(Pocket-lint) - The year 2020 seems to be the year that the Wear OS market is turning on its head. Things are finally starting to get better, thanks to an improvement in hardware from Qualcomm's wearable Snapdragon processor team, and a drive by the Fossil Group to make watches that are slick, fully featured and customisable. 

The latest range - that's Gen 5, which we've reviewed in other forms before - includes all the features you'd want in a smartwatch, including hands-free calls, activity tracking, contactless payments and much more. And with the Garrett, it might just have the best Wear OS watch yet. 

If it looks like a watch...

  • 46mm case
  • 22mm interchangeable strap
  • 3ATM (30 metres) water resistance

We've reviewed a fifth-gen Fossil watch before. That model - the Julianna - has very different styling compared to this, the Garrett. One could argue the Julianna is a more so-called feminine design, but we found it much too large for smaller wrists. 

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It's clear with the Garrett that the styling is going more for that masculine look. Its chunky metal frame and prominent contrasting index around the bezel is reminiscent of an analogue chronograph watch. It's a style that's been popular for years, and one that we're particularly drawn to. 

Despite that slightly eloborate design language around the casing, it doesn't feel too big or too chunky. In fact, the case itself feels relatively thin. Compared to the hefty Casio G-Shock Move smartwatch, it's incredibly low profile and even compares favourably against the Apple Watch

The Garrett has three buttons on the right edge - the centre one being the digital crown, which is textured, and rotates to control some elements of the interface (such as scrolling through notifications and the apps list). The other two buttons are customisable, so you can have them as shortcuts to whatever functions are available. We setup our top button to launch Google Pay for easy contactless payments, and the bottom one for launching a Google Fit workout. 

When pressed, the buttons have a nice, subtle click to them. They're soft, but without being too spongey feeling, and the scrolling function of the centre crown is responsive and smooth too. Not too loose, not too stiff - it's that nice middle ground in-between. 

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As well as having an eye on fashion and design, Fossil also keeps one eye on practicality, and so - as with many other smartwatches in its range - there's an interchangeable strap. This particular one is a 22mm quick-release band. Our model came with a black silicone version, as pictured.

What we like about this is that the pure matte black colouring is subtle enough that it can be worn to work with a suit, but also a good material to take to the gym or on your outdoor runs. It's comfortable and fits well. Plus, being silicone means it's not going to be ruined by excess sweat or rain and its inate properties means it conforms to the shape of your wrist, unlike a metal link band or leather strap.  

Round, vibrant screen

  • 1.28-inch display, 416 x 416 resolution
  • Fully round AMOLED panel
  • Customisation options

Apart from its looks, there's not a lot different about the Garrett compared to its siblings in the range - the Julianna and the Carlyle - which is to say that it has a high-resolution AMOLED panel that's completely round. 

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The resolution, combined with the brightness, contrast and colour saturation, creates a display that's sharp and eye-catching. That means it's the perfect canvas to display any number of custom watch faces. Whether they be brightly coloured and highly decorative, or simple mono faces with slim, minimal accents. 

It's easy to see in daylight at full brightness, and has the useful always-on feature which displays a more minimal, less battery intensive version of the watch face currently selected. That means you can always tell the time. It's worth noting that having the always-on mode active does impact the battery life - but given the performance of the battery, it's not going to make to big a difference to how often you're charging it in daily usage. 

Reliable performer

  • Snapdragon 3100 + 8GB storage
  • NFC for payments
  • Speaker for calls
  • Charging via contact points
  • 24 hours battery life

Lots has improved compared to previous generations of Wear OS, most of which we've already noted in our reviews of the Gen 5 Julianna and the Skagen Falster 3. Where we used to find frustrations when it came to overall speed and responsiveness, those are no bother with the Garrett.

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The Gen 5 Garrett is speedy and smooth when it comes to general interactions and swiping through menus. Downloading new apps from the Play Store does sometimes feel a little sluggish, but launching them is fast enough. It doesn't stutter and pause like older versions of Fossil smartwatches did, and that means one of the biggest pain points is gone. 

