Launching a new Wear OS smartwatch at this time is a precarious position to be in. Google and Samsung are collaborating on the development of a much-needed update to the platform, and this has already borne some fruit with the newly released Watch4 family running an in-progress version of Wear OS 3. However, other smartwatch makers have been sidelined as Google confirmed they won’t have updates to the new version for the better part of a year. Enter the Fossil Gen 6, a solid and well-made iteration of the product line, but also an underdog held back by the stigma of launching with Wear OS 2.
The Fossil Gen 6 Smartwatch is a relatively minor update, but it sacrifices too much battery life and lacks anything special that would otherwise make it worth the retail price. It's also disadvantaged by the impending update to Wear OS 3 that Fossil won't be ready to launch until later in 2022.
- Case Material: Stainless Steel
- Sizes: 42mm w/ 18mm straps, 44mm w/ 22mm straps
- Display: 1.28" Color AMOLED, 416x416, 326ppi
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100+
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 1GB
- Battery: 300mAh
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0 LE, GPS, NFC SE, WiFi
- Software: Wear OS 2 (at launch), optional update to Wear OS 3
- Health sensors: Accelerometer, Altimeter, Ambient Light, Compass, Gyroscope, Off-body IR, PPG Heart Rate, SPO2
- Price: $299
- Sturdy build quality with good buttons and a dial
- The AMOLED display is bright and really sharp
- Fast(er) charging is better than previous generations
- Battery life is mediocre, even if you sacrifice almost all of the features
- Performance occasionally stutters a little too much
- The price isn't very competitive, especially with the Galaxy Watch4
Design, hardware, what's in the box
Like previous Fossil smartwatches, the Gen 6 is available in a few styles and with different straps. For this review, I’m using the 44mm black model with the Green Camo Grosgrain strap, which retails for $299.
Fossil smartwatches don’t stray far from the look of traditional wristwatches, and the Gen 6 sticks closely to the same formula. The body is made of stainless steel encircling the Gorilla Glass display. Surrounding the outer rim is a distinct knurling (ridges) that would suggest there’s a rotating bezel, but these are just cosmetic.
I have nothing but good things to say about the display. Everything looks sharp at 326ppi and it produces rich, bright colors. The viewing angles are really good, and there’s no perceptible color cast.
The right side of the watch is equipped with a dial flanked by two metal posts to protect it from side impacts. It feels like nitpicking, but I think the head of the dial is a little too thin, and it spins with just a little too much resistance. As a result, spinning the dial has to be a very intentional action, and it has nudged me to use the touchscreen for scrolling more often. However, it’s possible the dial will loosen up with time and use, which might solve this issue.
There are also two buttons positioned beyond the dial guards. The top button launches Fossil’s Wellness app, and the bottom opens Google Pay, but both buttons can be remapped to any other app on the phone. The buttons aren’t bad, but pickier users will find they’re a bit mushy with no definitive click at the bottom.
The back side of the watch has a small bulge for the sensor bundle, which is surrounded by a pair of metal charging rings. The rings are designed to allow the magnetic charging puck to spin freely while remaining connected, and in turn the cable can point in whatever direction is convenient. It works alright, but I found the puck can be disconnected too easily, sometimes even with just a bump to the table it’s sitting on. On two separate occasions I set the watch on the puck and saw the charging animation, then returned to find that it had completely run down.
I think it also bears mentioning that the charging puck has a permanent USB cable attached, and it doesn’t feel very durable. If any part of the cable or plug is damaged, the whole charger has to be replaced. I know this is now fairly standard among smartwatch makers, but it used to be fairly common to have a charging puck with a simple port, and I would like to think Fossil will come around on this someday.
The strap included with my review unit is looped at both ends with velcro, so it can be adjusted for wide range of wrist sizes. It’s comfortable to wear for hours, even if you like to wear it fairly tight. There are also small pieces of leather with finely carved logos to add some visual accents. Frankly, I am neither a fan of velcro straps or camo patterns, so this isn’t the style I would choose for myself — but that’s purely subjective and there are plenty of other options to choose from. And if you don’t like any of Fossil’s other options, these straps are held in by spring-loaded pins, making them easy to remove and replace with any standard 22mm strap (or 18mm on the smaller models).
Software, performance, and battery life
There’s no way to avoid the biggest and most obvious topic, so let’s just get it out of the way. The Fossil Gen 6 is launching with Wear OS 2, and the current timeline doesn’t have the update to Wear OS 3 coming until mid-2022, at the earliest. Furthermore, Google has made it clear that this will be an opt-in update, which to my ears is a sign that the update could be expected to run poorly on the short list of watches that are expected to have the option.
Setting aside the dark shadow of dubious updates, the Fossil Gen 6 works fine with Wear OS 2, and aside from a tedious setup process involving a lot of confirmation prompts to turn on features, it seems to be fairly bug-free and reliable. To say it works like any other recent smartwatch running the same software would be an obvious and predictable statement. Even if Wear OS 2 has some things to complain about, it’s still a pretty mature product.
