The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is a baby-step towards something better and leaves me wanting more.
Wear OS might not have the best reputation, but Fossil has been a staple of the platform for years and makes many of the best Wear OS watches you can find today. The company has often picked things up when Google seemingly dropped the ball and has even stepped in to bring its own custom software experiences to the platform. But one area that Fossil had not previously probed into was LTE, so its smartwatches were still tethered to smartphones for many useful smartwatch functions. That changes with the Fossil Gen 5 LTE.
While the world awaits the next generation of Fossil smartwatches, the company continues trying to prove that it has more to offer in the current generation. After the Fossil Gen 5E was launched last year as a slightly watered down alternative to the original, Fossil has more or less refined the Fossil Gen 5 with a more streamlined design and LTE connectivity. But are these changes enough to satisfy fans that have been waiting for Fossil to launch a new generation of its smartwatch lineup?
Disclaimer: The Fossil Gen 5 LTE has the same hardware as the original Gen 5 smartwatch, not counting the new LTE modem. For more on that model, you can check out Joe Maring’s Fossil Gen 5 one-year-on review.
Fossil Gen 5 LTE
Bottom line: The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is a respectable smartwatch that comes with all the best aspects of the original Gen 5, but with the added benefit of cellular connectivity. The hardware is largely unchanged which works both for and against it, doing a decent job handling Wear OS but missing out on the latest software and processor.
- Streamlined design
- LTE connectivity is very useful
- Wear OS isn’t completely terrible
- Built-in GPS is great for fitness tracking
- LTE affects battery life
- No new hardware besides the cellular modem
- Lacks most recent software
- Wear OS still needs work
Fossil Gen 5 LTE: What I like
The Fossil Gen 5 LTE has a pretty straightforward design. The hardware and style are largely the same as the original Gen 5, particularly the Carlyle HR that the new Black Silicon is more closely related to (the pink Blush Silicon colorway is similar to the Rose Gold Julianna HR). The watches are so similar that much of my time was spent comparing the two, and I noticed a few subtle but welcome differences that make the newer model much nicer to look at. For instance, gone are the large, protruding hardware buttons, having been replaced with smaller, slightly more recessed buttons. The center dial also protrudes less as it’s nestled within the more streamlined casing of the watch.
Given the addition of an LTE modem, the watch case is noticeably larger but only by a millimeter in both diameter and thickness. In daily use, this is perfectly fine for my wrist, and the silicon strap keeps it snug even while out on runs. The circular OLED display retains the same size and resolution as the original model, so there’s a bit more bezel, but it’s hardly noticeable. For the most part, the display is plenty visible, even in direct sunlight.
Part of my time with the watch was spent without being connected to a mobile network, utilizing just Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Surprisingly, battery life wasn’t terrible and actually managed to fare much better than my Gen 5, which usually had about 10% less power at any given time. This is with all the same services and connections turn on, although this could be attributed to the newer software on the original Gen 5 watch (more on this later). Daily use averaged around two days before the smart battery mode kicked into the Time-Only mode. As far as Wear OS goes, this is pretty much par-for-the-course.
LTE makes a smartwatch worth having, even if it’s Wear OS.
But the biggest addition to the watch, of course, is the LTE connection. This is a first for Fossil after years of making some of the best Wear OS smartwatches and a very welcome addition at that. Using Verizon’s Number Share service at a $10/month charge, the watch is able to take calls and texts without needing to remain in the vicinity of the host smartphone. Calls are a kind of hit-or-miss when not directly connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and the speaker sounds a bit tinny, but texts are pretty consistent thanks to Verizon’s Message+ app and you can always pair Bluetooth headphones to the watch for a less-awkward calling experience. Honestly, being able to leave my smartphone behind is really the biggest use-case for not only the Fossil Gen 5 LTE but all smartwatches in general.
While Wear OS isn’t known for being the best for fitness enthusiasts, having LTE actually helps a bit on that front too. The watch’s untethered GPS seems to do a much better job at tracking my runs. Not only can you go on a run and leave your phone at home without worrying about missing a beat, but I’ve also been able to stream music with the Pandora app while out and about. This makes such a huge difference since there’s no longer an official music app from Google, and Spotify can’t seem to figure out offline streaming its own Wear OS app. But having LTE isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there are some downsides to its addition to Fossil’s hardware.
Fossil Gen 5 LTE: What I don’t like
LTE might be incredibly useful on this Wear OS smartwatch, but battery life also takes a hit particularly when you’re making calls or streaming music. At times I can still manage more than a day, but oftentimes I would quickly fall under 24 hours of use and the watch would activate into Time-Only mode more often than I would have liked. Expect frequent charges on just average use, especially if you plan to use the Fossil Gen 5 LTE for fitness. When tracking a few hikes, the watch would die completely after several hours, which isn’t very helpful when you want to track your progress.
Some of this can likely be blamed on Wear OS; it’s not the most battery efficient. In all fairness, the experience with Wear OS hasn’t been horrible on this watch which is no doubt thanks to the 1GB of RAM, and both Google and Fossil have recently pushed out their own respective updates that focus on speed and battery life improvements.
Unfortunately, neither of the updates has reached the Fossil Gen 5 LTE. Fossil states that it’s working on bringing making its update available to the watch, which would not only help with battery life but also give it some new features like automatic sleep tracking and VO2 measurements, but there’s no saying when that’ll happen.
