Sitting down to write a review about the Google Pixel Watch is both exciting and a bit surprising. It’s exciting because this is Google’s first watch, a watch we’ve been begging them to build for a number of years. It’s surprising because I had arrived mentally at a place where I assumed they’d never make one and that Wear OS might disappear without its creator ever giving it a real shot. But here we are.
This first attempt at a smartwatch from Google comes with so much hype and a level of expectation that I’m not sure any company is capable of hitting. Still, they went for it or least did in some ways while clearly playing it safe in others. And if “safe” isn’t the correct word, let’s just say that Google is very much working on where this watch was meant to end up, which may not be OK to anyone outside of the early adopters who understand this way of life.
I’ve had a Pixel Watch on the wrist for a solid week+ now and that has been plenty of time to share all of the thoughts. If you are ready, let’s get after it – this is our Google Pixel Watch review.
What’s good about the Pixel Watch?
Before we dive in, a small recap is probably needed. The Pixel Watch, in case you already forgot, costs either $349 or $399. The lower price gets you Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, while that higher price gets you the option to connect to a cellular network. It comes in silver, black, or gold cases, with all sorts of band options.
As for specs, everything is powered by an older dual-core Exynos 9110 chip (from 2018) with a co-processor there to help with lighter loads. There’s a 41mm case holding a domed glass AMOLED display that Google won’t give a diameter for, but is at least covered in a custom Gorilla Glass. You’ll find 32GB storage, 2GB RAM, Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, GPS, NFC, Wear OS 3.5, and a 294mAh battery that Google claims can last around 24 hours. There’s also a rotating crown, additional side button, speaker, microphone, heartrate sensor, 5ATM water resistance, and a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor that isn’t quite working yet.
See, as I explained in the opening, Google both went for it in specs and also didn’t.
Design and size. I love the look of the Pixel Watch. A 41mm case with domed glass and a slim profile is about the best combination of ideas you could ask for in a smartwatch. Then, you toss in stainless steel for a premium weight on the wrist and a well-made band and you’ve got the best design of any Wear OS smartwatch. I’m not sure I’d quite call it “a round Apple Watch,” because it doesn’t have the fit and finish that Apple has perfected over the years, but it’s closer than any other smartwatch.
The slimness of the Pixel Watch with its manageable case size means I’ve often forgotten that I’m wearing it. Or at the very least, it blends into my day without getting in the way, like so many smartwatches can do, since so many are excessive in size. I feel like I’ve been testing nothing but massive watches lately, like the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, Apple Watch Ultra, and my Garmin Forerunner 955, that this smaller size has been a refreshing change.
The Pixel Watch has its own unique look, thanks to the watch band connection directly into the watch case. While we aren’t fans of proprietary band systems, connecting the band directly to the case has helped in wearability and that unique look I just mentioned. Nothing really looks like this watch and that’s a good thing.
If I had a complaint, it’s probably that the rotating crown looks a little cheap. It’s metal and matches the stainless steel of the case, but its teeth, mushroom top design, and the feel of it rotating aren’t great. It’s also small enough and those teeth don’t actually offer much grip, so scrolling with it can be a frustrating experience.
Generally speaking, I think the Pixel Watch looks great, partly because of its design, but also because it fits on the wrist as a watch should.
Performance. The older dual-core Exynos 9110 chip that Google used in the Pixel Watch, which is 4 years old, still runs well. I know they customized the chip setup some by adding a co-processor for less intense tasks, but the 9110 doing most of the work hasn’t meant sluggish performance.
For me, testing the performance of a smartwatch usually happens when I’m on a run and GPS is active. I feel like that situation puts quite a bit of a strain on most smartwatches, so trying to do other activities while that is running can tell you a lot. On the Pixel Watch, while 20 minutes into an outdoor run, I was able to easily flip between the active Fitbit activity and Spotify to change songs, plus I ran Google Assistant commands to check the weather, set time-based reminders, etc. The Pixel Watch didn’t stutter. I was quite impressed, as I can’t tell you how many other watches I’ve tested over the years that simply fall on their faces doing those same tasks.
