Fossil Gen 5 review: Style overcomes the flaws of Wear OS

Google’s Wear OS watches have a hard time distinguishing themselves, but a few poke their head just above the status quo with slick looks and decent performance. That’s the case with the Fossil Gen 5.

The $300 price tag is well within a reasonable range for a stainless-steel, fashion-first Wear OS watch such as this one, but as usual, the problems with Wear OS smartwatches revolve around the software experience, which often feels like an afterthought.

Stylish, versatile, and well-made stainless-steel casing
Most Wear OS watches try to look like traditional watches, and the Fossil Gen 5 is no different. It does opt for a more understated, masculine look without looking too bold. It fits in just as well at the gym as it does with a suit and tie, though you may want to do some watch face customization, as the preloaded options aren’t particularly pleasing.

We reviewed the ‘Carlyle’ style, the more masculine option. There’s also a ‘Julianna’ model that takes a more feminine approach. The differences are entirely cosmetic, as both are the same size and have the same features.

The watch is also 3 ATM water resistant and perfectly fine to swim with, but not dive, and the watch straps are interchangeable with any 22mm bands. I’m quite happy with the default silicone strap, though.

Figuring out what buttons you have and what they do is always a guessing game with Wear OS watches. The Fossil Gen 5 has three on the right side — the one in the middle doubles as a rotating crown for scrolling through lists. True to Fossil’s stylistic roots, the default action for the top button is a shortcut to preset watch faces you have customized, making it simple to swap your watch’s look. Double-clicking this button can also bring up Google Pay. The middle button is what you’d expect, a home button, which will bring up your app list when you’re already home.

An app switcher would be perfect here, if Wear OS supported it, but I’d at least settle for music controls, so I don’t have to use up one of the other buttons for this. The bottom button is set to Google Fit, but you can just as easily get there by swiping right on the screen once. Thankfully, both the top and bottom buttons can be configured to launch any app of your choice (though there aren’t many to choose from) but inexplicably you can’t choose shortcuts for double-presses.

The basics are covered
In terms of first-party applications, the basics are covered. You have an alarm clock, agenda, stopwatch, weather app, Google Fit, and a few other requisite apps. These all work well and serve their functions properly, with the alarm clock being a minor exception.

There was a persistent glitch that forces you to go find the alarm clock application (or check notifications) to turn off the alarm when it wakes you up. This glitch happens when you turn off the display before bed, and the alarm does not show up on the screen when time is up. Leaving it on, however, makes this glitch disappear.

Google Fit also does a decent job for fitness tracking which, paired with the heart rate sensor and GPS, can log your exercise data from any activity with the general workout option, or more specifically with certain activities. You’re not going to get the most complete health suite here as you’ll find neither the more granular and varied exercise tracking options of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, nor sleep tracking functionality. For those unconcerned with a watch that can more accurately count your reps, track specific exercises, and quantify your sleep at any capacity, the Fossil Gen 5 should do the job fine.

Wear OS is letting down good hardware manufacturers
It’s unfortunate but true: Google’s Wear OS is the only viable option for Android-compatible smartwatch manufacturers not named Samsung. Wear OS doesn’t struggle too much with polish or functionality, but where it lags behind is in the app experiences offered. While Samsung’s Tizen struggles with third-party app support as well, it’s still ahead of Google on this and also provides a more complete first-party app experience.

As I mentioned earlier, if fitness is your focus, you’re much better off with a Samsung Galaxy Watch or Apple Watch, and that’s also the case if you desire certain third-party app integrations. Wear OS has apps like Strava, Google Maps, Uber, and Spotify, but if there’s an app you’re looking for outside of those, or Google’s app suite, you’re not left with many options.

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