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Fossil gen 6 smartwatch review 2021: Future-facing software but underwhelming battery life

The smartwatch game has moved on a lot in the last couple of years, and for Android users it’s about to change again.

With the update of Wear OS, Google’s wearable operating system, coming early next year, the next generation of smartwatches is nearly here. There are only a few models out there right now which are ready to jump to it, and Fossil’s gen 6 is one of them.

But as much as it’s ready for the next great leap forward, the Fossil gen 6 promises to be a tweaking of the particulars rather than a ground-up reimagining. It looks broadly similar to the gen 5, with only a couple of small touches to differentiate them. But when it looks as sleek and understated as the gen 5, the urge not to fiddle about too much is understandable.

The idea is to push the gen 6 into being a do-anything, go-anywhere kind of smartwatch, with enough functionality and depth to do most of the things your phone does, as well as a raft of health and fitness tracking functions to keep up with specialist wearable fitness tech. All the while, it’s got the looks to go from the gym to the office without looking out of place anywhere.

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Fossil’s models are toward the top end of the smartwatch market, and the new generation starts at a very punchy £279.

How we tested

We put the Fossil Gen 6 through its paces over six days of wear, both at home and around the city.

With so many apps available, it seemed sensible to put the ones which are preloaded as standard to the test first, and focus on the aspects of the Fossil gen 6 which are trumpeted loudest: its charging speed, its customisability, and its health tracking functions. We took the gen 6 on walks and jogs, as well as using its sleep tracking through the night.

Design

There’s one thing which is inarguable about the gen 6: it looks absolutely lovely. Ours was an all-black edition with silicon strap, and even in the larger 44mm size it looked and felt balanced and nicely proportioned. It’s not feather-light, but it didn’t feel awkward or cumbersome to jog with.

The three navigation buttons on the right-hand side of the case are sturdy and have a smooth action, and like everything else you can use the Wear OS app to turn them into shortcuts for whatever you need to hand.

That all-black look really made the OLED screen pop sharply too, and with more than a dozen different face screen designs to choose from – as well as swappable straps – there are a lot of options open to you. We settled on a Rolex-ish silver-on-black analogue look, but more 2021-ish designs are out there.

Happily, those good looks come with rugged construction. The stainless steel case is robust and while the screen is pretty exposed thanks to the newly redrawn bezel design, it took a few momentarily terrifying scuffs and bumps from everyday use without marking or scratching.

Again, there’s nothing here that’s going to make you stand out on the bus, but some small touches – a little more detailing on the bezel and a little more protection for the main lug and, erm, that’s it – make things feel a little fresher. All told, it’s a lovely-looking and smoothly engineered piece.

Functionality

Let’s start with the good stuff. The 416 by 416 pixel AMOLED screen on the gen 6 looks a marvel. Colours are bright and punchy, and the animations look responsive and fluid. If we were forced to watch a film on any smartwatch, we’d ask our tormentors to try and source a gen 6 before we started. It’s not new – the gen 5 was similarly excellent – but it’s still a beauty.

The gen 6 is water-resistant to three atmospheres, so most splashes, hand washes and rain showers will be no problem. Navigation is smooth and responsive thanks to the rotating crown on the side of the gen 6, which spins you through menus with ease and accuracy. It’s a small thing, but it certainly adds to the premium feel overall. Google Assistant works well, and the ability to reply to texts and emails is a boost too.

The thing is, you’re probably not going to be able to keep the gen 6 on your wrist all day long and then through the evening. One of this model’s trumpeted features is that it can charge up to 80 per cent battery in half an hour – which is just as well, because with so many power-hungry apps on the go you’re going to have to refuel at least once a day.

The promised 24-hour battery life turns out to be somewhat optimistic; 12 to 14 hours feels more like the norm with regular use. You can switch to a time-only function, which will prolong things considerably. Then again, it just turns the gen 6 into a normal watch, which presumably isn’t what you’ll have bought it for.

One other thing: the set-up process is frequently bewildering. You’ll need some patience to get everything going.

Software and features

Wear OS is full of apps to download via the Play Store, and the gen 6 comes with loads of preinstalled apps, including Gmail, Google Fit, Google Translate and Google Pay. All that said, Wear OS 3 isn’t preinstalled, and you’ll have to upgrade from Wear OS 2 when it finally lands next year.

Through the Wear OS app you can customise the home screen to your heart’s content too: pull up your step count, your resting heart rate, your accrued fitness points, your sleep charts tracking light and deep periods, and away you go. And there’s a blood oxygen level monitor too, which was a big miss from the gen 5.

Those “heart points” are a particularly useful feature of Google Fit. Set yourself a goal for the week – say, 150 heart points – and for every minute of exercise you do, you get a heart point. It’s a little simplistic compared to the full BMI breakdowns and step analysis available on the Galaxy Watch 4, but it’s all useful and clearly rendered.

With Spotify and YouTube Music available, you’re able to stream music from your watch without needing your phone, and Google Pay is pre-installed too. One day, it won’t look daft to pay for things by holding your watch to the card machine. That day is, sadly, still some way off.

The verdict: Fossil gen 6 smartwatch

The big draws here are the neat design and future-facing software – even if the next generation of Wear OS isn’t here just yet. But ultimately the gains aren’t gigantic for anyone who’s already got a gen 5, and the battery life is underwhelming to say the least.

It’s lovely to look at and, eventually, easy to use – you’ll need a little adjustment and a manual if you’re new to Wear OS – and the array of fitness and health monitoring apps at your disposal is a match for anything else on the market. There’s a luxe feel to everything here: you’re never in doubt that this is a very well-made and thought-out piece of kit, and all the good things which the gen 5 got right remain.

But that slightly lacklustre battery life makes a dent in this smartwatch’s practicality, and if you were to go for a weekend away without your charger you’d certainly be left with a functionally useless – if admittedly handsome – bracelet.

Fossil gen 6 smartwatch

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