I’ve yet to be able to slow the Pixel Watch down during my week of testing. I haven’t even needed to reboot it to keep things fresh. It just runs and runs. As much as I’d love to see a newer and more efficient chip used in Google’s expensive watch, they appear to be getting the most out of this one. Let’s hope they continue to for the 3 years they plan to support it.
Display. Google doesn’t want to say anywhere, for reasons we can only speculate on, but the Pixel Watch has a 1.2″ display. It is fully round and AMOLED and with 320 ppi. It is covered in domed Gorilla Glass to help with scratches and has brightness up to 1000 nits. It is a very nice smartwatch display with excellent touch responsiveness and a unique look.
I’ve used the Pixel Watch indoors mostly, but have definitely taken it into this weird Portland October sun for hours on end. In all situations it has been perfectly clear, with great auto-brightness adjustments and excellent view-ability. Touching the display feels soft and smooth, with responses that are instant as your finger requires. Swiping out notifications or scrolling the UI is frictionless and exact, which I can’t say for most smartwatches.
Oh, you came to this section hoping for complaints about bezels? I haven’t noticed them all week. If you turn the flashlight on or catch a weird angle when outside, you might see bezels, but otherwise you’ll just look down and a see a pretty domed smartwatch on your wrist. That may be disappointing to internet hater guy who wasn’t going to buy the Pixel Watch anyway, and I’m sorry to you, internet hater guy.
I’d actually argue that Google’s domed approach does a better job of hiding smartwatch bezels than flat setups. Like, you guys have seen the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and its deep-dish thickness, right? I’ll take this Pixel Watch styling all day, every day over that.
Battery life. Alright, this is a touchy one. Battery life is fine for the battery size that Google included. Is battery life excellent? Nope! Is it bad? Nah, not for this tiny battery. If anything, it’s closer to being good for what it is. Let me explain.
Google included a smallish 294mAh battery in the Pixel Watch, likely to keep it in this 41mm case. A battery that small is never going to lead to two or three day battery life on an actual smartwatch that is constantly checking things like your heartrate. Google rates it as lasting around 24 hours. So you know, the Apple Watch Series 8 is rated at 18 hours by Apple. Samsung, as far as I can tell, doesn’t rate their watches like that. The 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 has a 284mAh battery.
During my testing, I can safely say that Google’s 24-hour rating is probably just right. I ran setups with the always-on display both on and off and as you can imagine, they lead to very different results that average out to that rating.
On my first couple of days with always-on display (AOD) on, I was able to squeeze about 20 hours out of a 100% charge. Those days included an hour-long workout (6% battery drop) and sleep tracking. When I went to bed on that first full day, I had 30% remaining and then woke up in the morning at 4% battery and desperately needing the charger. On the second day, I actually topped off the watch to 40% before bed because it was not going to make it through the night. Again, this was with always-on display turned on. I recommend turning AOD off.
Once I turned always-on display to off, the story changed a lot. On one day, I pulled it off the charger with 100% at 8:30AM and took the watch for a 45-minute outdoor GPS run (13% battery drop), wore it the rest of the day and through the night to track sleep. I never once topped off and woke up the next morning with 8% left. On other days, with no workouts, I went to bed with 57% left and woke up to 36%.
So if you don’t workout much, this will easily last you a day and then some, even with sleep tracking. For those who get active in a day, hour-long workouts, as long as always-on display is off the rest of the day, can still happen without the need to top off. That’s not bad!
I know that we all wish the Pixel Watch had magic inside and would last a week, but it can’t at this size, the battery is simply too small. But for what Google put together here, it lasts longer than I thought it would. Now, you just have to decide if charging your watch every day is a task worth performing, because you’ll need to.
