Fossil Gen 6 review: Without Wear OS 3, it's outdated on arrival

The Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch nails style, but it’s clearly outmatched by Samsung’s superior Galaxy Watch 4 in nearly every way.

Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch review: Good if Galaxy Watch 4 didn't exist
Alejandro Medellin / Input
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Being an Android user is a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, there are tons of smartwatch options to choose from. On the other hand, the only worthwhile Android smartwatch that comes remotely close to matching the Apple Watch is made by Samsung.

Right now, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 is the gold standard for Android smartwatches. To compete, any smartwatch (that isn’t a “semi-smartwatch” like the OnePlus Watch) needs to be as good or better.

I had high hopes the stylish and feature-packed Fossil Gen 6 would provide the Galaxy Watch with some much-needed competition. While even I, a hater of big gaudy metal bands, found myself charmed by the Gen 6’s fashionable industrial design, the Galaxy Watch has more features and costs less. The Gen 6 starts at $300 versus $250 for the Galaxy Watch 4.

There’s a famous line from The Wire’s Omar Little that applies perfectly to the Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

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Old OS

To understand the Fossil Gen 6, you first have to swallow a big disappointment: It doesn’t run on Wear OS 3.

It's a huge bummer since Wear OS 3, announced at Google's I/O developer conference in May, was touted as a comeback for Android’s withering smartwatch platform. With more integrations with Google services like Maps and a revamped UI pulled from Samsung’s superior smartwatch software, Tizen OS, Wear OS 3 could finally strike back at the Apple Watch’s domination.

Shipping with the old version of Wear OS makes the Gen 6 feel rushed. Cheer up, though: The outdated software is only temporary. The Fossil Gen 6 will eventually get updated to Wear OS 3… in 2022. Worse, Fossil doesn’t have a firm date for the Wear OS 3 update, only that it’ll release in the second half of the year. That's a long time to wait if you're itching to try the new OS, and even more so when the Galaxy Watch 4 is available now and already runs it.

Until Wear OS 3 hits, the Gen 6 feels old and incomplete. Fossil put the cart a year ahead of the horse. Why get the Gen 6 now when there will probably be a Gen 7 by the time it’s updated to Wear OS 3? As The Verge’s Dieter Bohn succinctly put it: “Never buy hardware today based on a promise of software tomorrow.”

Classy style

Fashion is subjective, so you’ll either like or dislike the Gen 6’s metal design. I think it’s stylish, and the many bands and color options elevate it beyond a typical “fitness” smartwatch. The metal band was too loose out of the box, but after adjusting the links with some tools, it fit snug and didn’t give me a rash the way silicone bands on other wearables do. My only complaint with the case is that the bezel looks like it rotates like the one on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. It’s a shame it’s just for looks because the rotating bezel is one of the best ways to navigate around a smartwatch interface.

It will be hard to go back to a non-metal watchband after this. Alejandro Medellin / Input

The Gen 6 also has several minor features that surprised me. For one, the smartwatch is swim-proof with a 3ATM rating. While this means you can submerge it, know that watch seals are known to wear down over time and let in water. Wearing it while showering or washing shouldn’t be a problem, though.

I also enjoyed the built-in Google Pay. This sounds corny, but paying with a watch feels cool and doesn’t get old. NFC mobile payment support is one of those features that usually gets cut; I’m glad Fossil didn’t cheap out.

And maybe the most underrated feature is the alarm. Yes, I know. The alarm on the Fossil Gen 6 makes the strongest argument as to why I, a serial snoozer, should own a smartwatch. You can set your alarm directly on the smartwatch. Whatever, who cares? You can do that with any alarm app. But sometimes, it’s the little details that spark joy. In this case, the smartwatch syncs to the alarms on your phone, too. It rings and vibrates alongside your phone for double the waking up power, and dismissing it or snoozing on the Gen 6 does the same on your phone. When I wore the Gen 6 to bed, I never missed my alarm the following day, and I didn’t have to get out of the covers to turn it off.

Wrist power

If you don’t like metal bands, you can swap it out for a leather, silicone, or any other kind. Alejandro Medellin / Input

Internally, the Fossil Gen 6 runs on Qualcomm’s 4100+ platform. It’s the first smartwatch with the chipset and allows for an always-on display that’s brighter and has a wider color range, and it’s simultaneously more efficient when it comes to battery life.

