty uninspiring. The side edge of the face is more of a brushed nickel than black but it’s dark and semi-stylish nonetheless. Fossil calls it “Gunmetal” and it’s comprised of stainless steel. With the right band we could see this being a very attractive unit.
The display is a 1.39-inch circle with 450×450 pixel resolution and it offers up a bright, rich image. The blacks are deep and dark thanks the OLED screen, but the color can sometimes feel a little oversaturated. On the other hand, it’s better than having a watch that makes you squint or causes you to cover it from light.
We applaud Fossil for giving us a full circle here as the flat tire seems to be a thing of the past. That wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, but we appreciate that a circular display is a full circle again.
As far as other physical characteristics go, there’s one button to the side of the screen and a heart rate monitor on the back. The included silicone bands are very soft and flexible, making for a comfortable wearing experience. The face feels somewhat heavy upon first wearing it, but we got used to it fairly quick.
We’ve had watches, especially those in the “active” market, which employ generic materials in the band. Moreover, we’ve seen our share of bands which cause minor skin irritation, or feel generally stiff. This is not the case here as the out-of-box Q Control experience is a pleasure to wear.
Internally, the watch houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor with 768MB RAM and 4GB storage. If you want to add your own music, and somehow still have MP3 files to do so, there’s room here.
Noticeably absent from the Q Control are LTE radios and NFC connectivity. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of owning a watch with either of those, you know how convenient it can be. But, LTE is not a necessity and NFC (Google Pay, for instance) is more want than need. There’s also no GPS inside, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
There’s a microphone located on the left edge of the display which allows for voice commands and usage. Want to trigger or use Google Assistant? Talk to the hand because the face ain’t… Well, talk to the hand. It works, and it’s really nice to have when your phone is tucked away.
In terms of software, the Wear OS has grown over the years and feels a little bit more natural and intuitive with each iteration. The Q Control comes with standard fare of apps and features including reminders, weather, and translate. Indeed, there are also plenty of watch faces to be found with many of them offering further personalization.
Although Wear OS has grown in the four years since it launched as Android Wear, there’s still something in it that sometimes feels like a hacked-on software experience. It’s nowhere near what it was in the first few years, but we’re occasionally reminded that the hardware and software come from two different places.
As a “sports watch” the Q Control does an okay job. It’s certainly not going to be in direct competition with any Garmin or high end Fitbit, but it’s an excellent everyday unit.
If you’re just starting to get more active and want some help with accountability and tracking, this is a great option. However, if you’ve come to rely on GPS and a more standalone experience, you’ll find this one lacking.
If you’re interested in tracking walks, runs, or bike rides, you’ll need to rely on your phone for the GPS side of things. This isn’t always convenient, especially if you’re pushing for personal bests or looking to improve on times. Do you want to wear a phone on your arm or hold one in your hand?
Checking your heart rate isn’t quite as simple as it sounds as there’s not really an always-on way to simply glance at it. You’ll have to go through the app to pull it up and even then your rate could have changed a fair amount in that time.
Want to track calories or measure steps and distance? Google Fit handles that for you but it’s something that you’ll be manually working with instead of passively reading. Unlike, say, a Fitbit Ionic, you aren’t going to glance at your wrist and see all of that stuff updated on a regular basis.
Swimming is another area where you might encounter a wonky experience. Out of the box there’s nothing here that makes it easy to track your swims. However, an app like MySwimPro is available, but it looks to be geared toward serious swimmers.
As a whole, the aforementioned things are what cause us to remember that one company is creating software that is designed to work on a variety of devices. The common denominator approach is okay, but it’s certainly not optimal. This is where a Garmin, Misfit, or Fitbit rises above — at least when it comes to sports and activities.
Battery & Charging
The Q Control will get you through a day of usage without any issue. Much longer than that, though, and you’ll be reaching for a charger. Unlike less “smart” watches, you will want to plug this one it at night.
The charging mechanism is similar to what we’ve seen before from Fossil and other players. It amounts to a USB cord with a magnetic platter. There are three pins on the “dock” which line up to the back of the watch. There’s a noticeable vibration and animation to signal that charging is underway.
It’s hard to fault Fossil for anything here as it’s not necessarily their sole responsibility to create a smooth and intuitive user experience. This is a watchmaker first, and one that didn’t rely on any software in the past. It surely doesn’t need to be “smart” to stay in its current line of work. The shortcomings we experienced fell at Google’s feet.
Wear OS is the best that’s available to them and it’s good stuff to be sure. We like having all of the features available within a literal arm’s length, whether with or without a phone. Maybe what the platform needs is a whole litany of features and options that watchmakers can enable or disable based on hardware.
There’s something really great about how cohesive the experience is on a Pixel phone. Given Google is directly responsible for how the hardware works with its software, it makes sense. We’d love to see a Pixel-like watch from Google but as of today that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. Until then, we‘ll (hopefully) continue to get various watch manufacturers employing the ever-evolving Wear OS.
If it sounds like we hate the software experience, we don’t. In fact, it grows on us more with each update. Further, we root for it and hope that Google is able to deliver something that works for watches in the same way that Android does for phones.
Could the Q Control stand to include GPS, LTE, and/or NFC? Sure, but that comes with a cost. As of today you can purchase the watch for less than $200 from Fossil. This is a good price point for smart wearables designed for the everyday user. Much more and you’ll start looking at dedicated stuff like a Garmin.
Interestingly, and oddly, enough, the Q Control launched with a $275 price tag. That’s way too much for our liking given the overall package. We would have knocked $50 off the wearable before we’d consider it. Where it is today is the right pricing.
Each time we’ve taken a look at Fossil we come away impressed with the overall package. And, each time we’re reminded as to how handy and helpful Android Wear/Wear OS can be on a daily basis. Unfortunately, once we stop wearing them for a bit of time we don’t exactly miss it. The longer we’re away from one, the less enthusiastic we find ourselves at considering the next one.
We have enjoyed our time with the Fossil Q Control to be sure; however, we don’t know that we’ll miss it when we send it back. It’s a solid buy for the money, and well built, but it’s not the cohesive sports tracker and standalone watch that we’d like to see. We understand keeping the cost down and respect that this sits where it is — yet there’s just something lacking.
When it comes to all-around tracking of activities and life, we love Fitbit. Its software experience, and hardware, is among the best you’ll find and there’s a whole array of offerings at different prices. Why does it work so well? Likely because it keeps everything under one roof. If only that were the case here.
When you start to get into $200 or so, and look at what you want versus what you need, then an educated buyer does his or her homework. Our advice, look around, find out exactly what you plan to do or how you want to use a smartwatch, and then narrow your decision.
If, when you’re done whittling down a list of potential sport and fitness watches, you have various Wear OS models to choose from, definitely consider the Fossil Q Control. Other than that, it’s hard for us to fast-track this one to the top of a pile of contenders.