(Pocket-lint) - Smartwatches are no longer just the products of tech giants, fashion brands have been getting in on the act too. We've already seen wrist-based gadgets from the likes of Tag Heuer and Nixon, but it's the Fossil group that's that's jumped in deepest with 100 wearables having launched across its eight fashion brands last year alone. The latest of this wave of smart tech, however, is the Fossil Q Marshal.
Stepping firmly into the realms of dedicated smartwatch, this touchscreen-packing, phone-syncing, fitness-tracking wearable pairs futuristic smarts with classic watch styling to create a device that's the best of both worlds. Well, at least on paper.
With a £229 asking price, it's not ridiculously expensive either. Sure, it'll make fitness-tracking wearables like the Fitbit Charge 2 and Withings Steel HR (which is now Nokia) appear cheap, but it feels positively affordable when sat alongside the likes of the Samsung Gear S3 and Polar M600.
Facing off against the likes of the Apple Watch Series 2, new LG Watch Sport and Huawei Watch 2, however, has it really done enough to advance where the original Fossil Q sat and, therefore stand-out in an increasingly crowded market?
Fossil Q Marshal review: Design
- Stunning, classic watch styling
- 45mm body size only (no smaller option)
- Multiple rubber, leather and metal strap options (22mm standard)
Arguably the Fossil's best feature, the Q Marshal is a good looking bit of kit. Like, really good looking.
Styled like a traditional timepiece, Fossil has put its years of watch-making skills to good use, carving the device's body out of a single piece of metal. Instead of simply feeling like a basic lump, this gives the watch a solid, high-end look and feel.
One that's available to suit your style too. Whether you want a silver, grey, blue or black watch, the Q Marshal has you covered. The watch is available in a selection of finishes, with your colour scheme dictating what strap option you get. A blue body will get you an easy-on-the-eyes brown leather strap while the silver and grey models have colour-matched stainless steel link bands.
Opt for the black body with a rubber wrist strap, however, and this quickly becomes a smartwatch for all occasions. As well as giving an air of smart sophistication, perfect for days in the office or nights on the town, the watch is also comfortable enough - and, importantly, safe for a sweat-removing wipe downs - to be worn during exercise. Yes, on long runs in can feel a little on the bulky side, but for the most part, it's a watch that's easy to forget you're wearing.
Sadly, though, there's no smaller option available. The standard 45mm design might hold its size well, with its 14mm thick form never feeling overly bulky, but for those who are particularly slight of wrist, it could still feel overpowering. A problem a second, smaller design could have solved.
This isn't the Q Marshal's only design-based shortcoming either. It's a design that, despite being easy on the eye, deceives and frustrates. Despite its indented bezel, the watch's circular surround doesn't turn to let you navigate the menus like on the Gear S3. Similarly, that oversized crown doesn't twist like the ones found on the Apple Watch or LG Watch Style.
The Q Marshal has a physical, depressible button on the end of the protrusion, but that's it in terms of physical controls. This isn't a performance killer, the device's circular touchscreen works as a great input option, but this innovative control methods work so well elsewhere that it would have been nice to see them make an appearance here.
Furthermore, the innards are clearly direct from the Lenovo camp - as you'll see by the "black bar / flat tyre" to the base of the screen. That's a downside in today's market, with increasing numbers of perfect-circle competitors.
What the Fossil Q Marshal does have going for it is solid water- and dust-resistance. Its metal body is IP67 rated, meaning you'll be able to submerge it in up to 1.5 metres of water for 30 minutes at a time without it dying a watery death. In practical terms, you'll be able to keep it on while having a shower or washing the dishes.
What's more, upping the device's customisation credibility, it's not just Fossil's silicone, leather, and stainless steel strap options that you've got to stick with. The Q Marshal sports interchangeable 22mm straps, meaning the device can be paired with plenty of third party accessory options. All without breaking the bank.
Fossil Q Marshal review: Screen
- 340 x 290 pixel resolution
- Dated "black bar / flat tyre" base
- Responsive touch elements
Having impressed with its design, it's disappointing that the Q Marshal's visual delights don't extend as far as the screen. Welcome back then to smartwatch shortcomings, lesson one.
Fossil has tried to impress by fitting this device with a coveted circular screen. Great, right? Well, not necessarily. Like the Moto 360 of old, the Q Marshal has bodged things a little, with a sizeable section cut out of the base in order to fit the ambient light sensor. The result is a distracting black bar that gives the watch the look of a car's flat tyre.
As well as pulling the eye's focus and detracting from what's being displayed on the screen's main panel, it cheapens the Marshal's overall look and gives it a dated, basic look. Pair the watch with a black watch face and you can mask this image-marring shortcoming to some degree, but you shouldn't be forced into making such compromises.
If it was first generation then, ok, we'd get it. But this is old tech running in the face of newer - and fully circular - screens, such as the Samsung Gear S3 and Nixon Mission. Therefore, it doesn't quite cut it in the here and now.
The 340 x 290 pixel resolution is fine by smartwatch standards - you don't need a battery-sapping HD display on such a small device - but it lacks any sort of pop. Graphics are notably grainy and colours feel weak and washed out. And that's indoors - take the watch out into the world and bright, direct sunlight further compounds these problems.
