Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid review: Too much bling, not enough zing

I first saw Fossil’s hybrid analog smartwatch in the backroom at IFA 2019. I saw a small army of Fossil’s smartwatches — and every other designer brand — under its umbrella. I remember feeling tired. Most of those watches were basically just different flavors of the same smartwatch. But when a spokesperson showed me the Fossil Hybrid HR, I was overjoyed. Hybrid smartwatch with E Ink display? It was a rare sight after Pebble’s untimely end, and I was curious to see what it could do. Three years later, I’ve got a $229 Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid ($249 as tested), and while it’s very similar to the original DNA, I can’t help but think that Fossil has outdone itself.

The Gen 6 hybrid keeps the E Ink screen, customizable watchface and basic fitness tracking. Its analog hands cleverly move out of the way when you’re 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 refreshed – but barely. Oh and, uh, Fossil has gone in a slightly new direction with design.

Style can make or break a hybrid analog smartwatch, especially 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 nearly as many features. That means you’re paying extra for the style, so part of it was better. Previously, Fossil made a strong case for paying a premium for a stylish hybrid analog. Not so much this time.

There are two versions of the watch: the 45mm Machine and the 41mm Stella. As soon as I unboxed my Stella review unit, 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 deep eyes piercing your soul as she whispers, “I have Costly Taste.” It’s not that the watch is disgusting; it’s more that the 150 hand-placed check crystal paw setting and link bracelet oozes with pompous glitz. I wish I could say I liked the machine, but overly masculine in that watch stretch is very Aggressive kneeling that didn’t suit my lifestyle either. I also don’t like how the display feels so small, even though it is the same size as its predecessors. Of course, these are my personal preferences, and from understanding the SKU, it’s more of a problem with the Stella model than the machine model.

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 feels smaller even when it’s the same size. From left: Wings Scanwatch, Fossil Hybrid HR, Skagen Jorn, Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid

What bothers me about Stella Design is that it somewhat dovetails your style. Stila is for glamorous women, and too bad if you want a more versatile unisex design for everyday wear. This is disappointing: The original Fossil Hybrid HR and Skagen Jrn (Skagen’s version of the watch) had more flexible case designs. You may or may not find a pav setting. Stella has only one non-loaf version, and if it doesn’t suit your tastes, you’re out of luck. Case in point: My spouse would rather clean the litter box than wear this Gen 6 hybrid, but he wore my Hybrid HR review unit for a few weeks because it was lightweight and suited his fashion sense. And the special thing is that the Gen 6 hybrid is much heavier than both 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, make your phone ring, view notifications, and control your music, but not on answering text messages or using your wrist. Don’t expect to pick up the call. That’s really all you need from the hybrid analog, but Fossil also added Alexa and SpO2 spot checks to give the watch a little more oomph. It’s good on paper, but in reality, the new features don’t really add much.

Sensor array of Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid

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

Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid with Alexa Query displayed on screen

Alexa is one of the new additions to the Gen 6 hybrid. But you can also notice how tight the screen looks while reading notifications.

SpO2 monitoring – whether it is measured passively in your sleep or on demand – is an increasingly common feature as more wearables focus on recovery and sleep. The Gen 6 Hybrid does the latter. Taking readings on the watch is quite easy. You just lay your hand flat on a surface, stand still, and wait. But during some of my attempts, the process got interrupted by notifications, and I had to restart the process. My results were on par with a pulse oximeter, but that’s not really the reason for this feature. (Reminder: You should never sometimes Use a smartwatch in place of a pulse oximeter for medical reasons. They are not cleaned for that purpose and are not a diagnostic tool of any kind.) Passive SpO2 monitoring during sleep can at least give you a sense of your respiratory rate or if you experience frequent breathing disturbances. We do. There’s not much you can do with spot check information.

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 quite as good as Google Assistant or Siri when it comes to answering questions. (This Is Better than Samsung’s Bixby, but that’s a low bar.) Plus, the Gen 6 Hybrid features a 0.94-inch display with a resolution of 254ppi. Whatever answers you give, they barely fit within the display and are in the thinnest, smallest font in the world. And that is if you get answers. Several times when I tried to use Alexa, I got a message saying it couldn’t connect and I had to get closer to my phone to try again. Some of those times, I was in the same room. It defeats the purpose of having a digital assistant on your wrist!

