Fossil's new always-on smartwatch looks like a smarter Pebble

The Fossil Hybrid HR display lives under actual watch hands and lasts for weeks on a charge, thanks to E Ink.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
2 min read

Those are physical watch hands, on top of an always-on black-and-white display.

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What's the difference between a hybrid smartwatch and a regular smartwatch? In the hybrid category, Fossil's Hybrid HR mixes physical watch hands with an always-on display that shows information and notifications. It almost feels like an old-school Pebble watch fused with an everyday analog-style watch.

The Hybrid HR isn't Fossil's first smartwatch with physical hands. There are plenty of Fossil Group watches that track steps and sleep and display the results with mechanical watch hands. I've also worn a few smartwatch attempts at hybrids mixing analog hands and screens before.

But Fossil's Hybrid HR is kind of fascinating. I've been wearing it for a few days now, and the hybrid smartwatch stands out as what could be the future of smartwatches in general.

Always-on E Ink display

Keeping a smartwatch charged is incredibly annoying. Fossil's newest line of hybrid smartwatches may have found an answer, and it's E Ink. The Hybrid HR's added display feels less like a screen and more of an extension of the watch, the sort of basic readouts that you might expect on a digital watch. Or, like what Google's Wear OS watches offer, but in E Ink. To be clear, though, this isn't Wear OS. It almost reminds me of what the TicWatch Pro tried for by layering an always-on display on top of a feature-packed smartwatch, but the Hybrid HR looks a lot nicer.

Earlier this year, Google reportedly paid $40 million for Fossil smartwatch technology that could enable hybrid watches. The Hybrid HR looks like it is, indeed, the watch tech that earlier reports thought Google was interested in... and it's here now. Where it leads next is anyone's guess, but with Google acquiring Fitbit, maybe this could also be what future fitness watches look like.


Different sets of on-screen complications show stats at a glance.

Scott Stein/CNET

What can this hybrid smartwatch do?

Three buttons on the side bring up menus and scroll through on-screen options (there's no touchscreen). The hands supposedly glow in the dark, but didn't glow very brightly for me. Double-tapping the glass brings up a glowing backlit screen which looks like I'm lighting up a little Kindle, and then I can see the watch hands silhouetted.

The Hybrid HR is waterproof to 3 ATM, tracks heart rate (every 60 seconds, unless you actively start a reading, or every 15 seconds during a workout), steps and sleep, can control music playback from a phone (which gets annoying with the awkward side-button controls), and can display phone notifications.


A tweet appears on the Hybrid HR.

Scott Stein/CNET

The 42mm watches have stainless steel cases and either 18 or 22mm straps, depending on if you choose the Charter HR or Collider HR design (my black rubber-strapped version is Charter HR).

At $195, it may not be the perfect smartwatch. But it looks like it's going to split the difference just enough that it could show where future Google-Fitbit watch designs may head next.