Introduction

When the first “SPOT” watches came out in early 2004, the market for these smart watches was limited. The awkward and bulgy watches screamed “Geek!” and consequently, most people stayed away from the technology. It is December now, and though smart watch technology is still in its infancy, these portable databanks have gone a long way since their debut in January. In a matter of months, they have gotten more powerful, more functional, and above all, more wearable.
Suunto and Fossil – the two companies that spearheaded the original smart watch concept – both recently rolled out revisions of their MSN Direct powered watches. In hopes of appealing to a larger customer base, both companies are making efforts to stress the “slimmer” and “more wearable” qualities of their new smart watches.
With that in mind, we tested out the newest smart watch models from both Suunto and Fossil. Suunto sent us the N3i (retail: $299), a thinner and more compact version of Suunto’s original smart watch, the N3. From Fossil we received the Wrist Net FX3005 (retail: $150), Fossil’s newest, smallest and most fashionable of their FX300x line of smart watches.
But how do the two watches stack up against each other? Read on to find out in our review.

First Impressions

When the Suunto N3i arrived at my doorstep, I could not wait to try the new watch on. After passing up on the N3 because of its bulky size, I wondered if I had finally found a watch that could show my enthusiasm for technology while remaining inconspicuous enough for me to wear casually.

After carefully removing the top flap of the white Suunto box, I emptied its contents on my desk: Some manuals, a charger, a CD containing the driver, and finally, the N3i itself. Although it still needed charging, my anticipation would not allow me to set it aside for “6-8 hours.” I slipped it on my wrist. Not a bad fit, but still a little more girth than I feel comfortable carrying on my wrist.

A few weeks later, I received the Wristnet FX3005 from Fossil. Right off the bat, I noticed that the packaging was larger, and after opening the box, I found that this was due to the cylindrical collector’s tin that Fossil packages the watch in. Considering the FX3005 is $100 less than the N3i, the collector’s tin was a surprising but welcome testament to Fossil’s long-standing emphasis on first impressions.

After popping off the lid on the metal tin, I removed the FX3005. Cradling the watch in my hand, I immediately noticed the thickness of the band, as well as the shiny metal polish of the watch’s casing. I undid the butterfly clasp and tried the watch on; the strap was hard to snap on initially due to it its inflexibility, but after getting the FX3005 on, I noticed the compact size of its casing. While thicker than the N3i, the FX3005 is both smaller in length and width than its Suunto competitor.

It is not much of a difference when you see the two side by side, but as any watch enthusiast will tell you, even a few millimeters can be crucial to the appearance and comfort of a timepiece.



MSN Direct

(Note: Because both watches utilize the exact same MSN Direct technology, this overview of the service applies equally to both watches)
At the core of the SPOT watch is the MSN Direct service that powers it. Initially, both watches come equipped with a free but crippled MSN Direct service. In order to gain access to custom “channels” such as user-defined sports scores, stocks, and news, MSN gives you the choice of opting for a year of service, which costs $39.99, or a monthly subscription, which carries a price of $9.99 per month.
From the MSN Direct website: “The information you receive on your watch is organized by channel. Similar to the channels on your television set, you see different types of information—such as news and weather—when you switch channels on your watch. You can customize the information that you see for each channel.”
After purchasing a subscription, you will be able to log on to the MSN Direct website, customize your “channels”, and gain access to other features. You can add new watch faces, link your watch to MSN Messenger, and stay up to date on your favorite news topics. For a full list of channels and features, visit http://msndirect.com/channel/default.htm.
The custom settings you specify on the MSN Direct website are broadcasted from your nearest MSN Direct station using radio waves and downloaded to your watch wirelessly.

Design

We established earlier that Suunto hand in mind to appeal to a broader market by minimizing the size of its N3i SPOT watch. This is similarly true of Fossil, who has also gone at length to make its FX3005 as compact as possible. But aside from the smaller form factor, the design of the N3i and FX3005 does not share much else in common.
Indeed, one look at the two watches confirms that Fossil and Suunto had divergent design goals. On one hand, Fossil’s designed their FX3005 with the fashion-conscious in mind. A layer of leather lines the outside of the strap, and a smooth chrome finish covers the case. Fossil has also implemented butterfly clasps on the FX3005, a feature that not only serves to better secure the watch on your wrist but adds to appearance as well.

