Google has been involved in wearables going back to 2014, and yet, the Pixel Watch is the first smartwatch the company has actually made. Why did it take so long? That’s anyone’s guess, but part of the reason is probably because so many other brands adopted Wear OS along the way. Motorola, Asus, Fossil, Michael Kors, Misfit, Mobvoi, and more recently, Samsung, have all done it. Now, it’s Google’s chance to take a crack at it.
The Pixel Watch wasn’t exactly a secret. Rumours abounded going back two years, and Google finally confirmed it at its I/O event in May 2022. Given it’s a first attempt, it’s also hard to know exactly what to expect. Google is trying to show that it knows how to both make a nice smartwatch, and integrate it properly with your paired phone. There’s a lot to like about it, but choosing it over others will depend on what you want to prioritize most.
Pixel Watch design and setup
From the moment I unboxed the Pixel Watch to wearing it as much as I have, it’s easily one of the most attractive watches I’ve come across. A simple design with some flair to go along with it, I noticed others echoed my impressions when I rolled up my sleeve to show them. The rounded form factor and solitary digital crown demonstrate the simplicity Google pursued. No multiple button layouts, no touch-sensitive areas with haptic feedback, no specialties that otherwise stand out visually.
While the Pixel Watch has a 5ATM rating for water pressure as theoretically deep as 50 metres, it has no dust protection. That’s especially not ideal around sand, but you could take this into the ocean and be perfectly fine. It’s just not as durable as competing watches from Samsung and Apple. This also matters because the Pixel Watch is more exposed in the sense that the 1.2-inch display and its curved glass have no peripheral protection. It’s Gorilla Glass 5, not sapphire crystal, with the body consisting of stainless steel made from 80% recycled materials.
The watch only comes in the one 41mm size. You also get two straps in the box, with large and small options. There is the one crown on the side for control. Press it as a back button or rotate it to navigate up and down on a menu. Another physical button above it acts as a shortcut to your most recent apps.
It wasn’t hard to set up the Pixel Watch. I had it ready to go on my Pixel 7 Pro in no time, though I noticed the experience wasn’t all that different when doing it with any other Android phone.
Google Pixel Watch Wear OS 3
Part of the software story has to do with the hardware. Google chose older Exynos 9110 and Cortex M33 processors to work together for better efficiency, particularly with tracking features. That’s all well and good, but I’m wondering about the watch’s longevity after about a year and whether Wear OS updates might slow it down. Google says it won’t, but we’ll have to see about that.
In any case, Wear OS is looking like a more mature platform these days, and I found it pleasant to use in most circumstances. There’s an obvious Fitbit flavour to it all, which is hardly surprising given Google now owns that brand. Swipe down to access the control panel, or down to see notifications. Swiping right or left cycles through the various widgets, like exercises, heart rate, sleep, maps, weather, and calendar. You can add more by pressing the crown and scrolling down to the Play Store. Or you could do it through your phone when going through the watch’s settings.
The watch pairs with the Pixel Watch app, not the Wear OS app Google previously released. When you first pair the watch, your phone should download the app on its own. There, you can adjust several settings, including choosing a watch face, of which there are very good options. You can do the same by putting your finger on the watch face and swiping through the options on your wrist. I like that Google adds various levels of customization, like what information you want to see (steps, heart rate, etc.) and the colours you prefer.
With all that on board, you also get other goodies. Google Assistant works just fine, as does Google Pay. You can even make your phone ring if you can’t find it.
Pixel Watch exercise and health tracking
The Pixel Watch lets you track about 40 different exercises, none of which kick in automatically. For whatever exercise you’re about to do, you’ll need to start logging it manually each time. If you forget, it will simply log it as “activity.” Since this watch integrates with Fitbit (over Google Fit) it follows the same tracking features. For example, the three zones (Fat Burn, Cardio, Peak) retain the system earning you points for Active Zone Minutes. Your steps, calories, sleep tracking, and stress management all work the same.
Fitbit even has an ECG (electrocardiogram) app, though finding it in Google Play can be tricky. It wouldn’t show up in a search, so I found it instead via a web browser. I have no idea why, but then there was the challenge in setting it up, where my Pixel 7 Pro somehow was “not compatible” with the app, even though Canada is clearly listed as one of the supported countries. There will definitely be a way around this and I will update this review once I’ve figured it out.
Google didn’t equip the Pixel Watch with a broad suite of features to track health and fitness. You won’t be able to measure blood oxygen because the SpO2 sensor lays dormant. Without a skin temperature sensor, you won’t be able to see any differences there, either. As of now, I haven’t seen any blood pressure monitoring, like there is on the Samsung Galaxy Watch5 I reviewed.
There is built-in GPS, so it’s easy enough to track distance and a route, though this watch won’t match the depth and focus a Garmin watch has for runners and golfers. While you can track exercises and some health metrics, Google’s watch is more about balance than a particular focus.
Pixel Watch lifestyle
This becomes obvious over time, mainly because the lifestyle implications are so clear. For example, it’s easy to take a phone call or respond to an incoming message verbally. The volume is too low to deal with calls regularly, but it’s fine if you only need it for a short chat. Notifications come through really well, and I enjoyed how much the watch kept me from grabbing my phone to perform basic tasks, including controlling my smart home devices.
The ability to customize watch faces to the degree available personalizes the Pixel Watch more than having exclusive apps, in my opinion. Google put some thought into making that work for everyone. It’s just equally evident it’s attempted to take the same approach with everything else the watch does. You don’t look for a watch like this if you’re on a hardcore workout regimen. Not when there are other great options to do that.
Google went with an interesting clip mechanism for the straps. I bet you will find it a little cumbersome at first, but after a few tries, you get the hang of it. The challenge, as of this review, is to find replacement straps made of other materials. They’re coming, but for now, your options aren’t abundant. The watch’s good looks will fit in just fine with a leather or metal strap. I just didn’t have one to try out.
Pixel Watch battery
Part of the reason Google put two processors inside is to help maximize efficiency relative to battery life. The Pixel Watch should last up to 24 hours per charge on a good day, but you can expect to charge it almost on a daily basis. Keep the always-on display active and you’re guaranteed to charge it by bedtime, if not earlier.
It’s a simple equation here: the more you track, the more you use, the lesser chance the battery lasts the day. The charger is pretty fast, especially up to 50-80%, and battery saving mode can stretch things out when you’re really low, but no matter what, you will need to keep the charger handy.
The Pixel Watch came with some hype, and frankly, it doesn’t deserve it. Is it a serviceable smartwatch? Sure it is. Does it look nice and feel user-friendly? Certainly. Does it stand out amongst other options? No, it doesn’t. The Fitbit Sense 2 or Versa 4 are more elaborate in how they track health and fitness, which is ironic given we’re talking about the same platform collecting the data.
It’s not clear what Google will do with Fitbit, but we do know you will need a Google account to even access Fitbit by 2025. Expect these two to blend together more between now and then in future products. For now, the Pixel Watch is a decent peek into what that might be like, just not a major standout as a health and fitness smartwatch.
The Google Pixel Watch is available now at Best Buy.