According to Qualcomm, the 4100+ uses 25 percent less power and is 85 percent more powerful than the old 3100 chip in many aging Wear OS smartwatches. But that’s a best-case scenario; Fossil’s website claims the Gen 6 is only around 30 percent more powerful than the 3100-powered Gen 5.

While the Gen 6 is quick at launching apps, it’s got its fair share of issues that you may find intolerable. The home screen constantly froze after booting up or removing the smartwatch from its charger. And when the Gen 6 is on the charger, the software slows to such a serious crawl, to the point it’s barely usable. I realize that you’re not going to poke at the Gen 6 often when it’s charging, but when you do, you’re out of luck. The chip isn’t wholly to blame. The Gen 6’s paltry 1GB of RAM is just not enough in 2021; the Galaxy Watch 4 has 1.5GB, which isn’t a whole lot more, but it’s enough to at least keep things from choking up all the time.

Sometimes the Gen 6 wouldn’t connect to my phone via Bluetooth, which prevented it from syncing. And when the Gen 6 did sync to my phone after not having done it for a while, a flurry of notifications would almost paralyze it. When switching between watch face tiles, several of the names were in a different language; the problem went away with an update, but it showed a lack of polish.

It’s got its fair share of issues that you may find intolerable.

The issues are tolerable on their own, but compounded day in and out, they’re a huge inconvenience. Not being able to land basic features like a smooth operating system or Bluetooth syncing, is a dealbreaker. In comparison, the Galaxy Watch 4, is very fluid, according to reviewers.

Compared to the Gen 5, Gen 6 has a new SpO2 sensor to monitor blood oxygen levels — a catch-up to last year’s Apple Watch Series 6. The SpO2 sensor on the Gen 6 was the first feature I tried, and it gave me a score of 93 percent. Good right? No, actually. That number is very bad. According to the FDA, a healthy person should have blood oxygen levels of between 95 and 100 percent, so even two percentage points under the range is worrisome. A lower score is attributed to lung disease, which, as an ex-smoker and current vaper, had me spiraling into an afternoon existential crisis. Thankfully, the scare was only fleeting, as I took the test again and scored 98 percent. But I didn’t appreciate the whiplash diagnosis.

All clear... for now. Alejandro Medellin / Input

On the one hand, I’m a healthy person for my age, insofar as I’m not diagnosed with a debilitating illness, though I should probably exercise more. But on the other hand, I’m this close to walking around with an oxygen tank by my side. I know that all these smartwatch sensors are not replacements for a doctor or healthcare provider, but it’s still irritating to see the inconsistent measurements. It’s either correct, or it’s not. With no pulse oximeter to confirm or challenge the Gen 6’s SpO2 sensor, I just stopped taking it seriously. On several occasions, I took back-to-back tests — sometimes up to three times — and got a different answer every time. Maybe the issue is similar to that of pulse oximeters, which can produce inconsistent measurements if you have darker skin like mine. Ultimately, while an SpO2 sensor is an addition that puts the Gen 6 on par with other smartwatches, it doesn’t feel like a selling point.

There’s also no electrocardiogram (ECG) or bioelectrical impedance analysis sensor (BIA) support on the Gen 6 — another feature the Galaxy Watch 4 has.

One bright spot: Spotify. I’m impressed by how well-done and natural the app is on your wrist. You can find your saved playlists and albums, as well as browse through recommended music and even podcasts. It’s even possible to download music directly onto the Gen 6’s 8GB of internal storage, though you need Spotify Premium to do so. The Spotify Premium account also lets you select specific songs in a playlist instead of just playing on shuffle.

Even better is that you connect a pair of Bluetooth wireless earbuds, like the Jabra Elite 3, and listen to content completely detached from your phone. Streaming music via Wi-Fi and using Bluetooth earbuds will consume more battery life, but the features are convenient.

Sleep time

Compared to a Fitbit, I wasn’t impressed with the Gen 6’s sleep tracking. The smartwatch is accurate at noting when I go to sleep and when I wake up. The problem is it doesn’t offer the same level of sleep analysis that a Fitbit does.