However, performance can be a problem. Apps and core features usually run quickly enough, but I spotted occasional moments of unpredictable lag. There’s also some momentary sluggishness immediately after waking the watch — it’s normal to shut down the CPU almost entirely to preserve battery, and it takes a moment to wake up — but it’s more perceptible on this watch compared to some others I have used. Frankly, I doubt most people will even notice it, but picky users might spot it from time to time.
The included software is largely unchanged from previous generations, including the typical set of single-purpose apps to run the sensors and tracking sleep or other basic workout activities. If you want much more than this, you’ll have to install Google Fit and turn to the Play Store for more advanced options.
Battery life is predictably disappointing. Fossil’s marketing promises 24 hours on Extended mode, but this disables most of the features of the watch, limits Bluetooth to a schedule, and shuts off the display and tilt-to-wake so you can only turn it on with a button press. Basically, it becomes a glorified step tracker that can show notifications. If this is all you want, a Fitbit is probably a better investment.
I think most people will choose the Daily mode that keeps everything active, including always-on display (AOD). This setting should give a fairly consistent 12 hours of use; which isn't great, but it’s about what I would expect from a Wear OS watch with the display and biometric sensors constantly nibbling at your battery. If anything, I’m surprised that disabling all of these features was only doubling the duration.
I also happen to be one of those oddballs that’s fine with turning off the display and letting it activate with tilt-to-wake, but this only raises the battery life to about 18 hours. There’s also a Time Only mode that shuts off the whole OS and merely shows a clock, giving you several days of battery life, but nothing else.
This finally brings us to the topic of charging. Fossil claims the Gen 6 can fast charge to 80% in 30 minutes. I tried several different charging blocks, but couldn't reproduce that speed. Instead, I recorded a fairly linear charging rate of about 18% every 10 minutes, hitting 100% at almost exactly 1 hour. It’s reasonably possible none of my charging blocks support the correct fast charging protocol, but since there isn’t a block included in the box, this experience may be common for a lot of customers.
Should you buy it?
Probably not. Under normal circumstances, the Fossil Gen 6 gets a passing grade. The build quality is solid, the display looks fantastic, and it’s not sacrificing on hardware features. However, the short battery life and occasional performance hiccups really hold it back from creating an entirely positive experience.
But these also aren’t normal circumstances. If you care about getting the update to Wear OS 3 — some people won’t — it’s hard not to factor that in. There are plenty of unanswered questions, but we know the Fossil Gen 6 won’t see the update for quite a while, and we can’t predict if it will even run well on this hardware. By the time these questions are answered, the Fossil Gen 7 will either be out or following close behind.
All told, $300 feels like too much. If you’re not overly concerned with Wear OS 3, or you don’t want to wait until the middle of next year to buy a watch, the Fossil Gen 6 could be a decent purchase once it goes on sale. Otherwise, the Galaxy Watch4 is priced $50 lower and has a more definite future.
Buy it if...
- You want more style choices in an Android smartwatch and don't mind the old software.
Don't buy it if...
- You want a watch with well-supported software.
- You need a whole day of battery life without range anxiety.
UPDATE: 2021/12/26 06:47 EST BY CODY TOOMBS
One month later
Little has changed for the Fossil Gen 6 since its launch. There’s no big news, no firmware updates, or new features. However, one thing has changed for me: battery life.
I tracked battery life for a few weeks during the review, and it used to be comically unrealistic to get more than 24 hours off the charger without setting the watch to the ultra-conservative Time Only mode. Perhaps it was possible to edge out 24 hours on Extended Mode with several other features disabled, but there’s not much point to wearing a smartwatch with everything turned off.
However, even as I write this, it has been nearly 24 hours since I pulled the Gen 6 from the charger and it’s currently showing 42% remaining. I used it to track last night’s sleep, and it has remained on my wrist all day as I’ve received occasional notifications. Admittedly, I haven’t been very interactive with it outside of checking the current battery percentage, so it’s only the occasional message notifications that have woken it from an idle state. At nearly 30 hours in, I finally dropped it on the charger with 20% remaining. While this marked improvement can’t be attributed to new firmware, it’s certainly plausible that app updates played a role in cutting power usage.
But does a substantial improvement in battery life change my opinion? Yes and no. I still have higher expectations for battery life than I can get from the Gen 6, but it’s now hitting a threshold where I believe “normal use” can carry you through a long day without draining the battery to empty. Unfortunately, the long term outlook for software updates is still a stumbling block, and the little hiccups in performance are a reminder that it’s not optimized to make the best use of the hardware inside. It’s still hard to recommend anything other than the Galaxy Watch4, which continues to be cheaper and has a brighter future; but my single biggest complaint seems to have vanished, which makes the Gen 6 a viable option, at least if there’s a decent sale.