Speaking of charging, the Pixel Watch charges at about the rate Google claims, if not a bit faster. My first charge went from 32% to 82% in 23 minutes, hitting 100% in 41 minutes. On a day that I slapped the watch on the charger with 3% remaining, it hit 100% in just over an hour. Having your smartwatch off the wrist for an entire hour isn’t great, but I’ve certainly tested plenty of Samsung watches that are much, much slower.
Fitbit, for the most part. The Pixel Watch is not only the first smartwatch from Google, it’s the first smartwatch built in partnership with the now-Google-owned Fitbit and the first to have somewhat deep Fitbit integration. While Fitbit sells their semi-smartwatches, this is a true smartwatch with Fitbit included. That’s a big deal.
As for how that Fitbit integration works or whether or not it meets the moment is to be debated. First of all, buying a Pixel Watch means you get 6 months of Fitbit premium included for free, but for most people, I think they’ll probably get enough Fitbit tracking without having to pay for premium once that 6 months is up.
Fitbit premium on the Pixel Watch gets you a daily readiness score, advanced sleep analytics, stress management score breakdown, and some other less interesting stats. All of the heartrate tracking, (most of) the sleep tracking (including automatic sleep tracking), fitness scores, breathing rate, ECG app access, and all-day activity tracking are included.
Of course, much has been made about the lack of automatic workout tracking (and ending), plus the blood oxygen sensor (SpO2) is not currently doing much. A Fitbit rep tells me it is being used to help “inform the Fitbit sleep experience through estimated oxygen variation” and that Fitbit “hopes to expand the use of this sensor to share more data with users in the future.” Fall detection is another feature that is coming soon (this winter). Oh, there’s no skin temperature tracking, which has sort of become a thing that fitness trackers have started to include.
In use, the Fitbit app on the Pixel Watch is easy enough to use. You can fire it up and pick from a number of activities to perform. Once in those, you have a main data screen with limited customization, plus a weird metric screen off to the right that sort of provides a live recap of what’s happening. I actually don’t get the point of it, but it’s there. There is a Fitbit Today app that tries to show all of your day’s stats, similar to what you might find on the Fitbit app’s main page. Things like your step count, floor count, heartrate stats, workouts, sleep info, etc. are all in there.
As someone who uses a Garmin for workout tracking, this is several steps if not floors below. This is a basic fitness tracking experience, which is probably perfect for most people. If you need a simple UI without too many metrics to keep track of, it does a really good job of that. Fitbit is loved for a reason. And to be honest, the simplicity of the info provided upfront with the option to drill down into more (thanks to premium) has been a nice change of pace.
I have some minor complaints, like no vibrations at mile intervals when on a run, no way to tell once the GPS has locked if it remains locked, that sort of thing. For example, if you start a GPS workout, you can see it searching for GPS to start, but then once it connects there is no indication of that status. Being able to customize more workout pages would also come in handy.
For GPS and heartrate tracking accuracy, I’ve been pleased with the results. The couple of GPS runs I’ve done were right on path. I can’t say I put it through downtown Portland buildings or anything, but my typical run routes mapped correctly. The heartrate tracking has been about what I expect from other watches. The types of workouts I do, I kind of have a good feel for where my heart should be at each stage and this was usually within range. My last workout dropped off a bit, but that tends to be the type of workout, not so much the watch.
I could probably go on and on here, but overall, using Fitbit through the Pixel Watch has been a seamless experience. Once the watch is setup and connected to the Fitbit app, it just tracks all of your daily happenings into the Fitbit app. The ease of use, with the free premium subscription, and the long list of items tracked has made for an easy transition from other fitness trackers I use. I actually plan on sticking with this setup for a while and finally giving Fitbit some love.
Bands. Like battery life, this is a touchy subject. I’m considering the bands of the Pixel Watch to be good because the Active Band they are including is very nice for this type of sport band. This rubber feels amazing on the wrist and is as comfortable as any of I’ve used. The included small and large options is a nice touch as well.
I’m also very excited to try out the Stretch and Woven bands from Google and have those on order. Additionally, Google is selling leather bands, plus they plan to sell premium stainless steel bands next year. The selection out of the gate is solid and quality (so far) seems great.
