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21st of January 2018

Gadgets



Revisiting Fossil hybrid smartwatches: From curiosity to practicality

EnlargeValentina Palladino

Fossil has come a long way since the debut of its first hybrid smartwatches in 2015. What was once a small endeavor with just a handful of devices has grown to take over most of the brands under Fossil Group. Michael Kors, Diesel, Kate Spade, Emporio Armani, Skagen, and others all have hybrid smartwatches under their accessory umbrellas that speak to each brand's style.

It's not just the numbers and designs of these smartwatches that have evolved over the past couple of years. Fossil's Q platform has also changed to serve the needs of its users. The Q app used to be fairly limited, with a few customizable alerts and basic activity information. Now, there's more that hybrid smartwatch users can do with Q, and many of the new additions make the hybrid smartwatches much smarter than they appear on the outside.

Design overview

From the beginning, Fossil was in a good position to explore wearable technology. As a fashion company, it already had blueprints for different watch styles. Those could (and would eventually) be adapted into hybrid and full-on smartwatches. The new Fossil watch I tested is the Q Commuter, a unisex model with a 42mm silver case and a 22mm dark brown leather band. Like the rest of the company's hybrid smartwatches, the Q Commuter has a built-in accelerometer for activity tracking and a separate subeye that shows activity goal progress throughout the day. Its three physical side buttons can be programmed to do various functions, and the built-in vibration motor lets the device buzz when you're receiving an alert (it doesn't make any sounds). It runs on a regular watch battery that can be replaced, but it will last about six months before you have to replace it.

Aside from battery life, the appeal of hybrid smartwatches is their design—the Q Commuter looks like any other traditional watch and has nearly the same design as the "regular" Commuter style that Fossil sells. Its $155 price isn't much different from the regular model: there's only one hybrid Commuter smartwatch, but the regular Commuter has different case and band material options that make it range in price from $95 to $155.

Fossil Q Commuter hybrid smartwatch. Valentina Palladino Analog face with multipurpose subeye. Valentina Palladino Replaceable leather band. Valentina Palladino Three side buttons that can be programmed to complete different "smart" features. Valentina Palladino Device settings Shortcuts

Back in 2015, Fossil Q devices were fairly limited in comparison to these new devices. Watches and bracelets could track activity and connect to third-party fitness apps, receive notifications and alerts through tiny flashes of light and watch hand movements, and present new "Q Curiosity" challenges each day in the companion app. With the updated app, the gimmicky curiosity feature is gone and the focus is now on-watch controls and notification management.

The Q Commuter has three side buttons, so you can program three "shortcuts" to them. Shortcuts are simple features that only take the press of a button to initiate, making them easy to customize and program to the watch's side buttons. Some are quite basic, like pressing one button to turn your smartphone's music volume up or down. But other shortcuts are more complicated yet simple enough for an analog watch. For example, you can program one of the side buttons to start a stopwatch, which will move the hands of the watch until you press the button again to stop it. The "mode toggle" control lets you cycle through all the subeye features and check different shortcuts at once.

One of the most complicated shortcuts is "commute time," which will force the watch hands to show you the arrival or travel time to a specific destination. This is one of the few shortcuts that requires you to edit settings in the app—for the commute time shortcut, you must log the address you want to travel to. This is meant to be a place you go frequently like home or work, that way you can press the shortcut button on the watch at any time to see when you'll arrive to that address if you leave your current location now, or how long it will take to get there.

Since hybrid smartwatches don't have digital displays, these shortcuts are almost meant to do what smartwatch apps would do on an Android Wear device or an Apple Watch. The experience may not be as rich as you'd expect from a regular smartwatch, but that's the point. Hybrid smartwatches are built to maintain the analog design of a traditional watch while incorporating some smart features. That means the controls and use cases may be more nuanced than you first expect and, therefore, take some getting used to.

Yet without the clarity of a full digital display, I found the most straightforward shortcuts to be the easiest to understand and the most useful. Music controls offer a quick way to adjust the volume of your smartphone's music without being near the device, and the "ring phone" shortcut is perfect for those who constantly misplace their smartphone. I only used the commute time shortcut a few times, mostly because my commute isn't the same every day and often involves at least one form of public transportation. The commute time shortcut bases its estimations on driving, so it would work better for those constantly in a car.

