Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid Analog Smartwatch Review: Bling, Not Sing


The first time I saw Fossil’s hybrid analog smartwatches was in a back room at IFA 2019. I had just seen a small army of smartwatches from Fossil – and every other designer brand under its umbrella. I remember feeling tired. Most of those watches were in fact different flavors of the same smartwatch. But when a spokesperson showed me the Fossil Hybrid HR, I brightened up. A hybrid smartwatch with an E Ink display? That was a rare sight after Pebble’s untimely end, and I was intrigued to see what it could do. Three years later, I have the $229 Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid ($249 as tested), and while it retains the same DNA as the original, I can’t help but feel that Fossil is ahead of the curve.

The Gen 6 Hybrid retains the E Ink screen, customizable watch faces, and basic fitness tracking. The analog hands still cleverly get out of the way when navigating the dashboard or reading notifications. It adds the ability to measure blood oxygen, a new heart rate sensor, Amazon Alexa and a redesigned dashboard. Fossil’s companion app has also been revamped, but barely. Oh and, uh, Fossil has taken a slightly new direction with the design.

Style can make or break a hybrid analog smartwatch, especially when compared to other wearables. Let’s put it this way: the Gen 6 Hybrid with silicone strap costs the same as the Fitbit Versa 3 but doesn’t have a touchscreen or almost as many features. That means you pay extra for style, so it looks better. Earlier, Fossil made a strong case for paying a premium for a stylish hybrid analog. This time… not so much.

The watch has two versions: the 45mm Machine and the 41mm Stella. As soon as I took my Stella review unit out of the box, I knew this watch was not for me. This is the kind of watch I imagine Kim Kardashian wearing in a luxury perfume ad, her dark eyes piercing your soul as she whispers, “I have expensive taste.” It’s not that the watch is hideous; it’s more that the 150 hand-set Czech crystal pavé setting and link bracelet ooze garish glitter. I wish I could say I prefer the Machine, but that watch has an exaggerated masculine look with terribly aggressive knurling that also didn’t fit my lifestyle. I also don’t like how the screen seems so much smaller, even though it’s the same size as its predecessors. These are my personal preferences of course, and reading through the SKUs it’s more of an issue with the Stella models than the Machine models.

The Withings ScanWatch, Fossil Hybrid HR, Skagen Jorn and Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid side by side

For some reason, the Gen 6 Hybrid’s screen appears smaller, even though it’s the same size. From left: Withings ScanWatch, Fossil Hybrid HR, Skagen Jorn, Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid

What bothers me about the Stella design is how it kind of pigeonholes your style. The Stella is for glamorous women, and a shame if you want a more versatile unisex design for everyday wear. That’s disappointing: the original Fossil Hybrid HR and the Skagen Jorn (Skagen’s version of the watch) had more flexible case designs. You could get a pavé setting or not. There’s only one non-pavé version of the Stella, and if you don’t like it, you’re out of luck. Example: My husband would rather clean the litter box than wear this Gen 6 Hybrid, but they wore my Hybrid HR review unit for a few weeks because it was lightweight and matched their fashion sense. And the kicker is that the Gen 6 Hybrid is noticeably heavier than both of its predecessors.

As a smartwatch, the Gen 6 Hybrid gives you all the basics — and some modern features you might not expect. For example, you can set timers and stopwatches, check the weather, ring your phone, view notifications, and control your music, but don’t expect to answer text messages or answer calls on your wrist. That’s all you really need from a hybrid analog, but Fossil has also added Alexa and SpO2 sampling to give the watch a little more oomph. That’s cool on paper, but in reality the new features don’t really add much.

The sensor array of the Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid

The Gen 6 Hybrid also has a new heart rate sensor and SpO2 sensors.

The Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid with an Alexa query displayed on the screen

Alexa is one of the new additions to the Gen 6 Hybrid. But you can also see how cramped the screen looks when reading notifications.

SpO2 monitoring – whether measured passively in your sleep or on demand – is increasingly used as more wearables focus on recovery and sleep. The Gen 6 Hybrid does the latter. Reading the watch is easy enough. You just put your hand flat on a surface, stay still and wait. But on a few of my attempts, the process was interrupted by notifications and I had to restart the process. My results were comparable to a pulse oximeter, but that’s not really a reason to have this feature. (Reminder: you should never ever using smartwatches instead of a pulse oximeter for medical reasons. They are not approved for that purpose and are not a diagnostic tool of any kind.) Passive SpO2 monitoring during sleep can at least give you an idea of ​​your respiratory rate or if you experience frequent breathing disturbances. You can’t do much with the information from samples.