Where I have an issue is in availability. The Stretch and Woven bands I pre-ordered on day 1 are not here and are apparently delayed, which is annoying. The bands are not inexpensive at $49 to $200. And there’s that whole proprietary connection thing that is obnoxious. Hopefully, we’ll see more affordable options from accessory makers, because Google’s options are expensive and hard to find. Thankfully, the quality is at least top notch (on the Active Band).
What’s there to complain about?
Size options. Google made a single 41mm Pixel Watch that lasts a day on a single charge and fits perfectly on my wrist. As fine as I am with battery life and as much as I like this size, we live in a world where choices are a good thing. Both Apple and Samsung offer multiple sizes of their best watches, because plenty of people wouldn’t mind a slightly bigger watch for aesthetic reasons and also because it means a bigger battery that lasts longer.
I have no idea if Google is working on a Pixel Watch (2nd Gen), but I sure hope they are. They need to give us another size in case we prefer a bigger watch. As someone who can’t say no to a big sporty smartwatch, I’d love to see what this domed design in a 44mm case looks like on-wrist and what that could mean for battery life.
Software. The Pixel Watch is the classic Google product. It’s built reasonably well, looks slick, and isn’t priced horribly, but it also lacks some of the comforts of competitors. The software is the easier place to point to to explain that.
Wear OS 3.5 runs quite well on the Pixel Watch, but there are all sorts of settings I need that aren’t here. For one, because I have the always-on display off, I’d love for there to be a setting that allows notifications to wake the watch. That way, when I feel the buzz on my wrist for an email, I can flip my wrist up and the watch is already awake to show me the news. Right now, you can’t do that. You feel the buzz, then hopefully flip your wrist properly to wake the watch to try and catch the notification before it disappears.
Another example is for sleep tracking. The Apple Watch will warn you in the evening if it doesn’t think you’ll have enough battery left to track sleep until the morning. The Pixel Watch will warn you if your battery is super low, but it’s not smart enough to make that prior-to-bed recommendation.
In Wear OS 3, Google got rid of the Google Assistant panel that lived off to the left of the home screen. It was sort of like an old Google Now page, that let you fire up the Google Assistant and check on your day. I miss it already. I also wish there were haptic intensity controls, because the haptics are too lite. I’d like to see all of the settings match-up from the companion app on the phone to those on the wrist, because they are quite different. It would be nice to customize the quick settings area and to have battery profiles too.
I think the biggest takeaway is that this new Wear OS 3.5 runs well and looks nice enough, but it’s very bare bones. It needs a more robust set of settings and features. However, Google is only getting started here and so I’d imagine it is going to take some time for Google to every match the other watches in the space.
Pricing. My initial reaction to pricing was pretty muted. I thought Google had priced the Pixel Watch OK. After spending a week with it and when considering the wild starting point of the Galaxy Watch 5, as well as the overall specs, I can’t help but think this is a watch that should be under $300. I’m already looking forward to the wave of discounts that should drop it there.
Unboxing, setup, and tour
First 10 things to do
Should you buy a Google Pixel Watch?
First generation products, especially those from Google, can be tough to straight-up recommend. The Pixel Watch is different in that it does feel more polished than I expected. So far, I haven’t had any issues with the watch and like quite a bit of what it is offering.
I think this design is one of the best in the smartwatch industry. It wears so well because of the 41mm case and round frame that the bands fit directly into. It looks stylish enough too, plus the performance has been much better than anticipated for its old chip.
Battery life is going to be an area that will turn people off. This is a watch that you will have to charge every single day. That’s just the reality of a battery this small in a device trying to do this much. So that’s probably the biggest focus for you if you are considering one.
But look, the Fitbit integration has been a pleasure, the display is lovely to look at, the bands are comfortable, and this new Wear OS 3.5 experience is off to a great start. My plan for now is to use a Pixel Watch going forward. I really like this watch, so we’ll see how long I can handle charging on the daily.
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