Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch Review

With its fifth generation of wearables, Fossil has seen fit to right the wrongs of the past by including the much needed Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset along with several new features that are sure to sway several buyers looking for their next upgrade.

Verdict

With its fifth generation of smartwatches, Fossil finally hits its stride with a near-perfect blend of personal assistant features and fitness tacking capabilities, setting a new standard for which Wear OS devices should be measured against.

Pros

  • Lightweight, smooth design
  • New battery modes
  • Feature-packed

Cons

  • Battery life could always be better

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £279
  • Untethered GPS
  • Swimproof
  • 416x416 AMOLED Display
  • 328 ppi
  • Wear OS
  • Four battery modes
  • Heart rate monitor
  • NFC
  • 8GB internal storage

What is the Fossil Gen 5 Watch?

When Fossil’s fourth generation smartwatches hit the market, they were met with an immediate identity crisis. While these smartwatches were beautiful to look at – particularly the Michael Kors Access Runway – they were shipping with the already out-dated Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor.

To make matters worse, consumers were also expected to hand over a significant amount of money for these devices, which were priced at an uncompetitive rate when compared to better smartwatches that were already on the market.

With its fifth generation of wearables however, Fossil has seen fit to right the wrongs of the past by including the much needed Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset along with several new features that are sure to sway several buyers looking for their next upgrade.

Related: Apple Watch 5 review

Fossil Gen 5 Watch – Design and straps

Fossil’s years of experience in the fashion industry has always meant that its smartwatches have had the upper hand when design is concerned, and the fifth generation devices are no exception.

Regardless of which Gen 5 smartwatch you go for, all of them have the same three-button configuration on the right hand side that Fossil fans have come to expect. The crown boasts a textured grip which makes rotating through menus an absolute breeze, while the two flanking pusher buttons have a satisfying amount of depth, responding to each push with a tactile click.

Those two pusher buttons can, of course, be customised, allowing you to build an interface that better suits your preferred uses for a smartwatch. Out of the box, the upper right and lower right pushers activate Fossil’s watch face system and Google Fit respectively. It’s not just familiar functions that return here however.

Fossil 5th Gen Watch – The Carlyle

The most notable improvement is the weight of the device, which, despite being housed in a 44mm casing, feels entirely lightweight and unobtrusive. While I’m not adverse to a heavier watch – and often swap back to a heftier timepiece to match a suit – the lighter weight shows that Fossil now understands the physical parameters it must follow for its main smartwatch lineup to be taken seriously as fitness trackers.

There are two versions of the Gen 5 Watch available, wonderfully named The Carlyle and Julianna, marketed at men and women respectively. If some serious bling is what you’re after, the Julianna delivers as much in spades, thanks to a collection of miniature crystals that encircle the watch’s front facing case. The Carlyle on the other hand favours a more subdued, yet classical design, with a smooth, dark-grey casing that would probably be favoured by the likes of Bruce Wayne.

For the purpose of this review, I tested The Carlyle with a 22mm silicone watchstrap, sporting a single prong strap buckle. On the inside of the strap, both edges are slightly raised to maintain a decent amount of grip without being overbearing. In fact, the soft glide of the silicone, in conjunction with the smooth underside of the watch itself, meant that The Carlyle was easily one of the most comfortable watches I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing.

Fossil Gen 5 Watch – Screen and speaker

During the lifecycle of Fossil’s 4th Gen smartwatches, 390 x 390 AMOLED displays were the name of the game. The screens on offer did a decent job of projecting information competently and with a respectable degree of brightness, but it was clear from the occasional jagged edge or blurry texture that more could be done on future watches. With The Carlyle’s 416 x 416 AMOLED display however, it feels as though that wishful future is finally here.

Packing a vibrant 328 pixels per inch, the jump in quality is reminiscent of Apple’s unveiling of Retina Display all those years ago. Colourful app icons pop against a black menu screen, while some of the more artistic watch faces cram a surprising amount of detail into such a small amount of space.

Fossil 5th Gen Watch – The Carlyle

However, there is the consideration to be had that The Carlyle’s use of grey-tone meant that the (albeit minimal) bezel surrounding the outer watch face was barely noticeable during everyday use, allowing for a better focus on the display itself. Due to the Rose Gold casing of the Julianna, I can’t say for certain that the experience there is just as seamless.

Moving away from the watch’s front facing elements, a simple tilt of the head to the left-hand side will reveal The Carlyle’s small but surprisingly loud speaker. I’m still not convinced that there’s a legitimate need for a dedicated speaker, given than the watch’s vibrations are hard to miss (perfect for setting alarms) and you can connect wireless headphones/earbuds to enjoy offline playlists saved to the watch.

Still, if a dedicated speaker sits high atop your list of the features you would like in a smartwatch, you’ll be pleased with what The Carlyle has in store.

Fossil Gen 5 Watch – Wear OS and performance

It’s been a few months since my last run in with Wear OS (the impressive battery life of Fitbit’s products gave me cause to stray), and so a few things have changed since then – the most impressive of which is the introduction of ‘tiles’.

Introduced in May of 2019, the tiles section provides Wear OS with an additional layer of customisation, in an effort to reduce the time it takes for you to get to the key bits of information you’re after on a daily basis.

From the watch face, a simple swipe to the left brings up your tiles, which by default are set to display your fitness goals, the weather and your calendar, in that order. You can add extra tiles, such as the day’s headlines and a timer, but beyond that, there isn’t much else. It’s a great bit of customisation but the feature is still in its infancy, and it’ll be great to see which other apps utilise the tile function in the future.