Meanwhile, adding Alexa is more of a party trick than a useful tool. It can be decent if you use Alexa to control your smart home, but it’s not as good as Google Assistant or Siri when it comes to answering questions. (It is better than Samsung’s Bixby, but that’s a low bar.) In addition, the Gen 6 Hybrid has a 0.94-inch display with a resolution of 254ppi. The answers you get barely fit on the screen and are in the world’s thinnest, smallest font. And that’s when you get answers. When I tried to use Alexa, I would often get a message saying that it couldn’t connect and that I should move closer to my phone to try again. A few of those times I was in the same room. That defeats the purpose of a digital assistant on your wrist!

A close-up of the Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid's dashboard

The round dashboard reminds me of Samsung’s Galaxy Watches. It makes navigating through menus much easier than before.

A more meaningful update is the streamlined dashboard. It’s now a circular menu, just like you see on Samsung’s Galaxy Watches. That makes it so much easier to browse and find which feature you want to use. I also appreciate that Fossil has made it clearer which button to press to go back to a previous menu, start, stop or pause a workout and return to the home screen. Navigating menus on the Gen 6 Hybrid can be tricky compared to the Apple Watch, but it’s a notable improvement over previous versions.

The E Ink display hasn’t changed much, meaning it still has the same issues as its predecessors. The refresh rate is comparable to a Kindle, ie slow for a smartwatch. That makes reading your notifications a bit tedious as you have to scroll down, wait a while for the screen to refresh and repeat the process two seconds later. The small font size is also impossible for reading stats halfway through the exercise. I appreciate that E Ink doesn’t cause so much eye strain, but I would have liked the notifications to be more readable too.

The Gen 6 Hybrid also has the same fitness tracking issues as previous models. While heart rate tracking was within five beats per minute of my Apple Watch Series 7, it’s not a good heart rate zone training tool. Again, E Ink’s refresh rate is not suitable for real-time activity tracking. Likewise, distance tracking is unreliable. During a 2.08 mile walk recorded by my Apple Watch, the Gen 6 Hybrid covered 1.5 miles. On a 3-mile run, the Series 7 logged 3.0 miles, my running app recorded 3.02 miles, and the Fossil watch logged 3.8 miles. I expected less accuracy, as the Gen 6 Hybrid relies on your phone’s GPS to record your runs. But as you can see, my running results were very different on my phone and the watch. (That said, both recorded accurate roadmaps. Go figure.) Sleep tracking was broadly accurate, but I didn’t get much context outside of sleep stages and duration.

Normally, I’d say these kinds of results are a deal breaker, but that’s not the case here. No one expecting detailed fitness tracking should buy a watch like this. Personally, I would never run or train with this watch apart from testing purposes. Not only is it cleaning skin crust and sweat from stainless steel links disgusting but it is also too heavy to run with. This watch is much better suited to overall well-being and will get you in your stride. The Gen 6 Hybrid is a smartwatch that can following fitness but was not created condition to follow.

The Fossil Smartwatches app on an iPhone next to the Gen 6 Hybrid

You can easily customize your watch face in the Fossil Smartwatches app. I chose a photo of my dog.

More disappointing is the Gen 6 Hybrid’s shortened battery life. You get an estimated week on a single charge, while the Hybrid HR and Skagen Jorn got about two weeks. I’m not sure why that is, but it probably has to do with the new features and sensors. The battery life is of course always dependent on usage. It’s been over a week since I charged the Gen 6 Hybrid and I still have over 70 percent battery. Although, admittedly, I haven’t used this as heavily as other watches I’ve tested.

Fossil made smart choices here, but it also made some casual mistakes when fixing things that weren’t broken. On the one hand, the circular dashboard made the user experience better and tackled one of the more annoying things about earlier Fossil hybrid analogs. On the other hand, no one needed on-demand SpO2 or Alexa, especially at the cost of an estimated week-long battery life. Adding a better heart rate sensor is good, but the benefit is muffled thanks to unreliable GPS tracking. Meanwhile, Fossil pitched a unisex design with many options for a more luxurious watch with a specific look.

The Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid on a wrist

Not my usual style. It matches exactly nothing in my wardrobe.

What really holds the Gen 6 Hybrid back is the price. If it were more affordable, I could easily see past the shortcomings, as I did in the past. But the version I tested costs $249, and for the same price, I can buy the 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE starts at $279. With both smartwatches, you get a lot more bang for your buck. As for hybrid analogs, the Withings ScanWatch costs $279.95 and has FDA approval for EKGs and sleep disorder monitoring. The Garmin Vivomove Sport is just $179.99, stylish as hell, much better at fitness tracking, and most importantly, it nails the right mix of form, function and price. Unless you really like the design of the Gen 6 Hybrid, there are so many better options.

The Gen 6 Hybrid is not a terrible watch. It does what it’s supposed to do for its target audience. That may have been enough in 2019, but in 2022 it just won’t make it.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge


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