(Pocket-lint) - Fossil Group is almost certainly the biggest reason Wear OS still exists as a platform for smartwatches. Under the company's umbrella is a plethora of brands, each distinguishing from one other through different design focus. Diesel offers the eye-catching and bold designs, while Fossil has the more traditional and authentic vibe, and - among others - there's Skagen.
Skagen differentiates itself by being the minimalist in the group, offering that simplistic look we've come to appreciate as ‘Scandinavian style'. It's not fussy, it doesn't over-elaborate on anything, yet still looks fantastic. In the smartwatch world, it's the Falster range that's been the flagbearer for that approach, which is now in its third generation guise. The question is: does it finally have the technological chops to make it worthwhile?
- 42 x 11 mm stainless steel case
- Stainless steel mash strap (other materials available)
- Three buttons, including rotating crown
- 3ATM waterproof
While a lot of the same inspiration lives on in the Falster 3 that's been in both of its predecessors, there's been a lot of change since Skagen launched the first Falster watch.
Like the Falster 2 before it, the third-generation watch has three buttons on its side. The middle is more of a rotating crown than just a simple button though. While you can press it inwards to launch the app menu, it's arguably at its best being rotated to scroll through lists and notifications. It has a nice and smooth motion and so feels well made.
The case on our particular review unit is a gunmetal grey, which has a lovely matte finish to it, complementing the matte black bezel around the display.
We're not big fans of the gunmetal chain link band that comes with this configuration, but that's entirely personal preference. We found the links caught arm hair all too readily when actually putting it on, while the catch adjustment wasn't the easiest for our preferred fit. We'd much rather a magnetic fixing method, similar to Apple's Milanese Loop. Once on, however, it's comfortable and well-fitting.
Skagen sells various configurations of band material and case finish though, including sportier silicon mesh bands and leather straps. What's more, the watch has a standard 22mm quick-release strap fitting, so finding your own band to fit the watch will not be a challenge.
We switched out the metal mesh band for the brown leather strap that originally came with the Fossil Explorist, which works really well against the dark grey and black finish of the Falster 3.
One thing we love about the Skagen watch is the overall size of it. At 11mm thick, the case isn't at all bulky, while the 42mm watch width doesn't take up a tonne of room on the wrist either. Granted, really small wrists may find it a bit big, but we think it'll fit a lot more people than some of the chunkier watches out there.
Add that this particular watch is waterproof to 3ATM (30 meters) and you have a watch that doesn't just look smart, ready for work, but also one that can survive practically any exercise, whether they be really sweaty HIIT sessions, long runs in the rain, or swimming in open water. It can handle all of it. Not bad for a classy minimalist fashion item, eh?
Speedy and functional
- Snapdragon 3100 processor
- 1GB RAM + 8GB storage
- Wear OS
In previous years, we've long complained about WearOS smartwatches - particularly from fashion brands - for being slow, laggy and lacking in basic features that ensure they pale in comparison to the Apple Watch. With the latest crop of wristwear from Fossil Group however, that's all changed.
Inside the watch - if you dig around the internals - you'll find the Snapdragon 3100 wearable processor, which means general interactions and animations are smooth and fluid. Press the button to launch the apps list and it appears instantly. Scrolling through that list, it does seem a slight bit stuttery still, but it's not that noticeable unless you're looking for it.
Swiping down from the top of the watch face to get to quick settings, or swiping up to get to your notifications, is similarly speedy and responsive. The only time you really have to wait at all is when you launch an app. Depending on which app you're trying to access - and how much data it needs to download to update - it can take a couple of seconds to load up. Which, again, is really not bad at all.
The Falster 3's screen is great too. It's a completely round 1.3-inch AMOLED panel, so blacks are really deep, colours are vivid. It's also sharp enough to enable some of Skagen's iconic thin lines, numbers and lettering, and has the Always-On feature to ensure you can always see the time - even with the watching slipping into its ambient mode.
Feature wise, you get almost everything you'd expect from a smartwatch. Use it with an Android phone and you get reply to notifications and messages from popular messaging apps (including SMS), and you can even make and receive calls from the watch using the built-in loudspeaker and microphone. This particular speaker is quite clear too, so you won't struggle to hear the person on the other end.
