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Fossil Gen 6 review: Fighting with one hand behind its back

Fossil released its next-gen wearable with last-gen software. Was that the right move?
Reviews
By
October 20, 2021
Fossil Gen 6 right profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
aa2020 recommended

Fossil Gen 6

Despite the presence of high-tech health monitoring tools, including a blood oxygen sensor, the Fossil Gen 6 isn't the fitness-focused wearable dedicated athletes need. Instead, it plays better as a well-designed generalist's watch craving a balanced experience that's a cut above what entry-level watches offer.

What we like

Respectable design
Bright, colorful display
Accurate heart rate monitor
Accurate SpO2 monitor
Plenty of color options
Solid performance

What we don't like

Only 24-hour battery life
Inaccurate GPS
Inaccurate sleep tracking
Not for swim workouts
Limited fitness apps
A long wait until Wear OS 3
Table of contents

Fossil sort of threw caution to the wind and debuted its Gen 6 smartwatch even though a major feature — Wear OS 3 — won’t be available until next year. This new wearable replaces the stellar Gen 5 and does so with improved internals and new health sensors that should boost performance and make it a better wrist-borne companion. Did Fossil make the right choice by launching without the fresh operating system? More importantly, should you buy the Fossil Gen 6 on the promise of a software update that won’t arrive until next year? Find out in the Android Authority Fossil Gen 6 review.

Fossil Gen 6 Smartwatch
$299.00 at Amazon
About this Fossil Gen 6 review: I used the Fossil Gen 6 (44mm) for six days, running software version Wear OS 2.32. It was connected to a Google Pixel 5 throughout the testing period. The Fossil Gen 6 review unit was provided to Android Authority by Fossil.

What you need to know about the Fossil Gen 6

Fossil Gen 6 left profile on table
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
  • Fossil Gen 6 (silicone/leather): $299 / £279 / €299
  • Fossil Gen 6 (stainless steel): $319 / £299 / €329

Fossil knows not to mess too much with success. Given the popularity of its Gen 5 smartwatches, Fossil carried over many of the basic design cues from generation to generation. The Gen 6 wearables boast appealing AMOLED screens, a trio of buttons on the right side, and classic styling to suit most tastes.

Fossil is selling the Gen 6 in two sizes, 42mm and 44mm. We tested the 44mm version. Each size comes in its own assortment of finishes. Various straps, including leather, silicone, and stainless steel, are on offer from Fossil, allowing for further customization.

The company made a whole host of changes within the metal chassis, and that’s where the real magic happens. In addition to the latest Qualcomm processor, Fossil upgraded the heart rate sensor module and added a pulse oximeter for reading blood oxygen levels. Together with the faster charging times, you have a wearable that should not only perform better at many tasks, it should also provide new insight into your daily health and routines.

Related: The best Fossil smartwatches

There’s a major caveat, however: The Fossil Gen 6 runs Wear OS 2.3, not the brand new Wear OS 3 platform that Google co-developed with Samsung. Fossil says the Gen 6 won’t see Wear OS 3 until the second half of 2022, which is a really long time to wait for such a significant update.

The Fossil Gen 6 has been on sale since September. You can pick it up direct from Fossil or other online retailers including Amazon.

Design: Sticking to what works

Fossil Gen 6 right side laying down
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Fossil blended timeless and modern watch styles in drafting the Gen 6’s good looks. The watch has a straightforward appeal that mixes in just the right amount of old-school DNA. That makes the watch stylish enough to wear out on the town at night and also functional enough to handle recreational activities during the day. It’s not a sleek, ultra-fashionable timepiece, but neither is it a rugged outdoor chunker.

The main chassis is made from stainless steel and has a rather plain shape to it. It features a slightly rounded profile and simple lugs that curve downward over the contour of your wrist. Fossil gave the outer bezel a notched pattern. It looks as though it should rotate, similar to Samsung’s smartwatches, but it does not. Whether you opt for the 42mm or 44mm version you get three buttons on the right edge. The center button doubles as a rotating crown. The 44mm model includes raised guards for the center button where the 42mm model does not. All three buttons offer good feedback. A slit cut into the left edge of the watch marks the speaker.