If you're after a better visual experience, the likes of the Apple Watch 2 and Samsung Gear S3 leave the Q Marshal in their wake.
Fossil Q Marshal review: Features & performance
- Standard call handling abilities
- Fitness tracker but no heart-rate sensor or GPS
- Wrist-based music control
The Fossil Q Marshal might look like a high-end smartwatch, but scratch beneath the surface (not literally, mind), and it quickly becomes apparent that this is still wanting in a number of areas. It's got many of the smartwatch skills you'd expect, but none of the ones you'll really want.
First, the shortcomings, of which there are a fair few. While many top-line smartwatches now pack their own GPS skills - meaning you can leave your smartphone at home the next time you go out on a run - sadly there are no such abilities here. It's a disappointing omission, yes, but given the watch's price tag, one that can't be too unexpected.
It's not just such high-end features that are missing though. Despite sub-£100 fitness trackers now coming with an integrated heart-rate sensor - something that's been a smartwatch staple since day one - the Q Marshal lacks this too.
This is a bigger deal as it heavily restricts the device's standing as an accurate activity tracker. With the watch's fitness tracking abilities limited to a gyroscope and accelerometer, it's good for little more than counting steps and taking a stab at your daily calorie burn. Which might be fine if that's all you want, but without that fully rounded screen there are better options such as the Activite Steel.
What the Q Marshal lacks - despite decent step-tracking accuracy - is an inability to convert effort into tangible data. Wearing the watch during a high intensity metafit class (meaning extreme exertion, given the range of exercises we performed) and the watch added just a couple of hundred steps to our daily fitness efforts. It's a flawed set-up for anyone even remotely active.
It's not just about what's missing though. Like any smartwatch worth its weight, the Q Marshal has solid smartphone-syncing skills. Letting you check your emails, messages, WhatsApp and call alerts directly from your wrist, it can even handle your calls and control your music without having to remove your phone from your pocket. This all works effortlessly, but none of this is enough to set the device apart from a dozen other smartwatches out there.
Fossil Q Marshal review: Software & app
- Android Wear (2.0 update in the works)
Like all current smartwatches from within the Fossil umbrella, the Q Marshal runs Android Wear. While this ensures a familiar, app-supported experience, it also means no matter which device you plump for you're getting a nearly identical set up.
This is just original Android Wear though, at least for now. Despite having confirmed the watch is on its list of devices heading for an upgrade, the Fossil Q Marshal has yet to be handed an Android Wear 2.0 patch.
That means that there's currently no phone-shunning apps or ability to swipe out text replies using your finger. What there is, however, is a solid user experience, that once you've mastered the slightly clunky swipe-to-navigate interface will quickly feel like an intuitive extension of your tech collection.
With basic iOS support and compatibility with most Android handsets, it also means the watch can be bolstered by a mass of compatible apps. Want to enhance the device's limited fitness tracking skills? Fine, the likes of Runtastic and Strava have you covered. Need football scores or an ability to control your Nest from your wrist? Not a problem.
Heck, you can even add some basic games to your wrist, although that won't help out the device's (already limited) battery life...
Fossil Q Marshal review: Battery life
- 360mAh battery
- Nightly recharges a must
- Sluggish recharge times
Despite having a design that's more classic than futuristic, the Q Marshal is still in traditional smartwatch territory when it comes to battery life. Instead of being able to eke out a week on a single charge, you'll be lucky to get through a full day without needing to power up. Seriously, this thing's battery life is dire.
Making the Apple Watch seem like it's got solid staying power, the Fossil Q Marshal makes nightly charges seem like a lofty goal, regularly entering the red on our evening commute, even with moderate usage throughout the day. Given the lack of GPS and heart-rate sensor to eat up the power, this really isn't good enough.
Disappointingly, the Q Marshal's sub-standard battery life is further compounded by the watch's sluggish recharge times. There's no quick charge skills here to get you through a full day in a rush. Instead, after an hour and 15 minutes connected to the mains, just 37 per cent of the device's battery life had been returned. Woof.
The Fossil Q Marshal is a great looking smartwatch, but one that fails to match its exterior style with substance. Its metal body and decent strap options mean it's a device that will look good strapped to your wrist (save for the "black bar / flat tyre"), but if you're after more than basic wrist-based call and message alerts, you'll be left wanting.
It's not just a few luxury add-ons such as an integrated heart-rate sensor or inbuilt GPS skills that are missing, either. Some of the basics have gone walkabout too, namely battery life. The Q Marshal's life per charge is pretty woeful, its screen lacks pop, its software is dated and various competition is stronger right across the board.
With a £229 asking price, the Q Marshal is more affordable than some, but for just £50 more you could buy a Samsung Gear S3. Sure, the Fossil brand has bags of appeal - but in this guise it's behind the current curve. So unless you're hooked on its looks with "fashion first" thoughts, then we wouldn't suggest buying one.
The alternatives to consider...
Apple Watch 2
It's notably more expensive, but you get what you pay for, and that's a full features list that doesn't disappoint.
Read the full review: Apple Watch Series 2 review: Fitness first
Samsung Gear S3
An alternative to Android Wear that impresses from the off, the Gear S3 is an intuitive device to use thanks to its rotating bezel and offers a full roster of high-end abilities.