Diesel On Full Guard Smartwatch review

Diesel's first smartwatch fakes analog down to every iridescent detail

Diesel gets its first smartwatch right by putting bold design over bloated features
Diesel gets its first smartwatch right by putting bold design over bloated features
Diesel gets its first smartwatch right by putting bold design over bloated features

Highs

  • Unique design
  • Slim, lightweight body
  • Cool customisable watch faces
  • Crystal clear, high-res screen

Lows

  • Short battery life
  • No Android Pay
  • Limited features

When it comes to wearable technology, fashion brands are doing it right. Diesel is the latest to jump on the smartwatch bandwagon, but there’s nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary about its watch. Instead, in our Diesel On Full Guard smartwatch review, we found the company did a great job in taking inspiration from its distinct analog watches to its first Android Wear 2.0 watch. This is important, because people want to wear Diesel watches, and getting people to wear smartwatches is a problem. Diesel’s giving the On Full Guard the best chance in life.

Well proportioned, and definitely a Diesel

Features aren’t really the important part of most smartwatches, even more so on on the Diesel. This is all about the design. From the LG Watch Sport to the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45, Android Wear smartwatches lately have been massive, with thick bodies, lugs that extend over wrists, and bezels that emphasize size. The Diesel On Full Guard isn’t a small watch, but the way it has been shaped makes it look sensible on the wrist.

There’s some visual trickery at work that helps create this effect. The bezel, or edges around the display, is sloped, gently integrating the screen into the body. Diesel has added four side pieces to the screen, two with buttons and the other two with fake screw heads, to give the watch some visual drama. It also matches design principles seen in its analog watches. The crown sits between two guard pieces, and if you take a look on the opposite side of the watch, the Diesel name is stamped on the body.

Flip the watch over to find Diesel’s familiar logo on the underneath. There’s no heart rate monitor here, because it’s not a sports watch. Ours came with a brown leather strap, but other models with metal bands will be available later. The strap has two black screw heads, another nod to Diesel’s analog watches, and it’s attached using quick release bars so it’s easy to change for another band. This may be necessary because in the week we’ve been wearing the watch, the leather has rubbed against the stainless steel buckle quite badly, resulting in it looking a little worn.

Lightweight and comfortable, wearing the On Full Guard all day hasn’t been a problem.

Software and watch faces

Many of the most desirable analog Diesel watches have a colored, iridescent coating over the crystal, giving it a color-changing, sci-fi look. Diesel has worked hard to add the same look to the On Full Guard, only digitally using custom watch faces. The effect can be added to any of the three Diesel watch faces included, and it looks great. Moving the watch around changes the color on the screen, just like the analog models when the light catches it in a certain way.

When it comes to wearable technology, fashion brands are doing it right.

The customization doesn’t end there. The hands, face, and movement can be changed and modified, giving the watch a look that’s completely yours. There are also three modes for changing the style of the face depending on the weather, your activity, and keeping your notifications private. For example, dust appears on the face when you haven’t moved around enough. In the near future, Diesel will add an assistant called T-ON-I, which will remind you of calendar appointments, and encourage you to up your step count in a jokey, friendly way.

The On Full Guard watch runs Android Wear 2.0. The user interface can’t be customized by manufacturers like regular Android on your phone, so the style stays consistent across all Android Wear watches. It’s faster and easier to use than Android Wear 1.0, and apps can be loaded onto the watch itself. Forget about the clunky interface you may have tried before, Android Wear 2.0 is miles ahead. However, the number of useful apps are limited, and they’re mostly forgettable. Like other smartwatches, I find the On Full Guard most useful for notifications, music control, and navigation. Anything outside of this, and it’s preferable to just get out my phone.

The crown button opens the the app screen, which you swipe through. Sadly, the On Full Guard doesn’t have a rotating bezel like the LG Watch Sport to make navigating the menus easier. The top button opens the the mode changer — where weather, activity, or do not disturb is activated — and the bottom button brings up recommended Google apps and services. A long press of the crown starts Google Assistant. Swipe up on the screen to see notifications, and down to show the quick access control center.

Diesel has concentrated on the design, and welcomed the On Full Guard into its family of watches. It’s a good thing, as Android Wear continues to be relatively underwhelming. It’s way better than it once was, but we still question the long term appeal of the platform. Detailed functions, like replying to messages with anything more than a single word, is often annoying and long-winded. Voice control isn’t something we use out in public either, limiting Google Assistant’s usefulness.

Our advice? Wear the On Full Guard because you want to wear the watch, not in anticipation of never touching your phone again. Android Wear isn’t ready for that just yet.

Screen and performance

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 processor, designed for wearables, powers the Diesel On Full Guard with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage space. Performance is more than adequate, and I didn’t notice much slow down through normal use, and I could happily swipe through the operating system without being frustrated by lag or software stutters. Using other apps was also pleasant. For example, Google Maps works using the GPS on your phone, and the experience matched the generally impressive speed of the On Full Guard.

