Google Pixel Watch Review: A Break-Out First Effort

Google Pixel Watch: Finally, A Real Apple Watch-Competitor For The Rest Of Us

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  Google Pixel Watch - Starting At $350
Google’s Pixel Watch is an excellent Wear OS smartwatch that integrates tightly into Google’s ecosystem but suffers a bit from sub-par battery life. However, the Pixel Watch finally gives us a solid Apple Watch alternative for Android users.

Product Pros
  • Excellent design
  • Gorgeous screen
  • Responsive software and experience
  • Tight Google ecosystem integration
Product Cons
  • A little small on bigger wrists
  • Sub-par battery life
  • Convoluted setup process
  • No blood oxygen monitoring
  • Some key features require Fitbit Premium
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After years and years of rumors and leaks, Google’s elusive Pixel Watch ($350) is finally here. What started out as a pair of scrapped Nexus watches back in 2016, has morphed into a single Pixel Watch today. Since then, Android Wear has evolved into Wear OS, and Google has acquired some of Fossil Group’s intellectual property and R&D team, plus smartwatch maker Fitbit. In fact, Google co-developed Wear OS 3 together with both Samsung and Fitbit.

Meanwhile, the Apple Watch has (arguably) become the most popular smartwatch on the market, leaving everyone else in the dust. Samsung’s recent Galaxy Watch models, which run Wear OS, are solid runner-ups, but some features only work on Samsung phones. Fossil Group’s many Wear OS smartwatches don’t quite deliver the same level of polish as Apple and Samsung, and likewise, Fitbit’s smartwatches don’t offer a rich enough app ecosystem.

Then, you have ultra-specialized smartwatches like Garmin, and the plethora of smartwatches from Chinese manufacturers like Huawei, Xiaomi, and even OnePlus, which are mostly just fitness bands on steroids, with fantastic battery life but limited app support. Clearly, the Pixel Watch is facing both stiff competition and high expectations. So, was it worth the wait? Is the Pixel Watch Google’s answer to the Apple Watch for Android users?

Let’s find out in our full review.

Pixel Watch Hardware And Industrial Design

Google’s Pixel Watch is sleek and modern. Unlike other Wear OS devices – especially the smartwatches from Fossil Group – it eschews a traditional timepiece design for a more futuristic vibe, without giving up some familiar cues, such as a circular case and functional crown. It’s also more streamlined than any of Samsung’s smartwatches. Basically, the Pixel Watch is what we’d imagine a circular Apple Watch would look like.

Imagine a donut without a hole, and that’s pretty much the shape of the Pixel Watch. The top half is domed Gorilla Glass 5, while the bottom half is recycled stainless steel and is home to various health and fitness sensors, a speaker and mic (left), and a side button and mic (right). The crown is mounted dead center on the right side between the glass and stainless steel halves, and provides haptic feedback when rotated.

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Custom bands attach to the stainless steel half using a sliding mechanism that Google says is “inspired by the secure and seamless way lenses attach to cameras”. We found swapping bands to be reasonably intuitive and hassle free, but others found the process more fiddly. Our review unit came with Google’s active band (in charcoal), a fluoroelastomer band with two different lengths to accommodate a variety of wrist sizes.

While these custom bands keep the Pixel Watch looking sleek and modern, the tradeoff is that you can’t use standard watch bands  – unless you buy one of Google’s two leather bands, which consists of a standard 20mm band connected to an adapter that attaches to the Pixel Watch. In addition, Google also offers a stretch band and a woven band. All these bands come in various earthy hues from Pixel’s current color palette.

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The Pixel Watch only comes in one size (41mm in diameter), which unfortunately, looks a bit too small on larger wrists. It’s available in polished silver (like our review unit), matte black, or Champagne gold, and is water resistant up to 5 ATM (a depth of 50m / 164ft). A magnetic wireless charging base with a captive USB Type-C cable is included in the box, but sadly the Pixel Watch isn’t compatible with Qi wireless charging pads.

As an aside, we’d have preferred if the supplied charging base featured a USB Type-C connector (like Huawei does with the charging base for its smartwatches) instead of a cable, allowing the Pixel Watch to be charged like a phone or earbuds. Right now, if you want to use a USB Type-C charging brick, you have to disconnect the C-to-C cable that’s plugged into it, then connect the charging puck, which is a hassle. These details matter.

Pixel Watch Specifications

Processing Samsung Exynos 9110 wearable SoC + ARM Cortex M33 co-processor
Display 1.2" AMOLED,  450 x 450 resolution
Storage 32GB eMMC
Battery 294 mAh, wireless charging
OS Watch: Wear OS 3.5, Phone: Android 8.0+
Dimensions 41.0mm dia. x 12.3mm
Weight Watch: 36 grams
Connectivity WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS, 4G LTE (optional)
Colors Polished silver, Matte black, Champagne gold
Pricing Find the Pixel Watch @ Amazon, Starting at $350

Pixel Watch Display Quality

Google didn’t skimp on the Pixel Watch’s display. It’s a 1.2-inch diameter AMOLED panel, 450 pixels across (320dpi) which can reach 1000 nits of brightness. Colors are punchy, blacks are inky, and it’s easy to read in direct sunlight. There’s a significant black bezel (5mm wide) under the glass around the screen in the area where the glass half curves to meet the stainless steel half, but it’s not really noticeable in everyday use.

