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Fossil Carlyle HR (Gen 5) review: Stylish but flawed

Our Rating :
£277.78 from
Price when reviewed : £216
inc VAT

The Fossil Carlyle HR is a great-looking smartwatch but it’s let down by performance issues


  • Attractive design
  • Feature-packed
  • Lovely watch faces


  • Sluggish performance
  • Battery life is still not great
  • Built-in speaker not that useful

With every new generation of its smartwatches, Fossil has sought to pack more features than the previous version. For Gen 4 it was all about sports tracking, adding sensors to better track workouts without needing to have your phone nearby. We also got Google Pay, bringing contactless payments to a Fossil watch for the very first time.

The Fossil Carlyle HR adds a speaker into the mix, letting you take calls, listen to your music without using headphones and hear responses from the Google Assistant, all wrapped up in a stylish design. At £216, it’s a smartwatch that also costs less to own than the Apple Watch Series 5.

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Fossil Carlyle HR review: What you need to know

The Fossil Carlyle HR runs on Google’s Wear OS operating system, which means you can pair it with Android phones and iOS devices. Like Fossil’s fourth-generation smartwatches, the Carlyle HR has the tech on board to work just like a fitness tracker, letting you count your daily steps and more. There’s also built-in GPS to track your outdoor runs and rides, an optical heart rate sensor and NFC to let you make contactless payments.

A 3 ATM waterproof rating means you can go swimming with it up to 30 metres depth and wear it in the shower. There’s also swim tracking support so you can monitor your activity in the pool. It has no 4G support, however, which means you’ll need your smartphone nearby to use features like viewing notifications and answering phone calls.

Fossil Carlyle HR review: Price and competition

There are three different models of the Carlyle HR and all are priced between £216 and £254, which makes it cheaper to own than an Apple Watch Series 5. It is a tad more expensive than the Apple Watch Series 3, though, which you can now pick up for £199, and despite its age remains one of the best smartwatches you can buy.

If you don’t have an iPhone and you’re currently using an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 costs £259 – adding 4G into the mix pushes that price up to £389. That’s another sporty smartwatch packed with features. It has GPS, NFC for contactless payments and ECG heart rate monitoring, just like the Apple Watch. Then there’s the Fitbit Versa 2, which lacks onboard GPS, but offers many of the same features as the Carlyle HR, and is cheaper at £199.

If you want to spend even less than that, Mobvoi’s TicWatch E2 and TicWatch S2 can be bought for £146 and £160 respectively. While they don’t give you that same stylish design or NFC for payments, the TicWatch duo offer the same sports tracking features.

Fossil Carlyle HR review: Design

One thing you certainly cannot knock this smartwatch for is its looks. Unlike its predecessor, the Fossil Q Explorist HR, the Carlyle HR has a subtler, more minimalist bezel and, as a result, you get a smartwatch that lives far more discreetly on the wrist.

There are three models to pick from giving you the option of pairing up leather, silicone or metallic straps. Those 22mm straps are interchangeable, too, letting you switch in something more formal or sporty. The all-black with silicone strap I was sent for testing is the most low-key of the options but it’s still attractive.

The Carlyle HR undeniably has a very masculine feel to it, although some of the elements in the design could see it pass as a unisex watch. However, the Julianna HR, which offers identical features, is a design more clearly aimed at women.

The watch measures 12mm thick, which makes it chunkier than the latest Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, although this is extra heft you’re not going to notice. It’s still a nicely sized smartwatch and a massive departure from the chunky first generation Fossil smartwatches.

There are three physical buttons in total dotted along the right side of the 44mm watch case. That includes a crown that can be used to scroll through watch screens and menus, or held down to launch Google’s Assistant. The other two buttons can be assigned custom functions, giving quick access to apps you use regularly.

The focal point is the 1.28in AMOLED touchscreen display that delivers an impressive 416 x 416 resolution and a 328ppi pixel density. It’s a top-notch display that’s exceptionally bright, very colourful and can also change brightness automatically, thanks to the watch’s ambient light sensor.

Around the back is where you’ll find the optical heart rate sensor, used primarily for measuring effort levels during workouts. It’s also present for taking on-the-spot heart rate readings that offer an insight into your current state of fitness. The addition of the Cardiogram app means it can also be used to explore more serious heart health issues.

The back of the case is also where you magnetically clip into place the small white puck of a charging cradle when you need to top up the battery.