Presets

A group of three shortcuts can be saved as a preset, which lets you quickly program all three shortcuts to the three side buttons. Presets are meant to be made to make certain life scenarios easier by giving you on-watch controls that you don't need to think about. For example, the pre-fab Travel preset includes the second time zone, mode toggle, and ring phone shortcuts, arguably the three most useful shortcuts for when you're traveling.

You could even make presets for different times of your day and switch them out at any time by using the Fossil Q mobile app. Set the music volume shortcuts and the goal tracking shortcut to use during your morning walk, and then switch to the preset including the commute time, mode toggle, and music control shortcuts for your drive to work.

Presets seem to be the long-term use for shortcuts. Initially, it's fun to play around with different shortcuts and switch them out frequently. But over time, users will likely prefer just a few shortcuts and either keep them assigned to the watch's three buttons at all times or create presets they can switch between at their leisure. While there's a bit of a learning curve when you first use a hybrid smartwatch like the Q Commuter, Fossil put things in place to make the "smart" aspects of the device as automated (or set-and-forget) as possible.

Fossil Q app homepage and shortcut settings. Fossil added many more shortcut features over the years, including the new commute time shortcut. You can control smartphone music playback with shortcuts or check the time in another part of the world. Preset group shortcuts together so you can set three useful features with just one tap. You can assign a contact or app to each number of the watch face to receive visual alerts. Fossil Q supports nearly any app you'd have on your smartphone that has push notifications. Device settings for the Q Commuter watch. Notifications and alerts

Fossil redesigned how its hybrid smartwatch delivers notifications—instead of tiny lights and colored windows on the watch's face, now the watches only vibrate and move hands to a specific time. In the app, you can assign contacts and apps to specific numbers so that the hands of the watch move to that number when you receive a specific alert. I assigned calls from anyone to 12, so the watch's hands move to that number whenever my smartphone gets a call.

The same can be done for apps, and Fossil smartwatch alerts support a number of mobile apps including WhatsApp, Facebook, Hangouts, Pinterest, Skype, Slack, Snapchat, Spotify, and more. I use WhatsApp to talk with my boyfriend instead of Apple's native Messages app, so I made sure to set WhatsApp to the number 6 so I never missed a text message from him.

Assigning contacts and apps in the Fossil Q app is painfully simple, too. All the numbers on the watchface are in a grid, and you can tap the number to which you want to assign the alert. Fossil's revamped notifications system is even easier than the shortcut/preset menu since there's not much of a learning curve. Even if some users don't want to bother with shortcuts and presets, it's easy to turn each watch number into a signal for your contacts and smartphone alerts.

I wouldn't recommend assigning an alert to each number, though, because 12 different contacts and apps to remember is a lot. I only assigned notifications to 12, 3, 6, and 9 and kept it restricted to my most used apps and most important contacts.

A hybrid for the smartwatch age

People are truly starting to embrace smartwatches such as the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, but there will be some who don't want to give up that analog watch experience. Regular watches aren't going anywhere, but Fossil is smart to dive into the hybrid smartwatch category so it can provide those customers with a "smart" alternative that isn't a fully fledged smartwatch.

The updates to the Fossil Q platform make it even easier and more fruitful for people to embrace the idea of a hybrid smartwatch. I'm glad Fossil got rid of the Q Curiosity challenge because it was basically filler content—something for the company to stick in the app to encourage more interaction. But as other smartwatches have proven, a feature like that is unnecessary. Users mainly interact with a smartwatch companion app to change and customize settings for their device, and that's it. Fossil made the Q mobile app better by eliminating the fluff and adding more shortcuts, presets, and notification options so users could more easily make their watches their own. As a wearable substitute for your smartphone's lock screen, Fossil's hybrid smartwatches are much better than they were a few years ago.

But there's still a learning curve to the Fossil Q platform—if you want a wearable that you can slap on your wrist (with abundant default settings) and go, then hybrid smartwatches aren't for you. Convenience is one of the biggest selling points of regular smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, as most of the information relayed to the watch automatically comes from the smartwatch immediately after setup. Only those who don't mind spending time getting to know their watch and customizing the side button functions will enjoy wearing a Fossil Q hybrid device.

The Good Traditional watch designs Months-long battery life Multiple shortcuts to assign to any side buttons Presets make it easy to keep a combination of shortcuts on hand Fossil Q supports numerous app notifications and alerts The Bad More complicated than a regular watch Information from more complex shortcuts could be lost in translation in the analog watch face Lots of alerts to remember if all watch numbers are assigned to contacts and apps The Ugly Not as convenient or robust as full-fledged smartwatch platforms Read More




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