Google Pixel Watch Review

After years of speculation, teases and leaks, we finally have the Google Pixel Watch smartwatch. As someone who’s never owned a smartwatch, I was keen to see how well this next step in Googles Pixel ecosystem comes together. Starting at $349.99 for the Bluetooth/WiFI model and $399.99 for the 4G LTE variant(which I got here for review), the Pixel Watch starts off rather promisingly. For reference, that’s half the price of Apples Series 8 watches and tiny bit cheaper than Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 series. After a month of use, I come away both optimistic and disappointed. The Pixel Watch is a very good first attempt by Google that gets a lot right but is also very clearly, a first-gen product with lots of room for improvement.

Google Pixel Watch Review

Google’s new smartwatch is arguably one of the best looking on the market. It’s a circular watch face design with curved edges made with a custom 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5 that looks like a polished, pebble or opal stone. The watch is 41mm in diameter, 1.2cm thick and weighing only 36g, the fit and feel is wonderful and unobtrusive. It’s got a crown which gives you gentle haptic feedback with each push and turn. Underneath is the optical heart sensor that is constantly blasting green lasers at your wrist.

The watch comes in three color options, Champagne Gold, Polished Silver and Matte Black. Each comes with matching synthetic straps but you can easily swap those out. The straps have a soft-touch coating which feels gentle on the skin and is sweat and water resistant. It did get really clammy on my skin during the sweltering 35C Queensland summer though, so some natural leather options might be nice to consider. However, pick the right strap for the occasion and the Pixel Watch will look perfectly at home at a fancy dinner gala.

The Pixel Watch has an AMOLED display with DCI-P3 color and 320 ppi for some pin-sharp text and images. It can get very bright; up to 1000 nits of peak brightness which is great for viewing outdoors in the bright sun and is handy in a pinch when you need a torch. However, you quickly notice the rather large bezel around the display the eats approximately 10% of the watch face — effectively making viewable screen much less on an already small watch.

Google generally handles this well in Wear OS which makes good use of minimalism, circular and squircular panels and smaller fonts throughout. The high pixel density of the screen makes things sharp but I can’t deny how small everything is. This is problematic when interacting with things like keyboards or toggles that require almost stylus level precision. After the first few attempts, I completely gave up on using the keyboard to answer messages. Hell, just unlocking the watch with my PIN was continuously frustrating.

However, Google has tried to optimise its key apps like weather, calendar, maps, Fitbit and wallet to work well with the small real-estate. Particularly the Fitbit app which you’ll use the most if you are an active person. It has a wealth of preset exercise tracking routines with the watch but you have to manually start the tracking which seemed counter-intuitive for me — especially when it has all sorts of sensors that should be able to.

Tracking and performance

Amusingly, the Pixel Watch has a Samsung made Exynos 9110 SoC for its main chipset. This is paired with 2GB SDRAM and 32 GB eMMC Flash storage. So the watch is suitably snappy, responsive and fluid. Opening apps, swiping through tiles and pulling up notifications all work without delay or stutter. Comms available include Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, NFC for Google Pay and depending on the model you get, 4G LTE.

You can make calls via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi regardless — as long as the Watch is connected to your Android phone. The LTE model requires an eSim activation which I didn’t so I couldn’t test that feature. Speaking of connections, the Pixel Watch will not pair with iPhones, though I have no idea why you’d even want that. But back to calls, the built-in microphone and speaker are nothing to write home about; you will need the watch really close to your face to hear or be heard clearly. My childhood Michael Knight fantasies of making phone calls through my watch were only partially fulfilled.

Wear OS has been a very pleasant and simplistic experience for me. It’s divided into views or tiles with a pull-down notification shade similar to Android and an app list with all your installed programs. Most Google apps run in a nicely formatted circular view port but several other things are still in traditional rectangular views; getting cut off around the curved edges of the watch which looks rather tacky.