Fossil Carlyle HR review: Features

The headline feature is a speaker that, along with the integrated microphone, now lets you conduct calls when the watch is connected to your phone (both iOS and Android are supported). You can also hear responses from Google Assistant and listen to music without having to pair Bluetooth headphones.

In terms of its suitability for taking calls from the wrist, the speaker goes about its job in a pretty underwhelming way. Speaker volume could certainly be louder and the audio clarity isn’t great either. It’s certainly not good enough to listen to music on and things don’t get much better with Google Assistant. It doesn’t elevate the experience of using the smart assistant compared to when the speaker wasn’t present.

You do of course still get the same sports tracking features that were present on the Explorist HR, and they do an okay job on the accuracy front. If you run, swim or cycle shorter distances and you don’t need this to get you through a marathon you’ll be well served.

The built-in GPS can be slow to pick up a signal at times, however, and will often seek out the GPS on your phone first before using the onboard GPS. The accuracy of the heart rate monitor is nowhere near as reliable as a heart rate monitor chest strap like the Polar H10 I use as a control, or some other wrist-based monitors baked into sports watches. For activities like running intervals or high-intensity rowing or HIIT sessions, the heart rate sensor is slow to pick up the sudden changes in heart rate and often inaccurately reports average and maximum heart rate readings for a workout.

One positive is that Google Pay, a feature that should’ve been introduced on Fossil smartwatches a long time ago, is present and works very well indeed.

Fossil Carlyle HR review: Wear OS and performance

The Carlyle HR runs on the very latest version of Google’s smartwatch operating system, which means everything from the redesigned Google Fit to the new Tiles (widgets) are in place here.

Pressing the crown launches the app tray where you’ll see the usual suspects such as the Play Store, Weather app and Google Translate. Swiping down from the main watch screen reveals the settings menu and swiping up gets you to your notifications. It’s all pretty standard stuff if you’ve used a smartwatch running Wear OS before.

Fossil makes its presence felt on the software front through its own watch faces and these are some of the best-looking you’ll find on any smartwatch. There’s also a Fossil app where you can save watch face styles, although it’s hard to imagine that this app will get a lot of use.

As with all Android Wear watches, Google Assistant is on board but on this hardware I found it regularly struggled to accurately pick up questions on the first attempt and was very slow to digest those questions and deliver an answer when it did.

And while Google Fit is suited to basic fitness tracking, it’s not the easiest place to view your data post-workout and still feels like it needs some work. In short, you’d be better served using one of the third-party fitness tracking apps available via the Play Store, such as Strava or Runkeeper.

On the performance front, Fossil has included Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor accompanied by 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. Although welcome, this isn’t the first Fossil watch we’ve seen with the new chipset; that honour belongs to the Fossil Sport, which we tested late last year.

Alas, as with the Sport, the Wear 3100 chip does not bring the performance boost I’d hoped for. There’s still a little lag when swiping from one screen to another, and launching apps remains a sluggish, frustrating experience. Apps such as Google Play Store and Cardiogram are the slowest to launch but the problem afflicts pretty much all software on the watch.

Things don’t really get that much better on the battery life front, either. Fossil promises all-day stamina, and although it does just about deliver this on a normal day (using the screen in always-on mode and features like GPS and heart rate occasionally) this is, frankly, fairly unambitious.

If you’re planning to live a more restrictive smartwatch life, you can get longer but, ultimately, you’re going to want to charge the Fossil Carlyle HR every night.

There are some extra battery modes – Daily, Extended and Time Only – that let you eke a little more out of the battery but what we really need to see is a Fossil smartwatch that can go a week or more when you’re not having to be so considerate about the features you’re using day-to-day.

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Fossil Carlyle HR review: Verdict

Fossil’s fifth-generation smartwatch achieves two things: it packs a whole lot of features into an attractive watch design. However, those positive features are, ultimately, undermined by halting performance, an uninspiring speaker and battery life that should be better.

In the face of competition from the likes of the Garmin Venu and the Fitbit Versa 2 that prove you can have a full-colour screen, a full array of smart and fitness-based features and multi-day stamina a one-day battery really doesn’t cut it any more.

While there’s no doubt the Fossil Carlyle HR is one of the best-looking smartwatches you can wrap around your wrist, that needs to be matched by the hardware and the software to turn this the smartwatch you really need to own.

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