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Fossil Gen 5E Review: Too Ordinary for its Own Good

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“Fossil shrinks the size and lowers the price for the Gen 5E smartwatch, but ends up with something that’s not quite special enough to excite.”

  • 42mm and 44mm case options
  • Stylish, varied design
  • Easy to use basic fitness tracking
  • Snapdragon 3100 processor is out of date
  • Wear OS’s notification support is unreliable

The Fossil Gen 5E is, at first glance, a very desirable smartwatch. It has a reasonable price, a great design, a smaller case than the Fossil Gen 5, and it covers most of the functions casual exercisers will want. However, what it doesn’t do is feel very new or special, due to some questionable hardware decisions and a lack of desirable features outside of the design.

Does this affect the excitement? Does it struggle to captivate and convince you to put the watch on in the morning? Let’s go into some detail about the Fossil Gen 5E‘s good, and bad points.

Design

Fossil knows what it’s doing with watches, and the Gen 5E is further evidence of this. The black silicone strap on my review model is superb. It’s highly reminiscent in both its design and feel to the silicone straps on my Seiko diver watches — pliable, comfortable, and tough, and that’s a very good thing. It’s matched to a 44mm black stainless steel case, which is the same size as the older Gen 5 watch but without the two buttons flanking the crown. This gives it a neater look without drastically compromising functionality.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While the watch seen here has a 44mm case, you can also buy the Gen 5E with a 42mm case, making it suitable for smaller wrists. Buy the smaller watch and it has an 18mm strap rather than 22mm version on the larger Gen 5E watch. As there are only a few smartwatches made exclusively for women, choice like this is very welcome. Fossil’s range of designs for the Gen 5E is varied and well-considered, the build quality is excellent, and I really like the stealthy black style that doesn’t go too far down the tried-and-tested minimalist route.

Fossil’s range of designs for the Gen 5E is varied and well-considered.

This is where the good news ends, and things that let the Gen 5E down start to appear. The watch’s bezel is smooth, curved, and an aid to swiping across the screen, but the screen’s bezel is almost obnoxiously large. The Gen 5E’s screen measures 1.19-inches so it’s quite small, and combined with the big, black case, really emphasizes the big, black screen bezel. It reminds me of fitness-orientated smartwatches, rather than one made by a top watch designer.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I haven’t missed the two extra buttons on the watch case, but I do miss a rotating crown to make scrolling through Google’s Wear OS software a little easier and quicker. The Gen 5E’s fixed crown is a button for opening the menu, returning to the watch face, and if it’s held down, for opening Google Assistant too. The lack of this feature, and the large screen bezel, makes the Gen 5E feel quite old compared to many other smartwatches released over the past months.

Screen and software

The 1.19-inch screen is just about right for a smartwatch. These screens aren’t for watching video, they’re for displaying at-a-glance information, and for this, it’s perfectly usable. The 390 x 390-pixel resolution provides the same 328 pixel-per-inch density you find on the larger Gen 5 watch, so it’s plenty sharp enough, and pleasingly colorful too. There are dozens of Fossil watch faces to choose from, and they’re wonderfully varied.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s version 2.23 of Google’s Wear OS software installed, but not the most recent H-MR2 update with various new features and potential performance improvements. However, recent fitness and design updates are onboard, such as the new-look weather Tile and the ability to call Google Assistant with a long press of the crown. The watch also has Fossil’s most recent new features, including the Wellness app and the Extended Battery mode.

Wear OS still has shortcomings, and the Wear 3100 chip just feels old at times.

Fossil’s own fitness tracking system makes use of the Snapdragon 3100’s co-processor in an effort to save battery life, but is very basic. There are just two workout options — indoor and outdoor — and you get time elapsed, distance, and heart rate data on the screen. The Gen 5E doesn’t have built-in GPS, so it’s not really for serious sportspeople anyway, but Google Fit is also onboard should you want more targeted tracking.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Wellness app tracks daily activity, sleep, and heart rate, then shows the data on one screen, all without putting too much strain on the battery. It’s annoying you can’t add Wellness as a Tile though, forcing you into the app itself. Again, as with the fitness tracking, it provides simple data rather than anything in-depth. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Not everyone wants to track a 100-mile bike ride, and will welcome an incredibly simple one-tap activity tracking feature, and a readout with the three key stats.

