The Fossil Hybrid HR is a very different breed of hybrid smartwatch than what we’ve become accustomed to.
Instead of the smart elements being completely hidden, Fossil’s latest hybrid blends widgets, notifications and workout tracking into the face through an all-new E Ink display.
It follows a trend within hybrid smartwatches that is seeing watches move away from invisible smart features and instead promote different ways to show off what’s being tracked. All still, of course, while keeping the analogue hands.
However, while Garmin’s latest efforts offer a colorful and sharp display that appears when you tap, and Withings shows off its smarter features in a small dial, Fossil is taking things slightly retro with its new hybrid technology.
Compared to those two rivals, the Hybrid HR is also fairly reasonably priced. At $195, it’s roughly the same price as the Withings Steel HR Sport, but is actually cheaper than the most affordable Garmin Vivomove.
Does the E Ink route pay off for Fossil on its debut? We’ve been living with the Hybrid HR for the last few weeks in order to find out.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Design and E Ink display
We’ve always been big fans of how Fossil’s hybrids have looked. Older models could easily be mistaken for a ‘dumb’ watch – and it was only really the slightly chunky cases that gave it away.
The extra heft has become less noticeable in recent years, and the Hybrid HR is a testament to how far things have come. We had the Hybrid HR Collider model to live with, which matches up a 42mm black case and a 22mm brown leather strap.
Much of the design hallmarks of previous Fossil hybrids are still there. It’s classy, comfortable to wear and feels more like a regular analogue watch than a Garmin or Withings hybrid.
True to form, Fossil does offer its hybrid in a whole host of looks and finishes, including models for women. However, all models have the same size watch case and bring the same crown and two buttons on the side.
The most radical element of the design, obviously, is the E Ink display – the same kind of screen tech found on Amazon Kindle e-readers and Pebble’s smartwatches.
It’s easy to think about Pebble, and specifically the Time Round, when seeing the Fossil Hybrid HR for the first time. The big difference with Fossil’s watch the is the hands, which dynamically move to make it easier to view information.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of combination. LG’s Watch W7 did something similar with Wear OS, startup MyKronoz also gave it a stab and Garmin does so on its Vivomove watches. The execution from LG and MyKronoz was very fiddly, while Garmin did a much better job of things.
In our view, Fossil’s smart analogue hands are right up there with Garmin’s effort. The majority of data displayed sits above and below the watch hands, which move to sit horizontally at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock to make room.
On the default watch screen, it’s going to inevitably cover up some icons showing your data in favour of telling the time. To deal with that, you can flick your wrist, which will move the watch hands to let you view the obscured data.
In terms of screen visibility, in normal daylight, indoors or outdoors, things are absolutely fine on that front. When it gets darker, you’ll need to double tap on the screen to bring up the backlight. That quite feeble source of light is beamed from four corners of the watch face to make it easier to read at night.
With that said, we did suffer a fairly notable problem with the screen. On a few occasions, steam appeared inside the case, obscuring part of the watch face, as shown above.
We initially thought it was related to the one time we accidentally took it in the shower. The Hybrid HR has a 3ATM rating, which means it’s splash proof but not suitable for swimming or showering.
It seems, however, that the steaming over occurred when we put the workout mode to the test in the gym. It clearly doesn’t like the heat.
We’ve asked for official word from Fossil on whether it’s aware of an issue and if there’s anything users can do to prevent it happening, but are yet to receive any comment.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Software and navigation
With the addition of the screen, the way you interact with this watch changes markedly.
Fossil is using its own in-house operating system, as opposed to Google’s Wear OS, which is only available for full touchscreen smartwatches. It’s set up with a new Fossil Hybrid companion smartphone app, available for both iOS and Android.
While the physical buttons on Fossil hybrids were previously a way of assigning shortcut features, they have more use as far as navigating the watch UI with this technology in place. The interface definitely takes a bit of time to get used to – and it isn’t the quickest or most efficient watch to navigate through – but you do get used to it.
On the main watch screen, there’s small icons displaying data like the weather, heart rate, step counts and the date, which you can also customize. Pressing the top button takes you to the ‘Today’ screen, where you can see a snapshot of you fitness stats.
To get out of that screen, you need to use those buttons to select the Home screen option. Pressing the crown brings up your notifications. Holding down that crown launches your settings menu, where you can all of the features at your disposal.
Ease of use is not something we’d associate with the software that lives on this watch, as we say. It works, but it’s a little clunky, and those buttons are a bit stiff to press and select things, too.
Still, there’s something to work with here, and we imagine this represents the teething before a more refined and efficient second generation with the E Ink display.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Smartwatch features
There is a fair amount the Hybrid HR can do – certainly enough going on here to appease the average user – it just It doesn’t feel like Garmin hybrid levels of functionality,
You can view your notifications (although you can’t act on them), use find my phone and also take advantage of music playback controls, which let you play, pause or skip what’s playing on your phone.
