Fossil Q Commuter

Hybrid smartwatches are wearables for those who want the fitness tracking, sleep analysis and notifications of a smartwatch, but without the expense, daily charging and sci-fi film prop looks of something like the Apple Watch 3 or Samsung Gear Sport

Hybrids offer traditional looks with hidden technology in a case which needs a new battery once a year, yet maintain a constant Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, faithfully feeding a companion phone app with fitness data, sleep analysis and more.

They also offer the perfect opportunity for traditional watchmakers to get in on the smartwatch game. That’s what Fossil has done with the Q Commuter you see here. 

At 42mm in diameter, the Fossil Q Commuter is a conventionally-sized mens watch.

Traditional, physical hands chase each other around a regular watch face, while a second dial displays the percentage of your daily step goal completed so far. A vibration motor alerts you to incoming calls, messages and other notifications, and there are three buttons for controlling various aspects of your connected smartphone.

Fossil Q Commuter price and release date

  • Price starts at £159 / $155 / AU $279

The watch features traditional lugs and accepts regular 22mm straps, like the brown leather one featured on our review unit, and they are easily changed without tools thanks to a quick-release system. 

As well as this model, you can buy the Q Commuter with either a stainless steel bracelet in silver or black, a two-tone gold model with matching face, case and metal strap or a dark grey face with matching case and a dark stainless steel strap similar to the Milanese Loop of the Apple Watch. All of these cost $175 / £179 / AU$299 each.

There are lots of other options though including a dark brown face and matching leather strap, a navy blue face with matching leather strap and rose gold case or a blue face with silver case and tan leather strap for $155 /
£159 / AU$279 each.

Design and display

  • Attractive and traditional watch looks, but could be too large for some wrists
  • Good range of strap and case colors

To the untrained eye, there is little giving away the Q Commuter’s smartness. The case, strap and face all look as if they are part of a regular watch, but look a little closer and the clues come into focus. The second dial and its ‘hybrid’ branding gives the game away and the crown is actually a button for controlling your phone, as the watch’s time is adjusted automatically.

The Fossil’s brushed metal face looks smart, while the hands and hour markers are clear and easy to read. 

However, they do not illuminate in the dark, making it impossible to see the time at night. The orange of the second dial and tips of the hour and minute hands are a pleasing aesthetic touch to what is a very attractive wearable.

The second ‘hybrid’ dial points to notifications, alarms and a second time zone.

At 42mm in diameter, the case is a fairly normal size for a men’s watch, while the 13mm thickness isn’t as intrusive as it sounds. The rear of the case tapers inwards, so it sits neatly on your wrist and doesn’t protrude as much as a typical smartwatch. Gaps between the lugs and case also help to break up the watch’s design, making it seem more compact than it really is.

Where fully fledged smartwatches sometimes draw too much attention to themselves, especially when worn on a slim wrist, we never felt self conscious about wearing the Fossil. 

After all, it just looks like a regular watch and isn’t at all bulky or an inconvenience. To that end, it slips neatly beneath a shirt sleeve – something which not all smartwatches can claim to do.

As you can probably tell, we became big fans of the Fossil Q Commuter almost as soon as we strapped it to our wrist. 

The leather strap feels of high quality and we reckon it will soften nicely after a few weeks of use. However, we found it often broke free of the single loop holding it in place. The buckle remained securely done up, but the strap would come out from under the loop; a second loop closer to the buckle, as is common on most leather straps, would prevent this from happening quite so often.

The Q Commuter is water resistant to five atmospheres, which means it can be worn while showering and even swimming without causing any internal damage.

Fitness and sleep tracking

  • Sleep tracking is automatic but doesn’t plot data against time
  • Fitness tracking doesn’t break data down into running and walking
  • No heart rate monitor

The Fossil Q Commuter tracks daily steps and sleep. Through the app you can set a target for steps taken each day, such as the recommended 10,000 daily target. 

