For years in smart wearables we’ve worn devices created by technology companies first, and the somewhat wonky design was something we just had to accept. Then smartwatch makers got smart, and started coming out with some great designs … but few of them rival the ‘traditional’ watchmakers.
More recently we’ve seen these more traditional brands getting into smart wearables, and it’s something I’m very much in favour of; good designs upgraded with smart internals, rather than smart internals packaged in what a tech company thinks is good design.
Fossil have been making watches for quite some time, and their design nous shows. The Q Explorist HR is perhaps the best looking smartwatch I’ve had the chance to wear.
Fossil have been at this a little while now, and I’ll be quite honest here: their past designs really hadn’t caught my attention much. Android Wear (as it then was) and more recently Wear OS was held back by fairly ordinary hardware designed for the platform, and manufacturers had to do what they could with it.
Of course, I’m talking about Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset which was dated 18-months ago (it was announced in February 2016), and which watchmakers are still forced to use because there’s little other viable alternative.
In the Q Explorist HR, though, Fossil have packaged aging technology (which has not aged especially well) into a beautiful watch, and to the company’s credit, they’ve wringed every last scintilla of performance the Wear 2100 chipset is capable of.
The Q Explorist HR is a solid, almost heavy-feeling watch that sits extremely comfortably on your wrist. This is no plastic fantastic watch, it has presence and though it isn’t unpleasantly so, it has a heft which lets you know it’s there.
It includes just about everything you could want in a smartwatch; NFC circuitry for use with Google Pay, a heart-rate monitor, a rotating crown for a unique (but hardly obligatory) way to interact with Wear OS, an assortment of beautiful built-in watch-face options, and though I’d prefer wireless charging, the magnetic charging clip is a masterpiece.
Plenty of watches use fixed charging pins – Huawei Watch 2, for example – and it’s very easy to not clip it on properly, resulting in a flat battery instead of a charged one. Fossil’s innovation here is very welcome.
Though I’ve not captured a photo of the rear of the watch (yes, I rarely took it off), it has two concentric charging rings which clip onto the magnetic base perfectly, every time. This means the orientation of the charger doesn’t matter; it always has contact with the two rings, and this means a perfect charge every night.
The Q Explorist HR is waterproof, fairly tough (it handles the daily bangs into walls, desks, and other things you carelessly do with your watch) without showing any signs of damage.
There’s really only two things counting against Fossil’s Q Explorist HR, and that’s cost, and the impending redundancy of its hardware. Starting at $429 for a leather band, and $469 for a metal band (as pictured here), the Q Explorist HR demands a bit of your money in exchange.
It’s worth noting, though, that a well-designed traditional watch can easily set you back the same amount (or many multiples more), so it’s all relative. Quality costs, and though the amount fluctuates over time, it’s rarely if ever cheap.
The other downside is what’s inside. As noted, Snapdragon Wear 2100 is more than two years old, and frankly, it should’ve been replaced a year ago. While Fossil have done an admirable job in keeping the Q Explorist HR fast and responsive, the aging platform shows itself from time to time. There’s appreciable lag in using “OK Google” to do things, and opening apps can be (but isn’t always) a slow experience.
The only thing stopping me from going out to buy one of these this weekend – and believe be, I am sorely, sorely tempted – is the promise of an updated Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform, rumoured to be announced on Monday.
On this platform, within the next six months, we’re likely to see updated models from Fossil and other watchmakers which will be much faster and more responsive, and that is arguably worth waiting for.
However, in the world of fast-moving consumer goods, where mobile phones, wearables and accessories might only last in your possession for months rather than years, the Q Explorist HR Gen 4 is the best watch you can go and buy today, and if it tides you over until a newer, better model is released in a few months, that’s probably a good enough reason to go buy one.