For the past few years, Google’s Wear OS smartwatch platform has been best described as in a rut. While Apple has been making impressive strides with the Apple Watch and even Samsung has turned its Gear lineup into competent smartwatches, Wear OS has languished with slow software updates and next to zero hardware advancements.
Google addressed this somewhat with the most recent update to Wear OS that brought some interface improvements. But those wanting a truly fresh Google smartwatch have been waiting for a new processor to replace the ancient Snapdragon 2100 chip that powers the vast majority of these watches.
That replacement is finally here with the Snapdragon 3100, and Fossil’s new $255 Sport smartwatch is one of the first watches on the market running the new chip. The 3100 isn’t the complete overhaul that many smartwatch enthusiasts have been waiting for, but Qualcomm says it should provide better battery life and improved fitness tracking features, both things that Apple and Samsung handily beat Wear OS in.
Sadly, after a week of wearing the Fossil Sport watch, I’ve yet to see any of those promised improvements.
Like every other Wear OS watch, the Sport is a wearable that works well as a tool for notifications, tracking your workout, or asking Google Assistant a question. It has all of the hardware a modern smartwatch should: GPS, NFC for mobile payments, and a heart rate sensor. But there’s a catch: you can’t enjoy that experience for very long.
Despite Qualcomm’s promises for the Snapdragon 3100, battery life isn’t any better on the Fossil Sport compared to older Wear OS watches. This chip should be getting me a full 24 hours of usage, but I’ve never had it last longer than 17 hours. For comparison, both the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch easily last a full day and then some between charges.
I reached out to Fossil about the battery life issues I’ve been seeing and the company suggested using the watch’s battery saver mode that disables most of the smart functionality when the battery drops below 10 percent. Google did recently announce a new software update for Wear OS that allegedly includes more battery life optimizations, but it says that will take “months” to roll out to devices and Fossil says it won’t be available on the Sport until the first quarter of next year.
The Fossil Sport is, as you might guess from its name, a sports-focused smartwatch. It’s obsessed with it: there are three Fossil watchfaces (out of 17 total) dedicated to displaying health data, along with the date and time. You can track over forty activities, including martial arts, running, tennis, weightlifting, walking, yoga, windsurfing, polo, and even rock climbing. One activity you can’t track in Google Fit is swimming, despite the Sport’s 5 ATM water resistance, so you’ll need to download another app for that.
But the Fossil Sport cannot automatically track your physical activities — you have to manually start and select your workouts. Automatic workout tracking is one of the best features about the Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch, so Fossil definitely loses a point against its competitors here.
The only background health monitoring the Fossil Sport is capable of is heart rate monitoring in thirty-minute intervals. Using this data, the Sport will eventually produce a Google Fit graph with your recorded heart rate throughout the week, as well as an average.
It can also pick up on unusual spikes in heart rate, but like the Galaxy Watch, the Fossil Sport can mistakenly read a quick run up the stairs or the beginning of a conversation as an elevated heart rate. That reading can make you more anxious than you were to begin with. There are clearly some behavioral traits that wearables haven’t fully understood yet.
We’ve already covered what’s changed in the latest version of Wear OS and the Sport comes with the new interface out of the box. Its gestures mimic some of Android 9 Pie’s navigation: swipe left for your Google Assistant feed, up for notifications, down for quick settings, and finally, swipe to the right for your Google Fit data.
Sadly, the new processor doesn’t seem to improve Wear OS performance: I’ve frequently found myself staring at the screen, waiting for an app to load. Touch registration has also been an issue for me. Occasionally, a finger tap will register on-screen but nothing happens, so I’d have to tap twice. Even more annoying is how quickly the Sport transitions from active to ambient mode, with no way of setting a custom time from the watch itself, or the companion Wear OS app on my phone.
Wear OS’s user interface is straightforward and informative — as all smartwatch interfaces should be. It even starts to become engaging when you learn the wrist gestures. You can flick your wrist up for notifications, down for quick settings, and twice to go back. It takes some practice, but once you get used to it, you’ll be flicking your wrist for notifications in no time. At the same time, it looks awkward flicking your wrist to scroll down the app menu, one item at a time.
Most new Wear OS watches have a rotating crown for scrolling through menus and the Sport is no exception. It also has two programmable side buttons, and a colored aluminum top casing, with chintzy-looking plastic casing underneath. If the Apple Watch is the best-looking and most refined smartwatch and the Galaxy Watch is the most inoffensive-looking, then the Fossil Sport is the most playful-looking. If you dig the plastic and rubber Swatch-style watches, this might be your jam.
Maybe it’s the white / gold / gray colorway of my review unit, but it just doesn’t convince me that I’m wearing a timepiece instead of a gadget. That combination of colored metal and cheap-feeling plastic makes the Fossil Sport feel like a cheap kids’ watch on my wrist. If you want a smartwatch that looks and feels like an analog watch, this isn’t it.
Fossil sells 28 different bands you can mix and match with the Sport. But the quick-release push pins in the straps are finicky to use, despite looking identical to the ones other watches use. After trying it once, I never wanted to remove the straps again. It’s much easier to swap out wristbands on a Galaxy or Apple Watch.
Another issue with the watch band is sizing. I have no problems wearing it at different lengths, but I asked my girlfriend and few Verge female reporters to try the 41mm Fossil Sport (the smallest version). For some, it wasn’t tight enough and as a result, couldn’t register an accurate heart reading. It would have been great if the Snapdragon 3100 also enabled thinner, smaller smartwatch designs, but at least in the case of the Sport, it hasn’t.
Overall, the Fossil Sport isn’t much different than the many other Wear OS watches that have come out over the past couple of years. Despite having a new chip, it doesn’t bring any new advancements: it’s not any faster, nor any smaller or thinner, and doesn’t have better battery life. Fossil — and by proxy, the Snapdragon 3100 — has not advanced Wear OS at all, leaving it far behind Apple and even Samsung.
Wear OS is still in a rut, one that’s proving very tough to get out of.
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