Good fitness features
Wear OS is maturing
So-so battery life
Some features require subscription
Already slightly slow
The Pixel Watch has an uphill battle ahead in the tight smartwatch space. Apple has the benefit of being the only manufacturer to build devices on its watchOS platform, now on its 8th generation. Other brands have been building Android-based watches for years, and while the only rivals running Google’s Wear OS 3 software are the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, and Galaxy Watch 5, they’re both great devices, and plenty of others have committed to supporting the new operating system.
All that to say that Google isn’t the de facto Android winner here. It has to do a lot to truly compete—and simply owning Fitbit isn’t necessarily enough. But with a great design, good fitness features, and a finally maturing operating system, the Pixel Watch definitely makes its mark.
About the Google Pixel Watch
- Display: 1.2-inch 400 x 400 OLED
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 9110
- Connectivity: LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Navigation: A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS
- Sensors: Accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate, altimeter, compass, SpO2
- Water/Dust Resistance: 5ATM (50 meters), IP68
- Audio: Microphone and speaker
- Battery: Up to 24 hours (without always-on display)
- Storage: 32 GB, 2GB RAM
Unlike Apple and Samsung smartwatches, Google’s Pixel Watch only comes in one size—41mm. It has detachable bands with a variety of options to try out (one is included), and comes in two variants: a pricier LTE model ($399.99 MSRP), and a smartphone-dependent version ($349.99 MSRP). Like Apple and Samsung smartwatches, the Pixel Watch only works with one mobile operating system (Android).
Both available models come in four different color combinations: Champagne Gold with a Hazel Active band, Matte Black with an Obsidian Active band, Polished Silver with a Charcoal Active band, and Polished Silver with a Chalk Active band. We’re reviewing the Polished Silver with a Charcoal Active band, and it is a cellular model, however we are not testing the cellular connectivity for this review.
What we like
Stylish design and display
Let’s get one thing out of the way upfront: I don’t mind the watch’s relatively large bezels. Most of that has to do with the fact that the software is hiding them almost all of the time. Sure, a larger display would have been nice, but the bezels don’t really detract from the overall Pixel Watch experience.
Generally, I really like the look of the Pixel Watch—especially the Polished Silver model, which reminds me a lot of the silver stainless steel Apple Watch (for which you’ll pay a premium). The Pixel Watch is stainless steel too, but without the price bump.
The top half of the device is a curved glass, which is interrupted only by the crown on the right side. On the bottom you’ll find the health-tracking sensors that are hidden when you’re actually wearing the watch.
One of the things I like most about the Pixel Watch design is how elegant it is. Many smartwatches take a more rugged approach, and while some prefer that, there’s definitely room for a more scaled-back, minimalistic approach. It’s more my speed than the chunkier devices out there, and I suspect many buyers feel the same.
The display is pretty good too. It’s crisp and bright enough for most scenarios. By default, always-on mode is disabled, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for Google’s confidence in the device’s battery. I like having an always-on display, so I enabled it.
Good fitness tracking
A few years ago, Google bought Fitbit for over $2 billion—and it seems as though that purchase is finally paying off. Under the hood, at least from a fitness-tracking perspective, the Pixel Watch leverages many Fitbit features.
The device offers support for 40 different workout types, it measures your heart rate every second, has an ECG sensor, and has a blood oxygen sensor (although the latter is not currently available for active tracking). Unfortunately, there’s no temperature sensor, which is a little frustrating given that Fitbit has been including temperature sensors on some of its devices for a few years now.
There seems to be some confusion about whether or not the Pixel Watch can automatically track workouts. Google confirmed to 9to5Google that the Pixel Watch does not support automatic tracking of workouts with features like automatic pausing, but it can still detect some activities without initiation. It logged a walk I took without initiation via the Fitbit app, and when I played tennis and failed to start a tennis workout, it logged it as “Sport.”
Sure, it’s not as precise as if you did initiate a workout of a particular type—but it’s better than not being logged at all. The Apple Watch can automatically detect if you’re working out and prompt you to start tracking or pause mid-workout, and the Galaxy Watch 5 can detect certain activities automatically in the same way, which gives them an advantage there.
The Pixel Watch sleep tracking seemed to work well, though the results were often pretty different than those tracked by my Apple Watch Series 8. As with any consumer device, the Pixel Watch is a great way to compare your sleep from night to night, but don’t take it as super-accurate medical information. For example, while my Apple Watch noted one hour of deep sleep during the night, the Pixel Watch almost doubled it at one hour and fifty-six minutes. That’s a pretty huge difference, but it’s hard to tell which is actually wrong, or if both are.
It’s important to note that it does lack some sensors compared to its biggest competition, the Galaxy Watch 5. For example, the Galaxy Watch 5 offers a blood pressure sensor (if you live outside the U.S.), and can calculate body composition. Both of these are relatively new in the wearable space, and it’s expected that they’ll come to new devices in the next few years.
Wear OS 3 is a great step forward
Wear OS 3 doesn’t necessarily radically change the Android wearable experience, but it certainly refines it. It’s now a relatively well-designed operating system that does pretty much everything you could want. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, but all the basics are there, and the interface is generally easy to navigate. It’s especially handy if you (like me) prefer Google Assistant to Samsung’s Bixby assistant, and it makes it easier to integrate other Google services, too.
Most of the time, you’ll be looking at the home screen, or the watch face. There are a range of watch faces you can choose from and customize, and I recommend doing so as soon as you get your device. I ended up using the Pilot watch face with complications for notifications, battery, steps, and the date. It’s not the fanciest setup, but it perfectly serves my needs.
