My biggest beef with Fossil’s latest smartwatch, the Gen 5E, was that it felt like a filler for the holiday season—something to pad out Fossil’s extensive catalog of Wear OS watches until it could release a new army of wearables powered by the new Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform. Now, a recent FCC filing hints that we could finally be seeing an LTE Fossil watch on the horizon. Normally, this would be great news... except there’s one thing that gives me pause.
The filing, first spotted by Android Authority, doesn’t give away much detail beyond the typical circular display and that the watch itself was tested for various LTE bands. On the one hand, the addition of LTE feels like it might be a sign that the 4100-powered Fossil watches could arrive very soon—perhaps even at CES 2021. The new Snapdragon Wear 4100+ chip promises a host of performance boosts, including the ability to support 4G LTE and Bluetooth 5.0. On the other, Fossil’s flagships have launched in late summer or fall for the past two generations. That makes sense. Most companies time their major releases around then to take full advantage of the holiday gift-buying season.
If Fossil stays with their usual launch cadence, that could mean this LTE watch is another Gen 5 variant—in which case, no thank you, sir and madam.
I say this because the Gen 5 runs on the now-outdated 3100 chip, which is the disappointing middle child of processors. Was it better than its predecessor, the 2100 chip? Yes, but that’s like asking if water is wet. It was more like the 3100 promised good-to-great Wear OS watches and what we got was Wear OS watches that sucked less.
There’s a reason we haven’t really seen LTE-capable Wear OS watches thus far. Battery life, though improved with the 3100 chip, still isn’t great. Fossil’s 3100-powered smartwatches have to automatically switch battery modes to eke out enough juice for sleep tracking. And even then, I never really got true, multi-day battery life. LTE is a significant drain. When Apple launched the Watch Series 3 back in 2017, I distinctly remember the watch dying after just a 20-minute call. (It’s improved since then.) I have as much confidence in a 3100-powered LTE Wear OS watch as I do in politicians—none. The 4100 chip promises 25% more battery, but the only 4100-powered smartwatch available right now is the TicWatch Pro 3—and that’s GPS-only, meaning we have no idea how that extra battery life translates in a cellular watch.
This is a bummer because Android users without Samsung phones still don’t have a flagship smartwatch that neatly ticks off all the boxes for everyone. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and Active2 are genuinely the best Android-friendly smartwatches—but the best features, like FDA-cleared ECGs, are limited to Samsung phone owners. An LTE-enabled Fossil watch would help Wear OS close the gap with rival platforms like Tizen and watchOS, but launching a 3100-powered LTE Wear OS watch feels like a wasted opportunity.
Another blow is that, over the summer, 9to5 Google reported that based on Bluetooth SIG filings, these same Fossil watches would likely not run on the 4100-chip. It’s possible that was in reference to what we now know is the Gen 5E. It’s also possible that Fossil could surprise everyone and release a 4100-powered, LTE capable Gen 6 in spring 2021, instead of fall. If that happens, I’ll be the first in line to fire the confetti cannon. The sinking feeling in my stomach says otherwise.
For now, it’s speculation. We’ll have to see what Fossil brings to CES 2021—though, in years past, it’s not typically been where Fossil announces big changes to its flagship line. But if this rumored LTE watch is another Gen 5 variant, powered by the same old chip, I’m probably going to have to recommend people skip that one too.