The percentage of how much you have completed is displayed by the second dial on the watch face, just as hybrid watches from Nokia Health (formerly Withings) do. Open the app, and the exact number of steps is shown for each day you’ve worn the Q Commuter, although the app takes a few seconds to sync each time you open it.

The watch and its application are compatible with smartphones running Android 5.0 and above, and with the iPhone 5 onwards running iOS 9.0 and above.

We feel the brown leather of our review sample will age and weather well.

Each day of activity is split into intense, moderate and light exercise. The app isn’t entirely clear about what each means, and while a day of no exercise returned zero steps of ‘intense’, as expected, we’re not sure what the difference is between ‘light’ and ‘moderate’. 

Some days would claim the majority of our exercise was moderate, while on a day when we purposefully went for a walk instead of just mooching around the house, the majority was ‘light’. Because the steps aren’t plotted against time it’s hard to tell when we were moderately or intensively active.

Having told the app our height and weight, it guesses how many calories we have burned each day, and how far in miles we have walked. We must confess that, having reviewed the Q Commuter over the Christmas period, these figures are all somewhat on the lazy side.

Disappointing, and unlike some other hybrid watches, the Fossil Q Commuter doesn’t log cycling, swimming or any other kind of exercise. It also does not have a heart rate monitor.

Sleep monitoring is similarly vague. You set a target number of hours of sleep – we chose eight – and the app tells you the next day how much of this you achieved. Sleep tracking is automatic and is split into ‘light sleep’, ‘restful sleep’ and ‘awake’. The app says how many hours of each you achieved, but doesn’t plot this against time to let you know when in the night you slept deeply and when you were disturbed.

The sleep tracking seemed fairly accurate, but without a timeline to help explain when we were in light and deep sleep we didn’t find it much use. Also, although the Q Commuter isn’t too large by smartwatch standards, it is still a chunky device to be wearing to bed every night. 

And while we’re talking about sleep, don’t forget to put the Fossil on something soft at night if you’re not wearing it – the vibration used for notifications creates a loud, sharp buzz when placed on a hard shelf or bedside table.

Three buttons on the right of the case let you control your smartphone directly from the watch. Each button can be configured to perform one of 12 actions. These include simple things like showing today’s date by pointing at it with the hour and minute hands, playing or pausing music on your phone, and taking a photo. But there are also more interesting actions, like using the watch hands to state how long your commute will take with a press of a button.

Battery life

  • Fossil claims one year of use per battery
  • Battery is easily changed with the included case opening tool

A real party piece of the hybrid smartwatch is battery life. Where ‘proper’ smartwatches – those with a digital display – often need charging every night, hybrid smartwatches can last for weeks, or even months.

In the case of the Fossil Q Commuter, the manufacturer claims a regular CR2430 watch battery will be good for 12 months of use. However, Fossil adds that this estimate “varies based on use”, so if you have set the watch to buzz every time you get a notification from Facebook, WhatsApp,Twitter and Instagram this will probably be reduced. 

A battery life icon is displayed on the settings page of the Fossil Q app, but no percentage or days/weeks/months stat is given. The app helpfully reminds you of the type of battery the watch requires.

Fossil sells replacement batteries for £5.39 and a Q-shaped tool is included in the box of the Q Commuter, so you can remove and replace the rear of the case yourself.

Interface and app

  • Connecting to a smartphone and setting everything up is easy
  • Data takes a few seconds to sync to your phone each time the app is opened

The watch’s interface is, of course, that of a traditional timepiece, but where the hands tell more than the time. Each of the 12 hours can be configured via the app to represent a type of notification. Calls and texts from everyone, or from specific contacts, can be assigned and so too can notifications from any app you have on your phone. 

However, for each app the Q Communicator can only offer alerts for all or nothing – so, a vibration for every notification from the app, or nothing at all.

A second dial marked by the word ‘Hybrid’ performs several functions. The first is a constant readout of the percentage of your daily step goal completed so far.

