(Pocket-lint) - It seems an age since fashion brand, Fossil, first got into the smartwatch market. In some ways it was almost seen as the saviour for Google's Wear OS operating system. Along with several of its brands - including Diesel, Skagen and Michael Kors - Fossil Group released smartwatches that actually looked like proper watches. Unlike those launched by most of the big-name tech manufacturers.
In 2021, however, the narrative has shifted somewhat. Google has partnered with Samsung to create a better operating system that includes features more on par with the Apple Watch than any other previous Wear OS version. The problem for Fossil, however, is that it doesn't have that running on its latest watches. So, with an older version of Wear OS, can the Gen 6 edition watches really compete?
- 44mm stainless steel case
- 22mm quick-release strap
- 3ATM waterproof
It's in design you'll see the only real tangible difference between the various models in Fossil's Gen 6 lineup. Because all the watches essentially use the same hardware components - like screens, heart rate monitors, batteries and chargers.
Our particular review unit is the standard Fossil Gen 6 watch in black, which features a black silicone band and a black anodised aluminium case. Other colour variants are available, including one with a silver case and brown leather strap. Whichever model you go for, however, there's no hindrance to choosing your own strap.
As has become customary for most modern smartwatches the Fossil Gen 6 has a quick-release 22mm strap that's easy to pop out and replace with any other that might take your fancy.
The lugs that hold them are rounded and compact, so don't leave too much of a gap between our wrist and the metal. That combines with the sleek case to make a watch that's relatively compact and low profile. As a result the watch never feels as big and bulky as some of the manufacturer's previous models, so it'll look good on most wrist sizes.
A scalloped edge surrounds the bevel on the front, giving the watch a bit of extra texture, while three buttons sit on the right edge - the middle one also acting as a rotating crown. These buttons are perfectly adequate and click nicely when pressed. The top one launches a health snapshot by default, while the bottom button is for quickly launching GPay for NFC-based contactless payments. As is usual, the middle button/crown is for launching your app list and going back to the home screen.
However, there's one complaint about the buttons: they're too easy to press by accident. We'd regularly find ourselves accidentally activating Google Assistant when we bent our wrist back, for example.
Display and software
- 1.28-inch round AMOLED screen
- 416 x 416 resolution (326ppi)
- Wear OS by Google
As watch screens go, the AMOLED panel on the Fossil Gen 6 is very good. It features really deep, inky blacks which come to the fore when one of the darker watch faces is selected, or when the always-on display is activated. The black panel blends in with the black bezel around it to form a seamless dark surface.
Some of the watch faces - like the Hombre face shown below - feature colour that blends into the black background. It makes it seem like the frame, screen and colour all blend in together.
In some ways, it's watch faces that are Fossil's strong point. There are quite a few options you can select right away without having to go to the Play Store to download more. And in lots of different styles, many of which have an ambient always-on face that activates after a few seconds of inactivity.
If there's any weak point, it's lack of customisation. But a lot of that limitation is down to the complexity of the Fossil watch faces. Many of them feature quite complex gradients, layers and shading, and so when you go to customise them, you only get a handful of different colours to choose from. That's one thing that could change when Fossil finally offers the latest version of Wear OS (the one that, at the time of writing, is only available on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4).
Saying that, part of the joy of Wear OS is that you have the option to browse the Play Store and install any one of hundreds of third-party watch faces, many of which have more granular customisation, thus allowing you to change the watch face background colour, accent and complications.
Otherwise it's standard Wear OS affair, with Google's Discover feed on the left of the home screen giving you snapshot updates, and glance screens/widgets to the right of the home screen. You can add/remove the ones you want - so whether you want to glance quickly at the weather, your upcoming schedule, daily activity, or start a workout, it's all available.
You can pair with Android or iPhone, but the experience with the latter is a lot more limiting. Android pairing means you can read and respond to messages and notifications from messaging apps, while a limitation with Apple's iOS means you can only view notifications rather than reply directly from the watch.