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If, like us, you expect your watches to always show the time, you can enable the Pixel Watch's always-on display in the settings. Be warned, however, that this feature consumes a lot of power, and since the Pixel Watch’s battery life is already challenging (more on this later), we ended up turning it off.

Google Pixel Watch Audio And Connectivity

By default, Google's Pixel Watch includes Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS support, but 4G LTE connectivity is available for an additional $50. Unfortunately, while our review unit supports LTE, we didn’t have access to an eSIM voucher to test this functionality. The Pixel Watch also features NFC for contactless payments via Google Pay, which works fine as long as you remember to double press the crown to activate it.

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We didn't experience any issues with Bluetooth, WiFi, or GPS connectivity. Calls sounded clear on both ends when using the built-in speaker, and pairing Bluetooth earbuds with the Pixel Watch was trouble free. This lets you enjoy music while working out without having to bring your phone. Obviously, you can also use the Pixel Watch as a media remote for your phone.

Pixel Watch Performance And Battery Life

Google’s Pixel Watch is powered by a 10nm Samsung Exynos 9110 wearable SoC (dual-core Cortex A53), which first appeared on Samsung’s original Galaxy Watch back in 2018. This seems like an odd choice in 2022, considering Samsung’s been using its 5nm Exynos W920 chip (dual-core Cortex A55) on the Galaxy Watch for the past two years. The Pixel Watch also includes an ARM Cortex M33 co-processor for low-power operation.

In the Pixel Watch, this Exynos 9110 SoC is paired with 2GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. Other specs include 4G LTE (optional), WiFi (802.11n), Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and A-GPS / GLONASS / Galileo / BeiDou positioning. The Pixel Watch also packs a compass, an altimeter, a blood oxygen sensor, a multipurpose electrical sensor, an optical heart rate sensor, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, and an ambient light sensor.

Despite using a four year old chip, the Pixel Watch feels pretty responsive. Subjectively, it performs better than any other Wear OS 3 smartwatch we’ve used, including those from Fossil Group (which mostly feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 and 4100), and even Samsung’s current Galaxy Watch models. Perhaps this is because the Pixel Watch boasts more RAM (2GB) than any other Wear OS smartwatch.

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The only area where the Pixel Watch falls short is battery life. Most days, our Pixel watch has basically been idling on our wrist, other than showing notifications, making a few NFC payments, and tracking steps, heart rate, and sleep. But even with the always-on display and LTE disabled – and without working out, making calls, or using Google Assistant – we’ve struggled to achieve Google’s 24h rating.

It turns out that sleep tracking is really power hungry. Google recommends the Pixel Watch have at least a 30% charge to record an entire night’s sleep (seven-ish hours). That’s been our experience, but considering most fitness bands can track sleep – plus daily activities – for a week or longer on a single charge, the Pixel Watch’s energy consumption while tracking sleep (using Bedtime Mode) seems excessive.

The Pixel Watch’s smaller 294mAh battery isn’t helping. Most Wear OS smartwatches use cells with a capacity of about 400mAh. We can’t help but think that a slightly larger case (44mm, say) would have allowed the Pixel Watch to feature a larger battery and fit larger wrists better, without looking out of place on smaller wrists. Regardless, we suggest you keep your charging base within reach, especially if you want to track your sleep.

On the plus side, the Pixel Watch delivers excellent haptics, both for notifications and when spinning the crown. That being said, we’d like to have a way to adjust vibration strength for notifications.

Pixel Watch Software And User Experience

The Pixel Watch runs Wear OS 3.5 and supports all the Google services you’d expect, including Google Assistant, Google Pay, Google Home, Google Maps, and even YouTube Music. It also integrates seamlessly with other Google apps, like Calendar, Camera, Contacts, Keep Notes, Messages, Phone, and Photos. So obviously, if you’re heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem, you’ll feel right at home.

Using the Pixel Watch is pretty intuitive, and the UI is standard Wear OS. Just raise your wrist or tap the screen to wake up the watch and display the current watch face. Swipe down on the watch face to show the battery level, connection status, and quick settings (including shortcuts to the settings menu, Google Home and Google Pay). Swipe up to show a list of recent notifications, plus a “clear all” button.

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Additionally, swipe left or right to cycle through a carousel of tiles such as activity, heart rate, sleep, agenda, weather, timer, alarm, Google Maps, and YouTube Music – to name a few. Basically, think of these tiles as app widgets. Touching and holding the current tile allows you to remove it or change its position in the carousel. Similarly, touching and holding the current watch face lets you remove or customize it.

Press the crown to display a list of installed apps. Scroll through the list and tap to launch an app. Once inside an app, swipe right to return to the previous screen. Double press the crown for Google Pay, and long-press the crown for the power menu. Press the side button to show a list of recent apps. Double press the side button to return to the last app, and long-press the side button (or say “Hey Google”) for Google Assistant.

