Fossil Q Control review: All style and no substance

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The Q Control is Fossil’s first to include a heart-rate monitor, but it lacks other essential fitness features

Pros
  • Looks good
  • Google Assistant
  • Plenty of Android Wear apps
Cons
  • Poor battery life
  • No GPS
  • No NFC

Fossil’s Q Control is a sophisticated-looking Android Wear smartwatch, and the brand’s first to include a heart-rate monitor. Thanks to this new feature for the fitness-minded, it’s been labelled as a “Sport Smartwatch” on the company’s website. But how does it stack up against other sports-orientated smartwatches such as the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear Sport and Huawei Watch 2?

What you need to know

The Fossil Q Control runs Android Wear and is compatible with phones running Android version 4.3 and iOS 9 onwards. It has a full-colour 1.4in OLED display, 4GB of internal storage and an optical heart-rate sensor, which regularly measures your heart rate throughout the day.

The watch is waterproof to 5ATM, so you can wear it in the shower or when you go for a swim, and it is possible to track swims via third-party apps you can download from Google Play. It has no GPS, so if you want to track runs accurately you’ll need to take your phone too. Because it runs Android Wear, you can use Google Play Music to store music offline and Google Assistant to send messages, get directions and check your schedule for the day. The watch doesn’t support contactless payments via NFC.

Price and competition

Bearing in mind its £280 price tag, the Q Control’s main competition comes from our favourite smartwatch and fitness tracker, the Apple Watch Series 3, which is a smidge more expensive at £329. Other rival devices include the Huawei Watch 2, which also runs Android Wear and is now available from £199, despite being packed with many more features including GPS, NFC and an altimeter. Samsung’s Gear Sport – which runs Tizen rather than Android Wear – is also a similar price, and comes with GPS, NFC and lets you store Spotify tracks offline.

Design

The Fossil Q Control is a pretty nice-looking, watch. It has a chunky steel metal casing that exudes a certain amount of style and sophistication – just as you’d expect from a brand that’s associated with fashion accessories. Just be aware that the Fossil branding is essentially limited to a tiny diamond on the end of the crown. There are two Fossil logos on the reverse of the strap too, but since nobody will see these, there’s very little clue who the smartwatch is actually made by.

Once it was on my wrist, I was rather less enthusiastic about the watch’s chunky design: it feels both weighty and somewhat uncomfortable. The size isn’t a deal breaker per se – it doesn’t feel a whole lot bigger or heavier than the Samsung Gear Sport, for example – but there are plenty of other wearables I’d rather run with, which isn’t exactly the greatest endorsement for a sports watch. The optical heart-rate sensor does at least sit flush with the back of the casing, meaning it won’t become any more uncomfortable when you leave it on your wrist for hours at a time.

To control the smartwatch, there’s the 1.4in full-colour OLED touchscreen and one button on the right side, which lets you hop between the app drawer and the home screen. The screen’s 450 x 450-pixel resolution looks good, but an air gap between the front glass panel and the display means that it falls short of greatness.

Another method of navigation comes via the watch’s “virtual touch bezel”, which lets you scroll through apps, notifications or emails without swiping up and down on the touchscreen. In theory, this should be a nice touch (excuse the pun), but I rarely found myself using it, not least because my hand sometimes ended up obscuring the screen. Garmin found an excellent workaround for this problem with the Vivoactive 3, placing a touch panel on the side of the casing.

The Q Control uses a 20mm black silicone strap, so you can easily swap it out when it wears out or should you want to add a bit more character. I found the strap comfortable, and there are plenty of notches for both bigger and smaller wrists than mine.

Fossil’s website claims the Q Control uses wireless charging, but in reality what you get is a small four-pin magnetic charging pad that you perch the watch on top of. Not having to connect a cable might sound like a perk, but it really isn’t. On three separate occasions, I thought I’d left the device charging, only to come back and find its battery still totally empty. I’d much rather spend a few seconds attaching a cable and later detaching it than spend a whole morning without the watch because it hasn’t charged.

Performance and features

Fossil pitches the Q Control as a sports watch, so I’ll begin by looking at its performance as a fitness tracker. Like most smartwatches today, the Q Control automatically logs metrics including step count and heart rate. These can be easily viewed via the Google Fit app, where you can also set specific fitness goals.

