Google has been notoriously slow at sending out meaningful software updates to WearOS, so Fossil has taken things into its own hands and delivered its feature update to the Gen 5 range of smartwatches. Fossil calls them “enhancements,” and there are five to look out for: A Wellness app, sleep tracking, VO2 max data, a new phone app, and a new set of extended battery modes.
But wait, didn’t Google buy Fossil’s smartwatch division? Indeed it did, and while the details around what Google actually purchased are confusing, there’s a chance what we’re seeing on the Gen 5 smartwatch is a part Fossil, part Google endeavor.
The question is, does it make WearOS on these watches better than before. And is it a reason to buy one?
I’ve been using the Fossil Garret HR smartwatch with the new enhancements onboard. If you’ve used a Fossil smartwatch you’ll know they come with some pre-installed apps from the brand already, and the Wellness app is another to add to the collection. Wellness is a Google Fit alternative, and includes a basic indoor or outdoor workout tracker, a sleep tracker, and a VO2 max report.
As a workout tracker, it’s considerably more basic than Google Fit, but it’s the changes made to the way the watch handles fitness tracking that are more compelling. The Wellness app has been adapted to use the Snapdragon 3100’s co-processor to handle heart rate and movement tracking, which in theory lowers the demand on the main processor, and lessens strain on the battery.
WearOS smartwatches have always had trouble with battery life, and although advancements have been made recently, lasting a full day was often impossible. On its own, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference in battery performance, but if you use it with the new Custom Battery mode, you just may get a noticeable improvement.
The Custom mode joins the existing Extended and Time Only battery modes, and it lets you turn off the features you don’t use and keep the ones that are important active. On my watch, I used the Always-on screen, tilt-to-wake, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location. I deactivated NFC, always-listening mode for Google Assistant, sounds, and touch-to-wake. This suits my use now, and I like being able to toggle location (a serious battery hog) on and off accordingly. It’s accessed quickly through the swipe-down Settings menu, and it’s simple to use, with clearly marked toggles.
Combine this with the Wellness app, and moderate battery life increases should come — but don’t expect big changes. For me, it seems to last a little longer than it did before the update arrives. I’m talking about up to an hour, rather than an extra day.
I saw more noticeable benefits on the Suunto 7, which uses a similar technique to manage fitness tracking, after Suunto worked closely with Qualcomm to send some of the fitness tracking duties towards the co-processor. It seems Fossil’s approach hasn’t replicated that success.
What else do you get in the Fossil update? There’s now VO2 max tracking, and a new sleep tracking feature.
Which smartwatches will get the update?
Fossil says all Gen 5 watches will receive the new features in an update. This includes the three Fossil-branded Gen 5 smartwatches, the Julianna HR, the Carlyle HR, and the Garrett HR, plus watches based on the same platform from designer brands including Micheal Kors. The software was first sent out to compatible smartwatches in August, but paused soon after while a bug was squashed. It has since restarted and should be available on the above watches now.
Fossil’s enhancements aren’t going to win anyone over who wasn’t a fan of WearOS before. We do see value in using the new Custom extended battery mode and the Wellness app together to increase battery life, even if it’s a very moderate improvement so far. But WearOS owners are starved of attention, so anything is better than nothing.
Fossil’s new features aren’t a reason to buy a Gen 5 over an Apple Watch, or a more focused health watch like the Suunto 7. But if you’re weighing a Gen 5 against another lifestyle WearOS watch, then they are more compelling, if only for their greater level of control over battery life.
What WearOS watches really need is Google itself putting these features into WearOS, so smartwatches not made by Fossil can also benefit. Google has announced a WearOS update for the fall, and while the promised setup improvements and app speed increases will be welcome, there’s no indication the Gen 5 changes will also be included. However, because Google’s update will come to Fossil smartwatches, the Gen 5 will still be one step ahead of the competition.