When I tested the new Fossil Gen 6 smartwatch, I was struck by how Wear OS has calcified to a mediocre software platform that has really not convinced me to move away from my iOS ecosystem. I’m not saying the Apple Watch is for everyone, but it still feels like the best solution out there, and I’m not convinced to switch.
Unfortunately, my opinion is heavily influenced by the unequal territoriality of smartwatches and phone operating systems: Apple Watches only work with iPhones, while the latest Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 only works with Androids (bucking its predecessor’s tendency for multi-OS compatibility). However, watches that support both mobile operating systems are stuck with Wear OS 2.0, which has not been upgraded for years.
It is an unfortunate reality and one that forces consumers to choose their exclusive ecosystem in ways that are as unnecessary as they are embarrassingly retrograde. It’s never been cool for Apple to keep Apple Watch compatibility exclusively with iOS devices, though we’ll conflictingly understand how much more seamlessly you can make interactions by focusing on just your internal operating system. But locking the Galaxy Watch 4 out of iOS feels like a loss, especially since it prevents the new Wear OS 3 from going toe-to-toe with watchOS.
Fossil Gen 6 is the compromise that works with both Android and iOS devices, but unfortunately it will not be upgraded to Wear OS 3 until 2022. Meanwhile, potential buyers are stuck in a limbo with handling the current Wear OS 2.0 , which has not had much refinement for years while waiting for new features and integrations with Android 12 (like a dial that matches your phone’s color palette through Material You).
All of Fossil Gen 6’s speed via its Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus chipset is wasted on an aging interface — these smooth transitions only switch between some basic downloaded-by-default apps. I also need to manually restore the watch to my iPhone on a fairly frequent basis, a condition that may not apply to Android phones. And it’s not like switching to a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is a good alternative – I would literally have to switch phone operating systems, which is easy to do as a reviewer, but a tough ask for most consumers, especially since some features are only available if you have a Samsung phone.
My Apple Watch stays on until I have a good reason to switch
And really, what I’m arguing here is not about what’s the absolute best smartwatch you can buy – I’m talking about inertia and that there’s not much reason to switch away from a setup that works, because see the development seems even more glacial than it is in phones. By and large, smartwatches did not get any major new features in 2021, and the year before, we only added oxygen measurements in the blood via SpO2 sensors after the broad adoption of the ECG in 2019 – which are important features for users who are specifically concerned about sleep apnea or cardiac arrhythmia, but not very useful for most people.
Instead, what keeps me using my Apple Watch 5 is inertia and the lack of an exciting reason to upgrade, let alone jump to a Wear OS watch. What would that require? The same continuous connection with my phone, to begin with, but also some of the other benefits of seamless integration, such as intuitively using the same Focus mode that my iPhone is set to (or at least do not disturb), integration of my calendar appointments, and sharing simple tasks like timers. Having an app to act as a shutter button for the phone’s cameras is the kind of touch I’m talking about.
It’s a shame as I really think the Fossil Gen 6 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 are the coolest smartwatches you can buy — they have the panache of traditional watch design absent on the pear-shaped, square Apple Watch. In many ways, the Fossil Gen 6 is the best traditional watch we’ve got that still works with iOS and Android phones (just above the TicWatch Pro 3, in my opinion), but I ultimately value interoperability more than looks.
Other people may think differently, and that’s okay – in this post, at least I’m not trying to steer buyers in one direction or another. (If you’re on the hunt, check out our best smartwatches page for actual buying advice.) But the laptop market is few, and even fewer, now that Samsung has folded its Tizen OS into Google’s Wear OS 3. If you have not felt motivated to upgrade to a new, expensive smartwatch, I do not blame you – and I’m just as much waiting to be swept off my feet with show-stopping watch features.