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Featured Review: Fossil Q Founder, Form Over Function

December 30, 2015 - Written By Tom Dawson

It’s been an interesting six months for Android Wear, we’ve seen the follow-up to the original Android Wear watch to beat, the Moto 360 as well as TAG Heuer enter the market with a $1,500 statement. Now though, Fossil joins the gang, a firm established in 1954 and now known for producing classy, yet edgy timepieces that appeal to a younger, more self-aware consumer. Fossil make some excellent watches for both men and women, and they always have just a little something extra about them. The Fossil Q Founder is their first Android Wear watch, and indeed one of their first smartwatches ever made. It’s a sizeable and noticeable piece of hardware, but is it an Android Wear watch to compete with those already on the market or is it simply bluffing behind good looks and a brand name?

Specs

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This must be new territory for Fossil, having their latest watch evaluated by what pieces of silicon are under-the-hood, rather than its movement. Of course, that’s what the smartwatch is all about, these are wrist-mounted computers in more than a couple of ways, and it needs to be judged by its competitors, regardless of who makes them. In many ways, the Fossil Q Founder falls short.

With a 47mm stainless steel casing and 22mm stainless steel band, the Q Founder is not light at 72g or so. For all of that you get a 1.5-inch LCD display (complete with flat tire!) which has a cut at the bottom for an ambient light sensor with a pixel density of 240 pixels per inch. There is no heart-rate monitor here and no GPS, which already puts the Q Founder behind the times. There doesn’t appear to be much info on the battery size online, but from what I could dig up, it appears as though there’s a 400 mAh cell in here. Interestingly, this can be charged using Qi wireless, just like the Moto 360, and it works with any pad you can get it to settle on. Fossil say this will get you 24-hours of battery life (more on that later on). There’s an Intel CPU on the inside here, again specifics are hard to hind, but the consensus is that this is an Intel Atom chip similar to those found in ASUS ZenFone smartphones and such. That’s about it for the the Fossil Q Founder’s spec sheet, sadly. To go with this Intel Atom CPU is 1GB of RAM as oppose to the 512MB of RAM found in most other Android Wear watches.

Design and Hardware

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The Fossil Q Founder that I was sent was the metal version, with a stainless-steel face and a link band to match. The first two things I thought when I took it out of the box were “wow, this is a nice box” followed by “this is one big watch”. When I first put it on I was umming and ahhing to myself about both how big it is and how heavy it is, seriously, this is one heavy watch. At 47mm (according to the back of the box) this is a pretty big watch, and it’s also pretty chunky as well, compared to my G Watch R it feels practically massive. It is however, remarkably well-made and it feels that way. From the reassuring click you get from the watch clasp to the resilient casing (I’ve been wearing this a few weeks with no scratches at all).

Design wise, I find myself torn when trying to sum up the Fossil Q Founder. On the one hand, I personally quite like its physical size. I’m a big guy at 6’2″ and in need of losing more than a few, so my big wrists suit this style quite nicely, but those with smaller wrists might feel swamped by this. The weight of the watch (which is about 72g) is a little heavy, but I quite like it when resting on my wrist. Again, this is personal preference here, and I can see why a lot of people would be put off by such a heavy watch, especially when wearing it day-in, day-out. So, we like the size and the heft of the watch, but what about looks? With the metal band equipped, this is a good-looking watch, but this could be from any manufacturer in the world. There are but two pieces of branding on the Q Founder, a Fossil logo underneath the watch face itself and a small stamping on the watch clasp. I’m not suggesting that manufacturers start plastering logos all over their smartwatches, but we know the TAG Heuer Connected is a TAG, this metallic band could be from any manufacturer on earth, especially at a distance.

In short, the Fossil Q Founder is a heavy, chunky smartwatch that won’t appeal to everyone. However, it’s well-made and the metal band is easily swapped out for any 22mm fitting you want, and there is a brown leather option available, so there is some flexibility. The verdict on looks with this comes down to thing; if you like large watches that look great with a metal band, the Q is for you, if you don’t, then there are better-looking alternatives out there.

