An Android Wear smartwatch from a watchmaker instead of a phone manufacturer gives us ... more of the same, really.
When you've written reviews of as many Android Wear watches as we have — which is to say for all watches that cost less than $1,500 — you tend to look for the little things that make a particular timepiece stand out. Maybe it's a little design detail that sneaks in, or a particularly good watch face.
Or in the case of the Fossil Q Founder — one of the first Android smartwatches from an actual watchmaker — maybe the biggest difference is a faux leather charging pillow.
Smartwatch chargers aren't exactly known for being stalwarts of design. But things have taken a turn for the bulky with the Q Founder, and that actually has significantly influenced our use of the watch.Let's get all this sorted then. This is our Fossil Q Founder review.
About this review
We've been wearing the Fossil Q Founder with steel bracelet, which we purchased from Fossil.com, on our left wrist for the past three weeks. It's on Android 5.1.1 (and Android Wear 188.8.131.529505) and has been connected to a Nexus 6P for the entirety of or review.
Fossil Q Founder Hardware
Think back to the March 2014, when Android Wear was announced. The list of participating partners was mostly predictable, with the likes of Motorola, Samsung, LG, HTC (which has yet to produce an Android Wear device) and ASUS on board. While the Moto 360 garnered the lion's share of the early attention, also listed was Fossil — a company known for actually making watches.
Fossil does what Fossil does well with a solid, steel body.
That partnership piqued our interest because as we'd seen in a couple early models — the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, specifically — it was all too easy (in the early days, at least) for a company to essentially strap a display and miniaturized phone on a wrist and call it a day. It might have been smart, but it was barely a watch.
As the months progressed we started seeing better and better designs from the current players. The LG G Watch R and Watch Urbane raised the bar a good bit. Huawei landed atop our list of the Best Android Wear Watches with its first entry. And now we have Fossil, with the Q Founder.
This watch falls squarely (ahem) in the almost-round category, with a 1.5-inch LTPS LCD display. (That's the same screen tech as what you'll find in the new Google Pixel C tablet, now that we think about it.) But it's also one with the "flat-tire" design, wherein the display doesn't span a full 360 degrees because of the ambient light sensor that's tucked into the bottom quadrant. For some, that's a nonstarter. For others, the ambient light sensor is a must-have. It's a trade-off, to be sure, but a curious one for a watch manufacturer.
A steel bracelet gives a complete look, but there is a slightly cheaper leather option.
If you had to compare the Q Founder to another Android Wear watch, you'd undoubtedly choose the LG Watch Urbane as the close cousin. And we'll refer you to the opening line of our Watch Urbane review — "Make a nice smartwatch. "But don't make it too nice." The Q Founder very much looks and feels like it's picked up where the Watch Urbane stopped. Angles are a little more complicated and polished. There's a little more detail. And the lugs — where the watch meets the strap or bracelet — definitely look better, especially with the metal links bracelet. The leather option ($20 less if you buy from Google) puts a little bit of air in the lugs. The steel takes up all that room and is a smart-looking fit.
Adjusting the metal links is simple enough. You'll need one of those jeweler's watch kits (they're cheap on Amazon), and from there you just hammer out the pins, being careful to do so in the direction the watch shows you. (Hint: Follow the arrows.) Fossil's using a one-way pin I hadn't seen before, but that wasn't a huge deal. Just be careful as you reattach everything.
The crown — that's the button — is nicely designed, even if of relatively limited use in Android Wear. (If you're in a movie theater, though, be sure to hit it twice to turn the display off.)
Fossil (OK, Google, most likely) changed things up a bit with the internals, going with an Intel Atom processor instead of Qualcomm's Snapdragon. And if we hadn't told you that, you'd never know just from wearing the watch. If anything it's maybe a bit more fluid moving through the menus. That may well be placebo, or it could be from doubling the RAM to a full 1GB. And it's not like we're getting three times the battery life either. You'll still not get not much more than a day off the charger with general use. Day and a half, tops.
And that brings us to the ugly part of this review. Fossil's charger.
Charging a smartwatch has never really been elegant. There are little magnetic docks of various ilk, or Motorola's and Samsung's stand-up Qi chargers. None of them is particularly elegant, and when you take into consideration continuous metal bracelets — well, it's kind of a mess.
Fossil combats that last point by using a Qi charger that's so large the bracelet easily fits underneath it. Functionally speaking, this is one of the better charging systems we've used. A red light indicates when things are working as they're supposed to, so there's no doubt that the watch is charging. (That's something we continue to struggle with on the Huawei Watch, which fails to charge all too often.)
Sure, we've got concerns about the eggshell color, or the faux leather watch pillow padding getup. But this thing just works.
It also guarantees that we'll probably never take the Q Founder on the road. The size of the charger means it's going to take up a good bit of space in any bag — messenger, suitcase or whatever. And in our experience when traveling it's better to be able to charge anywhere at any time, and that means you need a charger small enough to carry around. And what comes with the Q Founder definitely does not meet that description. If you're madly in love with this watch you might be able to rig up some other Qi charger (it doesn't quite fit in the second-gen Moto 360 charger), or maybe Fossil will release something more svelte.
But for now, this bulky behemoth is what we've got.
Fossil Q Founder Software
There's not a whole lot to say about the software on the Q Founder. It's still Android Wear 1.3, and still based on Android 5.1.1. An update to Marshmallow will happen at some point, but we don't know when. (It wouldn't surprise us if there was some fallout from the cancellation of the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, which was to be the first with Marshmallow.)
Whereas other manufacturers have been touting dozens of custom watch faces, Fossil brings you four. There's Classic, Fred, Kaleido and Roulette. Each is customizable to different degrees, however. You'll have your choice of colors and styles. And in the case of the Classic watch face you'll be able to choose which complications you want added. Of course there are hundreds of fantastic watch faces out there on Google Play — you'll just have to hit the store and find one that speaks to you.
The one software feature you won't find on the Q Founder is the ability to check your heart rate. There's no sensor for that on the underside of the Q Founder, and thus no software function for it.
Fossil Q Founder Bottom line
So how to sum up the Fossil Q Founder? Just another Android Wear option, really. That's selling it short — it's a good option, particularly if you want something metal and a little on the large side (insofar as these watches go). Fossil definitely got the design details right given that extra size, especially with the metal bracelet.
And, unfortunately, the Q Founder also is yet another Android Wear watch that is decidedly masculine in design, and definitely in size, with no women's option available.
So the Q Founder doesn't really bring anything new to the table, except for the giant charger that will certainly be the centerpiece wherever it lies. OK, it also brings the watch faces, we suppose, along with the Fossil name. But the fact is you could have put any other name on this design and we'd be just fine with it. What the Q Founder maybe does is sort of what TAG Heuer is doing on a much more expensive scale — opening up the much wider world of analog watches to the smartwatch crowd.
Should you buy it? Sure
There's absolutely nothing wrong with the Q Founder, save for that huge charger. The leather option retails for $275, and the steel for $295. Here's where you can buy them: