Update: August 19, 2020: We have updated our Fossil Gen 5 review with details on a new software update that brings sleep tracking, new phone app updates, and more. Read on for the details!
Fossil is one of the last remaining watchmakers to stay committed to Google’s Wear OS platform. The company launches multiple smartwatches each year, and they’re some of the best looking Wear OS watches in the business. Despite this, I didn’t expect to like the latest Fossil watch as much as I did — many Wear OS watches are slow and struggle to last a full day on a charge.
The new Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch is different. Its upgraded specs, custom battery modes, and new hardware make for one of the best Wear OS experiences you can find right now. Read our full Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review to find out why you should buy one, and why you might want to pass.
Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review: The big picture
Wear OS is in an awkward place — major fashion companies and tech brands are releasing Wear OS smartwatches left and right, but Google doesn’t seem too committed to the platform. If you don’t believe me, just look back at the zero Wear OS mentions at Google I/O 2019.
Still, Fossil and its long list of brands continue to remain true to Wear OS. The Gen 5 Smartwatch is one of the few Wear OS watches to run on the newer Snapdragon 3100 chipset, and it has a few features you won’t find on other devices: custom battery modes, plenty of RAM to help with performance, and even a built-in speaker.
It may be in the running as one of the best Wear OS watches out right now, but it has more competition outside of the relatively small Wear OS bubble. Can it really compete with the Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa, and Galaxy Watch?
Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review: Design and display
- Display: 1.28-inch AMOLED
- 416 x 416 resolution
- Case size: 44 x 12mm
- Strap size: 22mm
- Weight: 99.79g
If you’re at all familiar with Fossil smartwatches, you’ll be right at home with the Generation 5 smartwatch. It features similar overall design to previous Fossil watches, with a big, bright 1.28-inch AMOLED display, a sharp pixel density of 328ppi, and three programmable pushers on the right side — the middle of which is a rotatable crown. The buttons are easy to press, and the spinning crown provides a nice alternative to swiping on that tiny screen with your finger. It’s no rotating bezel like you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy Watch, but it’ll do.
There are three Gen 5 models: the Carlyle (our review unit), the Julianna, and the newer Garrett model that launched at CES 2020. They’re all the same price and come with a variety of different strap options. Our review unit has a black silicone strap, but you can also buy variants with metal and leather straps. Of course, the straps are interchangeable, so you can swap them out for any 22mm straps you have lying around.
There’s no functional difference between the three models. They have the same case size — 44 by 12mm — though it’s clear Fossil is marketing the Julianna towards the more feminine crowd. Julianna models come with soft rose gold and pink, rose gold with a tortoise shell leather strap, rose gold with a silver mesh strap, and yellow-gold with a mesh strap colorways, while Carlyle models are black and smokey stainless steel. The Garrett models are a little chunkier and come in five colors: dark grey stainless steel, stainless steel with a blue silicone strap, stainless steel with a red and blue bezel, silver with a black silicone strap, and yellow-gold.
The Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch is classy, versatile, and a step in the right direction over the Generation 4 watches. It still isn’t my first choice for a workout companion, but luckily it has the hardware you need if that’s what you need it for.
Hardware and performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 SoC
- 1GB of RAM
- 8GB of onboard storage
- Three custom battery modes
- Heart rate sensor
- No LTE connectivity
Short of the $1,000 Montblanc Summit 2, Suunto 7, and Skagen Falster 3, the Fossil Gen 5 is probably the most stacked Wear OS watch you can buy. It comes with the Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip, which isn’t all that new, but at least it isn’t the old-as-hell chip Mobvoi is still using. Thankfully, the jump up to the 3100 pays off for the Fossil watch — performance is great.
I really only noticed the watch stutter when pulling up the keyboard within the Google Play Store. Other than that, no complaints here.
Every Wear OS watch needs the Snapdragon 3100 and 1GB of RAM.
That buttery smoothness is helped along by 1GB of RAM, nearly double what other Wear OS watches offer. Fossil also included a full 8GB of onboard storage — plenty to store apps and music. That amount of ROM is good news for people who like to work out while leaving their phone at home.
What’s more, the Fossil watch comes with NFC for Google Pay contactless payments, as well as built-in GPS, and an optical heart rate sensor. When manufacturers try to cut costs these are usually the first things to go, so it’s nice to see them included here. Clearly Fossil isn’t trying to cut corners.
Fossil claims the heart rate sensor is upgraded this year. I tested it against my Wahoo Tickr X chest strap and Garmin Forerunner 245 Music running watch during a 2.75-mile outdoor run. Check out the results below:
The Tickr X heart rate strap reported an average heart rate reading of 117bpm and a max of 148bpm. This is a little under what the Forerunner and Fossil reported. Both wearables actually came back with the same exact max and average heart rate readings: 164bpm for max, 148 for average. The Fossil smartwatch actually hit its 164 max heart rate at around the 6-minute mark, while the Forerunner 245 didn’t hit 164bpm until the 16-minute mark.
Either way, both the Garmin and Fossil watches were at least able to pick up on major heart rate trends throughout the workout, even though they both overshot their readings. I ran with all three of these devices two more times, and both the Garmin and Fossil watches overshot max and average heart rate readings compared to the chest strap.
The fitness crowd will also be happy to hear that the smartwatch has a 3ATM water-resistance rating, as well as an altimeter, accelerometer, and a gyroscope built in.
For fitness tracking, the Fossil Gen 5 connects with Google Fit. I’m not a huge fan of the platform in its current form, but I’ll admit it is growing on me. Luckily since this is a Wear OS device, you can download a third-party fitness app to your watch if you’d rather stay away from Google Fit.
It's a struggle to find any complaints with the Fossil Gen 5's hardware.