Performance and battery life
- Snapdragon Wear 4100+ processor
- 1GB RAM and 8GB storage
- Bluetooth 5.0 LE, NFC, Wi-Fi
- 24 hour battery life
Fossil Gen 6 is among the first smartwatches to feature the Snapdragon Wear 4100+ processor, making it faster and more responsive than its predecessors. There is a noticeable difference when comparing it to older Wear OS models.
Loading the apps list is more instant when you press the central crown, while searching for and installing apps from the Play Store is also quicker, while on-screen animations appear smoother. There isn't the slight lag we'd sometimes see in the Gen 5 or older generations.
Add that to its list of functions and the Gen 6 feels like a genuinely useful smartwatch. Google Pay, for instance, is really convenient. Once setup, you just press the bottom button and then hold the watch near a contactless terminal to authorise a payment.
You don't need to type in your PIN every time you launch it, as long as you've typed in your PIN when you put your watch on in the morning. It'll detect when it's been taken off your wrist if you (or someone else) removes it, and ask for your PIN again next time.
There's Wi-Fi on board to help with the speed of downloading apps, content and updates, and a regular Bluetooth audio connection so that you can use your watch to answer phone calls from your paired watch. All in all, it's a solid feature set.
If there's one area that could be improved, it's battery life. We still struggled to get much more than a day of use out of a full battery. So if you want to use the watch to track your sleep every night, you're going to spend a little time the next day with the watch on charge.
If you do go with this option then thankfully you don't have to wait as long as you used to for it to refill. When empty, the Gen 6 can reach an 80 per cent charge in just 30 minutes, which is a huge improvement over the older generations. The charging method is still a rather cheap-looking magnetic charging disc with contact points in it though.
If you don't want to track sleep, or wake up with a low battery in the morning, you can just resort to the defacto charging-it-overnight option, rendering that faster charging redundant.
Fitness and health tracking
- GPS, Altimeter, Gyroscope and Compass
- Heart Rate and SpO2 sensors
- Wellness app, Google Fit
Being WearOS means you can download and install any number of fitness tracking apps on to your watch, whether you want Strava, Nike Run Club or another, there are many options to choose from. But for every day, all-day tracking, there are two routes to go down.
Fossil has its own Wellness features pre-installed on its modern watches, offering a decent array of features like basic workout tracking, step counting, sleep tracking and heart rate monitoring. The only issue: that data doesn't go anywhere, it just stays on your wrist. So as useful as it is to have on your watch, you can't then view that data on your phone, or sync it to another service.
The safer bet is to use Google Fit instead, which requires a little bit of fussing with the software, removing the Wellness widgets from the widget screens and replacing them with similar functions from Google. This way, when you track your daily activity, it will sync with Google Fit on your phone.
For this type of tracking, the Gen 6 works pretty well. It will give you a decent overview of how active you are and uses a heart points system where it measures how intense your activity is and tries to motivate you into meeting a weekly average goal, rather than hitting the daily goal every single day. However, for those who want to track specific activities like running or cycling, there are better options out there.
We found the Gen 6's GPS performance was poor in comparison to other watches we've tested over the past couple of years. Even on short 3.5km interval sessions it was way off the mark, often measuring 300-500 metres further than our watches from Garmin, Samsung and Huawei.
Looking at the route map afterwards made it obvious that the location tracking was inconsistent, with straight roads showing route lines squiggling all over the place. It's definitely not a watch we'd recommend for serious outdoor activities.
The Fossil Gen 6 is a step forward over its predecessors, delivering a good-looking watch that's now faster and more responsive thanks to the latest Qualcomm hardware being on board.
But while the hardware is here, the latest Wear OS software is not. You won't get the all-singing, all-dancing operating system that you'll find on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 - at least not yet.
You also won't get the most advanced fitness tracking available - and the GPS is inaccurate based on our use - so if you're looking for a fitness watch then we'd suggest looking elsewhere.
As a proper smartwatch, however, the Fossil Gen 6 brings together attractive design at a decent price point. The fashion is totally here, but the software is only nearly there.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
For a full smartwatch experience with good fitness tracking, there's no better watch for Android users right now than the new Galaxy Watch. It does all the important stuff right, and has the new version of WearOS.