Fossil's Q Crewmaster hides digital brains beneath analog sophistication

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It’s hard to argue with anyone that says a smartwatch isn’t a “real” watch. After all, they do resemble gadgets, thanks to a bright color touchscreen, no moving internal parts, and a Bluetooth connection to your phone. Because of this, some people feel that smartwatches lack the sophistication and inherent coolness of an analog timepiece.

Hybrid smartwatches bridge the gap between the smartwatch and the world of mechanical watches, but they also take a diversion through fitness band town. The smart analog watches we’re most fond of, such as the Withings Activité, are classy and stylish; but they’re a bit restrained. They’re a great alternative to the smartwatch, just not if you love big, chunky, almost muscular watches. James Bond, if he was in the market for such a device, wouldn’t choose one of these sleek, simple watches.

The answer to this problem comes from Fossil and its Q Crewmaster hybrid smartwatch. Like its non-smart namesake, the Q Crewmaster has a massive stainless steel body, big buttons, chunky lugs, and strong straps. It’s a watch for big wrists, and for people that want to make an equally sizeable statement. We’ve worn one to see how it matches up to a full-on smartwatch, and here’s how it performed.

The Fossil Q Founder is my personal favorite Android Wear smartwatch, so perhaps it’ll come as no surprise to discover I adore the Q Crewmaster’s design. There’s no subtlety here. The case is 46mm round and 14mm thick, and because it’s made from stainless steel, it’s not very light either. We’ve been wearing the black silicone strapped version, which is matched to a colorful bezel with blue highlights around the inner watch face.

Is the Q Crewmaster too flashy? No. It looks amazing. Poking out from beneath the sleeve of a shirt or sweater, it adds a wonderful splash of color, just like wearing bright socks with a classic outfit. The black silicone strap helps tone the look down, but is also a real standout component of the watch, because it is so soft and malleable. It required absolutely no wear-in time at all, was comfortable the whole day, and never got sweaty — even while at the gym.

It’s interchangeable, too, so if you prefer another 22mm strap, it’s easy to pop off and fit on a different one. Fossil also sells a less colorful blue silicone Q Crewmaster, and a model with a stainless steel strap. The Q Crewmaster is beautifully built, has a curved glass cover over the face, is water resistant to 50 meters, and feels far tougher than any smartwatch, meaning you won’t be as concerned about its wellbeing if you plan on wearing it to the gym or out and about on a daily basis.

Examine the face more closely, and you’ll see the bezel is set up for dive timing — it rotates anti-clockwise with an audible click — and the inner bezel is marked out for the 24-hour clock. There’s a single complication, which Fossil calls the sub-eye, that’s used to denote how close you are to the day’s step goal, and as a mode indicator. Sadly, there’s no internal light and the hands don’t glow-in-the-dark, so it’s almost impossible to see any of this in the dark. The watch doesn’t count seconds, either.

On the side of the body are three buttons. Press the top one, and the hands move to indicate the date. Well, more precisely, they point to the day, shown on a tiny third ring of numbers between the time and the 24-hour bezel. It’s actually way too small to be of any use. Press the center button and the hands shift to show an alternate time zone, which you can set in the Fossil app. Continue to press the center button to cycle through the other modes. Finally, the third button activates a feature on your phone.

A hybrid smartwatch tells the time, takes on the role of a fitness tracker, and provides a degree of functionality more commonly associated with a full smartwatch. How does the Q Crewmaster perform? For fitness tracking, it’s quite simple. The watch counts your steps, measures the distance traveled, and estimates calorie burn for the day; all of which is reported back through the Fossil Q app. If you wear it at night, it’ll show how long you slept and the different phases of sleep.

The Q Crewmaster matched the step count we saw using the Fitbit Flex, and when you reach your goal, the watch vibrates and the hands rotate to congratulate you on a victory. It’s a little thing, but it does look fun. It’ll track sleep, but because it’s quite large, it takes a while to get used to wearing it in bed. Personally, I took it off, but I’m not used to wearing anything larger than a fitness band on my wrist while sleeping, so it was a distraction.

If you’re expecting to track specific exercises, the Q Crewmaster doesn’t provide dedicated tracking for anything other than walking or running. It kept up happily on the treadmill and the stair climber, though. Ultimately, this isn’t a fitness tracker for the sportsperson. It’s for someone who wants to know the basics. You’ll only get the basics when it comes to feedback as well, but there is a way to set personal goals, almost regardless of what they are, in the app for some extra motivation.

The Q Crewmaster also takes care of notifications from your smartphone. It’s all controlled through the app. Fossil handles notifications in a clever way, stepping away from endless and meaningless vibrations, to make the watch more helpful on a daily basis. However, it operates on the idea that you’re going to take the phone out of your pocket or bag to see all the information, anyway, so the best you’ll glean from the watch is which app is telling you something.

In the Fossil app, you select each app you want to alert you via the watch. It’ll handle calls, SMS, email, calendar announcements, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Line, Snapchat, Viber, WeChat, Instagram, Uber, and Skype, plus a few others. Being sensible at this stage is the key to meaningful alerts. I get too many emails for alerts to be helpful without a screen, but I receive fewer social networking and SMS messages, so I selected those rather than ticking every box across the board. A number can be assigned to each app, and when a notification comes through, a press of the center button on the watch will move the hands to the corresponding number. For calls, you can select the contacts you want notifications for.