Fossil Gen 6 front profile on table
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Fossil mostly carried over the display from the Gen 5, which is a round 1.28-inch AMOLED panel packing 416 by 416 pixels for a pixel density of 326ppi. The Gen 6’s screen, however, is brighter and displays more colors than the older model. A thin black bezel surrounds the display under the glass. It’s a clean and sharp display. The screen is bright enough most of the time, though the always-on display can sometimes be hard to see under the sun. Fossil hasn’t specified what type of glass it used.

Fossil blended timeless and modern watch styles in drafting the Gen 6's good looks.

Color selection is a little jumbled. The 44mm model comes in only two different finishes: Black and Smoke Stainless. The Black finish is available with three different straps (black silicone, brown leather, camo green) while the Smoke Stainless only ships with a matching stainless steel strap. The 42mm model comes in a Rose Gold finish with a purple strap, a Rose Gold finish with a matching Rose stainless steel strap, or a Gunmetal stainless steel finish with Rose Gold accents and a Gunmetal stainless strap. We have the 44mm Black Silicone Fossil Gen 6 review unit.

Where the 44mm version relies on 22mm straps, the 42mm version makes use of 18mm straps. Additional strap colors beyond those that ship with the watch are available from Fossil. The silicone strap of our review unit has a soft finish to it, and I mostly found it comfortable against my skin. The quality of the silicone is good enough, though it sort of feels a little cheap. There are plenty of holes for the clasp, allowing you to find the right fit if you have average-sized wrists. It handled some sweat with no problem.

Fossil Gen 6 on wrist
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Speaking of sweat, the Fossil Gen 6 is rated to just 3ATM. Normally, that means it can handle some light splashing, sweat, or rain and it should not be submerged in water. However, Fossil says that the watch is swim-proof and can handle a test that includes 10,000 strokes in shallow water. Most actual swim-proof watches have a 5ATM rating, so I’d take Fossil’s claims here with a grain of salt (but definitely not saltwater). You can probably get away with leaving the Gen 6 on when splashing about in the pool, but I’d discount it as a serious water workout companion.

I'd discount the Fossil Gen 6 as a serious water workout companion.

Battery life is only average for a device in this category. Fossil actually reduced the size of the battery from 310mAh in the Gen 5 to 300mAh in the Gen 6. The upgraded Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus platform, which is more power-efficient, helps balance out that loss. Fossil rates the runtime at about 24 hours with typical usage. Using the Gen 6 passively to simply record your daily movement ensures you’ll get that full 24 hours, though not much more. That includes sleep tracking at night, with the battery dropping to the 10% to 15% range by morning.

More reading: Smartwatch buyers should demand a week of battery life

Toss in a GPS workout, however, and battery life nosedives some. I never got less than about 20 hours of battery life after recording walks with GPS, but it was clear the watch wouldn’t also last through the night for tracking sleep afterward. There are a handful of custom battery modes available that can help you dial in the combination of performance and battery life that you need. Sadly, continuous heart rate monitoring really challenges battery life. Turning that off helps the watch push through more than a day.

Fossil Gen 6 rear panel profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The good news is the Fossil Gen 6 recharges rapidly. Using the included charger, the watch reaches about an 80% charge in around 30 minutes. That’s significantly faster than the Gen 5, which took around 50 minutes to reach 80%. The charger itself is a small affair. It’s a tiny, round white puck similar to that of the Apple Watch, though the Fossil charger includes small pins. The charger doesn’t need to be aligned with anything in particular on the watch’s bottom surface. The magnets that hold the charger to the watch are just strong enough that I didn’t worry about them becoming disconnected despite some jostling.

Related: The best fitness trackers you can buy

In all, the Fossil Gen 6 doesn’t take any risks in terms of design or functionality. It’s simple enough that it should work for most people and there are just enough design options to allow for a bit of personalization. Battery life is perhaps the weakest link here.

