When looking for the best Android smartwatches, you'll likely notice that much of the list actually doesn't run Android; it runs Samsung's Tizen or Fitbit's OS or whatever Garmin uses. If you want an Android watch that's running Wear OS — the version of Android Google develops for your wrist — you'll see that Mobvoi's TicWatch series and Fossil have run the table for a couple of years now.
Fossil's smartwatches, in particular, have everything you'd want in a watch (smart or not). They're distinctive, stylish, and available in a variety of designs that can appeal to a wide array of buyers. This is especially true of its newest watch, the Fossil Gen 5E, which has a style for everyone and price tags that see sales as frequently as an outlet mall. That's a good thing, too, because while our Fossil Gen 5E review found it to be a solid watch, it doesn't quite have what it takes to compete in the $250-$300 space with Samsung, Apple, and Mobvoi.
At a glance
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch
Bottom line: As far as Wear OS watches go right now, Fossil manages to provide a decent experience even with the older Wear 3100 chipset. It's the best Wear OS watch to buy right now, but only if you catch it on sale.
- Nice screen
- Smooth performance
- Spectacular watch faces
- Heart rate monitoring
- Proprietary charger
- Battery life is just OK
- Last-gen specs with limited storage
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch Price and availability
Fossil launched the Gen 5E in the U.S. in October 2020 with a $250 starting price for both the 42mm and 44mm versions — though prices vary depending on the materials.
As of the time of this Fossil Gen 5E review, the Gen 5E is available from most major retailers for between $150-$200, and the Gen 5E justifies itself well at that price. Once you get into the $220-$250 range, it gets harder to justify the Gen 5E over its competition.
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch As good as Wear OS gets
|Category||Fossil Gen 5E|
|Processor||Snapdragon Wear 3100|
390 x 390px
Wi-Fi ● NFC
Off-body IR ● PPG heart rate
|Band Size||18mm (42mm models)
22mm (44mm models)
I've used a couple of Wear 3100 watches over the last couple of years, and the Fossil Gen 5E might be the smoothest one yet. Apps didn't take long to load, swiping between the five screens of the main Wear OS UI is seamless, and whether I'm using tilt-to-wake or tap-to-wake, the watch wakes up quickly. While all Wear OS watches come with multiple health apps between Google Fit and whichever fitness suite the manufacturer uses, the suite on the Gen 5E is actually pretty unintrusive, especially compared to Mobvoi's VicHealth.
There's some other "bloat" you'll probably enjoy. Not only does Fossil have some of the best pre-loaded watch faces I've ever seen — like the adorable Dog Dial seen above — but it's also added in seasonal watch faces for smaller holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year, International Women's Day, and two separate watch faces for Movember. All faces have an impressive amount of customization to them, so you can tweak as desired, but they can fall short at times. For instance, any time Now Playing Art is set as the background image, text, and shortcuts become super-hard to read. Fossil could fix this with either text shadows or tinting album art for better contrast, but it hasn't been added yet.
Part of why watch faces look so good is the display: a 1.19-inch AMOLED touchscreen with 328ppi. It helps vibrant watch faces pop on your wrist, as well as making the simplified UI for Google Fit and other system apps absolutely pop when you peek at your stats during a run. My only complaint with the screen is that the brightness isn't automatic, but Wear OS's quick settings will let you quickly adjust it on the go.
Fossil nails the style with the Gen 5E, but ease off the rose gold.
Turning to the physical for a moment, the watch is comfy on my wrist, but I wish I didn't have to go up to 44mm just to escape the Rose Gold craze that dominates all the 42mm models. Both watches have the same size screen and battery, so the difference is purely in aesthetics and band-size. The 44mm uses the same 22mm bands most other Wear OS watches do, while the 42mm goes for 18mm, another easy-to-find but slightly less popular size. I swapped the leather-topped in-box strap for my brighter-colored silicone straps to fit my small wrists better so the heart-rate tracking would be more accurate.
I used Google Fit during my review of the Gen 5E, and both my step counts and heart points seem to match up with my previous few smartwatches — the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, the TicWatch Pro 3, and the Oppo Watch. There isn't automatic workout-tracking here the way there is on the Galaxy Watch Active, but it's not hard to trigger a workout either in the Wellness app or in Google Fit. The sleep tracking through Fossil's included Wellness app is super-simplified but easy to read. All in all, everything from a software perspective works exactly the way it's supposed to except for Google Pay, which we'll discuss a little later.
