At the Only Watch Auction on November 9, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime sold for a record price. At 31 million Swiss Franc, the Grandmaster Chime is now the most expensive watch ever made. The auction shows that Swiss watches still command a premium and time keeping remains a valuable profession. However, for a large part, watchmaking seemed to be losing its sheen. The industry expected entry of technology companies to change it. But, in reality, it has not. Apple Watch made its debut in 2014, and was expected to revolutionize watches. Five years later, my belief is that Apple Watch is great but rest of the tech companies have failed. After wearing Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR on my wrist for nearly three weeks, I’m certain about it.

When Pebble launched its Kickstarter campaign, it seemed like wearable computers will become the next big thing. With Apple Watch, Cupertino showed that it is possible to put a computer on your wrist. It almost became inevitable that Google will follow and make Android the platform for non-Apple wearables. However what followed can be described as industry retreat. Motorola and LG announced exit from smartwatch market. Samsung ditched Android Wear for its own Tizen OS. Huawei also pivoted away from Google. Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi launched its first smartwatch only this month. Enter Fossil, the American fashion and manufacturing brand. It has single handedly given a new lease of life to Google’s wearable operating system. It’s newest wearable – Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR – wants to be the best wearable in the market. Is it? Can it compete with Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch. Let’s find out.

Watch: Fossil Gen 5 Smartwatch Review

Design and Display

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR is one of the best looking smartwatches out there. It features a circular watch face which is in line with traditional watch design. The base of the watch has a protruding element for the heart-rate sensor, which means it won’t stay flat on a surface. Our review unit comes in a black case with a thickness of around 12mm. There are also options for black or smoke stainless steel case. Our review unit is accompanied by black silicone case, but I would recommend getting the stainless steel version instead. The smoke stainless steel as well as black silicone variants are priced at Rs 22,995.

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Since this watch uses a standard 22mm single prong strap buckle, it becomes easier to pick alternate strap from a local store. 22mm straps being common in the industry, you get a number of options to customize the watch. The silicone strap that came with our review unit seemed to be less comfortable to wear and attracts dust easily. I have washed the silicone strap multiple times since I got it. The smartwatch is water resistant up to 3ATM, which means it is safe to use under a depth of 30 meters. While you can safely go for swimming, it is not recommended for activities like scuba diving.

At the front, you get a 1.28-inch display with a resolution of 416×416 pixels inside a case size of 44mm. This is the most comfortable size for a watch of this shape. It fits perfectly on my medium wrist and offers very clean look. The display, however, is not the brightest that I have seen on a smartwatch. If you set the display brightness to automatic then reading under direct sunlight becomes very difficult. In comparison, a cheaper smartwatch like the Amazfit GTS offers a brighter display that is easy to read under direct sunlight. While Fossil has built a mode called Sunlight boost, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

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I set the brightness to automatic throughout my testing, there were times I manually changed it to level 3. If Fossil begins work on a successor to Gen 5 then brighter display should be top in terms of priority. On the case, there is a rotating crown and two pushers. The pushers on the Gen 5 Carlyle HR are not as effective as say on a chronograph. The top pusher opens Fossil activities while the bottom pusher takes you to activity tracking. Both the pushers are customizable. The best part of this design, however, is the rotating crown. Since the whole interface of Wear OS is vertical in layout, the crown makes it easier to navigate. The feedback offered by the crown is really good and it works like a charm at all times.

There is a speaker on the left side, which can be used to listen to Google Assistant, music or make phone calls. My primary watch is a Casio Edifice and when I switched to Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR, the experience was seamless. I got almost similar fit on my wrist and I could use a Chronograph-style watch face to replicate the features. There are a number of watch faces to choose from but those from Misfit did not work. I eventually settled on Tag Heuer Carrera watch face available on Facer app. I would say that Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR is among the best looking smartwatch in the market right now.

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Hardware, Wear OS and Smartwatch Features

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR runs Wear OS 2.10 with August security patch. It is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform with 1GB of RAM and 8GB internal storage. Fossil has opted for the best in terms of hardware, but the software seems like a major letdown. Every time I used the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR, it seemed like the hardware and the software did not communicate with each other really well. As soon as you start your Wear OS smartwatch, there is a considerable lag while navigating between screens. This experience reminds me of the very early days of smartwatches from Pebble.

