Fossil Gen 5 LTE review: Untethered and outdated

Fossil Gen 5 LTE snowSource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

Wear OS might not have the best reputation, but that’s beginning to change, and 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 had 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 changed with the Fossil Gen 5 LTE.

Even with the latest Fossil Gen 6 already out, the Gen 5 LTE remains the sole Fossil smartwatch with cellular connectivity. 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 that continues with the Gen 6. But with the new models already out, is the Fossil Gen 5 LTE worth a look?

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Fossil Gen 5 LTE review:

Fossil Gen 5 LTE SmokeFossil Gen 5 LTE Smoke

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.

The Good

  • Streamlined design
  • LTE connectivity is very useful
  • Wear OS isn’t completely terrible
  • Built-in GPS is great for fitness tracking

The Bad

  • Battery life takes a hit with LTE
  • No new hardware besides the cellular modem
  • No Wear OS 3 upgrade

Fossil Gen 5 LTE: Price and availability

The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is available to purchase directly from Fossil, or you can pick it up at Best Buy. However, with limited carrier support, the watch is only compatible with Verizon’s network in the U.S. That means regardless of where you buy it, you’ll need to use it with that carrier. Thus, it’s likely best to pick it up straight from Verizon, as you’ll be able to break up the payment into installments instead of paying it all upfront.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE: What I like

Fossil Gen 5 LTE

Fossil Gen 5 LTESource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

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.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE Comparison

Fossil Gen 5 LTE ComparisonFossil Gen 5 LTE ComparisonFossil Gen 5 LTE ComparisonSource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

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. 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. Still, 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, leaving 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. Fossil also recently added its Wellness app to the watch, which can automatically track certain metrics. And 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 or Spotify app while out and about. The new app experiences for Google Messages, YouTube Music, and others also make the experience a bit better on Wear OS 2.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE: What I don’t like

Fossil Gen 5 LTE Smart Battery

Fossil Gen 5 LTE Smart BatterySource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

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 often 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.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE Charging

Fossil Gen 5 LTE ChargingSource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

Some of this can likely be blamed on Wear OS 2; 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, the Fossil Gen 5 LTE is missing out on the big Wear OS 3 update that will arrive on current smartwatches next year. It’s possibly the biggest reason one might not consider this device. The update is meant to greatly improve the experience but is only coming to devices with the latest Qualcomm chip.

This is another area where the Gen 5 LTE falls behind; it’s also powered by the same Snapdragon Wear 3100 chipset instead of the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100. 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. 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.

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.

The competition

Fossil Gen 6

Fossil Gen 6Source: Fossil

The Fossil Gen 6 is here, so if you can do without LTE connectivity and don’t mind waiting for Wear OS 3, then this could be the watch for you. It is the only smartwatch with the Snapdragon Wear 4100+, so it runs Wear OS very well, especially with the coprocessor helping to power things in the background.

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is the only smartwatch running Wear OS right now, so if you want the latest and greatest experience from Google and Samsung, this is the watch to get. The experience can be a bit of a mixed bag without Google Assistant and a few other gripes. However, you get a choice of different models, sizes, and styles, as well as optional LTE from various carriers.

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 and will also receive the new Wear OS 3 update.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE: Should you buy

Fossil Gen 5 LTE Review

Fossil Gen 5 LTE ReviewSource: Derrek Lee / Android Central

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 should not buy this if …

You’re not a Verizon customer

The Fossil Gen 5 LTE is only compatible with Verizon’s network, so if you’re on T-Mobile, AT&T, or really any other carrier, it won’t sync the number with your smartphone, which pretty much defeats the point.

You want the latest and greatest

With its aging chipset, the Fossil Gen 5 LTE isn’t the most up-to-date smartwatch, and that’ll become even more obvious when Wear OS 3 launches. The watch gets some newer app experiences, but the watch will miss out on the most important update.

You own an iPhone

While the Fossil series is normally compatible with iPhones to some extent, the Gen 5 LTE misses out on the compatibility, and there’s no saying if or when it will gain this ability.

3 out of 5

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 three-year-old hardware. It also doesn’t help that the watch won’t run the latest software from Google.

Fossil Gen 5 LTE SmokeFossil Gen 5 LTE Smoke

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.

Review Changelog, October 2021

This article was originally published in February 2021. It was updated in October 2021 to reflect the following changes.

  • Added Price and Availability section.
  • Included the latest news regarding Wear OS 3 and app updates.
  • Updated the competition section with some of the latest products.

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