Fitbit breaks down light, deep, and REM sleep. It tells you how much time you spent in each state and explains how each state impacts your sleep. For example, the Fitbit app says that light sleep “typically makes up most of your night and promotes mental and physical restoration.” Fitbit Premium adds your heart rate into the mix for an even better understanding of your sleep. The Gen 6 does track your heart rate as well during sleep, which you can see in the Google Fit app. But Fitbit does it all in one app with a UI that’s easier to understand. And if you don’t want to pay for Fitbit Premium, the regular app still provides you more robust sleep stats for the week, month, year, and even years past. Not only that, Fitbit gives you a 30-day average and benchmarks that compare you to other people your age, each split into the different stages of sleep and broken down in percentages.

What sleep tracking looks like on the watch via the Wellness app. Simple daily, weekly, and monthly graphs can be viewed as well. Alejandro Medellin / Input
Example of Fitbit sleep tracking, with sleep score, sleep stages, and time asleep. Alejandro Medellin / Input
Time spent in each sleep stage in percentages. Alejandro Medellin / Input
REM sleep explanation.Alejandro Medellin / Input
The Google Fit app gives you a basic view of your sleeping patterns. Alejandro Medellin / Input

My point is: The Gen 6 does the bare minimum when it comes to sleep tracking. Sure, it has some historical data and sleep states, but it’s not as robust as what you get from a Fitbit. I believe that if a smartwatch can’t help me understand how to catch my Z’s, there’s no point in wearing it to sleep.

The Gen 6 is also too bulky and uncomfortable to wear to sleep anyway. Because I sleep mostly on my side, I woke up with a sore wrist from sleeping on it a few times. Another time, I must have laid my head on my arm, and I woke to the Gen 6 pressed up against my cheek. In day-to-day wear, the Gen 6 is comfortable, but not to sleep.

Strong battery

One thing I will say about the chip: Battery life is close to the marketing numbers. The target battery life with the always-on display is 24 hours. While I would have liked the battery to be even longer, like on the Galaxy Watch 4, which has 40 hours of battery life, 24 hours is decent. Most smartwatches are still a charge-every-night device. If 24 hours of battery is not enough then there are the extended battery modes.

Extended mode is the one you should look out for. It pares back features to essentials, shutting off the always-on display and limiting tracking and Bluetooth connectivity. With the mode turned on, battery life stretched out to two days max — give or take a few hours. Of course, that depended on how often I was using battery-consuming features. This mode saved my ass a few times. You can even set the Gen 6 to automatically turn on Extended mode when it reaches 10 percent. The other battery mode is Time Only; it turns the Gen 6 into a dumbwatch that only tells time. When your battery is low, this mode keeps it from becoming useless, but you do miss out on every connected feature.

Extended can turn on automatically, but it can also be manually set. Alejandro Medellin / Input

The Gen 6 charges incredibly quickly. In the 10-15 minutes it takes me to brew a cup of coffee — it’s a complicated process — the Gen 6 can get about a 40 percent charge, which is not bad at all. A 30-minute charge can juice up the Gen 6 to around 80 percent; a full charge takes a little over an hour. The charger is a proprietary magnetic charger, similar to the Apple Watch’s magnetic puck charger. It works, but sometimes the connection can be too sensitive and disconnect with the slightest movement. Again, I would have liked longer battery life, but fast charging makes up for it.

Nothing special

If only the functionality matched the looks, we may have had a winner. Alejandro Medellin / Input

My time with the Fossil Gen 6 was neither all bad nor all good. Whether it’s the sluggish system response, the just-okay health tracking, or the inconsistent SpO2 sensor, there was always something that had me shaking my head. The biggest setback is the delayed Wear OS 3 update, which leaves buyers with an outdated smartwatch right now. It feels unfair to judge an incomplete device, but so is releasing it in an unfinished state. Consumer tech products, unlike video games, should not be released in “early access.” For all the good the Gen 6 does, the smartwatch is nothing special.

The biggest setback is the delayed Wear OS 3 update.

To put it plain and simple: The Galaxy Watch 4 costs $50 less than the Gen 6 and does more. The Samsung smartwatch is packed with more sensors. It has a certified waterproof rating, notably longer battery life, and it’s already running on Wear OS 3.

Typically, I root for the little guy, but when it comes to my money or yours for that matter, value trumps narrative. And I’m telling you, the Gen 6 doesn’t offer the same value as the Galaxy Watch 4.

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