Health and fitness tracking: Imbalanced

Fossil Gen 6 workout app on table
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Fossil Gen 6 is more of a generalist’s smartwatch. It targets lifestyle buyers perhaps more so than it targets health-conscious buyers and is thus a little limited when it comes to serious fitness features. This is evidenced by the various styles in which the Gen 6 is sold, such as the models with stainless steel bands or leather straps. Moreover, while there are plenty of Google Fit fitness tools preloaded via the Wear OS platform, there are few dedicated Fossil or third-party workout or health apps on board for hardcore users.

There is but a single, basic activity tracking service built into the watch. It can handle outdoor/indoor walks and runs. There is no advanced automatic activity recording, leaving you responsible for manually starting each workout with the watch. You cannot track activities such as biking or rowing or weight lifting with this basic Fossil watch app. You’ll have to rely on Google Fit or third-party fitness apps to handle anything other than your straightforward walk or run.

Fossil Gen 6 workout tracking
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Google Fit itself is a simplistic tool for tracking activity, but it handles a fair number of exercises. In addition to staples such as indoor/outdoor running, indoor/outdoor biking, yoga, and weightlifting, it packs in a wide assortment of secondary activities such as football, fencing, skating, tennis, soccer, and much more.

Related: Learn all about Google Fit in this feature-packed guide

The activities I tracked saw inconsistent results, mostly to do with distances. The Gen 6 is GPS-enabled, allowing you to use it without your phone to record a walk or a run. I brought the watch on a few known routes in my neighborhood and saw erroneous distances time and time again. For example, a walk I often take around my neighborhood is exactly 1.15 miles. Despite turning on the GPS, the Fossil Gen 6 marked the route as 1.68 miles — off by a significant margin. Similar erroneous results were repeated across other familiar routes I know the distance of. During these same workouts, the Apple Watch (Series 4) managed to record the distances accurately.

Fossil Gen 6 blood oxygen
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Other metrics were spot on. For example, the Gen 6 got the step count perfectly right with each walk. It also etched out elevation changes accurately. Moreover, the heart rate monitor matched the numbers of my Apple Watch almost to a T.

Fossil added a SpO2 sensor to the Gen 6 to check your blood oxygen level.

Fossil added an SpO2 sensor to the Gen 6, which allows you to check your blood oxygen level. We compared the results to an actual finger-clamp-style pulse oximeter and found the results were in line with the dedicated medical equipment. That is to say, my SpO2 consistently ranged from 97% to 100% on both devices. However, the Fossil Gen 6’s pulse oximeter has not been cleared by the FDA/CE, and as such should not be used as a medical device.

Fossil Gen 6 sleep tracking
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The Gen 6 struggled with sleep tracking. Quite often it was able to accurately record my deep-sleep periods, but it failed completely to peg the actual time I fell asleep and the actual time I woke up. In other words, the Gen 6 couldn’t spot many of my light-sleep periods, which should count as part of the total time asleep. If accurate sleep tracking is vital to you, you’ll be better served with a different wearable.

See also: The best sleep trackers you can buy

Smartwatch features: Caveat emptor

Fossil Gen 6 left profile
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

For now, the Fossil Gen 6 runs Google’s Wear OS platform version 2.3, ahead of next year’s update to Wear OS 3. This older build of Wear OS still packs a number of built-in smartwatch apps and, of course, supports third-party apps from the Google Play Store.

Also read: The full Wear OS buyer’s guide

Fossil left the essential Wear OS home screen experience intact. Its own watch face is selected by default and there are perhaps 10 other Fossil designs preloaded. The Facer app is installed if you want to go to town downloading and customizing more watch faces.

As per the norm for Wear OS, you swipe up and down, right and left to peek at settings, notifications, Google Assistant, and pinned Tiles, such as your heart rate or step count.