From the watch face, you can swipe down from the top to access quick settings, up from the bottom to show notifications, and to the left or right to rotate between Tiles. Tiles are basically full-screen views for information like steps, heart rate, calendar events, weather, and so on. You can customize the Tiles you want to see so you don’t have to scroll through those you don’t. It all works quite well.
Pressing the watch crown from the home screen will open your app list, and pressing it from anywhere else will take you back to your watch face. Pressing the secondary button will show you your recently-used apps. It’s a relatively easy-to-use system, and you’ll be guided through a tutorial when you set up the watch.
What we don’t like
Battery life shorter than expected
Feature-rich smartwatches aren’t exactly known for their battery life, and unfortunately the Google Pixel Watch doesn’t buck that trend. The battery is fine, and will be enough to get you through the day, but not much more than that. If you want to use the Pixel Watch for sleep-tracking, I recommend charging it before you go to bed too—so potentially, you’ll need to charge it before bed, and when you wake up.
I put the Pixel Watch on at 8:30 AM at 100%, and by 9:30 PM, it was down to 30%. That day included a few walks that were automatically tracked and one 20-minute run that I initiated manually. I like having the always-on-display, and it was enabled.
You’ll need to charge the device for sleep tracking. Google recommends you have at least 30% remaining before sleep, which is exactly how much I had left. I charged it to full, and when I woke up and stopped sleep-tracking I had 79% remaining. If I hadn’t charged, I would be cutting it a little too close for comfort. There is a Battery Saver mode that disables the always-on display and tilt-to-wake feature, but you’ll generally only use that if you’re caught out on low battery.
Now, none of this is radically worse than devices like the Apple Watch, but the Apple Watch also doesn’t represent a high bar when it comes to battery life, and it gets more than the Pixel Watch by at least a few hours. If the 18 hours Apple promises isn’t enough, the low-power mode in watchOS 9 pushes it up to 36 hours.
The Galaxy Watch 5 is nearly on-par with the Pixel Watch though, and in our review, ended the day with around 20% remaining. (Samsung also sells an upgraded version, the Watch 5 Pro, which adds a sizeable battery boost for a similarly sizeable price hike.)
If you’re prepared to charge twice per day, or don’t want to use the device for sleep-tracking, then you’ll be perfectly fine with the Pixel Watch battery life—but others may run into some issues.
Somewhat fragmented app support
Google has a history of a fragmented app strategy. While it’s not as bad as the company’s messaging apps (e.g. Google Chat, Hangouts, Meet, etc.), the Pixel Watch does work with a range of different apps, and depending on the apps you’ve used in the past, that can make things a little complicated.
For starters, there’s the basic Pixel Watch app, which lets you customize your watch faces, Tiles, and so on. It’s not a bad app, and you’ll be able to navigate it relatively easily. Then there’s the Fitbit app, which is where you’ll see all your health and activity metrics.
But what if you’ve used Google Fit? You don’t want to have to switch apps and lose all your information. The two services don’t currently really work together, and while you can install Google Fit on your watch, that basically just means that the Fit and Fitbit apps will track information separately. Hopefully for Google Fit users, the two will merge at some point soon.
Performance can be sluggish at times
The Pixel Watch uses a relatively old processor, and while most of the time, it was able to keep up with my demands, it did occasionally stutter or freeze for half a second. That’s not a huge issue right now, but it remains to be seen how this will affect future updates. It would be nice to see Google develop its own wearable processor, given the fact that it now develops its own smartphone processors.
Premium subscription required for best health tracking
Google includes six months of Fitbit Premium with the Pixel Watch. But what do you lose after six months if you don’t want to pay? Well, turns out, a fair amount. Some of it, like Fitbit’s 200+ video and audio workouts, makes sense to have to pay for—but some of it should just be included with a fitness tracker.
Generally, anything that is tracked by the hardware, or that uses data tracked by the hardware, should be included in the price. Some examples of metrics locked behind the Fitbit Premium subscription include your stress management score, a detailed breakdown of your sleep score, and your daily readiness score. These are metrics calculated using the data collected by your device, and I don’t see why you should have to pay to access them.
Hopefully, Google will start wrapping Fitbit’s technology into the cost of the hardware itself and unbundle extra content from that.
Should you buy the Google Pixel Watch?
Yes, if you want a fashion-forward Android wearable
The Google Pixel Watch may be a first-generation product for Google, but it builds on the many years of Fitbit’s fitness experience and Google’s experience building software for wearables. Because of its Fitbit roots, the Pixel Watch makes for an excellent fitness wearable, even for those who don’t end up paying for Fitbit Premium. It’s also very well-designed and offers a solid display.
It’s not perfect, though. The battery life isn’t great, and I don’t love the idea of having to pay to access certain health metrics after Fitbit Premium expires. It can't automatically start/stop workouts like some rivals, and the device can feel slightly slow at times. It’s hard to compete with the Galaxy Watch 5, which offers slightly better battery life and health sensors like a body composition sensor. That said, the features are mostly similar if you don’t care about body composition or if you live in the U.S., where you can’t access the Galaxy Watch 5’s blood pressure sensor.
If you’re looking for an excellent Wear OS smartwatch that looks good and serves as a great fitness device, the Pixel Watch is absolutely worth considering—and if you prefer its design and don’t mind charging regularly, it’s probably the Android watch to get.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Christian de Looper
Originally from Australia, Christian has long had a passion for gadgets and consumer electronics. Christian has experience reviewing products in all areas of the consumer tech world, and is dedicated to helping people find the best products for their lifestyle.
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