This year at CES, I met with Fossil to see its new Sport Smartwatch, and when I wrote about the experience, I called it a game-changer. The Wear OS market has been lacking in recent years, with big, bulky devices that frankly aren't pleasant to use. While Android fans may not want to admit it, Apple was probably the only ones making a smartwatch that actually provides a great experience, from design to the user experience.
And that's why I called the Fossil Sport a game-changer, because as soon as I put one on my wrist, I thought that this could replace my Apple Watch. It was the first time that I legitimately felt that way about a Wear OS device. It's light, it's not bulky, and it's just delightful.
I've actually been contemplating a full switch to Android for some time, as I'll take Huawei's Mate 20 Pro over the iPhone Xs Max any day, regardless of the price. But the Apple Watch was really what kept me using an iPhone as a daily driver.
So it only seems natural to weigh the pros of both the Apple Watch Series 4 and the Fossil Sport. To be clear, my testing is the Apple Watch paired with an iPhone Xs Max, and the Fossil Sport is paired with an Honor View 20. Note that Wear OS works with iPhone, and it works quite well since it has its own Google Play Store on the watch. However, if you pair Wear OS with an iPhone, notifications will work differently, and you can't interact with them in the same way. Now that that's out of the way, let's look at the Apple Watch Series 4 and the Fossil Sport.
Apple Watch benefits
Hands down, Apple still has the better operating system, and while this has become something of a cliche in recent years, it just works. The biggest thing is that it works better with the device it's paired with. Most importantly, it knows that if I put my phone on do not disturb, to put the Watch in the same mode. If I clear a notification on my Apple Watch, it clears on my iPhone as well. This kind of continuity is invaluable.
One of my biggest problems with Wear OS is that it mostly acts as a separate entity when it comes to these things. I can't tell you how many times I've been woken up in the middle of the night be a Wear OS watch vibrating because I didn't set the watch to do not disturb, even though my phone is set to not disturb me. Oh, and that brings me to another point, which is that the Apple Watch is smart enough to know not to give you notifications when you're not wearing it.
Apple is doing a lot of great work with its custom Apple Watch CPUs, and Qualcomm is, well, not doing much in terms of performance. The Apple Watch seems to jump in performance by leaps and bounds every year, while the Snapdragon Wear platform hasn't made many improvements at all.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 3100 uses ARM Cortex-A7, the same architecture that was in the Snapdragon Wear 2100 before that, and the same architecture that was in the Snapdragon 400 before that. Yes, that's all three generations of Wear OS that use the same architecture. Of course, there are some benefits in the Snapdragon Wear 3100, but we'll get to that later.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is fast, and the Fossil Sport feels the same as previous Wear OS watches I've used. Apps take a long time to load, too long in fact. If you load an app on a smartwatch and the display goes to sleep before the app loads, it's too long.
Apple's days of solid gold Watches are behind it, but man, my stainless steel Apple Watch is just sexy. While I love the Fossil Watch and its design, it's just not as beautiful as a stainless steel Apple Watch.
Apple also gets points for the rectangular display; here me out on this. Google's Android wearable platform has clearly went the route of round displays, and it makes sense. Regular watches are round, so we want our smartwatches to look like that. The only problem is that a rectangular display is still the best for displaying information. While Wear OS is supposed to be built for circular displays, I can't say how many times I've been annoyed by the way that information is cut off.
Fossil Sport benefits
It's just so light!
There's nothing worse that having a big, bulky, and heavy item on your wrist, and the Fossil Sport is the opposite of that. It's lighter than any smartwatch I've used, and it feels amazing. Holding it side-by-side with the Apple Watch shows a big difference. When you pick up the Fossil Sport, it feels like a dummy unit, like there's no battery inside of it.
Ambient display, and the Snapdragon 3100
One of the biggest benefits of Google's Wear OS platform has always been that it supports an ambient display, meaning that you can view the time without raising the watch to wake it up. Apple has never supported this key feature.
But while the Snapdragon 3100 hasn't really delivered on performance improvements, it has delivered on efficiency improvements. It uses a new big-small-tiny architecture, which is pretty much big.LITTLE scaled down for wearables. That means that when it's doing tasks like showing an ambient display, it isn't sucking down power.
Because of this, it also unlocks new capabilities in the ambient display. We can now have ambient displays in color, and they can even have a second-hand. All of this stuff is a huge improvement over the Apple Watch.
Wear OS and the Google Play Store
The fact that Wear OS has its own standalone app market means that Wear OS devices are better at being standalone. They work better when you don't have your phone with you, although unfortunately, there's no cellular variant of the Fossil Sport. It does work over Wi-Fi though.
That means that you can download apps that aren't installed on your phone, something you cannot do with Apple Watch. This is also a huge benefit when using a Wear OS device with an iPhone.
You're not tied to an ecosystem
As I mentioned earlier, the Apple Watch was the main thing tying me to an iPhone as my daily driver, and I hated that. The Apple Watch is really such a good device, and I don't want to go without a smartwatch. With a device that I love and can use with any phone I want, I have more freedom.
The Fossil Sport is $255, and the Apple Watch Series 4 starts at $399. Enough said.
What they both do
Obviously, both devices have the smartwatch functionality that we've come to expect. They can both show notifications from your phone, probably the most important feature of a smartwatch. They both track your fitness and they both have digital assistants, although both of those things work through their respective services.
These are both fantastic devices, and I'm loving the Fossil Sport. I ended up purchasing one when I cracked my Apple Watch and found out that Apple actually charges $399 to fix the stainless steel model if you don't have AppleCare; it's $299 to fix the base model. As of this moment, I'm not looking back.
Make sure to check back next week for a full review!