I bought my Fossil Sport Smartwatch over Black Friday weekend, when it was improbably on sale just after it launched. This admittedly has no bearing on how good a smartwatch it is, or whether you should consider buying one of your own. But it might help to know from the start that I’ve worn this watch nearly every day for the past three months. And that I plan to keep on wearing it.
Let’s get this out of the way too: The Fossil Sport Smartwatch is almost certainly the best WearOS smartwatch you can buy. It’s one of the few with the latest processor, the Qualcomm 3100, which embraces the principle that even the most modest gains count for something. It looks sharp enough that people will ask you what kind of watch you’re wearing. It suffers minimal chunk. And for further supporting evidence I’d direct you to Google itself, which recently spent $40 million to acquire some of Fossil’s smartwatch-related intellectual property and a handful of engineers. Until Google makes a Pixel Watch, the Fossil Sport Smartwatch is as close as you’re going to get.
Let’s also be clear that absolutely none of that means the Sport Watch is great. In truth, it sometimes struggles to reach a plateau of “good.” Being the best WearOS watch is also an important qualifier; Samsung’s capable Galaxy Watch runs a different operating system, Tizen, which still works just fine with Android smartphones. But the Sport Watch does offer the best distillation of Google’s smartwatch ambitions, and it does enough things well enough that you won’t regret strapping it on.
Wrist and Shout
It’s a testament to the Fossil Sport Smartwatch that the bulk of any discussion about it has to center around WearOS, rather than the hardware. I think about it almost never, in the best possible way. It’s light enough that you don’t notice you’re wearing it, but durable enough, at least in these three months, to live up to the “sport” in its name.
The Sport Smartwatch is currently available in two sizes—41 mm and 43 mm—and four colors: black, red, “smokey blue,” and “blush,” which is a beige sort of pink. (Grey and light blue were previously offered but are listed as sold out online.) The darker models come off better, thanks to the mixed materials Fossil deploys. The top case is made of aluminum, but it rests above hard nylon. It all blends together nicely enough in the blue and black versions, but the red and blush get contrasty in a way that could read as cheap. Fossil also sells bands in many, many additional colors if you want to get creative and swap in. I haven’t done this; I like my smokey blue just the way it is. But I did take the straps off of my watch using its quick-release mechanism, and it took all of 10 seconds to get them back on again.
On the side of the Sport Smartwatch you’ll find a rotating crown and two mechanical buttons you can program to suit your needs. These all feel solidly built; I strongly suspect my Fossil’s physical buttons and knobs will outlast its ability to run the latest version of WearOS. The silicon strap, too, strikes a good balance between comfort and durability.
This display is bright enough to read in broad daylight, and I’ve managed not to scratch it so far. It has a custom wireless charger—it’ll cost $25 for a new one if you misplace it—that fortunately supports fast charging. Fossil says it’ll net you 80 percent battery life after an hour; that seems about right based on my experience. And yes, battery life is still a concern for smartwatches with bright touchscreens, no matter who makes them. The Sport Smartwatch is no different, but I will say that it’s never punked out on me before bedtime, and the only times it’s come close were when I leaned heavy on the GPS during long runs.
A smartwatch doesn’t live and die on its specs, but there are a couple more worth mentioning: The Sport Smartwatch comes with 4 GB of storage, which means you can keep plenty of playlists on it. (The interface for actually playing them is clunky and maddening, but that’s just part of the WearOS experience, which I’ll get to more in a minute.) It has an NFC chip for Google Pay purchases, which will surprise and delight your friends at the supermarket checkout. And the display has 390 pixels per inch, which roughly translates to: You can see the pixels if you look hard enough, but not really at a glance, and glancing is all you’re really doing in the first place. It’s also water-resistant, so you can swim and shower with it, but trying to tap and swipe on a wet display is like trying to tap dance on a Play-Doh mountain.
As for the overall look, you can’t dress up the Sport Smartwatch like you can an Apple Watch. There’s no Milanese looping here. In fact, it’s incapable of masquerading as anything but a smartwatch you can safely sweat on. And honestly, in some ways that’s refreshing.
Ready to WearOS
So yes, no real complaints about the Fossil Sport Smartwatch hardware. The software that runs it? Some complaints!
The thing you’ll want to know first, because it is the most annoying of all of the things, is that despite the glitzy new processor, WearOS still stalls out sometimes on the Sport Smartwatch. Apps can take several beats too long to open. I also ran into an issue where I’d lift my wrist to wake up the display and get something done, but the screen would go dark before I could make up my mind or finish my swiping, and by the time I woke it up again it forgot what I had been doing. So easily distracted! I did not enjoy this process.
Technically the Sport Smartwatch is capable of “untethered GPS,” but be prepared to wait for an exceptionally long time for it to kick in. On some runs, it just … … didn’t. Also be aware that, unlike the Galaxy Watch and others, it doesn’t automatically track workouts, which is a frustrating thing to remember 2 miles into a run. That’s on me and my forgetfulness, but I’d rather blame the watch.
And then there are the watch faces. Fossil provides a handful that look like a boosted digital watch, with rings to track your physical activity (one for steps, the other for anything that gets your heart rate up) encircling the time, the date, your heart rate, and so on. I thought I would prefer a look that emulated a classic analog watch face, but I ran into a host of issues when I tried a few: I don’t trust third-party developers with all the data they get when I install their watch face; they all look terrible in battery-saver mode, which gives a scaled-down version of any given face; they feel like a lie. I’ve stuck with Fossil’s standard-issue “Pulse Digital,” and it strikes a good enough balance for me.
What I do not appreciate is that Fossil will on occasion attempt to foist new watch face designs on me. I could have lived a perfectly content life without my wrist buzzing with notifications that read “New Dial, Who Dis?” and “U+THIS = <3.”
One last wee gripe, and then we can return to what’s good, of which there’s plenty. My smartwatch has frozen three times since I bought it three months ago, which is a momentary hassle at worst, but not a super encouraging rate.
Now for the good! I’m happy to report that WearOS is mostly intuitive; it never takes me more than a few swipes to get where I’m going, and I don’t find myself at weird UI dead ends often. It did take me a few months to figure out how to uninstall an app—you have to search for it in the Google Play Store on your watch, tap it, and uninstall it there, which seems not especially efficient—but otherwise the learning curve is minimal.
Google Fit tracks all the basics you’d need, although I was frustrated to find that it still doesn’t list “swimming” as an activity. It does offer a clean display, though, that serves up critical info like heart rate and pace in blocky enough font that you only need to glance. The built-in heart rate sensor seems accurate enough, although if you’re looking for clinical or elite-training analytics, you’re almost certainly better off with a dedicated device.
I’ll be honest, though. What makes the Sport Smartwatch worth it is what makes any wristable worth it: It genuinely keeps me from looking at my phone all the time. A quick glance at my wrist, and I’m back to living my life, rather than getting sucked down the various rabbit holes that live in my Pixel 3. For that, it’s maybe even better than an analog watch, because I can also quickly dismiss any lingering suspicion that the latest notification might be urgent. (It never is.)
To my mind, that’s the real argument for the Fossil Sport Smartwatch: It may be the first WearOS product that doesn’t cause more frustration than it prevents. Faint praise, maybe. But I haven’t once regretted my purchase, and how often can you say that?