Android Wear (now Wear OS) smartwatches have been all but abandoned by the big tech companies. Motorola, LG, Samsung and Asus, for example, have stopped manufacturing new models. Samsung continues to launch new and more powerful smartwatches, but they run exclusively on their proprietary Tizen OS instead of Wear OS. The fashion industry, mainly within the Fossil Group, is responsible for the majority of new Google smartwatches. Luxury brands like Tag Heuer and Louis Vuitton have a handful of devices, but those are expensive and for a niche set of consumers. Skagen, now owned by Fossil, launched a refreshingly stylish Android Wear 2.0 watch at CES 2018 and it quickly became my favorite wearable to date. Let’s take a look at what makes it so compelling.
The problem with the majority of Android Wear/Wear OS smartwatches is size. They’re huge, heavy blocks of tech that are often comical on smaller wrists. The LG Watch Sport and Huawei Watch 2 are good examples of this. To be fair, those models have a ton of functionality and need space for the tech, but it becomes a clear case of function over form. The Skagen Falster focuses much more on form and the result is a stylish device that fits in with the company’s overall design language. It looks as nice as its analog counterparts. Smaller wrists will appreciate the 42mm case diameter and only 12mm thickness. The round AMOLED display is also complete without a dreaded flat tire, but an ambient light sensor is still onboard. There is a noticeable bezel around the display, but it blends in well with the rest of the front.
Only one physical button lives on the right side of its stainless steel case, acting as both a power and back button, and also pulls up the app drawer. A microphone sits between the physical button and the bottom strap lug. The lugs themselves are simple, stylish arms that hold interchangeable 20mm straps and allow for full rotation around the wrist. Straps on models like the LG Watch Sport are fixed at an angle and can leave wide gaps on smaller wrists. The left side of the watch is clean metal and this simple, Skandinavian design will go with any outfit, from a suit and tie to a t-shirt and jeans.
The back is simply flat glass with the notable absence of a heart rate sensor, which is one of the watch’s shortcomings. Wireless charging is achieved with a small, circular puck that magnetically attaches to the back. The USB charger is included in the box, but not a wall plug. You’ll need one from a smartphone if you want to plug the charger into a standard wall outlet. The straps are easily removed by sliding a small steel lever to retract the pin. Skagen has four different straps to choose from and most third-party 20mm straps can be fitted.
Three other models are available, including silver and black with a steel mesh strap, all black with a black leather strap, and rose gold and black with a gold mesh strap. The model I have, silver and black with a brown leather strap, is my favorite of the four. The leather straps themselves are very comfortable out of the box. They’re neither too thin or stiff, and fit my smaller wrist very well. The mesh straps are also comfortable and easy to adjust.
|Display||Round AMOLED display in 42mm case|
|Processor||Snapdragon Wear 2100|
|Charging||Wireless charging via magnetic puck|
|Software||Android Wear 2.0 (upgradable to Wear OS)|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth Smart Enabled / 4.1 Low Energy, Wi-Fi|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, ambient light|
|Measurements||42 x 12mm, 20mm strap|
|Colors||Black w/ black leather, silver & black w/ brown leather, silver & black with silver steel mesh, rose gold & black with rose gold steel mesh|
Software and Performance
Android Wear 2.0 with the latest Oreo update is preinstalled out of the box (now updated to Wear OS). Like all Android Wear watches, the experience is relatively unchanged between devices. Skagen has its own set of simple, customizable watch faces that go well with the overall design aesthetic and stick to a battery saving dark theme. That dark theme extends throughout the software as well.
You’re not solely dependent on a connected smartphone with the Falster as native apps can be downloaded (through Wi-Fi), music can be listened to via stored files from Google Play Music and so on. There isn’t an option for LTE connectivity, so you’ll still need a Wi-Fi connection or connected phone for most of the watch’s core functions.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor coupled with 512MB of RAM keeps everything running smoothly. I have yet to see a glitch or slowdown in the software. Swiping up on the home screen will reveal notifications and pushing the side button will bring up the app drawer. That side button doesn’t rotate, so all navigation is done with the touchscreen. Many popular native apps are available through the Play Store, from Gmail and Hangouts to eBay and Uber, and all work very well. Google Assistant is also onboard.
Performance is simply top notch, but hardware limitations keep things simple. Maybe a little too simple for some. There’s no heart rate sensor on the back, already limiting its fitness prowess, and no built in GPS, so you’ll need a connected phone for any meaningful fitness tracking. An accelerometer is built in, however, so the Falster can track steps on its own. Google Fit is a preinstalled app and does an admirable job trying to work around the hardware limitations, but those limitations are notable.
A speaker is absent as well, so no answering phone calls on your wrist. NFC is also a no-show, so mobile payments are out. It all comes down to what you use a smartwatch for. If notifications and apps are your priority, then you’ll be rocking a very stylish smartwatch that should meet your needs. If you want a comprehensive fitness companion or need to answer a call when your hands are full, you might want to look elsewhere.
In the name of aesthetics, the Falster focuses on notifications, Google Assistant and apps, sacrificing more comprehensive features like GPS fitness tracking, mobile payments and phone capabilities. But you just won’t find a better looking Wear OS smartwatch short of a Tag Heuer Connected, which is well north of $1,000. It’ll work with both Android and iOS smartphones, but functionality is limited on an iPhone (such as not being able to respond to notifications).
The Falster has a 300mAh battery that usually keeps it going for a full day and night. The lack of battery draining hardware features and a comprehensive dark theme help maximize the gas mileage. Tracking steps and dictating messages didn’t seem to overly stress the battery and I rarely worried about not making it to the end of the night.
Charging via the included wireless puck is a little slow. It took about 2 1/2 hours to charge, but that usually occurred overnight so was of little consequence. If you use a smartwatch long enough, however, you’ll inevitably run into situations where a midday top-up is required. Heavy users might occasionally need an hour of additional charging time in the afternoon to ensure everything keeps firing until night’s end.
The Skagen Falster is the perfect smartwatch for those just wanting the basics. It’s arguably the best looking piece of wearable tech you can buy, so a stylish timepiece that “does more” will satisfy those needing quick notifications, Google Assistant and Uber/eBay on their wrist. If you want to venture beyond the basics, however, the Falster falls short. It’s not great for exercise junkies, won’t let you take a call or make a mobile payment, and requires a smartphone or Wi-Fi connection for most functions. But that’s okay. It’s not trying to be more than it is. There are many other Wear OS watches within the Fossil Group that have more hardware features if desired.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a Skagen Falster to the right person. Many people limit their fitness tracking to simple step counts and this watch handles that perfectly. Many others scoff at the idea of making phone calls on their wrist. And I dare say that the majority of smartwatch users have their smartphones on them at all times, so LTE independence is irrelevant for most. When you step out of the tech enthusiast space, a lot of people like to just keep it simple. And the Skagen Falster exists for those consumers with a very attractive wearable.