Fossil Takes Aim at Fitbit, Apple Watch with New Fitness Watches

Updated

Of all the companies making Wear OS smartwatches, Fossil has been doing the most to push Google’s Android-based wearables forward. Now the company is combining the fitness-tracking features of its sport-focused Wear OS watch with the style of its more fashion-forward devices.Fossil's Q Venture HR offers dozens of watch faces to customize the device.Fossil's Q Venture HR offers dozens of watch faces to customize the device.

The results are the Q Venture HR and Q Explorist HR ($255, available to order now) that might just be the best Android wearables on the market—if older software and an outdated processor don’t hold them back.

Focus on Fitness

The Q Venture HR and Q Explorist HR are Fossil’s fourth-generation smartwatches, and the company has clearly learned a thing or two. Specifically, Fossil’s new lineup acknowledges that people want one wearable that can do it all: heart rate-monitoring, advanced workout-tracking, smartphone notifications, third-party apps and music playback in a stylish package that can easily transition from the gym to the office.A heart rate sensor and sporty band make the Q Venture HR a fitness-focused smartwatch.A heart rate sensor and sporty band make the Q Venture HR a fitness-focused smartwatch.

The new watches, which range from $255 to $275, are classic Fossil, but they have all the features we’ve come to expect from smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Fitbit Versa. The fourth-gen watches sport an NFC chip for wallet-less Google Pay transactions, 2.5GB of on-board music storage, an optical heart rate sensor, GPS for more accurate run-tracking with Google Fit and third-party fitness apps, and a microphone for querying Google Assistant. Both devices are swim-proof, too.
To compare, the $199 Fitbit Versa and $249 Apple Watch Series 1, which are comparable in price to the new Q HR models, both lack on-board GPS. The $239 Fitbit Versa does have an NFC chip for payments with Fitbit Pay.

Fossil Doesn’t Sacrifice Style

Both Q watches look like traditional Fossils, with an emphasis on fashion. All models have stainless steel case, and the rose gold Q Venture HR I tried on had a blush leather band, but the underside of the strap was made of a sporty silicone material tailor-made for working out. The bands are interchangeable, with other shades of leather and stainless steel link bracelets available on Fossil’s website.Fossil's interchangeable bands add style, with a silicone underside comfortable for working out.Fossil's interchangeable bands add style, with a silicone underside comfortable for working out.

The Venture HR is a 40mm watch with a round, 1.19-inch display. It fit perfectly on my wrist, which is on the smaller side, despite being slightly larger than the 38mm Apple Watch. The Q Explorist is larger at 45mm, with a round, 1.39-inch display.

Both devices have three dials on the right side: The top activates Google Pay, the middle calls up Google Assistant and the bottom triggers Google Fit to jump into a workout.

But Still Wear OS

Where the Q Venture HR and Q Explorist HR could lag behind rival smartwatches is the biggest problem with all Wear OS watches: the software.

Google is working on it, the company said at its annual developer conference in May. Battery efficiency and improved Google Assistant functionality are the main focus, which should make Wear OS watches longer-lasting and more useful.

But Google doesn’t make smartwatch processors, and Wear OS watches struggle to keep up with speedier rivals from Apple and Samsung. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 chip that’s been powering Wear OS watches for a couple of years now doesn’t have the zip a smartwatch needs. In my experience using other Wear OS watches, a loading screen with spinning blue wheel often interrupts even lightweight tasks. I had similar issues in my hands-on time with an early version of the Q Venture HR, but that may be smoothed out in the version that ships.

Qualcomm is reportedly working on a new smartwatch chip that may debut in a new Wear OS watch this fall, but in the meantime, Android-based wearables will continue to lag behind the competition.

Stay tuned for a full review of Fossil’s fourth-gen watches.

This story was updated to reflect that the Q Venture HR unit we saw is not the version that will ship to buyers.

Photos: Tom's Guide