Fossil Dependably Brings a Bunch of Smartwatches to CES, But Not the One I Want

Fossil Dependably Brings a Bunch of Smartwatches to CES, But Not the One I Want
Behold, the Gen 5 LTE. (Image: Fossil)

In the before times, you could always count on Fossil to bring a massive amount of smartwatches to any trade show. Were most of them gussied up versions of Fossil watches for other brands under their umbrella? Yes, absolutely. But after a year of ups and downs, it’s nice that even a pandemic can’t seem to throw Fossil off its CES traditions.

The big announcement this time around is Fossil’s first cellular watch, the $US350 ($451) Gen 5 LTE. If you’ve got a good memory, however, this shouldn’t come as a surprise — recent FCC filings hinted that this was coming back in December. The good news is this means Wear OS finally has a cellular watch. The bad news is it’s powered by the last-generation Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. This is a bummer, as LTE is a notorious battery guzzler, and the 3100 didn’t really extend battery life on Wear OS watches that much.

The Gen 5 LTE also has quite a few limitations. For starters, the Gen 5 LTE is limited to Android users who have Verizon in the U.S. It’ll work via Verizon’s Number Share plan, which means you’ll have to buy an additional data plan. Whether it’ll eventually include other carriers isn’t clear right now. Also, iOS users won’t be able to use the cellular features on the Gen 5 LTE. That means they should absolutely not opt for this watch over the regular Gen 5, as it’s $US50 ($64) more. Another bummer is that at launch, the recent Gen 5 updates will not be available. Finally, the Gen 5 LTE is only launching in the U.S.

Image: Fossil Image: Fossil

Specs-wise, the Gen 5 LTE is alright. It has the same 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM as the Gen 5, a 1.3-inch display, NFC payments, continuous heart rate-monitoring, built-in GPS, and a speaker. It’ll also come in two colours (black and gold/pink), though with its 45mm case, it’s on the larger side. And though it doesn’t come with the updated Gen 5 features, it does have smart battery modes. Again, LTE is a huge battery guzzler and you’re not going to get a whole lot of mileage out of the Gen 5 LTE — it’s only got an estimated battery life of 24 hours with typical usage. Adding extended battery modes will at least help you eke out as much juice as you can out of a single charge.

Fossil owns a bunch of other brands, and this year its Skagen line has a new watch: the Jorn Hybrid HR. It’s not that the watch itself is that interesting — it’s basically a reskinned Fossil Hybrid HR under the Skagen brand name. But damn if they aren’t good-lookin’ thanks to Skagen’s Danish minimalist vibe.

Image: Fossil Image: Fossil

It is nice to see more of the Fossil hybrids. When we reviewed the Fossil Hybrid HR, we found the e-ink display incredibly easy on the eyes even if the app itself was a bit wonky. The Jorn Hybrid HR comes in five colours and two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. (Yay for the petite-wristed!) Like the Fossil Hybrid HR, you can also customise the e-ink display. The new Skagen also sports a continuous heart rate monitor, connected GPS, basic activity-tracking, and two weeks of estimated battery life. That said, it seems like Fossil’s added on a social feature to its hybrid watches — you can now invite friends to 72-hour challenges. (Neat, but how many of your friends have Fossil watches?) These will retail for $US195 ($251), which isn’t too terrible given the feature set.

See what I mean? Posh Spice. (Image: Fossil) See what I mean? Posh Spice. (Image: Fossil)

And if the Skagen Jorn is a repackaging of the Fossil Hybrid HR, then wait ‘til you get a load of the Michael Kors Access Gen 5E smartwatches. I’ll give you exactly one guess as to which Fossil watch these are based on. (Ding ding ding! The Gen 5E!) They come in a couple flavours: the Gen 5E Darci and the Gen 5E MKGO. If these watches were the Spice Girls, the Darci would be Posh Spice and the MKGO would be Sporty Spice. The former costs $US350 ($451), is sparkly, and has a 7-link metal bracelet. The latter is $US250 ($322), slightly less sparkly, and has a two-piece rubber strap. Specs-wise, they have the same 43mm cases, 4GB of storage, connected GPS, 1.2-inch AMOLED screens, and run Wear OS. The Darci comes in three colours (silver-rose gold, rose gold, and gold), while the MKGO comes in four (two rose gold options, a gold option, and a black version).

MKGO, the Sporty Spice. (Image: Fossil) MKGO, the Sporty Spice. (Image: Fossil)

I’ll admit it. I’m disappointed that none of these watches are powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100/4100+ platform — which is the actual smartwatch I want from Fossil. I’ve been banging on this drum ever since Qualcomm announced the chip this past summer. This processor won’t magically solve all the issues we have with Wear OS, but it could potentially do a lot to bridge the gap and bring the platform a little closer to its rivals. Had a 4100 smartwatch materialised, that would’ve easily been the Big Smartwatch Headline for CES 2021, as right now only the TicWatch Pro 3 has the chip.

While I am disappointed, it also makes sense. It was always going to be a long shot for a 4100-powered Fossil watch to pop up at CES 2021. After all, it’s not likely that Fossil would launch its very first 4100 watch on one of its designer brand offshoots. So we’ll continue to wait. Perhaps later this year will bring a must-buy Wear OS watch. One can hope.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for local Australian pricing and availability.