If it feels like Wear OS takes a backseat to the rest of the smartwatch market year after year, you wouldn't be wrong. Google's wearable platform has the potential for greatness, but whether it be software bugs, outdated processors, or uninteresting hardware, it's never had a chance to really take off the way that it should have years ago.
2019, in particular, has been a mixed bag for the Wear OS landscape. On the software front, Google launched its Tiles interface to present things like your calendar, weather, and workout data in a cleaner fashion. That's awesome, but Wear OS's consistent performance inconsistency has yet to be addressed.
Hardware-wise, we've only had one watch worth serious consideration released so far — the Fossil Sport. The Fossil Sport is a robust wearable, but disappointing battery life, buggy software, and a steep price tag held it back from being a mainstream success. As Daniel put it in his review, the Sport made "the best of a bad situation."
A few months later, we now have the Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch. The Gen 5 shares a lot of the same DNA as the Sport, but it comes with a classier design, more RAM, and an external speaker. Is that enough to justify the nearly $300 price tag?
Wear OS at its finest
Fossil Gen 5
Bottom line: The Fossil Gen 5 hits (almost) all of the right notes. It has a simplistic yet stylish design, feels great on the wrist, and surprisingly good performance with a healthy set of features. Battery life is adequate at best and the price is a bit steep, but all-in-all, this is an excellent package.
- Lightweight and comfortable to wear
- Extra RAM bodes well for performance
- NFC and GPS
- External speaker
- Battery life is OK at best
- Display brightness is too dim
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.
|Category||Fossil Gen 5|
|Operating system||Wear OS|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 4.2 Low Energy|
|Water resistance||3 ATM|
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.
On top of the 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 (do you hear that, Apple?)
Fossil also crammed in just about every smartwatch staple you could ask for. A dedicated GPS chip allows you map your outdoor runs/walks with the Gen 5 without needing to lug your phone with you; NFC enables contactless Google Pay payments; and there's a heart-rate sensor that keeps tabs on your ticker 24/7.
Those are all fairly standard bullet points for a smartwatch of this caliber, but there is something else included on the Gen 5 that we typically don't see on non-LTE smartwatches — an external speaker.
While that may not sound like a huge deal, the addition of a speaker allows for a lot of functionality you don't get on smartwatches without one. This includes:
- 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 I've ever heard 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 I'd love to see become commonplace.
Lastly, let's talk about the aspect of the Gen 5 that surprised me the most — performance.
The Fossil Gen 5 is the fastest Wear OS watch I've ever used.
The Gen 5 comes equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, but as we saw with the 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 like much considering that a lot of phones these days ship with anywhere from 6GB to 12GB, but that's a big deal in the realm of Wear OS. Most watches ship with 512MB of memory, and with the Gen 5, you're getting double that amount.
In my testing, this has resulted in the best performance I've ever experienced on a Wear OS watch. Touch responsiveness is excellent, 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.
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.
I'd love to see Qualcomm release another new chipset in the near future with more substantial performance upgrades compared to what we ended up getting with the Wear 3100, but considering the tech Fossil has to work with right now, I think this is as good as it's going to get.
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 36 hours of use per charge, but I found myself regularly getting around 20 hours.
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 and Time Only modes), 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.
My other two complaints aren't quite as significant, but I want to mention them anyways.
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.
Lastly, while the Gen 5's rotating crown feels great to use, the two buttons flanking it are very mushy on my review unit. The top one is especially bad, with it offering virtually no tactile feedback at all.
Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch Should you buy it?
Going into this review, I fully expected the Fossil Gen 5 to be another throwaway Wear OS watch that served no purpose other than to keep the platform afloat while Google figures out what in the hell it wants to do with it.
However, I came out of the other side pleasantly surprised and eager to recommend the Gen 5 to friends and family members. This is the most fun I've had using a Wear OS gadget in as long as I can remember, and a large part of that has to do with the Gen 5's solid performance.
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 that doesn't make you want to tear out your hair while using it. That's a compliment I don't give out lightly considering the general sluggishness of Wear OS and the Wear 3100 processor, but that additional RAM does wonders for the end-user experience.
Add that together with a great design, GPS, NFC, and the usefulness of the external speaker, and the Gen 5 has a lot going for it. Battery performance is subpar and the $295 price tag might keep some potential buyers at bay, but all-in-all, this is an incredible package.
Whether you've been a long-time fan of Wear OS or aren't impressed with other options out there from the likes of Samsung and Fitbit, I think you'll be quite happy with what Fossil's concocted.
Wear OS at its finest
Fossil Gen 5
A Wear OS watch that's actually worth your time and money.
The Fossil Gen 5 hits (almost) all of the right notes. It has a simplistic yet stylish design, feels great on the wrist, and surprisingly good performance with a healthy set of features. Battery life is adequate at best and the price is a bit steep, but all-in-all, this is an excellent package.
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