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Obviously, you can install additional apps and watch faces from the Google Play Store, either on the Pixel Watch itself, or using Google’s Play Store and Watch apps on your phone. Google’s Watch app also lets you manage tiles and watch faces directly from your handset. Some notifications are actionable, and you can expand notifications by tapping on them, or dismiss individual notifications by swiping left or right.

Google Pixel Watch Setup Process

Before we mention the Pixel Watch’s health and fitness features, let’s take a moment to discuss the setup process. Unfortunately, setting up the Pixel Watch is a somewhat convoluted affair. With most Android smartwatches, you just need to install one companion app on your phone to unlock the device’s full capabilities. As a bonus, this companion app often automatically syncs health and fitness data with Google’s Fit app.

The Pixel Watch requires Google’s Watch app and the Fitbit app, but not Google’s Fit app, which is unexpected. Now, the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch also require two apps (Samsung’s Wearable and Health apps, plus Apple’s Watch and Health apps, respectively), but those apps usually come pre-installed on the company’s respective phones, and use a single login to connect to their respective ecosystems.

Also, Samsung Health syncs with Google Fit, and Apple Fitness – an optional app focused on workouts – syncs with Apple Health. That’s not how it works with the Pixel Watch. Not only does the Fitbit app not sync with Google Fit, it requires a completely separate login from your Google login. Even worse, the Fitbit app doesn’t use Google Sign-In to streamline account login. Your Fitbit account is a separate ecosystem of its own.

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So when you set up your Pixel Watch, you’ll have to create a Fitbit account if you don’t already have one, and none of your Fitbit health and fitness data will sync to Google Fit. If you want to sync your health and fitness data from your Fitbit account to Google Fit, you’ll have to install a separate, third-party app like FitToFit on your handset. Now, we realize Google only recently acquired Fitbit, but this seems like a major omission.

You’d think that the Pixel Watch – which is meant to showcase Google’s wearable ecosystem – would fully integrate with Google Fit, the company’s own health and fitness platform. Adding to the confusion, you can install the Google Fit watch app on the Pixel Watch to collect some basic health and fitness data. But this data often contradicts Fitbit’s data. Where Google Fit might count 8,594 steps, Fitbit might count 8,242 steps.

In addition, during setup, our Pixel Watch didn’t automatically install watch apps for every matching phone app. For example, despite having the Google Camera app installed on our Pixel 7 Pro, we had to manually install the matching Google Camera watch app. We also had to manually install the Photos watch face and the FitBit ECG watch app.

Pixel Watch Health And Fitness Features

As we established during the setup process, health and fitness on Google’s Pixel Watch is primarily handled via the Fitbit app. The company, which was recently acquired by Google, has spent years building a top-notch health and fitness tracking ecosystem around bespoke hardware and software – providing detailed sleep and workout tracking with advanced features such as heart rate zones, daily readiness, etc…

During our time with the Pixel Watch, we only scratched the surface of what’s possible with Fitbit’s health and fitness features, which include sleep tracking, step counting, heart rate monitoring, 40 workout types, and more. Basically, the Pixel Watch does everything a Fitbit smartwatch can do, except for blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring, which is coming to the Pixel Watch at some point in the future.

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Unfortunately, some key features, which are available for free on other smartwatches (like sleep score breakdown), are only available on the Pixel Watch with a Fitbit Premium membership, which costs $10 per month or $80 per year. While the Pixel Watch comes with a complimentary six-month Fitbit Premium membership, it seems misguided for Google to charge for features that are standard on other smartwatches.

On the other hand, Fitbit Premium also includes advanced features that are similar to what Apple offers with its paid Fitness+ membership, like audio workouts and guided meditations. So if these are the kind of features you’re looking for, Fitbit Premium might be worth the additional cost.

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Pixel Watch Final Review Analysis

Google’s Pixel Watch is an attractive Wear OS smartwatch with a beautiful screen and responsive software that integrates tightly into Google’s ecosystem. In addition, the Fitbit app offers best-in-class health and fitness features, and its $350 price point is competitive. As such, the Pixel Watch is the first smartwatch that delivers a true Apple Watch-like experience for all Android phone users. That’s a big deal.

But, despite being years in the making, the Pixel Watch is also very much a first generation product that comes with some major limitations. It’s too small for larger wrists, battery life is disappointing, the setup process needs some polish, and there’s no blood oxygen monitoring out of the gate. Also, it's a bummer that you need a Premium membership to fully enjoy Fitbit’s excellent health and fitness features.

In all, we think the Pixel Watch is definitely worth considering if you’re planning to use it for everything but sleep tracking, and are open to paying for Fitbit Premium. You might also want to buy a Fitbit Inspire fitness band to wear while you sleep to maximize the Pixel Watch’s battery life. For those with a Samsung handset, the Galaxy Watch 5 might be a better option. The rest of you should probably wait until Google launches the Pixel Watch gen two.

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