When you want to log a workout manually, you just open the aptly named Fit Workout, which lets you choose from an enormous list of activities, from cycling and running to strength training and downhill skiing. Unfortunately, because there’s no built-in GPS, you’ll need to have your phone if you want to track your movements precisely.

It’s pretty unforgivable that a new “sports watch” wouldn’t have built-in GPS. One of the main perks of owning a fitness-orientated watch, as opposed to a regular smartwatch, is that you can accurately track runs and bike rides without needing to bring your phone.

Along with its lack of GPS, the watch is also lacking a barometric altimeter, so you won’t know how many steps you climb throughout the day. One thing in its favour is that it’s waterproof to 5ATM – approximately 50m – which means you can wear it in the pool. There’s no swimming mode in the Fit app, but you can keep track of your pool workouts with the third-party app MySwimPro.

A brand-new feature as far as Fossil smartwatches are concerned, the Q Control’s heart-rate monitor was sadly one of the worst I’ve tested. Every time I checked the watch on a brisk bike ride across London, I was surprised to see it display a pulse no higher than 90bpm. Meanwhile, the Garmin Vivosport on my other wrist showed much more believable figures, normally around 110bpm. At the end of the workout, I was even more astonished to see the watch claim my heart rate peaked at 200bpm which, although not impossible, seemed very unlikely.

Checking your resting heart rate can also feel like more of a chore compared to other watches like the Gear Sport and Vivoactive 3, because there’s no dedicated heart-rate widget – in fact, in Android Wear there are no widgets at all. Instead, each time you want to check your heart-rate stats, you need to scroll to find and open the Google Fit app.

The Q Control’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip and 768MB of RAM is speedy enough to keep everything running smoothly , but unfortunately, battery life was another area in which I found it a total letdown. The Fossil website claims it as “Estimated all day” and this is pretty much spot on.  If you charge it overnight, the battery should last until the following evening, but there’s no way it will make it through the night.

In short, it’s a good thing that Android Wear doesn’t natively support sleep tracking, because it’d be redundant on this watch. Poor battery life is one of the main criticisms levelled at the Apple Watch Series 3, and even that stretches to a day and a half, and the Samsung Gear Sport easily lasts a couple of days. Fossil really needs to do better.

Unlike many of its sports watch counterparts, the Fossil Q Control also lacks NFC. Given you’ll already need to take your phone with you on runs and bike rides for GPS, I suppose the assumption is that you’ll be able to make contactless payments with your phone too. But even at times when you’d always have your phone, like on the bus or the underground, it’s much easier to tap your watch than reach into your pocket for your phone.

Android Wear and apps

So far, the review reads like a bit of a barrage of criticisms, but one thing the Q Control does have going for it is that it runs Android Wear. Agenda, Contacts, Fit, Keep Reminders and Weather are useful preinstalled apps that help you keep on top of daily tasks without having to always reach for your phone. The Android Wear Play Store is also much better stocked with third-party apps than Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store, so you can install Telegram, Messenger, Strava and Runtastic among many others.

Google Assistant is another great boon. Just long-press the watch’s button and you can use the virtual assistant to send a text or WhatsApp message, get directions with Google Maps, or check your agenda. You can even start tracking your run, or check your step count and heart rate with simple voice commands.

That’s not to say that Android Wear is totally flawless. The music controls worked really well when playing Spotify from my phone, and I could even start browsing my Spotify library with the right combination of taps and swipes, but whenever I tried opening it from the app list the Spotify app simply would not play ball. The Q Control’s 4GB of built-in storage will let you store music offline, but only using Google Play Music.

Verdict

The Q Control is a great-looking watch, but unfortunately, that’s where my endorsements for it end. Unlike many of its competitors, it lacks GPS, meaning you get very little useful fitness data to work with unless you’re prepared to take your phone with you wherever you exercise. I found its heart-rate sensor highly inaccurate, and there’s no NFC chip for making contactless payments either. Android Wear offers plenty of great smart features and a strong range of third-party apps, but to really compete with sports smartwatches in 2018, the Fossil Q needs to offer much, much more.

(expertreviews.co.uk, https://goo.gl/zZnYus)

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