With smartwatches not quite flying off shelves as expected, we’ve seen approaches to wearables diverge. Apple and Google have both gone down the mini-smartphone path with WatchOS and Android Wear, but more recently, we’ve seen a much more interesting concept — the hybrid smartwatch. Analog in both appearance and reality, hybrid smarwatches have hardware inside that can power Bluetooth connectivity, fitness tracking, and basic smartphone notifications. It’s a compelling idea — thus far, most smartwatch functions and apps are still more convenient to use on a smartphone, and with that shining digital display, they’ll never look as elegant or fashionable as a traditional watch (no matter how many custom watch faces they create). Hybrid smartwatches retain the physical appeal of the analog watch while preserving smartwatch functions that have proven useful.
Fossil has been one of the leaders in hybrid smartwatches thus far. By using a single hardware platform and putting it into multiple designs for men and women alike, their smartwatches are much more varied in appearance while remaining simple and unobtrusive. This year, Fossil released a new batch of Q hybrid smartwatches with upgraded hardware, and we’ve had the chance to try out a couple of them — the more feminine Q Tailor and the more masculine Q Nate. Turns out, Fossil has done well, making smartwatches that are helpful while not being distracting. And, while they still are held back a little by thickness, we can tell that Fossil is definitely onto something with their hybrid smartwatches.
The hybrid Q watches are very simple, and they have to be — they’re analog watches! Instead of a digital display and a bunch of apps, we have a classic watch face with minute and hour hands and a small sub-dial. On the side of the case, there are three physical buttons.
The Q watches require use of the Q app. After setting up an account, a Q watch can be paired using Bluetooth through the app, which was a straightforward process. From there, you can make the Q your own. If nothing else is set up, the watch will count your steps and sync its data every time the app is opened (the watch can track steps on its own without an active connection to a smartphone). Using the step counter, the Q app will approximate distance traveled and calories burned. As you might imagine, none of that data ends up being as accurate as you might find using more fitness-specialized apps and wearables. But, if you just want something that will let you know if you’re becoming more or less active over time, these watches are good enough. You can also set a daily goal within the app, then monitor your progress on the top half of the subdial. There is sleep tracking if you wear the watch at night, but they’re not watches that are particularly comfortable to wear to bed (especially the larger Q Nate).
By far the most useful feature is smartphone notifications. In the previous generation, Q watches would vibrate and flash an LED light when a notification came in, leading to some complaints about the brightness of the LED light. Fossil’s solution is a clever one. In the app, six contacts can be assigned to numbers one through six, while numbers seven through ten can be assigned to notifications from specific apps. When a notification comes in from one of those contacts or apps, the watch will buzz and the hour and minute hands will turn to the appropriate number, before reverting back to the time after a few seconds. It’s a more discreet way to tell you who’s contacting you, and it’s been implemented very well.
The Q watches have a few other functions tied to the physical side buttons. The bottom button can be used to ping a lost phone, act as a remote shutter, or control music. Response time for all of those is almost immediate upon pressing the button, but it can only be assigned to one of those purposes at a time. The center button brings up alarm times, a second time zone, and the date when pressed in succession. The top button is dedicated to the date.
The Q app is compatible with Google Fit, the Under Armour suite of fitness apps, and the Jawbone UP app. The watch can be connected to those three apps using the Q app, after which the watch’s data will sync to that app automatically. That happens alongside syncing with the Q app, which was reliable.
Given that there’s no heavy-duty processor or digital display, voice commands aren’t possible, which was the one big feature we missed here that we have on fully-fledged smartwatches. Personally, I didn’t miss it that much — after a couple weeks of wearing these watches, I vastly preferred them to something more attention-grabbing, like an Apple Watch or an Android Wear smartwatch.
The other bonus to having a hybrid watch is longer battery life. By keeping features to the bare minimum, Fossil has managed to squeeze out a battery life of about six months. The watches are powered by a replaceable coin cell battery.
When we talk about smartwatches here, one of our biggest sticking points is how these devices look on smaller wrists. While things have gotten better over the years, smartwatches still look far too big on smaller wrists, and often enough the bands are too long, preventing a secure fit. Despite being hybrids, the Q watches are still much larger and thicker than expected. The Q Tailor is 14 mm thick with a 40 mm case, while the Q Nate is 13.5 mm thick with a 50 mm case. Those are actually bigger and thicker than the Apple Watch sizes, which was a little disappointing. The Q Nate ended up dominating my wrist way too much, and while the Q Tailor looked a bit better on me, it was still too big for a few friends of mine.
But, if big watches suit you, the good news is that Fossil has done great design work with these two. The Q Tailor pairs a rose gold-colored case with either a navy or brown leather band, while the Q Nate has a black case paired with a dark brown leather strap or a black stainless steel link band or a silver case with a stainless steel link band. The Q Tailor has a clean, minimal look to it, while the side buttons give it some flair and a more classic appeal. The Nate is more bulky, with a rugged appearance. The Q Nate is water-resistant to 5 ATM and the Q Tailor is water-resistant to 3 ATM, but we wouldn’t advise taking these into water — we’d expect discoloration on the cases and damage to the straps, and these are definitely meant more as fashion statements than active wearables. Given that they only do step counting, there’s really no reason to take them into water, anyway — it’s enough knowing a little rain won’t damage them.
We got the Q Tailor with the navy leather band and the Q Nate with the dark brown leather band. The leather isn’t high quality, and is a bit too stiff — you’ll get noticeable crease marks around the clasp after wearing it, and sometimes the color can scratch off a bit. But, they are comfortable, and if the bands get worn down too much, they can be removed and replaced with other bands that use sliding pins (18 mm straps for the Q Tailor, 24 mm straps for the Q Nate).