Fossil Gen 5 smartwatch review: Showing its age

Fossil Gen 5
(Image: © Joe Maring / Android Central)

When the Fossil Gen 5 was launched, it made the most out of a bad situation that was Wear OS. Google's wearable platform was in a questionable place, seemingly left for dead with companies like Fossil to pick up the slack. However, things are different now, and the Fossil Gen 5 has picked up a few notable enhancements since it first arrived on the scene.

While 2019 and 2020 were mixed bags for the Wear OS platform, things have started picking up with the Wear OS 3 launch on the new Galaxy Watch 4. The update represents something of a rebirth for the platform, promising performance that was unheard of on older Wear OS devices and unfortunately won't reach many of them.

While the Fossil Gen 5 can still hold its own despite its aging hardware and software, the lack of a future with Wear OS and the introduction of the Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch makes it a questionable buy in 2021.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Price and availability

The Fossil Gen 5 was announced in 2019 and since has been available from several different retailers. You can purchase the Gen 5 from Fossil's website, but it's also available from places like Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart. Unfortunately, the price hasn't changed much since it launched two years ago, still coming in at a hefty $295 unless you purchase the device at Walmart where you'll find some discounts on certain models.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: What I like

Design-wise, the Fossil Gen 5 may not stand out as anything special, but it's a good-looking watch nonetheless. The 44mm case is available in a variety of colors, including Rose Gold, Smoke Stainless Steel, and the subdued Black that I have.

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CategoryFossil Gen 5
Operating systemWear OS
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2 Low Energy
Heart-rate sensor✔️
Water-resistance3 ATM
Case size44mm
Band size22mm

It's a classic design that we've seen a hundred times before, but Fossil's top-notch execution and craftsmanship keep it visually appealing.

Personally, however, my favorite part of this design is how slim and lightweight it is. The Fossil Gen 5 feels fantastic and never got uncomfortable on my wrist even when wearing it all day long. Finding a comfy smartwatch can often be tricky for someone like me with tiny wrists, but the Gen 5 is among my favorite form factors. Of course, anyone with smaller wrists may also want to take a look at the Fossil Gen 5e with its smaller 42mm case size.

On top of the Gen 5's 44mm case is a 1.3-inch AMOLED display, and minus a brightness complaint I'll dive into a little later on, it's a great panel. The silky black of Wear OS's UI shines against bright icon colors and white text, resulting in a quality screen that's easy on the eyes. Always-on-display is present as well and turned on by default. You can always disable it in the settings if you want to squeeze out extra battery life, but being able to glance down at my wrist and see the time 24/7 without having to raise the watch to my face is such a nice convenience.

Fossil also crammed in as much as it could for a 2019 Wear OS watch. A dedicated GPS chip allows you to map your outdoor runs/walks with the Gen 5 without needing to lug your phone with you; NFC enables contactless Google Pay payments; a heart-rate sensor that keeps tabs on your ticker 24/7; and now it even tracks your sleep and monitors VO2 Max. That said, it misses out on newer health metrics found in many of the best Android smartwatches like SpO2 and ECG monitoring.

Those are all fairly standard bullet points for a slightly older smartwatch of this caliber, and the Gen 5 even has an external speaker which is handy for things like:

  • Audible notifications when you get a text, email, etc.
  • Spoken Google Assistant responses.
  • The ability to take phone calls directly on the watch.

The speaker on the Gen 5 certainly isn't the best-sounding and does have some distortion if you really listen for it, but if you're in a pinch to make a quick call or have a question for the Assistant but can't look down at your wrist, it's an incredibly useful feature to have and something.

Lastly, let's talk about the aspect of the Gen 5 that has aged surprisingly well — performance.

The Fossil Gen 5 was once the fastest around, but new competition has arrived.

The Gen 5 comes equipped with Qualcomm's aging Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, but as we saw with the slightly older Fossil Sport, the "new" chip didn't necessarily translate to better performance. With the Fossil Gen 5, however, the Wear 3100 is paired with 1GB of RAM.

A gig of RAM might not sound that exciting considering that many newer watches like the Mobvoi TicWatch E3 now come with 1GB of RAM. However, most older watches at the time shipped with 512MB of memory, and the Gen 5 was one of the first to give you double that amount.

In testing, this has resulted in some generally good performance. Touch responsiveness is pretty decent, the rotating crown scrolls through menus with ease, and there are far fewer janky animations than what I've grown used to on Google's wearable platform. Even in 2021, where smartwatches are launching with the much newer and faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 4100, the Fossil Gen 5 still makes a decent case for itself.

Some apps take longer to open than I'd like, and the Google Assistant occasionally takes an extra second to respond to a question/command, but for the most part, the Fossil Gen 5 moves through most everything without a hitch.

Since its launch, the Gen 5 has also received a couple of updates that improved performance and gave the watch more capabilities. Despite some hiccups, the H-MR2 update rolled out with some of those improvements, including support for additional Tiles. Fossil also rolled out an update that brought its Wellness app to the watch, enabling automatic workout and sleep tracking as well as VO2 Max monitoring.

Fossil Gen 5 Sleep Tracking

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In my experience, the sleep tracking works quite well and shows you how much time you've spent in a restful or light sleep as well as the times in between when you were awake. Automatic workout tracking is a mixed bag, but I always get a kick out of it when it does work after I've forgotten to set up my workout. The best part is that it all syncs to Google Fit to get a better look at all my health metrics in one place.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: What needs some work

With all of that praise out of the way, let's now dive into some of the Fossil Gen 5's shortcomings.