It also doesn’t help that the Fossil Gen 5 LTE has the same 310mAh battery as the original. Given the new LTE modem, it could have been nice to see some additional battery capacity. The Gen 5 LTE is also powered by the same Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset instead of the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 that was launched nearly a year ago, so it’s already running on outdated hardware. The watch still performs fine for the most part, but there are some instances where it wouldn’t register my input and the overall experience is still a bit inconsistent.
Limited carrier support is also a downside to this watch, as it currently only works on Verizon’s network. Here in Seattle, Verizon doesn’t have the best coverage, which can also put a damper on the LTE experience at times. Of course, coverage varies depending on where you are, so others may experience better connectivity than I’ve had. But launching on only one network makes the Gen 5 LTE seemingly less accessible than even the original Gen 5.
If you can go without LTE connectivity and you’re looking for something a bit more modern with the latest hardware, the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 3 GPS is the only Wear OS smartwatch of note to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100+. It has a low-powered LCD on top of a 1.4″ OLED and offers great battery life and a smooth Wear OS experience. Even without cellular connectivity, the TicWatch Pro 3 GPS offers a superior Wear OS experience.
The Fitbit Versa 3 is one of the latest flagship smartwatches from the company now owned by Google. It offers a vast amount of health features that continues to grow through its dedicated app and the Fitbit Premium service. The Versa 3 has a stylish design, built-in GPS, and supports Google Assistant for those who still want access to the Google ecosystem.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is currently one of the top smartwatches. It doesn’t run Wear OS, but it has an LTE model and supports all major carriers. Samsung’s Tizen software has proven to be a fantastic experience for fitness, health, and battery efficiency. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 was released more than a year ago but is still gaining new, useful features like ECG readings and blood pressure monitoring.
Fossil Gen 5 LTE: Should you buy
You should buy this if …
You’re a Verizon customer and looking for a decent smartwatch
The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is not a bad smartwatch to have. Having a remote connection to your smartphone through LTE is largely what separates cheaper fitness trackers from more expensive smartwatches. The Fossil Gen 5 LTE has convinced me that if you’re going to spend money on a smartwatch, particularly $350, one with LTE will give you more of your money’s worth. Now I can’t help but look at the original Fossil Gen 5 as an overpriced, less capable fitness band.
You are ingrained in Google’s ecosystem
Google Assistant is built-in to Wear OS and becomes much more useful on a smartwatch with LTE connectivity. There’s also Google Messages which supports RCS from the watch, Google Pay for contactless NFC payments, Google Fit to track your fitness, and Google Play Store to download even more apps.
You don’t want to wait for a Gen 6
Fossil is expected to launch a Gen 6 lineup, but details are scarce. A potential Gen 6 smartwatch would likely sport Qualcomm’s latest chipset and with any luck, a larger battery and an LTE option from the start. This would be a winning move for Fossil, but alas there’s no word on when to expect a Gen 6 smartwatch, and given how recently the Gen 5 LTE launched, it could be some time before Fossil launches anything new.
You should not buy this if …
You own a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or Apple iPhone
Both companies offer much better smartwatches that pair better with their smartphones. Both the Gen 5 and Gen 5E are the only Wear OS smartwatches with the ability to function with iPhones for calls and texts, but the Gen 5 LTE lacks this functionality and there’s no saying if or when it’ll get it. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 is one of the best Android smartwatches for its health and fitness features, longer battery life, and better overall usability.
You already own the original Gen 5 or Gen 5E
The Fossil Gen 5 LTE not really worth it if you already own one of the other Gen 5 models, at least not until there’s wider carrier support. Even then, cellular connectivity doesn’t differentiate this model much from the others. If you own these models, it would probably be best to just hold off on this one for the eventual Gen 6 smartwatches.
You’re looking for a good fitness tracking device
LTE connectivity helps a lot with fitness, and Google has been working to improve Google Fit on Wear OS. That said, without Fossil’s newer software and nor any improvements to the battery life, there are plenty of better options. You’d be better off checking out some of the best fitness trackers.
The Fossil Gen 5 LTE does a good job at making the best out of the Wear OS situation. Similar to the previous Gen 5 models before it, the Gen 5 LTE has a good-looking, more streamlined design. With the addition of cellular connectivity, Fossil has managed to improve its already impressive smartwatch lineup. The Gen 5 LTE is more useful as a fitness watch too, allow you to leave your phone at home, stream music from the watch, and connect in real-time to Google Fit.
Unfortunately, Fossil did not do enough to differentiate this model from the previous Gen 5 smartwatches. Aside from a few subtle design changes, the hardware remains the same, from the battery size to the processor. This negatively affects the battery life, which Fossil apparently didn’t consider when adding an LTE modem to two-year-old hardware. It also doesn’t help that the watch doesn’t run the most recent software, and misses out on the battery-life benefits.
Fossil Gen 5 LTE
Bottom line: The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is one of the best Wear OS smartwatches with cellular connectivity, bringing together the best of Fossil’s lineup with the benefits of an LTE connection. But it’s far from the best LTE-enabled smartwatch, and Fossil has not done enough to make it stand out in 2021 when newer hardware is available.
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