The Gen 5 has also added in a key array of hardware components to make a more feature-rich experience too. There's a loudspeaker so you can take hands-free calls on your watch when you receive calls. That's surprisingly useful when your hands are otherwise occupied, by cooking dinner, or getting your kids ready to leave the house, or whatever other reason you can't physically pick up your phone. 

NFC is onboard, along with GPay compatibility, meaning that - if your bank supports it - you can easily make payments from your watch using contactless POS systems in stores. Again, when your hands are full at the checkout, it's so much more convenient than having to hunt around for your purse or your phone. 

It all works well to create a versatile and fully featured smartwatch - and one that looks a proper watch should too. 

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If there's a downside to performance, it's battery life. Although, even that isn't surprising, given the type of display and the number of features here. Fossil says you'll get 24 hours from a full charge, and in daily use the reality is you'll need to charge it every night. Unless you rarely get any notifications and you have features like the always-on display and heart rate monitor switched off, it's unlikely you'll get to the end of a second day - we weren't brave enough to chance it anyway.

Fitness and software

  • Heart rate monitor and GPS
  • Google Fit is becoming more useful

Despite looking like a daily watch you might wear to work, or with smart/casual attire, the Garrett is actually an accomplished sports watch. As well as Google Fit being preinstalled for tracking workouts of many different kinds, you also have access to a number of different third-party options, including the likes of Nike Run Club and Strava. 

These apps are backed by the fact that Fossil has incorporated built-in GPS for location/route tracking, as well as a heart-rate monitor. That means if you do head out on a run, you'll get a mapped route as well as an overview of your heart-rate peaks and averages, plus cadence, speed, pace and all the other things you'd want from running data. 

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Now, Google Fit hasn't been perfect during our use. It still feels a little like an app that's developing over time. It's less basic than it used to be, but we had one time when trying to start an indoor cycling sessions (by selecting the Spinning option from the workout list) where the app just failed to start, crashed and then rebooted. So we tried it again, and it failed again, and then again a third time. 

It's safe to say, therefore, that the Garrett is not a dedicated fitness watch, but more lifestyle watch. That means, as always, you can interact with your smartphone notifications on the screen, replying to and reading messages quickly and easily.

If you're paired with an iPhone, you miss out on interacting with notifications in terms of replying to them, but a lot of the other features are the same as you'll get with an Android phone. You can still set up Google Pay for contactless payments, and still get access to Google Fit via the iPhone app. With Google Play built into the watch, combined with Wi-Fi support, you can also install a bunch of apps on the watch too, so you're not limited to only mirroring your iPhone notifications. 

For an idea on how to pair, and what you can set up, check out our video above on setting up Wear OS to work with an iPhone.

Verdict

There's no doubt that the latest generation of Wear OS models are a notable improvement over their predecessors. The extra power means any sluggishness is gone, and with the inclusion of NFC for payments, loudspeaker for taking calls, plus a heart-rate sensor and GPS for activity tracking, these Fossil devices truly are multi-functional smartwatches without any serious weak points. 

The Garrett is in the Gen 5 series and we think it's one of the best-looking smartwatches on the market. It's got that classy chronograph look, but doesn't have the price tag associated with it that you'd see from the luxury brands. 

Wear OS still has its limits compared to Apple's WatchOS platform, but it's nowhere near as frustrating an experience as it used to be. There's now very little you can't do. We'd like to see Google Fit expand further beyond the relatively basic tracking data points, and Google Pay isn't as widely supported by banks as Apple Pay yet. Other than that though, this is a stellar everyday lifestyle-focused smartwatch.

Also consider

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Skagen Falster 3

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Skagen's latest Wear OS number has a lot of the same features as the Fossil Gen 5 Garrett, but with a more minimalist Scandinavian approach to design. It's one of our favourites. 

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Tag Heuer Connected 2020

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This is a stunning example of a smartwatch that's well made, has great watch faces and performs well. It's expensive, but it's wonderful. 

Writing by Cam Bunton. Editing by Mike Lowe.