By default, the heart-rate tracking through the Cardiogram app will leave a persistent notification as long as background heart-rate tracking is enabled. Considering you can see the Cardiogram app to check your pule every X minutes — including the option to check it once a minute — as opposed to the more periodic checks that Google Fit and most other smartwatches use, I'm okay with the persistent notification in order to get more frequent pulse readings. If you insist on having an empty notification panel, you can use Google Fit's heart rate tracking instead.
I love being able to access Google services and third-party apps on my wrist, from having my Google Keep grocery list on my wrist while I'm traipsing through Target to being able to quickly check Accuweather's MinuteCast from my wrist so I know how many minutes I have until I need to see cover. Loading the app up never took long, but there's usually a few-second delay while the app syncs back up with its phone counterpart for the latest data or the current notes.
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch Where the compromises fail
I get this is a "lite" watch, but it's time to upgrade to Wear 4100.
Fossil elected to stick with the Snapdragon Wear 3100 again with the Gen 5E, likely to keep costs down. While the watch is smooth now, I've only been using it for a couple of weeks, and I know firsthand how watches can slow down over time. I wish that the Wear 4100 has been used here. The platform was unveiled last June and has been barely seen outside the TicWatch Pro 3. Between the 3100, lack of built-in GPS, and the decision to halve the storage to 4GB, the hardware on the Fossil Gen 5E is just OK, and, unfortunately, "just OK" doesn't deserve $250 of your hard-earned money.
I'm also not a fan of the charging ring on the Gen 5E, but that's mostly because of all the horror stories I've heard about broken charging rings on Fossil watches over the last year. Fossil swears up and down that these issues have been fixed — and whenever a broken ring comes up, they're quick to replace it — but I wish they'd taken a page from Samsung and Apple's books and gone with wireless charging instead of the ring charger.
My other complaints are small and mostly the fault of either Wear OS or the budget limitations. For one, there's still no adaptive brightness, which is a bummer because it could've helped squeeze the battery longer. Secondly, battery life lasts a day at most, and if you're doing any lengthy activity with tilt-to-wake on, you're probably not going to be able to wear the watch to bed unless you throw it on the charger during dinner.
Finally, I would've loved to test tap-to-pay, but since we're in the middle of the transition from the old Google Pay to the new, I couldn't. The new Google Pay doesn't have a Wear OS app yet, and the old Google Pay app pre-installed on the Fossil Gen 5E won't work with the new phone app. So while Tap-to-pay is an advertised setting, it's not going to work at all starting April 5. Get your shit together, Google.
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch Competition
The biggest competition for the Fossil Gen 5E comes from the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which can be found at the time of this review for $200 for the 40mm version and $220 for the 44mm version. The Watch Active's design is much sleeker, and the colors are less in-your-face than the Rose Gold versions of the Gen 5E, battery and workout tracking are slightly better, and tap-to-pay actually works. There's a reason it's the best Android smartwatch you can buy right now, though you might want to wait a few months for the rumored Watch Active 4, which will allegedly be running Wear OS to give us the best of all worlds.
If you want a better Wear OS watch, you'll have to pony up $300 for the TicWatch Pro 3. I still love the hybrid screen on the TicWatch Pro series, its battery is a champ, and you get the full power of the Wear 4100 chipset. The only real downsides are the price and how ridiculously big it is on my petit wrist.
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You want Google services on your wrist
- You prefer Wear OS's notifications
- Your budget is limited
- You want super dope watch faces
You should not buy this if ...
- You need the latest and greatest specs
- You need tap-to-pay to actually work
- You lose your chargers regularly
As a fan of Wear OS — yes, I'm a unicorn, but I love the notifications, and the UI — the Fossil Gen 5E gives me hope that we might actually see a bright future for the platform. It's a device with small compromises, but none take away from the fact that it's a darn good smartwatch, especially for the $150 price it has dropped to since its initial launch last year. There's room to improve — adaptive brightness and wireless charging need to be in the Fossil Gen 6 — but if you want a great way to manage notifications, control your music, track your steps, and monitor your heart rate and sleep patterns, the Fossil Gen 5E gives you a good experience at a great price.
Best of Wear OS today
Fossil Gen 5E Smartwatch
Fossil brings the essential Wear OS experience.
While it may still pack the older Wear 3100 platform, Fossil gives you smooth, consistent performance on the Gen 5E without breaking the bank. The wide variety of styles to choose from means you should be able to find at least one that works for you and your budget.
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