Display

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For all of its charm out of the box and on my wrist, the display of the Fossil Q Founder really lets the side down. It’s a 1.5-inch LCD affair, which is already a disappointing note, but then add in the low resolution resulting in 240 pixels per inch and a cut at the bottom of the display, things get worse. Let’s tackle the “flat tire” thing head-on, it is what you make of it. For me, as an owner of the original 360 and a current owner of a G Watch R, I have to question why anyone goes this route. Still, after wearing this for a few weeks now, I don’t mind it so much. It doesn’t seem quite so severe as it can on a Moto 360, but it does still look a little ridiculous, and from Fossil? We should be seeing a fully-circular display here. Still, watch faces like Simple & Elegant have turned this into a plus point for users with some fun additions. The long and short of the flat tire thing is that it’s there to house an ambient light sensor, something I could have done without to get a fully-circular display, and really at this price point from this brand it should be fully-circular.

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Moving on, and things are a little better, depending on your outlook. The Fossil Q Founder’s display is not the sharpest out there, but it is nice and big, and using this while on the move made a big difference. Having the font set to ‘normal’ in the settings, a notification was big, easy-to-read and pleasant to digest when I would raise the Q to my face. Color wise, well, it’s a generic LCD and at times things come across as washed out and a little ‘overblown’. An OLED display this is not, and compared to the Watch Urbane or Huawei Watch, this display is disappointing. Having said that, it does get nice and bright, and was easily read in sunlight during my testing.

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Ambient mode is less helpful, as this is an LCD panel, there’s no fancy turning off some pixels but not all tricks as the Watch Urbane and co. manage. Instead, the display simply shuts off the backlight and goes dim. It’s readable in this mode, of course, but in sunlight the ambient mode is practically useless. Tilt-to-wake can fill in here, but it’s not all that accurate and I find it actually hits the battery quite hard on the Fossil Q Founder.

The display here, aside from its size, is a real low point for the Q Founder, and you really would have expected more from Fossil. I suppose that if you just want glanceable info that’s easily-read, this will get the job done, but it just doesn’t feel that premium, and Fossil’s asking price definitely makes you think that it is premium.

Software

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As I’ve been wearing the Fossil Q Founder exclusively for three weeks or so at this point, I have discovered two key things about Android Wear and the Q. 1 – Fossil included the bare minimum to make an Android Wear watch in their name and 2 – the Fossil Q Founder is in desperate need of a software update.

Tackling the Android Wear equation first, this runs the same exact software as say, a Moto 360 2nd Gen or a Huawei Watch. Everything works just fine in this regard, notifications work brilliantly, Android Wear apps are useful – depending on what you need – and watch faces work fine…most of the time. As an Android Wear watch, the Fossil Q Founder is fine, nothing more and nothing less. With no heart rate monitor and practically nothing else from Fossil themselves, this is a barebones device that doesn’t even have many watch faces from Fossil.

Speaking of which, there are six different watch faces from Fossil included here. These are Classic, Digital, Fred, Flip Digital, Kaleido and Roulette. None of these are exciting, and the only one that really looks any good – in my opinion – is the Classic face. To change these on your phone, you need to install the Fossil Q app, which is frankly a little pointless if you have the Q Founder. If you had the Q Reveler, Dreamer or Grant I can see why this app exists, but for this smartwatch it’s needless. Why I say this is needless is because it doesn’t actually interface with the watch, it redirects to the Android Wear app when choosing the Q Founder, which leaves the Q app to give you a persistent notification that there’s no device connected…

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The Fossil Q app is essentially just a way of customizing your watch faces. You can change the dial color, hand color, change the sub-eye displays and more. Weirdly, you can change all of these settings from the watch itself, but not in the Android Wear app on your phone, to do it on the phone you need to use the Fossil Q app, which is more than a little frustrating frankly. Other than that, there’s nothing else to see here. If you don’t need any more than this, then there are no problems. I found that I didn’t care for the Fossil watch faces anyway, so the Q app is basically unnecessary, but these watch faces look and feel like they were rushed and they sour the whole experience.

Speaking of souring the experience, there is a bizarre quirk that afflicts the Q Founder every now and then. I find it happens most when I take it off of the charger, but it does sometimes happen randomly during the day. It might not happen for two days, and then it might happen every day. The issue is that the watch sort of goes crazy. It’s hard to describe, but the watch will continually turn the screen off when trying to operate the thing, opening settings and scrolling down to restart can end up with you going back and repeating the whole process time-after-time. The watch just gets in a mood where it doesn’t want to play ball, and every time you swipe up for a card it will turn the screen off and so on. The only fix for this I find is to change the watch face and then reboot. I did initially think this was a problem with third-party watch faces, but the same happens with the Fossil faces, more often, actually and so I think this is why the Q Founder needs a software update. This is inexcusable behavior for a watch, something that you expect to just work, all the time, whenever you want it to. There are other issues as well, like the battery stats in the Android Wear app showing basically no information at all, aside from a sketchy report on how much time you have left on the battery. Another software update is needed here, and hopefully Fossil is already working on one to quash these bugs and more.

