Fossil’s Q Marshal unisex smartwatch – stylish and practical, but with some shortcomings

A short battery life, lack of heart rate monitor and heavy weight are negatives for a product already up against it in a market dominated by smartphones and dwindling watch wearers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 8:01am

There’s no spinning this: the smartwatch industry is in deep trouble. Global shipments fell nearly 52 per cent in the third quarter of 2016, a figure that includes underperforming Apple Watch – if even the Cupertino giant with the fervent fanbase can’t make it, who can?

Smartwatches are dead…for now

But Fossil isn’t letting up. The American watchmaker recently released two new smartwatches that aim to track fitness, bridge the gap between you and your Android smartphone (is that even necessary when everyone’s glued to their phone these days?), add some style to your outfit, and of course, tell the time.

We gave the larger and more unisex of the two watches, the Q Marshal, a trial run.

Hardware and design The Q Marshal is beautifully crafted and unapologetically chunky: its case is 45mm wide and 14mm thick, with a tachymeter-style ring (which adds extra bulk despite the ring offering no function) that wraps around the face. This is a watch that makes no pretensions about being a sleek IoT (Internet of Things) gadget; it aspires to be a classic timepiece that people who care about wearing cufflinks and tie clips admire.

The Q Marshal’s high-end feel is accentuated by the metal bands with a clasp that came with this review unit – the strap is removable, and Fossil also sells variants of the watch with a more casual brown leather strap.

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The face consists of a 1.5-inch LCD display panel with a resolution of 360 X 360. That’s a PPI (pixel-per-inch) of 229, which is laughably low for modern smartphones, but is passable for a smartwatch.

What is problematic about the display is that the colours appear dull and there’s a visible “flat tyre” effect (when a black bar appears at the bottom of a circular display … more on this later). Still, it’s bright enough to use outdoors, and it gets the job done.

To this reviewer – and perhaps most millennials who have traded in suits for hoodies – the watch’s hefty weight (the review unit is 250g, but with another strap it would be lighter) and size makes it uncomfortable to wear all day.

Features This being an Android Wear device, the Q Marshal syncs with an Android phone very easily, and once paired, notifications come through in almost real time from Google’s native apps such as Gmail to WeChat (WhatsApp, however, doesn’t seem to work). Being able to read incoming emails and messages on your wrist is cool, especially the ability to respond by speaking into the watch (this works great for short clips on WeChat, doing so on Gmail would drive one insane). Google Maps has built-in navigation too, but I found it spotty and unreliable. Apps and widgets can be swiped and scrolled just like on a smartphone, but animations are a lot more jittery.

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The watch is rated IP68 (the same as the Samsung Galaxy S7, and one point higher than the iPhone 7) against water and sweat, which means you can take it with you for a swim or a run, but its heaviness would make the experience quite uncomfortable. The watch can track your steps and sleep patterns but that’s about it due to the omission of a heart rate monitor (quite a big missing feature considering many smartwatches have them).

Running on a Snapdragon 2100 chip, one would think the Q Marshal would have stronger battery life than older smartwatches, but that is not the case: you’ll have to recharge the Q Marshal every night, as it will not last more than 20 hours.

Conclusion The Fossil Q Marshal is a great looking watch with premium craftsmanship, but the low battery life, lack of heart rate sensor and flat tire display – usually a compromise manufacturers make to cram in sensors for proximity or ambient lights… which this watch doesn’t even have – is inexcusable for a product costing US$315.

There’s a reason smartwatches have slumped in sales so badly in year two – most people just don’t see a need for a “smart” watch (or a regular watch, for that matter) when a smartphone is with them almost every waking minute of the day.

The Fossil Q Marshal isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.