A Close Up of the Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid's Dashboard

The circular dashboard reminds me of Samsung’s Galaxy Watch. This makes navigating the menu a lot easier than before.

A more worthwhile update is the streamlined dashboard. It’s now a circular menu, like the one you see on Samsung’s Galaxy watches. This makes it a lot easier to scroll through and find which feature you want to use. I also appreciate that Fossil has made it clear which button to press to return to the previous menu, start, pause or stop a workout, and return to the homescreen. Navigating menus can be a pain on the Gen 6 Hybrid compared to the Apple Watch, but it’s a marked improvement from previous versions.

The E Ink display hasn’t changed much, which means it still has the same problems as its predecessors. The refresh rate is similar to that of the Kindle, which is to say slow for a smartwatch. It makes reading your notifications a bit annoying because you have to scroll down, wait a beat for the screen to refresh, and then repeat the process two seconds later. The small font size also makes it impossible to read mid-exercise metrics. I appreciate that E Ink doesn’t put as much eye strain, but I want the information to be more readable too.

The Gen 6 Hybrid also has the same fitness tracking problem as the previous model. While the heart rate tracking was within five beats per minute of my Apple Watch Series 7, it’s not a good device for heart rate zone training. Again, E Ink refresh rate is not suitable for real-time activity tracking. Likewise, distance tracking is unreliable. Of the 2.08-mile walk recorded by my Apple Watch, the Gen 6 Hybrid covered 1.5 miles. In a 3-mile run, the Series 7 covered 3.0 miles, my running app covered 3.02 miles, and the Fossil watch covered 3.8 miles. I expected less accuracy because the Gen 6 Hybrid relies on your phone’s GPS to record your runs. But as you can see, my running results varied wildly on my phone and watch. (That said, both recorded accurate route maps. Go figures.) Sleep tracking was roughly accurate, but I didn’t find much context beyond sleep stage and duration.

Normally, I’d say results like this are a deal-breaker, but that’s not the case here. Anyone hoping for detailed fitness tracking shouldn’t buy a watch like this. Personally, I would never run or work with this watch apart from for testing purposes. Not only is the stainless steel link cleaning the skin scabs and sweat gross But it’s also too heavy to run with. This watch is much better for overall health and makes sure you are taking your steps. Gen 6 Hybrid is a smartwatch that can do track fitness but was not created To track fitness.

Fossil Smartwatch App on iPhone next to Gen 6 Hybrid

You can easily customize your watchface in the Fossil Smartwatch app. I chose a picture of my dog.

More disappointing is the Gen 6 Hybrid’s short battery life. You get an estimated week on a single charge, while the Hybrid HR and Skagen Zorn get around two weeks. I’m not sure why that is, but it likely has to do with new features and sensors. Of course, battery life always depends on usage. It’s been over a week since the Gen 6 Hybrid was charged, and I still have over 70 percent battery. Although, of course, I don’t use it as heavily as other watches I’ve tested.

Fossil made smart choices here, but it also made some unforced errors trying to fix things that weren’t broken. On the one hand, the circular dashboard improved the user experience and addressed one of the more annoying things about the previous Fossil Hybrid analogs. On the other hand, one doesn’t need on-demand SpO2 or Alexa, especially not at the cost of a week of projected battery life. Adding an improved heart rate sensor is nice, but its advantage is muted due to unreliable GPS tracking. Meanwhile, Fossil throws a unisex design with plenty of options for a more luxury watch with a distinctive look.

Fossil Gen 6 Hybrid on the Wrist

Not my usual style. This is absolutely nothing in my wardrobe.

What really holds the Gen 6 Hybrid behind is its price. If it were more affordable, I could easily see its shortcomings, as I did before. But the version I tested costs $249, and for the same price, I could buy a 40mm Samsung Galaxy Watch 4. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE starts at $279. You will get more bang for your buck with both of these smartwatches. As for the hybrid analogs, the Withings ScanWatch costs $279.95 and has FDA approval for ECG and sleep disturbance monitoring. The Garmin Vivomove Sport is only $179.99, stylish as hell, is much better at fitness tracking, and most importantly, it Nails The perfect mix of look, function and price. Unless you really like the design of the Gen 6 Hybrid, there are many better options out there.

The Gen 6 Hybrid is not a terrible watch. It does what it is supposed to do for its target audience. In 2019 that may be enough, but in 2022, it’s not going to cut it.

Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge

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