Google’s Wear OS platform is in a bit of a weird place. The operating system itself is still being periodically updated with new features and improvements, like the Tiles function that was released in May, but the third-party app library is still minimal, and Qualcomm has been slow to improve the underlying hardware. Still, Wear OS isn’t going anywhere, and the closest thing to a flagship watch is the new fifth-generation Fossil Q lineup.

As with previous generations, Fossil is manufacturing a handful of different styles and bands, but they’re all the same on the inside. There are only a handful of minor improvements over last year’s Fossil Sport, but those changes drastically cut down on the buggy behavior and jittery animations that Wear OS is known for.

The end result is that the Fossil Q Gen 5 is the best Wear OS smartwatch you can buy, but the high introductory price and stiff competition mean it’s not the best choice for everyone.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

As previously mentioned, the Fossil Q is available in a few different styles. I was sent the Black Silicone ‘Carlyle HR,’ but there are also options with grey and gold cases. All versions have the same 44mm body, making the Gen 5 lineup a bit larger than the Fossil Sport, which was available in 43 or 41mm sizes. Small wrists, beware.

The main body has two side shortcut buttons, as well as a center dial that can be used for scrolling in apps and menus. Pressing the top button opens Fossil’s customization app, the bottom button starts a Google Fit activity, and holding down on the center dial opens Google Assistant. The top and bottom buttons can be remapped from Settings > Personalization > Customize Hardware Buttons.

The bottom of the watch has the same inductive pin connector circle as the Fossil Sport, which is the next best thing to wireless charging you don’t have to carefully position the watch on the charger. Fossil says the Gen 5 can charge up to 80% after just 50 minutes, but I always just placed it on the pad as I went to bed.

If you want to replace the watch band later on, all Gen 5 watches use standard 22mm bands, so there are plenty of options from both Fossil and third parties. The included strap also has a quick-release mechanism, so swapping bands only takes a few seconds.

Moving onto the hardware inside, the Fossil Q Gen 5 uses the same Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor as the Misfit Vapor X Fossil Sport. However, this watch has 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage, while most other Wear OS watches have 500-700MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. More on that later.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Gen 5 has a speaker, so you can take phone calls and hear Google Assistant responses directly on the watch something that was missing from the Fossil Sport. This is also the first Wear OS watch that can answer calls when paired to an iPhone, but Fossil says that functionality won’t arrive until sometime this fall.

In the box, you get the watch and the USB charging cable. No power adapter is included, but who doesn’t have at least one spare USB wall adapter at this point?

Software, performance, battery

The Fossil Q Gen 5 ships with the latest version of Wear OS… or should I say versions? The underlying operating system is Wear OS ‘H,’ based on Android 9 Pie, while the Wear OS version is listed as v2.8. You generally don’t have to worry about updates on Wear OS watches, since most of the UI and apps are upgraded through the built-in Play Store.

Everything Wear OS has to offer is present on the Gen 5, from the new Tiles feature to Google Assistant. Performance is noticeably better than any other Wear OS watch I’ve tried animations are smooth, apps open quickly, and Google Assistant is more reliable (though still fails more often than I’d like). If simply adding another 0.5GB of RAM was the magic fix for most of the platform’s issues, I do wonder why Google didn’t make it a requirement for all watches.

Another highlight for the Fossil Q is the absolutely massive number of preinstalled watch faces. Fossil always adds a few more with every new watch, so the list is very long at this point. The default face is ‘Next Gen Digital,’ which has three spots for complications (Wear OS widgets) and a large digital clock. Fossil always does a great job with its watch faces, but if you somehow don’t like any of the preinstalled options, there are also a bunch on the Play Store.

The main exclusive software feature on the Gen 5 (which Fossil says will come to some older watches eventually) is the new battery mode picker. Most existing Wear OS watches have some kind of battery saver mode that shuts off the always-on display and other features, but the new Fossil Q takes that a step further.

There are four battery modes in total: ‘Daily’ keeps everything on (except always-on display), ‘Extended’ disables all radios and features except Bluetooth (you can only turn on the watch by pressing the side button), ‘Time Only’ shuts off Wear OS entirely and just displays the time, and ‘Custom’ lets you turn on/off each feature individually.

The new modes are definitely nice to have, but they remind me of Android from several years ago, when people had to use Tasker and other power-user tools to get the best battery life out of their smartphones. In the absence of smartwatch processors that can last multiple days without any problems (thanks for nothing, Qualcomm!), the new modes feel like Google is telling me, “If you want good battery life, you figure it out.”

In the Custom mode with everything enabled, I ended most days with 50-40% battery remaining — much better than the Fossil Sport, which often struggles to make it through one day, but still not as good as the Galaxy Watch Active. The ‘Extended’ mode used around 30% of battery life each day, but only being able to turn on the watch by pressing the side button (and having NFC, the speaker, and other features turned off) made me not want to use it at all.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you really want a Wear OS watch. The Fossil Q Gen 5 is the best Wear OS smartwatch currently available, unless LTE connectivity is a requirement for you. It doesn’t suffer from lag and major bugs, like many other watches, though there’s still the occasional “Sorry, I didn’t understand that” from Google Assistant. The battery life is enough for at least one heavy day of use, and if you’re going to be away from a charger for a few days, the Extended or Time-Only battery modes can push the watch a bit farther.

The introductory price of $295 is what keeps me from whole-heartedly recommending this watch. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active is a hundred dollars less, and is on par (or slightly better than) the Fossil Q in most areas. Wear OS beats Samsung’s Tizen OS when it comes to notification management, navigation (with Google Maps), and the digital assistant, but the Watch Active has better battery life, excellent performance, and more reliable health tracking. There’s also a Watch Active2 on the horizon, though that model will be nearly the same price as Fossil’s watches.

The $100 price premium over the main competition might be worth it if you prefer a classic watch design, or if you know you want to use features or apps that are only available on Wear OS. If you don’t have a platform preference, the Galaxy Watch Active might still be the best choice for most people, at least until the Fossil Q goes on sale.