Performance

With an Intel CPU under-the-hood, people might think this could be another case of an oddball processor creating a poor overall experience. I can tell you that this is not the case. Using my G Watch R, running the same Snapdragon 400 and 512MB of RAM as practically everything else out there, the Fossil Q Founder is just as quick, if not quicker. There’s 1GB of RAM here, and while I don’t think that makes much difference right now, some of the larger apps I use seem to appear quicker on the Q Founder, but that could be anecdotal, of course. The Fossil Q Founder performs admirably the vast majority of the time, and even heavier apps like the new Spotify browser run nice and quickly.

There’s little else to say here, the Fossil Q Founder performs just as well as you’d want it to, and it even goes a little above that, to be honest.

Battery Life

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Welcome to the biggest mixed bag of results I have seen on a smartwatch. For the first week or more, I was getting abysmal battery life out of the Fossil Q Founder, like the sort of battery life that had me thinking it was defective. Then, after I discovered that the Android TV remote app was to blame, things mercifully got a lot better, but they’re still not OLED watch levels, and they never will be.

As of writing, it is 10:25 AM for me and the watch has been unplugged since 09:05 AM and I have 87% battery life with the screen on the whole time. Android Wear tells me I have another 17 hours to go before she hits zero. I would go with this, especially going by the previous day’s more normal usage with the screen on all day and about 35% left at 12:00 AM when I took it off. The battery life here is the sort of thing that will work for some, and not for others. Don’t see the point in having the display on when you’re not looking at it? You’ll get a day and then some. However, should you have a lot of time taken up by notifications and interactions with the watch – coupled with an always-on display – that 24 hours can start look more like 15 and sometimes even 12 hours. General, everyday usage however should see the majority of users from morning to night with few issues, if at all.

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I was glad that I stuck with the battery life on the Q Founder, as I now see that it’s not nearly as bad as I had heard or saw for myself when I first used it. Still, my G Watch R is laughing at the Q Founder, as the OLED display would enable the G Watch R on my usage to get two-days or so of use with little fanfare. This is the price users will have to pay at Fossil’s choice to go with an LCD display, they are nowhere near as efficient and as an always-on display they don’t really save much power. Long story short; the Fossil Q Founder will get most users from the morning until the evening, but not much more than that.

The party piece here however is the charger. Fossil calls this a ‘cuff’ and it’s essentially the pillow found inside watch boxes gone digital. There’s a microUSB port on the back of this cuff, a little padding and some plastic sides to keep it upright. In the center is a translucent charging pad which is basically a Qi wireless charger. The watch rests on this pad to charge, and it’s actually one of the nicer chargers I have seen on an Android Wear watch, it is certainly a cut above LG’s and Huawei’s chargers that they include with their offerings. The LEDs however, might be annoying for some, when charging it’s red and when fully-charged it turns blue. These LEDs are bright, and I really wouldn’t recommend putting this on your bedside table if it’s right next to your face. They are annoying. Put further away however, and there are no issues to be had with such a charger, and it’s a very nice addition from Fossil.

Verdict

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The Fossil Q Founder is an interesting Android Wear watch, it has some plus points, but more head-scratching low points than you would expect from Fossil. The lack of a heart rate sensor is, in my eyes, acceptable as nobody wants to go running or hit the gym with something this heavy on their wrist. The flat tire and LCD display though? On a watch that costs $295 (the brown leather version is $275) we shouldn’t be seeing either, and while the flat tire is not that big a deal, the lack of an OLED display is a true head-scratcher. Then there’s the software side of things, going with Android Wear is the right path to take, but then adding in just six, and six not-so-good-looking watch faces at that is just not what we’d expect from Fossil, and frankly smacks of laziness.

Having said all of that, the Fossil Q Founder is not a bad watch, it’s just not a great watch. If you’re a fan of metal watches and want something a little bigger, then the Fossil Q Founder will be a pleaser. The same goes for users that don’t need oodles of battery life or added software features. Make no mistake though, the Fossil Q Founder is most definitely form over function, and there’s only so much substance beneath this pretty face. Personally, I really like the larger face size and overall look, but many more won’t put up with the foibles of the Q Founder just because it looks nice. Perhaps in a future version, Fossil can perfect things, because right now they have the hardware and design right, but not too much else.

Buy the Fossil Q Founder from Amazon