As with fitness tracking, the Q Crewmaster doesn’t want to replace the smartwatch, it wants to deliver a streamlined, more targeted experience for people who aren’t convinced they need the whole smartwatch package. It works. I didn’t miss my Apple Watch while wearing the Q Crewmaster, and actually found that getting fewer alerts is less distracting. The fact that the watch looks fantastic is just icing on the cake.

Perhaps due to its less technical nature compared to an Android Wear watch or other smartwatch, the Q Crewmaster worked without fault for us, and we’ve no reason to expect that to change.

If you’ve tried one of Fossil’s older, series one hybrid smartwatches, you may have been frustrated by the app, and sworn many times trying to sync it with the watch. I know I did. It never worked very well, and updating the firmware was a particular nightmare, with endless failures coming before it worked. That’s all changed with the Q Crewmaster and the new app.

It took just a moment to sync the watch with the app, the firmware updated right away, and fitness data never failed to sync when opening the app on the phone. It’s attractively designed in a minimalist fashion, and contains visual instructions on activating each feature on the watch. There’s no guessing what each button does, no wondering how to set the alarm, or if data has synced across. It’s all there.

Step counts are illustrated using a watch-like dial, and scrolling down shows historical data broken down by day, week, and month. Sleep is presented in the same way. The only other goal-orientated feature is an unusual one. Rather than get more rest, workout harder, or drink more water, Fossil’s app lets you set goals for trying a new recipe, wearing a bright color, or listening to a new band. If they’re a bit too weird, then you can create a custom goal for something more sensible, too.

All other functions, including specifying notifications and setting up Q Link, are found under a side menu. Q Link manages the third button on the watch, which can activate a set function on your phone, such as answering a call, adjusting the volume, or opening the camera app.

We can’t fault Fossil’s app at all. It’s all very intuitive, and it’s exactly how apps that accompany wearables should work. How’s that for a recommendation?

The black silicone Q Crewmaster seen here is $175 in the U.S., or 165 British pounds, while the blue silicone and stainless steel versions cost $195 or 185 British pounds. You get a two-year warranty from Fossil that doesn’t cover normal wear or tear, the strap, battery, or software. To claim it, you need to visit an authorised Fossil store or service center with the product and the receipt.

Buying the Q Crewmaster over one of Fossil’s Q Founder or new Q Marshal watches will save about $100, even if you choose the more expensive versions, yet it will perform many of the same tasks. The battery isn’t much of a problem either, as the cell inside is expected to last about six months, and costs very little to replace.

Fossil’s awesome Q Crewmaster is a hunky, chunky, wear-and-forget hybrid smartwatch that doesn’t need charging, has superb software, delivers all the right notifications and data, plus it looks absolutely superb. If a full-on smartwatch turns you off, and a fitness tracker is just too sporty; then it’s time to put a Q Crewmaster on your wrist.

Is there a better alternative?

All smart analog watches offer much of the same functionality, so your choice comes down to style. Several alternatives to the Q Crewmaster come from Fossil itself. The Crewmaster isn’t for small wrists, but the Q Tailor and Q Gazer are far more subtle. They provide the same functionality, connect with the same great app, but don’t share the same in-your-face design.

Move away from the Fossil brand, and you arrive at more sporty options from Withings, Garmin, and Misfit. The Misfit Phase (a company owned by Fossil) and Garmin Vivomove both cost the same, or a little less, than the Fossil models, but are considerably less attractive. Garmin’s watch is more focused on fitness thanks to the Garmin app, while Misfit’s watch is more budget friendly.

Withings Activité and Activité Pop are gorgeous, and come highly recommended; but with the caveat we mentioned earlier — the design is very subtle. The metal Activité is also very expensive, and although the Pop is cheaper, it doesn’t share the same premium look and feel provided by the Q Crewmaster, Q Tailor, or Q Gazer.

None of these can be considered better alternatives, just alternatives, because the reason for buying any of them will come down to personal design preference. Functionality remains essentially the same whichever one you buy.

How long will it last?

Watches get handed down from generation to generation, and provided you can still buy the Q Crewmaster’s battery, there’s no real reason why this can’t happen here. Few will want to, but because it doesn’t have a space-age design or technology that will be redundant in six months or a year’s time, it doesn’t have the same short lifespan of a fully fledged smartwatch. Only Fossil’s app limits the Q Crewmaster’s lifespan, but it’s unlikely it’ll stop being supported anytime soon.

As for the watch itself, the body is water resistant to 50 meters, it’s solidly built from stainless steel, and the strap can be swapped out when it reaches the end of its life. The battery lasts for six months, and replacements are easy to find. Replacing it is simple, too, and Fossil includes a cool “key” to remove the base of the watch where the battery is kept.

Unless you drop it off a mountain, or throw it in the trash, the Q Crewmaster should last for the foreseeable future.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you like the design, you won’t be disappointed. The Q Crewmaster watch looks superb, it operates without issue, and the app is one of the best out there. The only thing we’ll say is if large watches don’t always suit you, then go to a Fossil store and try one on first. This isn’t a small lightweight watch, so trying it on, like you would any fit-sensitive item, is a must.

The Q Crewmaster is a perfect blend of smartness and cool traditional watch style, with the added benefit of tracking your activity during the day. It’s not for fitness freaks or hardcore tech fans, it’s for the people who fall in the territory between them — and that’s probably the majority of us.

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