There are a fair few Wear OS apps available in the Google Play Store but your mileage or interest will vary. In the end, I found myself a rather basic user — only using the timers, calendar, weather and notifications the most. Even the rather delightful clock faces that you can edit directly on the Watch itself or via the app on your Android didn’t hold my attention for long after the initial days. But I did enjoy the ability to edit watch faces on the fly and set almost any complications for each of my custom watch faces.

As a fitness tracker, the Pixel Watch is good thanks to its wealth of sensors. I’m not the most physically active but I did appreciate the watch constantly reminding me to get my but moving every hour. It also kept me more mindful of how much I’m stationary by seeing my step counter on every watch face. For those who are really serious about their workouts, health and outdoors, there are plenty of sensors and routines to satisfy.

To sweeten the pot, Google bundles 6-months of Fitbit Premium with the watch which gives you access to a whole host of tools. I like the sleep tracker because I’ve been sleeping pretty poorly and this helped me see the quality(or lack thereof) of sleep. I do wish that the watch was a lot smarter about knowing when I’ve started or ended some basic activities like sleep, walking or running.

Unfortunately, the Pixel Watch just never really quite felt like a natural extension of my Pixel 7 Pro. Sure, it was pinging me with notifications all the time and would give me the option to open them on the watch or on my phone but beyond that, not much else. For example, my Google Wallet wouldn’t seamlessly transfer to the watch necessitating I setup manually on the watch, which also didn’t work in the end. Starting navigation on my phone wouldn’t pickup on the watch or vice versa. The same thing for my alarms already set on my phone wouldn’t sync with the watch. These aren’t necessarily deal breakers but it does lead to an overall feeling of having two seperate devices instead of a symbiosis.

Google Pixel Watch Battery

But the biggest thing I wish was that the Pixel Watch had better battery life. Google rates the 284mAh battery at 24 hours but that’s a generous figure that requires a lot of power-saving compromises to achieve. In my daily use, which involved very light tracking, no GPS or LTE use and just using the watch as, well, a watch with notifications I would get between 20 – 22 hours. If you use the watch more rigorously with lots of calls, tracking and media playback, you’ll definitely need to charge it twice a day.

And while I loved being able to track my sleep, it sucks battery at a rate of about 20-30% overnight. Which usually means you’ll have to charge it before you go to sleep which, thankfully, the watch can quickly charge from 0 — 50% in just 30min. Realistically, for people like me the battery is okay but more serious users might need to think twice. I did find the battery saver profile to be effective at ensuring the watch could last me through a day of light use, sleep tracking at night and still wake up to about 20% battery.

Verdict

The Google Pixel Watch is a great first smartwatch for Google. It comes in at a great price and does all the basics you’d expect from a smartwatch. There are some issues though, like the small display that can be frustrating to interact with, the unintelligent exercise tracking and of course, the middling battery life. For $350, these are certainly not deal breakers but considering the competition from Samsung and Apple, Google needs to do more.

I’d love to see far more cohesion between the Pixel Watch and Phones just like Apple Watch and iPhones enjoy. Right now, the Pixel Watch feels like a separate device and I often found myself unwilling to deal with the extra device. If Google can tighten that integration, they could really be on to something. I would personally wait for next years model though as while I am intrigued, the Pixel Watch isn’t doing enough to keep it on my wrist every day.

Google Pixel Watch Review
LIKES
Gorgeous design
Simple and intuitive
Fitbit integration
Great price
DISLIKE
Middling battery life
Large bezel, tiny interface
Not enough integration with Pixel Phones
3.8
Kizito Katawonga
Kizito Katawongahttp://www.medium.com/@katawonga
Kizzy is our Tech Editor. He's a total nerd with design sensibilities who's always on the hunt for the latest, greatest and sexiest tech that enhances our work and play. When he's not testing the latest gadgets or trying to listen to his three whirlwind daughters, Kizzy likes to sink deep into a good story-driven single player game.

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