There are a couple of quirks with the Gen 5 that irritate me, but the biggest issue I have with the watch is battery life. Fossil advertises 24-hours, which sounds about right, but falls short of newer Wear OS models like the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 GPS, which can go for up to three days in full smartwatch mode.

Having to charge the Gen 5 every single night gets old very quickly.

While I do get a good chunk of notifications throughout the day and have the always-on-display enabled, I very rarely use apps on the watch and only used it to track a couple of outdoor walks with Google Fit.

Fossil does include a couple of battery-saving modes to help you get more usage in between charges (Extended, Time Only, and a custom mode), but if you want to take full advantage of all of the features the Gen 5 brings to the table, expect to put it on the charger every single night.

While the AMOLED display on the Gen 5 does look good, it's not nearly as bright as I would have liked. While I kept automatic brightness enabled for the purpose of testing battery life, the max level 5 brightness option is what looked best to me indoors. Outdoors in direct sunlight, the Gen 5's screen really struggles to stay legible.

Another problem that many Gen 5 owners have is with the charging ring on the back of the watch. The ring on my unit no longer stays flush on the watch, which causes problems when trying to charge. Oftentimes, the magnetic connector won't match up just right to get a charge going, which can be quite frustrating when I think it's charging when it's really not.

The biggest bummer of all is that the Fossil Gen 5 won't receive Wear OS 3. Given the much older chipset, it kind of makes sense, even though Qualcomm stated that the chip was capable of running the update. That said, some of the newer app experiences have already arrived on the Gen 5, including the new Play Store, Google Messages, Google Pay, and Spotify apps. That said, the new Google Maps and YouTube Music aren't officially supported on Wear OS 2.0.

Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch: The competition

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 Ticwatch Pro 3 Lifestyle

Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

If you're looking for a good Wear OS smartwatch, your best option would be the Galaxy Watch 4. It's the only smartwatch to run the new Wear OS 3 with One UI Watch on top of it, making it ideal for anyone with a Samsung Galaxy smartwatch. It features a powerfully efficient 5nm Exynos chip and some impressive health tracking features. There are also LTE options for those that wanna go completely untethered from their smartphones for a bit.

If you can go without LTE connectivity and you're looking for something a bit more modern with the latest hardware, the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 GPS is one of the few to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100. It has a low-powered LCD on top of a 1.4" OLED, which offers great battery life and a smooth Wear OS experience. Even without cellular connectivity, the TicWatch Pro 3 GPS offers a superior Wear OS experience, and it'll get even better when Wear OS 3 arrives in 2022.

If you're tired of Wear OS, you can always go for something like the Fitbit Versa 3. It offers a vast amount of health tracking capabilities and plenty of smart features that continue to grow through its dedicated app and the Fitbit Premium service. The Versa 3 has a design that can fit anyone's style, built-in GPS, and supports both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch: Should you buy it?

You should buy this if ...

You want a good-looking smartwatch

The Fossil Gen 5 is not a bad-looking smartwatch. Frankly, I like that it comes in many different styles and colorways. Not only that, but Fossil tends to make its smartwatches look like actual timepieces, complete with a rotating crown, and I appreciate that detail.

You're deep into Google's ecosystem

Wear OS comes with quick access to features like Google Assistant, the Play Store, and so much more. The Gen 5 even syncs certain health metrics with Google Fit like sleep tracking to give you a more comprehensive view of your health.

You're an iPhone user

One of the best parts about Fossil's smartwatch lineup is that most of them are able to connect to iPhones. Support is fairly limited, naturally, but you'll still be able to track health metrics through Google Fit, sync notifications, and even control music from certain apps.

You should not buy this if ...

You want Wear OS 3

As noted, the Fossil Gen 5 isn't getting the Wear OS 3 update when it rolls out to smartwatches next year, so you'll miss out on some of the newer perks like performance gains and certain app experiences.

You want the latest and greatest

The Fossil Gen 5 is a pretty old device by now, having launched back in 2019. Besides, the Fossil Gen 6 has already been launched with a much newer processor, the promise of Wear OS 3 support, and a similar price tag.

You're looking for a good fitness tracking device

The Fossil Gen 5 does a pretty decent job with some fitness and sleep tracking, but it's not as comprehensive as what you'll find on other smartwatches from companies like Samsung or Fitbit.

3.5 out of 5

In 2019 and even early 2020, the Fossil Gen 5 was a fine smartwatch that clearly made the best out of what Wear OS could offer, and it was easy to recommend the Gen 5 to friends and family members.

That said, it's 2021 with newer chips and a new OS upgrade on the horizon. There's still room for improvement on Qualcomm and Google's side of things, but Fossil's somehow managed to make the Gen 5 a reasonably snappy smartwatch, considering. That's a compliment I don't give out lightly considering the general sluggishness of Wear OS and the Wear 3100 processor, but that 1GB of RAM does wonders for the end-user experience.

Add that together with a great design, GPS, NFC, and the usefulness of the extra features from the Wellness app, and the Gen 5 has a lot going for it. That said, battery performance is fairly subpar, and the $295 price tag might keep some potential buyers at bay, especially in a world where the Galaxy Watch 4 and Fossil Gen 6 exist, making the Fossil Gen 5 hard to recommend.

Review Changelog, September 2021

This article was originally published in November 2019. It was updated in September 2021 to reflect the following changes.

  • Added Price and availability section.
  • Reflected software updates provided by both Google and Fossil.
  • Added competition section reflecting the latest products.
  • Updated "Should You Buy It?" section.
Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.