The three side pushers perform distinct actions, though you can customize what the top and bottom buttons do. Out of the box, pressing the top button opens your fitness dashboard with your most recent heart rate, blood oxygen level, steps taken, calories burned, and such. The center button opens the circular app drawer and spinning the crown will cycle through the apps therein. The bottom pusher is set to open Google Pay by default. NFC is on board, and Google Pay works well for cashless purchases.

It's almost entirely Google's own stuff populating the Fossil Gen 6's app drawer.

On the app front, it’s almost entirely Google’s own stuff populating the Fossil Gen 6’s app drawer. These include basics such as agenda, alarm, calculator, contacts, Find My Phone, stopwatch, reminders, translate, and more. Third-party apps include Spotify, Amazon Alexa, Fossil, Nike Run Club, and Noonlight.

Basic smartwatch functionality such as notifications ran as expected. The Gen 6 easily handled my two Gmail accounts and their associated calendars and alerts, as well as helped me manage critical fare including Slack messages and phone calls. Speaking of calls, the Gen 6 allows you to take calls from your wrist thanks to the built-in speaker. It’s not overloud, but it’s solid enough to muddle through a quick call without missing too much.

Fossil Gen 6 Wear OS assistant screen
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

The speaker also helps when you want to use Google Assistant. As long as the watch is connected to your phone via Bluetooth, it can calculate spoken or typed queries and offer spoken answers in response. 

The Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus platform cranked out more than enough power to run the Gen 6, which performed perfectly while I reviewed it. The watch boasts 1GB of RAM along with 8GB of storage, which is plenty for apps and music. Apps never stuttered nor crashed, and the user interface was always fluid and fast.

The Google Play Store is available from the watch itself, allowing you to download apps directly from your wrist. It’s good for finding popular and top-rated stuff. You’re better off using the phone-based Play Store if you really need to search for something specific.

Fossil Gen 6 specs

Fossil Gen 6Fossil Gen 5Fossil Gen 5E
Display
Fossil Gen 6:
1.28-inch AMOLED
416 x 416 resolution
326ppi
Fossil Gen 5:
1.28-inch AMOLED
416 x 416 resolution
328ppi
Fossil Gen 5E:
1.19-inch AMOLED
390 x 390 resolution
328ppi
Dimensions
Fossil Gen 6:
44mm with 22mm straps
42mm with 18mm straps
Fossil Gen 5:
44mm with 22mm straps
Fossil Gen 5E:
44mm with 22mm straps
42mm with 18mm straps
Materials
Fossil Gen 6:
Stainless steel case
Fossil Gen 5:
Stainless steel case
Fossil Gen 5E:
Stainless steel case
SoC
Fossil Gen 6:
Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus
Fossil Gen 5:
Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100
Fossil Gen 5E:
Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100
RAM
Fossil Gen 6:
1GB
Fossil Gen 5:
1GB
Fossil Gen 5E:
1GB
Battery
Fossil Gen 6:
300mAh
30 mins to 80% charge
Fossil Gen 5:
310mAh
50 mins to 80% charge
Fossil Gen 5E:
300mAh
50 mins to 80% charge
Storage
Fossil Gen 6:
8GB
Fossil Gen 5:
8GB
Fossil Gen 5E:
4GB
Sensors
Fossil Gen 6:
Accelerometer
Altimeter
Ambient light
Compass
Gyroscope
Off-body IR
SpO2
PPG heart rate
GPS
Fossil Gen 5:
Accelerometer
Altimeter
Ambient light
Compass
Gyroscope
Off-body IR
PPG heart rate
GPS
Fossil Gen 5E:
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Off-body IR
PPG heart rate
Connected GPS
Hardware
Fossil Gen 6:
Rotating home button + 2 additional pushers
Speaker
Microphone
Fossil Gen 5:
Rotating home button + 2 additional pushers
Speaker
Microphone
Fossil Gen 5E:
1 pusher (no rotating home button)
Speaker
Microphone
IP rating
Fossil Gen 6:
3ATM
Fossil Gen 5:
3ATM
Fossil Gen 5E:
3ATM
Connectivity
Fossil Gen 6:
Bluetooth 5 LE
NFC
Wi-Fi
Fossil Gen 5:
Bluetooth 4.2 LE
NFC
Wi-Fi
Fossil Gen 5E:
Bluetooth 4.2 LE
NFC
Wi-Fi
Compatibility
Fossil Gen 6:
Android
iOS
Fossil Gen 5:
Android
iOS
Fossil Gen 5E:
Android
iOS

Value and competition

Fossil Gen 6 smartwatches 46mm 42mm sizes
Fossil Gen 6 Smartwatch
The new hotness
The new Fossil Gen 6 smartwatches are the first devices to run on Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus platform. They also boast new heart rate and SpO2 sensors and faster-charging batteries. While they ship with Wear OS 2, all Gen 6 devices are slated to get Wear OS 3 in 2022.

The Fossil Gen 6’s value depends a bit on what you want to get out of it. With a price of $299 for most versions, it more or less lines up with the cost of other Wear OS watches. Some competitors are less and some are more.

That $299 price buys you a fairly well-rounded experience that covers most of the smartwatch essentials. It’s not the fanciest smartwatch nor is it the most outdoorsy. It leans more toward the traditional type of watch than it does a dedicated fitness machine. The Gen 6 covers the smartwatch basics and tosses in some extras, such as advanced heart rate and blood oxygen monitoring, for those seeking a bit more. At the same time, it relies on the simplest of activity tracking software from Google and doesn’t always get the measurements it should.

There are plenty of alternatives in the market that have their own appeal.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and Garmin Venu 2 lying flat on a table.
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Perhaps the first wearable you should consider is the new Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 ($249). Samsung’s latest is the first to run Wear OS 3. Further, it packs a bigger screen, bigger battery, more sensors, and a 5ATM rating for swim workouts — all for less than the Gen 6.

If you’re more serious about fitness tracking, the Garmin Venu 2 ($399) should be on your shortlist. It’s much costlier but is one of the best fitness-focused smartwatches in the market.

Related: The best smartwatch deals

iPhone owners concerned about the Gen 6’s transition from Wear OS 2.3 to Wear OS 3 will likely be better off with the fresh Apple Watch Series 7 ($399), which has a bigger screen, native iOS compatibility, and a long-term software commitment from Apple.

Last, if you’re really into something fancy, you might check out the latest Michael Kors Gen 6 ($350) wearables. These are essentially the Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch wrapped up in a much classier dress.

Fossil Gen 6 review: The verdict

Fossil Gen 6 right profile on table
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

Fossil is clearly hoping to appeal to a wide audience of potential buyers with the Gen 6. The company took somewhat of a middle-of-the-road approach to drafting this wearable and it straddles the line between traditional smartwatch behaviors and fitness functionalities. It’s perhaps a jack of all trades and a master of some?

Fossil pieced together a good-looking watch that’s well made. The screen is big and bright, the watch’s buttons are just right, and color and strap selections provide for plenty of personalization. Processor and wireless performance is top-notch, and the watch includes useful extras such as NFC for Google Pay and a blood oxygen sensor for monitoring heart health.

Releasing an entire family of smartwatches on an outdated platform is a risky move.

The Gen 6 manages to fall short in a few key areas that hold it back. Because it attempts to do so much, battery life suffers. While it manages to get through a full day with constant heart rate monitoring and sleep tracking turned on, it does shut off right at the 24-hour mark. Serious tweaking is required to extend battery life beyond that. The GPS radio locked on quickly but rarely provided accurate measurements for workouts. Sleep tracking is left wanting due to poor sleep cycle registration.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: Wear OS 3. Releasing an entire family of smartwatches on an outdated platform is a risky move. Yes, Fossil is committed to providing the Wear OS 3 update to the Gen 6, but the software may not arrive until the second half of 2022 — almost a year from now. That’s a long time to wait for features and performance that some smartwatch buyers are getting today.

As long as you’re not looking for perfection in a fitness partner, the Fossil Gen 6 provides a balanced experience that is probably best left to casual wearable users who want a little more than what entry-level watches offer.