Say you have set yourself a target of 10,000 steps per day via the Fossil app; the dial will swing round through the 25, 50 and 75 percent markers as you walk throughout the day.

After that, the second dial shows four functions: Time 2, Alarm, Date and Alert. Once configured via the app, a press of one of the Q Commuter’s three buttons will see the small dial swing to one of these functions (Time 2, say) then the main dial will point to a second time zone for several seconds – again, this is configured via the app.

Alarm briefly displays the time you’ve set for the watch’s vibrating alarm, Date will see both hands point to the date, as shown by the numbers one to 31 running around the outer edge of the watch face. Finally, Alert will be pointed to when you have a notification on your phone.

We felt the watch’s vibration more times than not, but it isn’t in the same league as the Apple Watch, which feels like it is tapping your wrist firmly rather than merely vibrating against it. We sometimes missed notifications, despite vibration strength being set to the highest of three settings, or didn’t get chance to see which number the hands pointed to before they returned to the time. 

We also found that assigning too many apps made it tricky to remember what was what; is three o’clock a Facebook message, or a Twitter notification? Or is it an email?

We set Facebook Messenger to six o’clock and WhatsApp to 12, which covered most of our notifications and made the system easy to remember.

The Fossil Q Commuter is a handsome smartwatch which is well-priced and offers on-wrist notifications with simple sleep and fitness tracking built in. To the untrained eye it looks like a normal watch, yet subtly offers notifications, a second time zone, and control over your music and smartphone camera.

Vibration alerts for notifications just about stay the right side of useful, although setting up too many is going to quickly become annoying – as is the case with fully-fledged smartwatches, too.

The Q Commuter won’t win many awards for its fitness and sleep tracking abilities, because although the stats seem fairly accurate, the level of detail on offer won’t be enough for many users. That being said, this watch cannot be expected to rival a full-fat smartwatch or dedicated fitness tracker.

Hybrid watches like this fill a neat gap in the market by offering great traditional looks and months-long battery life with an element of smartness. The Fossil Q Commuter’s looks won us over from the moment we opened the box, and even a week later we still glance at it not just for the time, but to admire its metal face, chunky buttons and leather strap.

Who’s this for?

As with any hybrid smartwatch, the Fossil Q Commuter is for the fashion-conscious person who wants the convenience of notification buzzes on their wrist with simple step and sleep tracking, but without losing the look of a traditional watch.

If you want a wearable that is primarily a fitness tracker, then you should probably look elsewhere. This is where the Q Commuter falls down, as it can’t offer data in the granular way of something like an Apple Watch or Fitbit Charge 2

Also, somewhat disappointingly, it can’t offer as much data as other hybrid watches, like the Nokia Steel HR. It can also only separate steps into ‘intense’, ‘moderate’ and ‘light’, as there is no way to track walking, running and cycling, or any other form of exercise.

But if that’s okay with you, and all you want is a great-looking and affordable timepiece with a few smart tricks up its sleeve – not an all-singing, all-dancing smartwatch with fitness stats, apps and notifications pouring out of it – then the Fossil Q Commuter could be just what you’re looking for.

Should you buy it?

Just be sure you are aware of the Q Commuter’s limitations before buying it. It is a great-looking wearable, but perhaps not one for someone who wants the latest in smartwatch tech. 

The companion app works well and setup is easy, but beyond very simple step and sleep tracking, there isn’t much more to the Fossil than it being a great-looking watch with notifications.

If you are someone who always misses calls and notifications because their phone is on silent or not in their pocket, then a hybrid watch like the Q Commuter will certainly help – and is far more subtle than a proper smartwatch lighting up like a Christmas tree with every email and WhatsApp message.

For the price, the Q Commuter represents good value for money. It is attractive and well-made, while offering a little extra smartness when you need it. 

First reviewed: January 2018

Alistair Charlton
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