Fossil 5th Gen Watch – The Carlyle

Still, any updates to Wear OS are overshadowed by the importance of Fossil finally packing the much-needed Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset in its mainline smartwatches. Releasing with the previous 2100 chipset – at a time when the 3100 was already on the market – Fossil’s fourth generation smartwatches were hampered by a sometimes sluggish user experience. That couldn’t be further from the case here.

Anyone who’s used one of the fourth generation devices will see the difference immediately. Scrolling through menus is a breeze and I’ve yet to see the watch freeze up with any of the tasks I’ve thrown at it. There’s still room for improvement (as with any piece of tech), but the Wear OS experience feels far more fluid than it’s ever felt with Fossil’s devices. This performance improvement is likely down to the big RAM increases these updated watches have.

Fossil Gen 5 Watch – Health and fitness tracking

For the longest time, fitness tracking has been an Achilles’ heel for Fossil. Earlier this year, testing the Fossil produced Michael Kors Access Runway, I lamented the presence of fitness tracking features on the device. Regardless of options available, the watch’s tough metallic casing and chain link bracelet made it an absolute nightmare to wear to the gym or when out for a run.

With the Fossil Sport – released earlier this year – things moved in the right direction but still lacking when compared to some of the more established fitness trackers on the market. With The Carlyle, I feel as though Fossil has finally hit that (somewhat) seamless blend of fitness tracking and smartwatch features that it has desperately been trying to achieve.

As is the case with other Wear OS devices, The Carlyle can track a whole bunch of different excises – ranging from weight training to flossing – but this time around there are several features in the hardware that are designed to offer a more robust fitness experience.

Fossil 5th Gen Watch – The Carlyle

Flip the watch over and you’ll find a small heart rate sensor – standard stuff nowadays but it feels far less obtrusive than in previous smartwatches. The sensor itself also picks up some pretty reliable results, with no major fluctuations or glaring errors in reporting.

In an effort to outdo, or at the very least compete with the latest versions of the Apple Watch, Wear OS now includes a cardiogram app for more detailed health reporting. Supposedly, the app is meant to track your heart rate over a period of time to spot any concerning fluctuations or arrhythmia, but I could not for the life of me get past the sign-up process. Despite installing and reinstalling the app several times on my phone, the sign-up process would always get stuck in a loop, so if I do succumb to some unknown heart condition, I’m blaming Google.

For you swimmers out there, The Carlyle can be taken underwater by up to 3 ATM (30 metres). Due to a dearth of local pools in my area, I wasn’t able to test out the watch’s water resistance, save for wearing it in the shower a few times and giving it a front row seat to a thrilling instalment of washing the dishes. Still, it handled both instances just fine.

With untethered GPS on board however, The Carlyle has become a permanent fixture on my wrist when popping out for a run. Plus, when it comes to running, Google Fit does a great job of presenting all the key bits of information (distance, calories lost, etc.) you need to better comprehend your performance and how you can improve.

Beyond that however, I would be loathe to recommend using Google Fit for any forms of weight training. Logging an early morning session at the gym presented me with an absolute bare bones report, containing nothing more than the duration and the calories burned. If weight lifting is your main form of exercise, I highly recommend overlooking Google Fit and utilising other apps such as GymRun Fitness.

Fossil Gen 5 Watch – Battery life

Battery life has always been a contentious issue with smartwatch buyers. The limited amount of retail space that these devices have to contend with usually means that most models require an immediate dive into the nearest power outlet by the end of the day. With its Gen 5 smartwatches however, Fossil believes that it might have finally found a solution by giving users the ability to swap between various battery modes.

With Daily, Extended, Custom and Time Only, Fossil has given us four unique ways to get the most out of the Gen 5’s battery, with each one toggling and un-toggling various features that have the largest impact on battery life, such a location detection and heart-rate tracking.

As you can imagine, the four modes on offer stay true to their names. Daily keeps almost every major feature switched on, with the intent of being charged at the end of the day, while Extended has its eyes on being charged every two days by focusing on the core smartwatch experience of receiving notifications from your smartphone.

Time Only does exactly what it says on the tin, and is particularly handy if the battery’s looking a bit low but you don’t want to lose out on having a timepiece. In this mode, the battery can even last for a whole week from a single charge.

I did find however that the process of swapping between these modes wasn’t as smooth as Fossil had intended it to be. On occasion, it simply wasn’t enough to just tap on the desired battery mode, I needed to restart the watch for the change to take effect.

Related: Best smartwatch

Fossil 5th Gen Watch – The Carlyle

Custom is where things get interesting, giving you the option to choose your own bespoke experience, if the other presets don’t quite meet your requirements. All four modes work brilliantly, but it’s a shame that you can’t save more than one custom mode at a time – something that I would love to see patched in.

Why buy the Fossil Gen 5 Smart Watch?

If you’ve been holding out for a near-perfect blend of fitness tracking capabilities and smartwatch features, Fossil may have just answered your prayers with The Carlyle and Julianna smartwatches.

Boasting NFC, untethered GPS, heart rate tracking, water resistance, and an in-built speaker, Fossil’s Gen 5 smartwatches aren’t lacking in the feature department. A faster user experience and the new inclusion of life-saving battery modes represent the symbolic cherries on top. An incredible step forward – Fossil has just upped the game.

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