Suunto's N3i however, features a more sporty design. Instead of metal, Suunto uses a durable, hard-plastic material for the N3i’s casing. And although I highly discourage diving with the watch, Suunto guarantees the shockproof casing water-resistant to 100 meters.
Another notable difference is the N3i’s strap. It is made of a thinner material, and features a standard buckle instead of a butterfly clasp. The thinner material provides for more flexibility and allows straps to be easily interchanged.The reason behind the N3i’s significantly thinner strap lies with Suunto’s integration of the receptor antenna into the watch case. This makes for a more flexible strap, but adds bulk to the watch body.

Functionality - Watch Faces

Fossil and Suunto stayed consistent with their separate design goals when determining the functionality of their watches. Again, the capabilities of each watch mirror the audience they were built for; the N3i for the sport-oriented and the FX3005 for the more elegance-minded.

First, let us look at areas – okay, area – in which the FX3005 has an advantage over the N3i. Two words: Watch faces. Fossil’s FX3005 comes loaded with dozens of quality watch faces (I counted somewhere around 27); the N3i comes preloaded with six. And not only does the FX3005 have more watch faces, it has noticeably better ones. Below are pictures of the only some of the watch faces that Fossil included with the FX3005. Keep in mind that each watch face also has an “inverse” (the black and white colors are interchanged) which I did not bother to take pictures of.

Now let us take a look at the watch faces that Suunto bundles with the N3i. Note that the pictures below show all the watch faces that were included on the N3i. The N3i does not have any inverse faces.

The pictures speak for themselves (That zipper watch face absolutely baffles me). It is obvious that Fossil has an advantage over Suunto in terms of watch faces. Yes, I realize you can download faces, but first, the faces that are bundled with the FX3005 are not available for download, and second, you can only have two downloaded watch faces on your watch at any give time.
Functionality – Performance and Features

A nice-looking timepiece is always a plus, but it is worthless if it does not perform well. Fortunately, both the N3i and the FX3005 exhibit no major performance flaws. Even so, a closer look at the performance and features of both watches reveals that the N3i holds a few advantages over the FX3005.
The first area in which the N3i excels over the FX3005 is in speed. While neither Fossil nor Suunto give clear designations of the speeds of their watches, I have noticed that the N3i is just slightly more responsive than the FX3005. The difference is not a big one, but after using both watches, the FX3005 seems to “lag” a little bit when buttons are pressed, something that I have not noticed on the N3i.
Also, the N3i has an edge over the FX3005 in the number of alarms that it can store. While the FX3005 can only handle two programmable alarms at one time, the N3i can handle three.
Finally, the N3i also has a much more advanced “chrono” feature than does the FX3005. Suunto has always been a leader in designing watches for athletes, and its experience is obvious when it comes to the many timing abilities the N3i has. While the FX3005 has only basic stopwatch and timer abilities, the N3i boasts a programmable interval trainer, interval reminders, lap-time review, and a handy logbook feature that tracks and records your times.
Another feature that bears mentioning is the backlight. Again, Fossil and Suunto have styled this feature differently from each other. The FX3005’s backlight is a white light emitted from the upper part of the watch. On the other hand, the N3i features a more traditional inversed green backlight. Both are equally effective.

Conclusions

Smart watch technology has certainly progressed quite a ways from their introduction into the market at the beginning of the year. And when you compare Suunto’s original N3 and Fossil’s first Wristnet to the N3i and FX3005 that they offer now, the difference is apparent; the new watches are more functional, more comfortable, and more compact.
Even so, after examining each watch, we can see that they were meant for different customers. The N3i, with its complex timing features and shock-proof casing is ideal for those who want not only a quick and responsive smart watch, but also a sport-ready wrist top computer.
The FX3005 also contains all the benefits of smart watch technology, but with a sleek design and a variety of watch faces to boot. These features, coupled with a butterfly clasp and an integrated leather strap make for a timepiece that the style-conscious smart watch enthusiast would not want to be without.
Thus, while the two watches both deliver quality information to your wrist, each is set aside from each other by their unique styling. Both are excellent MSN Direct powered watches; the choice of style, then, is up to you.

Fossil Wristnet FX3005

Pros:

  • Large selection of preloaded watch faces
  • Leather styled strap with butterfly clasp
  • Shiny chrome finish
  • Price ($150) is half that of N3i

    Cons:
  • Strap could use more flexibility
  • Only two programmable alarms

    Verdict: 8.2/10

    Suunto N3i

    Pros:
  • Advanced timing functions
  • Quick and responsive
  • Sport ready (shock-proof, water resistant to 100m)
  • Logbook function saves records
  • Three programmable alarms

    Cons:
  • Weak selection of preloaded watch faces
  • Watch case is wider than FX3005
  • Price ($299) is double that of FX3005

    Verdict: 8/10



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