Smartwatches are in an interesting place at the moment. We've seen Google's wrist-worn operating system change name from Android Wear to Wear OS in a bid not to put off iPhone users from adopting it. And over a fairly long period of time we've also seen fashion brands take over from traditional tech manufacturers.
Today, therefore, in the world of Wear OS, you're more likely to find a smartwatch made by Diesel, Michael Kors, Skagen or Fossil, than you are to find one made by Motorola or LG. Which is exactly where the third-generation Fossil Q fits into the mix.
- 46mm stainless steel case
- IP67 water and dust resistant
- 22mm swappable straps
As smartwatches go, Fossil's Q Explorist range is among the best looking and best designed out at the moment. Our particular review product has a combination of blue and silver metals, with a tan leather strap. Very fancy.
Fossil is no stranger to chunky, substantial steel watches with industrial charm, and the 46mm Gen 3 Explorist continues that trend. There are several versions of the Q Explorist, but they all share the same scalloped bezel around the display, same button layout and casing design. Where they differ is in the colouring and finish of the metal and band material. As an aside to this, it's worth knowing that even if you don't like any of the watch bands on offer, you can easily swap it out for any other 22mm band.
What's interesting from a design point of view is the contrast not only between the blue and silver colouring, but also between brushed and polished metal. As an example, the bezel around the screen is brushed, but each of the indents in the scalloped finish is shiny. Similarly, parts of the blue steel have a mirrored finish, while other elements are brushed for a more matte look.
As if there was any doubt that this is a fashion-first approach to smartwatch building, the evidence is on the underside, where you'll find the circular black glass panel, put there to enable wireless charging. There's no heart-rate monitor anywhere to be seen.
A big part of the design story with the Fossil watch isn't hardware based at all, but rather in the software. Fossil has designed a relatively large gallery of watchfaces - some designed to mimic the company's much older digital and analogue styles. Many of these are customisable too, so you can decide what information to have displayed in the small "complications" on screen, or choose the background and accent colours.
These watchfaces and the hardware design are more subtle than those we saw from Diesel's watch previously, but then that's something we've come to expect from these two companies. Diesel has long been about big, brash and rather ostentatious designs, whereas Fossil more regularly goes with fashionably restrained and attractive styling.
The Q's design is further enhanced by the look of the three buttons on the side. They look like proper watch buttons, and mostly act like them. We'd like a little more tactile feedback and clickiness, but for digital buttons they do a good job. What's more, the centre crown actually rotates to form a key part of interface control.
- 454 x 454 resolution
- Fully round display
- AMOLED panel
Continuing the modern trend for Wear OS watches, the Fossil has a completely round display on the front, thankfully no "flat tyre" black bar across the bottom is to be found here. That means you get a full round watch face experience, without any portion of it cut off.
The Fossil has a sharp screen, vibrant and with plenty of contrast to boot. Indoors it's bright enough at around halfway brightness to deliver the full, colourful, detailed and saturated effect.
Outside in bright daylight it's not quite as great, but it's not impossible to see. You'll still be able to tell the time and read notifications in summer weather, although some squinting might be necessary in particularly bright conditions.
The only other slight issue is a bluish tint to the screen that's apparent when looking at it from an angle. It's not a major problem, since most of the time looking at a watch you tend to be looking at it head-on.
Features, performance and software
- Wear OS
- Compatible with Android and iOS
- 4GB storage
Apart from custom watch faces, Wear OS watches typically have identical software, so there's little to no difference in the product you buy, whatever the manufacturer.
The interface is controlled predominantly by using the touchscreen, but also the buttons on the side, or even by voice command.
Paired with an iPhone, however, you won't get the same functionality as when paired with an Android device. Due to Apple's restrictions, third-party watch-makers and platforms don't get access to things like replying to messages. So, with an iPhone, you can view your notifications and dismiss them, but that's about it.
It's worth noting that, while Fossil claims this watch can track steps, distance and calories burned, it can only make an estimated guess at the last two using only the data gained from counting your steps. Without GPS and without a heart-rate monitor, you can't get truly accurate results. Still, it's hardly a watch you'd want to use when out running, especially not with the steel or leather straps.
Pair with Android, and the Fossil Q comes alive a little more. You can reply to messages within supported apps by using your voice, using short text templates or scribbling on the screen. It can be a bit hit-and-miss and isn't as accurate as just using your phone, but is perfectly fine for a quick two or three word response.
The watch handles apps pretty well, except when loading data via phone or a Wi-Fi connection when it can take its sweet time. General interactions with the user interface and apps stored on the phone are much better, because less loading is required.
Clearly, the Snapdragon 2100 processor inside is in need of an update. We can't help but feel this would also help with the next subject...
Fossil Q Explorist: Battery performance
- All-day battery (but not two-day battery)
- Wireless charging disc
As with most Android Wear watches of old, the battery does leave you wanting. In all of our testing, even during light usage, we weren't able to get the Fossil Q through two full days. Most of the time its battery would get to critically low levels by around 3pm on the second day.
This isn't even the most inconvenient part of its battery performance. Charging times are frustratingly long. Using the wireless charging adapter that comes with it, it takes hours to fill it from dead to 100 per cent. Docking it at around nine per cent, the battery took a whole hour just to add an additional 30 per cent. That means you're looking at charging times over four hours to go from nothing to full. In a battery as small as this, that's frustrating.
All this means you're forced to take the watch off every evening, to charge it overnight. We weren't surprised by this, given our experience with the Diesel On Full Guard, which has virtually identical hardware. We still hope this is something that improves drastically over the coming months, when new Wear OS models are launched to market.
As fashionable smartwatches go, there's a lot to like about the Fossil Q Explorist Gen 3. It's attractive, well made, waterproof and available in a choice of finishes and band styles.
There's no advanced health or activity tracking here, but it does the jobs it's supposed to do well - and does them in style. Wear OS means you get both Android and iPhone support, but the battery life and charging times do limit the appeal somewhat.
If you want all the features of Wear OS in a design that's not as shiny as the Michael Kors range, or as ostentatious as the Diesel watches, the Fossil Q Explorist will suit you right down to the ground. It looks and feels just like a regular watch, but with the addition of some smart.
Alternatives to consider
Diesel On Full Guard
If you like your watch design a little more eye-catching, the Diesel On Full Guard will give almost exactly the same experience as the Fossil, except it's big and brash. The watch faces are far from subtle, and buttons could be better designed and utilised, but there's not much like it in the world of Wear OS watches.
Read the full article: Diesel On Full Guard review
Michael Kors Access Sofie
The Michael Kors Access Sofie is a stunner of a smartwatch, combining beauty with brains, especially when paired with an Android device. It offers a solid, luxurious and waterproof design, enough bling to make it stand out from the rest of the Android Wear crowd, while also offering a decent performance and a good battery life.
Read the full article: Michael Kors Access Sofie review
Samsung Gear S3
Moving away from Wear OS, in the Gear S3 Samsung created a really great smartwatch with an interface and software that arguably makes more sense than Android Wear. There aren't as many apps available, but it works well, and the battery lasts longer. It's cross-platform and also has advanced fitness tracking capabilities.
Read the full article: Samsung Gear S3 review