We tried the On Full Guard connected to both an iPhone and an Android phone. The experience is very similar regardless, only more apps are available when you use an Android phone. We had no problems connecting to the watch on either platform, although on the iPhone we’d have to reconnect manually after restarting either the watch or phone.

The 1.4-inch circular screen is bright enough to be seen outdoors, and the automatic brightness adjustment worked as expected. It’s also very colorful, and deals with the iridescent hues beautifully. The 454 x 454 pixel resolution makes it sharp and crystal clear, and is higher resolution than most other Android Wear watches. It really shows. The screen’s clarity perfectly complements the watch’s bold look, and highly-detailed watch faces.

Battery life

Diesel has made a mistake by putting a small 370mAh battery inside the On Full Guard. It’s charged using a magnetic pad attached to the underneath of the watch, and takes around two hours from flat to full. In return we received about a day and a half’s use, and that was with turning it off while sleeping. This worked out to less than 24 hours, with average use.

Charging the watch every night is the only way to ensure a full day’s use. This is poor, and means we’ve got yet another device to think about charging; but it soon becomes an automatic movement, the same as charging up our phones overnight. Battery life on smartwatches isn’t going to change drastically anytime soon, so we’ve just got to live with it for now.

Feature limitations

The Diesel On Full Guard is a fashionable smartwatch, where features come second to the style. While we don’t think this is a bad thing — smartwatches, like analog watches, should be as much about the look as the features — it’s important to point out what you don’t get. It doesn’t have a heart rate sensor, GPS, or NFC.

That means you won’t be going for a run and relying on the watch, you won’t be tracking your location without your phone, and you won’t be paying for stuff with Android Pay. Think that makes the On Full Guard cheap? It doesn’t.

Availability and Warranty

The Diesel smartwatch seen here costs $325 with the brown leather strap, and will be released on October 25. Other versions with different straps, including metal ones, will cost more and be introduced later in the year.

Our Take

The Diesel On Full Guard is a modern-smartwatch-done-right. It puts a bold design first on the list, which in turn will make it appeal to fans of the brand. We need to treat buying smartwatches like choosing an analog watch, not a smartphone. This means prioritising how the watch makes us feel when we wear it, over how many gigabytes of memory it has, and the amount of features it packs in. The Diesel smartwatch won’t please tech-addicts, but that’s OK, because it’s not made to do so.

Are there better alternatives?

Because the Diesel On Full Guard is technically very similar to most other Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches, all available models  should be considered an alternative. For $350 the Huawei Watch 2 has a far greater spec sheet, with a heart rate monitor and comprehensive fitness tracking features. However, it’s a very sporty design compared to the On Full Guard.

Somewhere in-between the Huawei Watch 2 and the On Full Guard is the Samsung Gear S3. The watch is big, but it’s customizable with different straps, and we like the look of the Frontier version a lot. It runs Samsung’s Tizen software, which is an excellent alternative to Android Wear. Do note that supported apps are limited.

If you have an iPhone, the Apple Watch Series 2 is the smartwatch to buy. It integrates with iOS perfectly, provides a wealth of features including Apple Pay and an array of apps, and it’s endlessly customizable using the many different strap options out there.

However, if design is the most important thing to you, then the Diesel On Full Guard is well-priced, mostly coming up against technically identical Fossil watches. If you want to spend $500 or more, the Movado Connect is a sleek Android Wear smartwatch.

How long will it last?

Smartwatches aren’t going to get passed from generation to generation. The software and battery restrict this practice. Software updates should come to the watch on a semi-regular basis over the next couple of years, but there will come a time when they stop, meaning the watch may get slower or not run new apps. The battery also has a finite lifespan.

Another thing to consider is we’re still in the early stages of smartwatch design and technology. In two years time, devices will be different, and upgrading to a new model will be tempting. Like a smartphone, a smartwatch will be coming to the end of its life after two or three years. It won’t stop working, but tech will have moved on.

Should you buy it?

Yes, provided you’re aware it’s a purchase decision based on style and not features. Remember, it doesn’t provide the same array of features for the price as the Huawei Watch 2, the Apple Watch 2, or the Samsung Gear S3. However, while it doesn’t compete when judged on features, it beats them hands-down in style. The Diesel On Full Guard looks like an analog Diesel watch, it’s slim and comfortable, the screen is colourful and crystal clear, and we love the customizable watch faces. It’s a smartwatch you’ll buy because you like the way it looks, and that’s a rarity in the smartwatch world, particularly at this price.

We genuinely feel that design-first smartwatches are the way forward, and the Diesel On Full Guard is one of the first true examples of an industry coming to realize the fact.