The fitness tracking is basic, but not everyone is a serious athlete.

It’s a little fragmented though. For example, Wellness is a single screen app, while fitness tracking is a Tile. Then Google Fit is also a Tile, while all Google Fit’s various apps (Goals, Workout, Heart Rate, and Breathe) are listed separately as apps, plus Fossil pre-installs Cardiogram, Nike Run Club, and Spotify. It’s a bit messy and can lead to confusion about which app to use and where to find it. Fossil’s activity tracking syncs to your Google Fit profile, so there’s an incentive to use it and hopefully save battery at the same time.

The Fossil Gen 5E is smooth and fast, and aside from one aspect, has been great to use. The one aspect is notifications. It’s becoming a bit of a joke advertising notification support on Wear OS because the frequency with which they arrive is often laughable. On some days the Gen 5E alerted me to so few notifications, it was reasonable to say it’s not actually a feature of the watch at all. It’s maddeningly inconsistent, not a new problem, and not helped by the Gen 5E’s too-subtle vibration alerts that are easy to miss.

Battery and performance

The Fossil Gen 5E has the old Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor inside, and not the newer Snapdragon Wear 4100 seen in the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3. It’s paired with 1GB of RAM. Is it a disaster? Happily, and perhaps surprisingly, it’s not. It reacts quickly to touch, there is almost no slowdown during normal operation, and even power-intensive apps like Maps and Google Play are manageable. However, it’s not what you’d call spritely, and the Snapdragon Wear 4100 improves performance and battery life significantly, so even if it is usable, there is a far superior option out there and that’s annoying.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The old processor is an issue, and takes a substantial piece of the blame for the Gen 5E not feeling very up to date. I do appreciate the ability to take calls on the watch, which works surprisingly well with its loud speaker, plus it has NFC for Google Pay. It’s not lacking in features, it’s just we’ve seen everything before many times. I really need something new from a Wear OS smartwatch at this stage, and the Gen 5E doesn’t deliver.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The battery life is entirely based on your use. Fossil’s quoted 24 hours use is about right. If you turn it off overnight and don’t track any activities, then it’ll last two working days. With a full charge in the morning, average use, and tracking a 30-minute workout with Fossil’s own app, it lasts a single day. It’s not good, but consistent with most Wear OS watches apart from the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 and the Suunto 7.

Price and availability

The Fossil Gen 5E smartwatch has an MSRP of $249, or 199 British pounds, but can be purchased for less from a variety of retailers. At the time of writing, the Fossil Gen 5E is on sale for $169 through several outlets and is great value at this price, but stock may be hard to find.

Our take

The Fossil Gen 5E looks great on my wrist, is for the most part is speedy and pleasant to use, and is cheaper and more versatile in size and design than the regular Gen 5 smartwatch. However it’s lacking a purpose, as it’s not well-equipped enough to be a serious fitness tracker, and the hardware is old, which hurts its desirability and overall longevity. Its defining feature is solid quality for the money, now that discounts have brought it well under $200.

The Fossil Gen 5E is a good smartwatch — Wear OS’s notification issues aside — but it’s rather ordinary, and there are inevitably more smartwatches with the new Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor inside on the horizon, and it’s worth waiting for them rather than settling for this one.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch for iPhone owners, so buy one of those instead if you have an iPhone. If you own an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is our recommendation.

However, both these are more expensive than the Fossil Gen 5E, so take a look at the Apple Watch SE instead, or the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3. Both provide superior functionality and battery life to the Fossil Gen 5E.

How long will it last?

The stainless steel case should be hardwearing, and the watch has a 30-meter water resistance rating, so you’ll have to be quite careless to destroy it. Otherwise, longevity will come down to software support and degradation of the battery. Either way, you’ll be fine for at least two years. However, at that time the Snapdragon Wear 3100 will be positively ancient.

Should you buy it?

No. You can do better without spending much more.

Editors’ Recommendations






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