Fossil Dips Back Into Hybrids With a Feature Filled Watch I Might Wear

Illustration for article titled Fossil Dips Back Into Hybrids With a Feature Filled Watch I Might Weari/i
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

In the world of smartwatches, Fossil is best known for being Google’s main partner for Wear OS watches. Today, it’s taking a step out from Google’s shadow with a new hybrid analog watch, the Hybrid HR. And, as the name suggests, the Hybrid HR adds integrated heart rate monitoring, plus a hybrid display that smartwatch fans can actually appreciate.

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Hybrid smartwatches are for the folks who don’t want a full-featured smartwatch, but are viscerally offended by ‘ugly’ fitness bands. Generally, that means in exchange for a stylish look, lower price and long battery life, hybrids don’t offer much in terms of features aside from basic activity tracking and Bluetooth notifications. The interesting thing is the Hybrid HR starts at $195, and adds a heart rate sensor and will reportedly offer two weeks of battery life on a single charge. It’ll also feature the same rapid charging Fossil has recently introduced to its other smartwatches, taking only 60 minutes to go from zero to 100 percent.

Illustration for article titled Fossil Dips Back Into Hybrids With a Feature Filled Watch I Might Weari/i
Photo: Fossil
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That’s a pretty potent combination of functionality, style, and price. The other hybrid smartwatch that would come close is the Withings Steel HR, which offers 25 days of battery life and heart rate monitoring for $200. That said, the Steel HR isn’t exactly new and reading notifications is limited due to the display. Likewise, Garmin just released its Vivomove Style and Luxe hybrids, which have many of the same features but are significantly more expensive at $300 and $500 respectively.

I got a peek at the Hybrid HR a few months ago while scoping out Fossil’s fall lineup at IFA 2019. Granted, I saw demo versions of the watches but one thing I appreciated was just how much text I could read straight from the wrist. With some hybrids, you have to wait for the message to scroll which can be a pain. That’s if you can read notifications at all—many hybrids simply vibrate as a reminder to check your phone. I also liked that the Hybrid HR’s displays have a distinct e-ink feel—easy on the eyes but also allowing for a degree of flexibility. You get that to a degree with Garmin’s Vivomove watches, but again, the starting price is at least $100 more.

Here’s what a demo version of the Hybrid HR looks like in person
Here’s what a demo version of the Hybrid HR looks like in person
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

Another interesting tidbit is that the Hybrid HR will run off a proprietary Fossil app. Obviously, Wear OS isn’t geared toward hybrid watches—but it’s been a while since Fossil’s trotted out its own app for a product. (The last time I used Fossil’s app was for the Q Tailor, another hybrid, back in 2017.) I imagine it’ll be a slightly more updated version of that app, as previous features like custom goal tracking, music control, and customizable buttons are also billed for the Hybrid HR.

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We’ll have to try out the Hybrid HR for ourselves to see how accurate its fitness and heart rate tracking are. When I tested the Q Tailor, metrics like steps and sleep were inconsistent, to say the least. While adding a heart rate sensor won’t really fix step tracking—if an algorithm is bad, it’s bad—but it should theoretically help with more in-depth sleep tracking and workout data.

The Hybrid HR is available starting today.

Update, 11/06/2019, 12:10pm: Gizmodo was informed after publication that the Hybrid HR is now available, as opposed to preorder. The text has been updated to reflect this change.

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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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DISCUSSION

I love the idea of a “less smart” watch. In fact I’m still using one from the now defunct Martian watch company. For under $100 it’s a stylish analog wristwatch that can also, via a small one-line LED display screen, tell me who is calling, display text messages, email sender/subject, or any other app notification I choose, and each has its own unique vibration pattern. Being able to get that information without pulling my phone from my pocket is a wonderful and discrete convenience in many situations. It’s not perfect but considering the low cost, I’ve been willing to live with a few disappointments.

I am intrigued by the Fossil featured here. It’s a bit smarter than the Martian, and also more expensive. But it seems to recognize that most people don’t want a lot of functionality on their wrist--just give me the notifications I want and I’ll pull out my phone for the complex stuff. It seems like there’s still a market for an even simpler (and cheaper) semi-smart watch that just does the basics. Maybe Martian’s failure indicates otherwise but I’d be happy to see another sub-$100 option.