On Fossil, you click the crown to open the app drawer and while scrolling through them is easier, the apps look like a second class citizen. You will notice this with Google’s own application. As soon as you click on Play Store, there is a split second difference between the launch time and the main screen. You will not see similar lag when you open the App Store on Apple Watch or the Tizen store on Galaxy Watch. Even the Google Assistant takes its own sweet time to load queries. I enabled Assistant to listening mode on Fossil Gen 5 and my smartphone and asked a query, the phone immediately answered the question but the watch struggled. Spotify comes with a barebones features and Google Play Music is the only way to download apps.

The smartwatch pairs with an Android smartphone via Wear OS application. This app is really clean and allows you to change the watch face, arrange your tiles, change notification and agenda settings. It also lets users control Google Assistant features and gestures like always-on screen and tilt to wake. The app works fine but there were times when the app did not connect with the watch immediately. These issues are clearly of Google and Qualcomm’s doing and Fossil seems to be paying the cost. For me, it is clear that Wear OS is still a work in progress.

While software remains a disappointment, the smartwatch functionalities do work well. The notifications from your smartphone are mirrored instantaneously and since it runs a proper OS, you can respond to them. Say you get a message on WhatsApp, apart from viewing it, you can reply to that message. You can either reply with smart suggestions or type using a full QWERTY keyboard. The smartwatch is tethered and it can be used to make or receive calls. My callers said I sounded OK when I held the watch closer to my face but at length, they said I sounded tinny. The overall hardware is really impressive.

The fitness tracking features, be it tracking steps or heart rate, are very much accurate. I compared the result of step tracking and heart rate with another wearable and Fossil seemed more accurate. I also liked the fitness tracking features of the wearable. When tracking my run, walk and cycling, the sensors captured data with great accuracy. The price that one pays is basically for superior sensors that have fewer false positives. While the experience is not as crazy as closing rings on Apple Watch, the Google Fit experience is commendable. If you are a fitness enthusiast then Fossil Gen 5 offers plenty of options to work with. However, if you are professional then you should look at professional fitness wearables from brands like Garmin or Polar.

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Battery Life

Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR runs Wear OS with little tweaking but the company knows Google‘s limitations. Fossil has built its own battery modes that are different from standard Wear OS battery settings. When you slide from the top and click on battery, you have four battery modes: Daily, Extended, Custom and Time Only. The Daily, as the name implies, enables all the sensors and offers one day battery life. In the Extended setting, the sensors and Bluetooth are enabled during active hours to save battery life. In this mode, you can get to the second day without any issue. With Custom setting, you can save your own experience. I used this setting the most during the past three weeks with the Fossil Gen 5 smartwatch.

I enabled always-on screen and touch-to-wake, while disabling location, system sound, tilt-to-wake and Wi-Fi. This got me anywhere between one and three days of battery life depending on use and notifications during the day. The last mode, Time Only, only has basic watch functions. This is the mode you use when you don’t have a charger around or want to go for a week without having to charge. In this mode, the watch won’t show notifications and will work like an analog watch. It is the mode I used during weekends when I didn’t really use the smartwatch functions a lot.

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Should you buy?

When my editor assigned me the Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle HR for review, I wanted it to be the absolute best. At that time, I did not know that state of Wear OS that well. After using the Fossil Gen 5 for more than three weeks, I feel bad for Fossil. The Fossil Gen 5 is one of the best looking smartwatches in the market right now. I have absolutely no doubt about its design and build quality. It is elegant and makes me think of Tissot T-Classic and Seiko Presage, which are among the best watches in the premium segment.

Unlike Apple Watch, it has a proper circular watch face which will resonate with most watch aficionados. It is also not clunky looking when compared to Samsung Galaxy Watch LTE and is more akin to Galaxy Watch Active. Apart from the design, the watch also works very well as a fitness device by accurately tracking steps, heart rate and other physical activities.

The included guided breathing is a very good function. One feature I missed the most is sleep tracking, which Google Fit does not allow just yet. However, the overall experience seemed like a disconnect between the hardware and software. While it works well for sometime, there are times when the hardware and software seem to sing a different song. It is an experience you don’t expect from a smartwatch priced at Rs 22,995.

In a nutshell, the best of Wear OS is far from the most ideal experience. If you want a Wear OS device, this is the one to buy without any doubt. However, Samsung Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Watch Active running Tizen might be a better bet. With Gen 5 Carlyle HR, Fossil has proven its might as a watchmaker but software is a whole different ballgame.