A super-stylish Android Wear timepiece that’s undermined by a familiar list of complaints
From geek chic to fully fledged fashion accessory, it’s been a rapid rise for the smartwatch.
It’s now as acceptable to have a mobile computer strapped to your wrist as it is to tote a 5.sin phone, which is why fashion brands and traditional watchmakers are eyeing the market. The Fossil Q Founder is among the first, and it won’t be the last.
There’s certainly no reason why a watch manufacturer such as Fossil can’t make a smartwatch to match techie rivals. You either opt for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor or one of the new Intel ones; pick an IPS, transflective or OLED screen; install Android Wear; pick and choose the features it requires; and then it all boils down to design. It’s here that fashion-first brands make their mark.
Next to the Tag Heuer Connected, the Q Founder is the best-looking smartwatch I’ve yet had the pleasure to clasp around my wrist. Sure, it’s big and heavy. The casing measures 47mm across, it’s 12.8mm thick and, even with several links extracted from the steel wristband, it weighs an imposing i48g. Despite its size, though, it isn’t overbearing, even on my skinny wrist. Its sheer bulk means it won’t be for everyone, but it doesn’t look daft – and the weight quickly becomes a non-issue.
I also like the more traditional look imparted by the crown on the right side of the casing. This doesn’t rotate, unlike the crown of the Apple Watch, but pressing it unlocks useful shortcuts: a single press wakes the watch from sleep, a long press brings up the apps screen, while a double press puts the watch into Android Wear’s “do not disturb” Cinema mode.
“To put it simply, the Fossil Q Founder feels exactly like how a smartwatch ought to feel: fluid, smooth and futuristic”
The one thing that Fossil’s designers get wrong, aside from the plain black plastic rear (maybe they thought it would be too heavy with a stainless steel rear panel), is the flat-tyre watch face. Look at the front and you’ll see a small black segment cutting into the base of the otherwise perfectly circular screen. It’s used to house a light sensor, which allows Fossil to adjust the brightness of its display depending on conditions.
I’m also not keen on the white inductive charging station. This strange contraption is far bulkier than it needs to be, meaning it’s not the easiest thing to stow in your bag. Moreover, because the plastic charging plate is on an angle, the watch can be dislodged with the slightest of nudges. Moreover, its red and blue indicator LEDs are simply too bright. I usually charge my smartwatch on the bedside table overnight, but I had to cover the Fossil Q Founder with a pillow to prevent it lighting up the room and interrupting my sleep.
The smartwatch supports the Qi charging standard – a nice touch – but the steel bracelet means you’ll need to find a charger that it wraps around rather than sitting atop.
It’s a shame about that flat-tyre display because the Fossil Q Founder includes a fine screen. It’s LCD rather than OLED, meaning it doesn’t quite glow with the same neon vivacity as the screen on the Huawei Watch, but its 1.5m size and 360 x 326 resolution delivers ) a sharp, clear image that’s pleasing to the eye. It’s bright enough to be readable in most conditions, too. In fact, for the most part, I switched off the auto-brightness and set the screen to its minimum setting.
Sadly, that doesn’t rescue the watch’s battery life. The Q Founder typically lasted around 24 hours with the screen set to Always-on. Sometimes it would last a little longer or less, but I always needed to charge it overnight.
The payback comes in the form of speed. The Q Founder is powered by the same Intel Atom Z34XX processor as the Tag Heuer Connected, and I’ve found this is less prone to hesitance and swipe-lag than most Qualcomm-powered watches. To put it simply, the Fossil Q Founder feels exactly like a smartwatch ought to feel: fluid and futuristic.
Based on Android Wear, there’s little Fossil can do when it comes to customisation, but it does include a handful of its own watch faces. These look nice enough, but with so many third-party faces available on Google Play and through apps such as Facer and Watchmaker, that’s no particular reason to buy it.
One reason not to buy it, however, is the lack of a heart-rate monitor. I’m surprised at this omission, bearing in mind how difficult it is for Android watchmakers to now differentiate themselves and that this is such a useful function to have.
It means that, other than the design, you’re left with a pretty standard Android Wear watch. And Wear still needs work, too: it’s reasonably good at delivering notifications and contextually helpful titbits of information through Google Now, while the voice-recognition features work well, but the consistency with which various apps deliver alerts and notifications isn’t quite there (this watch will work with iPhones as well, but it feels like a token gesture, with a limited number of apps and many of Android Wear’s features restricted).
The Fossil Q wins for style but is flawed in too many areas: that flat-tyre watch face, the lack of a heart-rate monitor, a flawed charging dock and mediocre battery life. While it’s great to see fashion-conscious brands enter this market, they need to do more than create a desirable physical object – especially at this high a price. JONATHAN BRAY
Intel Atom Z34XX processor • 4G B storage • 1.5in 360 x 326 LCD display • Bluetooth 4.1 • 400mAh battery« accelerometer« gyroscope • Android Wear OS • lyr RTB warranty • 47 x 13 x 47mm (WDH) • 148g