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Fossil Challenges Apple with the ‘Best Wear OS Smartwatch’

(Image credit: Fossil)

Apple is the leading smartwatch maker by a significant margin. With Fitbit and Samsung vying for second place, it seems as if no one is buying Wear OS watches built on Google's smartwatch platform. But Fossil keeps making them. 

With a new $295 fifth-generation touch-screen watch that comes in two styles, the Julianna HR and the Carlyle HR, the fashion brand is doubling down on the promise of Wear OS.

Greg McKelvey, Fossil Group's chief commercial officer, told me he thinks the fifth-gen Fossil smartwatch that goes on sale Aug. 5 is the "best Wear OS smartwatch in the world."

"It's going to be very, very competitive with the market leaders," he added.

(Cough, Apple, cough.)

Here's what's new.

Faster performance

The biggest issue with Wear OS watches has been sluggish performance, which Fossil aims to fix by building the new watch on Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset, doubling the RAM to 1GB and upping the storage to 8GB. Combined, those improvements could eliminate the spinning wheel of death I've often experienced when using other Wear OS watches (including older Fossils).

Extended battery life

New battery mode options allow you to choose how long you want your smartwatch to last.

New battery mode options allow you to choose how long you want your smartwatch to last.

(Image credit: Fossil)

Another major problem with most smartwatches — Fossil's included — is battery life, which hovers around 24 hours. The Fossil Sport lasts just one day on a charge, unless you enable Battery Saver mode, which sacrifices smartwatch features so it will last a week.

The new Fossil smartwatch has four battery modes, accessible with a swipe down from the home screen, that let you choose how long you want your watch to last. In Daily Mode with an always-on display, the watch will last about a day. In Extended Battery Mode, the watch will last 2 to 3 days while still receiving notifications and monitoring your heart rate. Time-Only Mode turns the smartwatch into a dumb one if your battery is running low. A Custom Mode lets you choose which features to enable — for instance, if you want to receive notifications but don't want the watch to monitor your heart rate — to personalize the battery life.

iPhone compatibility

All Wear OS smartwatches are compatible with iPhones, but there are certain features only available to Android users. Fossil is working to make its latest watch more compatible with iOS with an app coming this fall that will allow you to take and make phone calls directly from the watch. You'll need your iPhone nearby, as the watch will simply relay the calls from the phone. Maybe one day your Wear OS watch will be able to compose and reply to messages from an iPhone, too.

Swim-proof speaker

Fossil put a speaker in its new smartwatch so you can hear Google Assistant's responses to queries.

Fossil put a speaker in its new smartwatch so you can hear Google Assistant's responses to queries.

(Image credit: Fossil)

Past Fossil watches have included microphones for asking Google Assistant questions, but the answers were displayed on the watch face instead of being read aloud to you. A new swim-proof speaker in the fifth-gen Fossil watch will change that, in addition to making phone calls possible.

You’ll also be able to listen to music on the watch using third-party apps, and download playlists for offline listening. Spotify will be installed on the watch.

Preinstalled apps

In addition to Spotify, Fossil is also bundling the heart health app Cardiogram on the watch. Cardiogram monitors your heart rate and maps the changes over time on a graph. It can also detect signs of atrial fibrillation, sleep apnea and other diseases that are associated with heart-rate changes.

Stainless steel design

Fossil's newest watch comes in three stainless steel shades.

Fossil's newest watch comes in three stainless steel shades.

(Image credit: Fossil)

With Fossil Sport, Fossil created a lightweight, fitness-focused smartwatch that I could barely feel on my wrist, made of a combination of aluminum and nylon. The newest watch sports a heftier 44-millimeter stainless-steel case that comes in three colors: black, silver and rose gold. No smaller option is available.

Outlook

With Qualcomm's 3100 chip and Google's Wear OS software enhancements, Android smartwatches have slowly improved in the last year. But no Wear OS smartwatch has been a must-buy, or can even compete with the Apple Watch or Samsung's Tizen OS watches.

Fossil could change that with its latest devices, which pack in all the features we've come to expect from smartwatches, plus improvements in performance and battery life that could finally make Wear OS competitive. Stay tuned for a full review.