Google Pay support and NFC combined means you can even use the watch to make contactless payment. The only downside is there are still some major banks holding out on support for GPay, so you'll need to check with your bank first.
You get GPS for location tracking, a heart-rate sensor, enough (8GB) storage to have hundreds of offline songs stored (as long as you use Google Play Music), and Bluetooth for listening with wireless earphones too.
Third-party fitness tracking is best
- Google Fit included
- Heart rate monitor and GPS
Perhaps the area Google needs to work on with Wear OS the most is fitness and health. In terms of the amount of data and features offered by Google Fit, it's some way off competing with the likes of Apple's Health/Workouts combination. Even Huawei Health is miles ahead in terms of digging down deep into relevant exercise data, as is Samsung's alternative.
For instance, Wear OS offers no specific indoor exercise bike mode for tracking cycling on a stationary bike, so you're forced to use the outdoor biking option, which tries to use GPS to track your static location. Then, when the exercise is done, you get very basic metrics on your performance.
For general health and fitness tracking, that might be enough for you, but we'd suggest installing one of many Wear OS exercise tracking apps to get more insight into your fitness. Google Fit has no training plans, only really measuring you against two metrics: Move Minutes and Heart Pts. Those are essentially just there to show that you've moved during the day, or done exercise.
- 24+ hours standard use
- Magnetic charger
How long the battery lasts on a Wear OS watch depends very much on how you use it. With all of its features - heart rate monitor, always-on display, notifications, Wi-Fi and the like - all switched on you'll probably have to charge it every night. Especially if you workout regularly and track your sessions using GPS on the watch.
In this full-on mode with the Falster 3, we reached the end of a full day with around 35 per cent battery remaining. Not quite enough to attempt a second day. Where Wear OS shows its strength, however, is that you're able to choose between various battery-extending modes to make it better.
Choose 'Extended', for instance, and Bluetooth will switch itself off between 10pm and 6am, the Always-on screen will be off, as will system sounds and Wi-Fi. Plus, location will be turned off, unless you need it for something specific. Likewise, 'Ok Google' detection will be off, but heart-rate tracking remains on. All in an effort to save enough battery to get you through a few days at a time.
'Time Only' mode does what it says: you just get to see the time. Nothing that makes a smartwatch smart will be active in this mode, so it's useful if charge is really running low, but you don't want to completely switch off the watch.
Thanks to getting rid of the wireless charging discs from before, the Falster 3 can charge pretty quickly. It uses a magnetic disc with two metal contact points that line up with the metal rings on the underside of the watch case.
Some 50 minutes at the plug is enough to get it from dead back up to 80 per cent. So if you forgot to charge it overnight, just dock it on its charger while you have breakfast, shower and get ready for work, and you should just about get enough charge to make it through to home time.
With the Falster 3, it feels like Skagen has got more pieces in order to create a smartwatch that's attractive, fashionable and practical.
You can make contactless payments, reply to notifications, take hands-free calls, and even track all your workouts. We'd recommend a third-party sports-tracking app for the last of those features, but the fact it can do it all is a major plus.
Wear OS is getting better, but it's still not perfect. Google's Fit platform for sports and activity tracking is really not up to scratch - compared with the data and features offered by the likes of Apple, Huawei and Samsung - and that's somewhere the company needs to invest more time and attention.
Still, if you're an Android user, you'll get pretty much all the smart features you could want in the Skagen Falster 3, in a watch that looks and feels fantastic.
Alternatives to consider
Fossil Gen 5 smartwatch
The fifth-generation watch solves many of the issues we had with previous years' devices: there's much smoother performance and added functionality like GPS and heart-rate monitoring. Plus, the battery isn't sluggishly slow to charge any more. That's a lot of pain points wiped out. As a result, Fossil is still the brand to go for if you're after a fashionable smartwatch and aren't an Apple user.
Michael Kors Bradshaw 2
This watch oozes quality and style, delivers a plethora of features - from waterproofing and built-in GPS to a built-in speaker and customisable watch faces - and offers great overall performance. For the Michael Kors fan, it's everything you could ask for in a smartwatch, perfectly blending traditional Kors style with modern day smarts.