Fossil Q Control review: Brand-name appeal aside, there are plenty of better smartwatches out there
Remember when smartwatches were the next big thing? It seems a long time ago. One by one, LG, Motorola, Sony and others have quietly backed away from the wrist, and now in 2018 the wearable landscape looks lonely indeed. Move along, smartwatches, you had your chance; smart speakers are in now.
But if tech brands have struggled to make a success of the 21st-century version of the calculator watch, perhaps a fashion brand can fare better. Fossil is a relative newcomer to the world of trendy accessories (the brand was born in the same year as me), but it clearly believes it can make a go of the technology.
Unfortunately, if the Fossil Q Control is anything to go by, this optimism is misplaced. It’s a perfectly competent Android watch – for the most part – but there’s nothing special about it. You’re mainly paying for a teeny tiny designer logo that you have to squint to see.
Fossil Q Control: Design[gallery:1]
Smartwatches aren’t known for their beauty. Even the ostensibly fashionable ones tend to be inoffensive rather than smart – think the Timex IQ+ or the Misfit Phase. They also tend to come with limited functionality, raising the question of why you don’t just buy a regular watch instead.
The Fossil Q Control, on the other hand, is unmistakably Android Wear, with all the good and bad things this implies. It sports an appealing round watch face, as popularised by the Moto 360, but it sticks out a good 14mm from the wrist. If that doesn’t sound like much, remember that iPhone X is 7.7mm thick, and then imagine how you’d look with that strapped to your wrist.
Not that the Fossil Q Control is bad looking – in fact it’s one of the nicer Android Wear devices, though that does feel rather like damning with faint praise. Its chunky metal casing houses a 1.4in full-colour OLED touchscreen, with a sharp resolution of 450×450, and tehre’s a single button on the right-hand side.[gallery:2]
In fact it looks quite similar to the original Huawei Watch or the Samsung Gear S3. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but since it has fewer features than its rivals – more on this later – its only real advantage is the Fossil brand. And, oddly, that’s something it hardly presses at all: the logo appears in four places on the watch, but two of those are only visible when it’s taken off (they’re on the underside of the replaceable rubber strap and next to the heart rate monitor) while the other two are on the default home screen, and set in a tiny diamond on the button. You’d never notice any of them on a person’s wrist unless you had no respect for personal boundaries whatsoever, or some kind of NASA-strength telescope.
In other words, if you want a designer smartwatch, you’re just as well off adding a custom band to any old wearable. In fact, since the rubber band that comes with the Fossil Q Control is pretty uncomfortable, you’ll probably end up replacing the branded strap pretty quickly anyway.
Fossil Q Control: Performance[gallery:3]
So much for the fashion aspect. And when it comes to actual smart features, I’d have to say the Q Control is merely adequate. Notifications come through nice and clearly, and to be fair it’s a pleasure reading whole email chains on the high-resolution screen. Maps can also be read on the wrist, and you can reply to messages using the in-built microphone if you don’t care how much of a prune you look to passers-by. Google Assistant is present too, which is handy, and Spotify can be controlled from the wrist, so no need to pull out your phone to change your music – although you can’t store offline playlists: Google Play Music only.
And while raw processor power isn’t so important in a smartwatch, the Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip and 768MB of RAM is speedy enough to keep the show running smoothly. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, it’s let down by abysmal battery life. With the Q Control we’re back to the bad old days of one day’s use tops. It doesn’t help that the always-on display is activated by default, but turning this off didn’t help things massively either.[gallery:4]
Since the Fossil Q Control doesn’t track sleep, you’re not missing out on much if you charge it overnight on the four-pin magnetic charging pad that comes with it. But this stand is so fussy that you’ll often retrieve the watch in the morning only to find that it hasn’t charged, and is now completely dead. That’s really poor.
Another disappointment is fitness tracking. The Fossil Q Control sells itself as not only a smartwatch, but an exercise companion – which makes sense, as that’s where the real money is. The trouble is that it doesn’t do that job especially well. Yes, it has a heart-rate sensor on the back, but my colleague Ed at Expert Reviews has severe concerns about its accuracy. Worse, it just uses the standard Google Fit app to track runs, and since it has no GPS hardware of its own it has to piggyback off your phone to track your route. It counts steps, but it has no barometric altimeter, so it can’t tell how many flights of stairs you climb in a day. It’s water resistant up to 50 metres, but lacks a dedicated swim tracker. And while we’re on missing features, there’s no NFC either, so you can forget about contactless payments too.
If you’re happy to keep your phone on you while you’re exercising (and shopping), these shortcomings don’t have to be deal-breakers. They just leave you scratching your head as to what exactly you’re paying for.
Fossil Q Control: Verdict[gallery:6]
The Fossil Q Control isn’t the worst smartwatch in the world, but the price isn’t remotely justified: it’s a run-of-the-mill Android Wear device with a brand name that nobody can see. If the feature set works for you, you’ll save a lot of money by tracking down a first generation Huawei Watch, or a second-gen Moto 360.
Or, if you’re in the market for a premium smartwatch, you’re better off looking in the direction of the Huawei Watch 2, which has all the same features, plus GPS, NFC and even 4G support for a truly phoneless experience – not to mention double the battery life – at the same RRP. If you can stretch a little higher, the Samsung Gear S3 does Android Wear that little bit better. If you’re into your sports, the Garmin Vivoactive 3 is also brilliant and – you guessed it – available at the same price as the Fossil Q Control.
All of which, a thousand words later, is a long-winded way of saying the Fossil Q Control is sort of fine, but it doesn’t really excel at anything, not even at showing off its designer credentials. And if you’re paying over the odds for a designer watch that doesn’t yell at people that it’s a designer watch, then what’s the point?