Fossil's First Cellular Smartwatch Fails to Live Up to Its Promise

Illustration for article titled Fossil's First Cellular Smartwatch Fails to Live Up to Its Promise
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Samsung and Apple have been making cellular smartwatches for years. But this isn’t about them. This is about how Fossil, the biggest Wear OS wearables maker, has finally, finally released its first cellular smartwatch.

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Technically speaking, the Fossil Gen 5 LTE isn’t the very first cellular Wear OS watch. Back when Wear OS was still Android Wear, there were a few options, including the LG Watch Sport. But after those first few LTE Android Wear watches, it was slim pickings. For years, Android users had to turn to Samsung if they wanted a phone-free smartwatch. Even now, there’s only one other cellular Wear OS watch: Mobvoi’s TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE. However, Mobvoi isn’t exactly a household name, nor does it have quite as much influence over the catalog of available Wear OS watches that Fossil does.

For all these reasons, the Gen 5 LTE is a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I just wish it hit with more of a bang.

The Gen 5 LTE is powered by Qualcomm’s last-generation Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip, which means like every other Wear OS watch, it has some serious drawbacks. It was a major bummer when Fossil announced this watch last month at CES, because it means we’ll likely have to wait until fall to see a Gen 6 powered by Qualcomm’s newer Snapdragon Wear 4100/4100+ SoC. Processor aside, the Gen 5 LTE has several limitations: It’s for U.S. users only, is a Verizon exclusive, can’t work with iOS, and doesn’t come with the new updates that Fossil rolled out to the standard Gen 5 this past summer.

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On the bright side, as with the Gen 5, you get 1GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage. You also get the same 45mm case and a nice 1.28-inch AMOLED display. Rounding out the specs, you get built-in GPS, NFC payments, and a good array of sensors, including all the basics plus an altimeter and compass. So as far as the essentials go, you’re pretty much covered.

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Before I dive in, a small caveat: This is really only a watch for people who have an Android phone with Verizon as their carrier. If that’s not you, you’ll have to consider switching your phone, your carrier, or both. We don’t recommend doing any of those things just to use this watch.

If you do have an Android phone on Verizon, the Fossil Gen 5 LTE is a capable cellular watch. Call quality was clear, and while I didn’t travel too far outside of my neighborhood, I always had signal—even when I left my phone behind. (I tested the Gen 5 LTE with an LG Stylo 5 provided by Fossil.) That said, using a ton of cellular data on your smartwatch will drain your battery, though you’re still limited on Wear OS as to what you can do. A 5-minute call drained my battery about 4%. Streaming music over LTE is a non-issue—as in, it’s not possible, because no streaming app supports that on Wear OS right now. You’ll have to load your own tracks onto the Gen 5 LTE for phone-free runs, meaning you won’t be relying on cellular. Unless you plan on taking long phone calls on your wrist while you’re recording a GPS run or walk, you’re probably good. You’ll have to charge every day, but that’s not unusual with cellular watches.

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Phone calls!!! You can do them now!
Phone calls!!! You can do them now!
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Otherwise, this is a fairly standard Wear OS watch. Notifications are easy to read. If you’re already an avid user of the Google Assistant/Google Pay ecosystem, these features are super handy. It would’ve been better if the Gen 5 LTE also received the update that the Gen 5 did, like native sleep-tracking, VO2 max scores, and the new Fossil wellness app, but alas. You do get Google Fit, which is much improved, and the ability to choose between some custom battery modes. The Gen 5 LTE is a decent fitness tracker, though it tends to take a hot second to locate GPS signal and slightly over-reports distance. On a 3-mile run recorded on my phone, the Gen 5 LTE logged 3.2 miles, while the Apple Watch SE logged 2.97 miles. Heart rate measurements, meanwhile, were on par with results from my Polar H10 chest strap and the Apple Watch. Sleep-tracking can be done via Google Fit as well, and while basic, it gets the job done. It’s just a smidge annoying to have to use several Google Fit apps for every little thing on the watch itself.

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As for design and comfort, there’s not much to write home about. I’ve been using a black review unit and, well, it’s black. The 45mm case feels big on my wrist, but considering the size, it’s relatively lightweight. I also didn’t rip off the watch when sleeping, so that’s a good sign. The 22mm silicone straps aren’t my favorite—the material is a dust magnet, but they’re swappable, so that’s not really a big issue. Overall, I don’t hate how the Fossil Gen 5 LTE looks. I don’t love it either.

The only carrier you can use right now is Verizon.
The only carrier you can use right now is Verizon.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo
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Price-wise, the Gen 5 LTE is about $50 more expensive than the standard Gen 5 at $349. However, you are going to have to pay extra for LTE: about $10 per month on the Unlimited plan. And you have to use Verizon’s Number Share on the Gen 5 LTE, however. All that means is you’ll use the same number for your watch and phone, as opposed to having the option of a standalone number for the watch. As far as cellular watches go, this is pretty standard. The Gen 5 LTE is a whole $100-$130 cheaper than the cellular versions of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.

Whether you should opt for the Fossil Gen 5 LTE or a Samsung smartwatch depends on a few things. If you’ve got a non-Samsung Android phone, love Google Assistant/Google Pay, and don’t care about advanced health features, the Gen 5 LTE is a good way to save some moolah. If you’re a Samsung stan with a Galaxy device, want advanced health features like SpO2 and VO2 Max, offline Spotify playlists, and your choice of carrier, Samsung is the better bet. There’s no real point in comparing the Gen 5 LTE to the Apple Watch, because you can’t even use this smartwatch on iOS. That said, in case you were wondering, yes, the Apple Watch makes better use of cellular capabilities.

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During testing, I always got pretty good signal on the watch.
During testing, I always got pretty good signal on the watch.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The Gen 5 LTE would be more useful if Fossil expanded it to more carriers. My fingers are crossed that this watch eventually gets more of the full-featured updates that were rolled out to other Fossil watches this past summer. I’m on my knees begging the smartwatch gods that Fossil puts out a Gen 6 LTE smartwatch and cellular versions of its other brands like Michael Kors, Skagen, etc. Lord knows Android users deserve more of a choice than Samsung or bust—after all, there’s no sign that Fitbit will release a cellular smartwatch.

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But the biggest problem with Wear OS is not cellular functionality. It’s the fact that Google’s platform is forever playing catch-up when it comes to advanced health features and support for basic features like music-streaming. It’s a shame, because the Gen 5 LTE could’ve been great. Instead, like so many other Fossil smartwatches, it’s stylish yet mediocre.

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

DISCUSSION

dancalling
DanCalling

I’d be interested in this if I wasn’t hooked on Fossil’s hybrid watches.  I’m hoping they’ll eventually add cellular to those so I can get notifications without being tied to my phone.