Perhaps my favorite part of this hardware is the addition of a speaker module. This absolutely needs to be a standard on all Wear OS watches. If you speak to your watch through Google Assistant, you can actually hear things being said back to you. It’s great.
You can also play music through the watch’s speaker, but I don’t know anyone who’d want to do that (probably the same people who like to look at photos on their watch).
Battery life is decent. It’s certainly better than the average Wear OS watch — which, in my experience, lasts less than a full day — but it’s certainly no Fitbit or Galaxy Watch. I usually get through a full day on a single charge without any issues, but I normally don’t have enough juice in the tank to wear it overnight for sleep tracking. I had the always-on display turned off, so expect even worse longevity if you keep it turned on.
During a three-mile run, the smartwatch lost about 10% battery with the GPS and heart rate monitor turned on.
Wear OS on its own doesn’t seem to have the best battery saving techniques, so Fossil threw in three custom battery modes (four in all) to help your device last a bit longer. First, there’s daily mode, which keeps every feature turned on at the same time — location, always-on display, NFC, speaker, and everything else. This will obviously drain your battery the quickest.
Extended battery mode is one step down from daily mode. In this mode, you can set Bluetooth to turn on and off on a schedule for the day, allowing the watch to disconnect from your phone at bedtime so you’re not wasting battery when you’re asleep. This mode also turns off everything except for button-to-wake, notifications, and vibration.
Custom mode is my favorite — you can turn on or off anything you’d like. I keep everything turned on except for the always-on display and NFC. This setup allowed the Fossil watch to last over a day on a charge, but not much more than that.
Finally, there’s time-only mode, which gives you a black screen (not always-on) with the time, date, and a Fossil logo. This lets the watch last days or even weeks on a single charge, depending on how much battery you start with.
The Fossil Gen 5 received a huge update in August 2020, which brought a variety of design updates and new features. It can now natively track sleep, which is pretty uncommon for Wear OS watches. It also now has access to battery-saving workout modes with a new Wellness app, as well as the ability to track VO2 max. It also gained a simplified design for custom battery modes and a new Phone app tile.
Wear OS problems and Fossil’s solutions
Wear OS gets a bad rap in the tech community. I can’t say the reputation is undeserved, but I think it’s overblown. Every time I strap a Wear OS device to my wrist, I remember how nice it is to have quick access to Google Assistant, Calendar, and the many other Google apps I use on a daily basis. The new Tiles feature is quite nice, too. I should mention one bug, though: For the life of me, I can’t get Google News to show headlines in the new Tiles feature. That’s really the only oddity I noticed throughout the review period.
Wear OS also works really well with Android phones — it isn’t the buggy mess it used to be.
However, I understand people’s concerns about buying a Wear OS device. Google takes its sweet time to issue updates (maintenance and major updates), so if something goes wrong with your device, you may be waiting awhile for that bug to get squashed. Clearly, it doesn’t put nearly as much focus on Wear OS as Apple does with watchOS. Big feature updates just don’t come around too often.
Instead, Google relies on third-party watchmakers to make up for Wear OS’ shortcomings. In Fossil’s case, that’s working out quite well.
It seems like Google doesn't focus on Wear OS as much as Fossil does.
Traditionally, Wear OS devices struggle to last all day on a charge, but the Gen 5’s custom battery modes help make it achievable. The OS can also be quite slow and buggy without sufficient RAM, but Fossil packed in more RAM than we’re used to seeing on Wear OS devices. This ensures a smooth experience.
I don’t think Wear OS should keep anyone from buying the Fossil Gen 5, but you should know what you’re signing yourself up for.
$300 is a lot of money to spend on a smartwatch, but it gets you one of the best Wear OS experiences currently available. Considering the Wear OS landscape right now, it seems like the Fossil Gen 5 is your best option for a well-working device.
With a stainless steel watch band and additional band options, the Gen 5 is a good-looking alternative to other smartwatches. Even better, you don't give up substance for style. The Gen 5 features fitness and heart rate tracking, along with Google's Wear OS platform for seamless syncing with your Android phone.
If you really aren’t a fan of the Gen 5 for some reason, but still want Wear OS, check out the Skagen Falster 3. It has the same specs as the Fossil Gen 5, only in a very Skagen-looking form factory. The Suunto 7 is also a fantastic option if you’re looking for a sports-friendly watch. At this point, we’re no longer recommending the Fossil Sport, even with its price drops.
As for non-Wear OS options, you shouldn’t overlook the Fitbit Versa 2. The first Versa was one of our favorite smartwatches of 2018, and the Versa 2 is a great follow-up. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 (~$270) is also a good Wear OS alternative, but the heart rate sensor can’t be trusted to provide accurate data.
If you’re an iPhone user, you’re not completely out of luck here. The Apple Watch Series 5 ($415) is by far the best smartwatch you can buy for your iPhone, but Fossil is trying to win you over as well. And thanks to Fossil’s proprietary iOS application, you can receive Bluetooth calls from your Fossil Gen 5, making Fossil’s smartwatch a solid option for iOS users.
Also read: The best fitness tracker deals we could find
Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch review: The verdict
The Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch is the best Wear OS watch you can buy, even in early 2020. It delivers in nearly every area — performance, aesthetics, and customizability. I just wish the watch lasted longer on a charge without turning sensors on and off, though that seems like more of a Wear OS problem than a Fossil problem.
Fossil nailed it with this smartwatch.
If you’re on board with Wear OS, you’ll love the Fossil Gen 5. Hell, even if you aren’t totally on board with Wear OS, the Fossil watch will probably make you think twice about it.
Fossil nailed the hardware with this watch. Now let’s hope Google puts as much effort into Wear OS.