What you don’t get is support for contactless payments, a smart assistant, music storage or the ability to download apps. There’s also not really much in the way of watch faces, either. You can change the widgets, as we mentioned above, but nothing more.
Viewing and reading notifications works well enough, even if you have to press those stiff pusher buttons to scroll the entire notification. In some instances, though, we were unable to clear a notification. Hopefully this is a software issue that can be sorted with an update.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Fitness and sports tracking
Fitness tracking has stepped up a notch beyond steps and sleep. You still get those things, but now you can track workouts from the watch and take on-the-spot heart rate readings.
For workout tracking, you’re relying on the accelerometer motion sensor to track, because there’s no onboard GPS or the ability to use your phone’s connection.
There’s dedicated modes for running, treadmill running, weights, elliptical and just a general workout option.
Once you’ve selected your tracking mode, the watch hands will start moving around the screen to indicate it’s tracking with your real-time stats tucked at the top and the bottom of the screen.
Those real-time metrics appear pretty small and not that easy to see, particularly at night. From an accuracy point of view, we took it out for an hour run with a GPS running watch and, using the screens below, you can get an idea of the accuracy and the level of detail you get.
Run tracking compared: Fossil Hybrid HR (left) and Garmin Fenix 6 (right)
The heart rate monitor is designed to let you take measurements and will also measure heart rate during sleep. It’s also put to use when you’re exercising, performing surprisingly well in our testing.
For our run tests against a chest strap, it was only one to two BPMs out from the average and max heart rate readings. It was a similar story for our indoor rowing interval tests, too.
There are heart rate graphs to delve into if you want to closely inspect your heart rate data, and, on the whole, did better than a lot of dedicated sports watches we’ve tested.
HR tracking compared: Garmin Fenix 6 with chest strap (left) and Fossil Hybrid HR (right)
For basic fitness tracking features, step tracking accuracy was generally about 500 steps within a step counting data from a Garmin fitness tracker.
For sleep, it did a pretty good job detecting sleep duration, compared to the Withings Sleep bed monitor. It breaks down your sleep into awake, light and deep sleep, along with heart rate readings and how close you got to that magic eight hours of sleep.
One data discrepancy we did notice, though, was the time it detected when we fell asleep and woke up usually seemed an hour off from the Withings monitor.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Companion app
With the ramp up in features, Fossil needed to match this on the app front, too. There’s now a dedicated Fossil app available for Android and iOS, where you can view health and fitness data, assign features to those pusher buttons, set up notification alerts and tinker with settings.
Those settings include setting fitness tracking goals and allowing you to connect to Apple Health or Google Fit and automatically push over your data.
As far as the experience you’re getting on Android and iPhone, it’s an identical one, though we did have some issues with pairing and setting up the watch with a Google Pixel. With an iPhone, it was no problem at all. The app itself is nicely designed, not overwhelming and makes it nice and straightforward to toggle on and off settings.
If you just care about fitness tracking, you can do that. If you’re more concerned about what you can do with your watch, that’s straightforward and easy to do, too.
Fossil Hybrid HR review: Battery life
Previous generation Fossil hybrids have been powered by coin cell batteries, providing around 6 – 12 months of power before a replacement was required. Despite the addition of the E Ink screen, Fossil claims you can get around two weeks of battery life from its latest hybrid.
That’s dependent on usage, obviously, and, in our testing, it does come down a bit if you’re extensively using the heart rate monitor and workout tracking.
In total, the Fossil Hybrid HR lasted around 9 – 10 days with the heart rate monitor tracking sleep every night, five weights sessions and one run. We largely turned off notifications out of personal preference, saving them just for calls, but we can imagine that battery estimate comes down even further if you have a couple of active group chats or a viral tweet sending your watch into eternal vibration.
So with a bit of license, Fossil’s estimates check out. If it wasn’t tracking our sleep as much, or we had a couple of leaner days of activity, we can imagine that 14-day mark wouldn’t be too hard to reach.
Now, whether 1 – 2 weeks of battery life is enough for you all depends on, well, you. In our view, charging a watch with this much functionality every week or so isn’t bad, but we would also recommend those who really prioritize battery life to explore other hybrids.
The Fossil Hybrid HR is a classic-looking hybrid featuring innovative tech that unfortunately falls victim to a couple of crippling issues. The steamy screen is concerning – perhaps doubly concerning that the problem wasn’t fixed in pre-launch testing – and the software clearly still needs work. Basic fitness tracking is elevated in some way with the addition of the screen, though the steam issues we had can sometimes make it unusable. If you’re more concerned with good looks than intense exercise, this is arguably a better fit than what Garmin or Withings have on offer. For those who want a more refined software experience that’s rich in sports and health features, though, it’s hard to recommend the Hybrid HR.
- Innovative-yet-classic design
- Strong fitness tracking performance
- Intuitive Fossil companion app
- Screen steams up on occasions
- Steep learning curve with software
- Notification support can be buggy