The Pixel Watch is the first Wear OS smartwatch made entirely by Google, and it’s been a long time coming. But if you’ve never used an Android watch before, you might be surprised by how similar it is to a “Fitbit.”
Early in 2021, Google bought Fitbit, and the Pixel Watch shows how the two companies have become one. Fitbit has taken over from Google Fit as the best way to track your workouts. And that’s the deal, folks: this is a Wear OS watch with some Fitbit features thrown in for good measure.
Google wants the Pixel Watch to stand out, and one way it does this is by making it look like it costs a lot. The Pixel Watch’s face is a glass dome with a curve that goes all the way around it and curves 90 degrees to reach about half way through the depth of the watch.
When you look at the Pixel Watch from the front, you can pretty much only see the glass top and the big rotating dial on the side.
It looks good and doesn’t weigh too much at 64g with the strap. I was surprised to find out that the Pixel Watch is more than 1.5 times as heavy as the Fitbit Versa 4. However, the Pixel Watch has a nice way of blending in with your wrist. This is probably helped by the way the back of the watch is made. It is another smooth dome of glass, and there are no noticeable edges between the metal parts around the heart rate sensor and the rest of the watch.
This means that even if you tighten the Pixel Watch strap to get a better reading of your heart rate, the back of the watch will never leave a complicated mark on your wrist.
The Pixel Watch is as sleek and smooth as smartwatches get, but it’s not a rugged style. It leaves the display glass open to damage, and I’ve already put a few small scratches on it without being able to remember what might have caused them.
Google says that “Custom 3D Gorilla Glass 5” is used in the Pixel Watch. Theoretically, it should be harder to scratch than the Gorilla Glass 3 used in the Garmin Venu 2, but the way it’s made puts the glass in danger all the time. But the 5ATM/50M rating for water resistance is good.
Under that (now scratched) glass is a 1.2-inch OLED screen. It has a resolution of 450 x 450, which is about the same as an Apple Watch. The lit pixels also look good with the black border around them, except when the watch is in direct sunlight.
It needs to do this because compared to the Apple Watch Series 8, there is a lot of border. The screen ends a little before the edges of the screen start to curve, which makes the tech look a few years behind what Apple has to offer in its smartwatches.
The Pixel Watch’s smart features come at the cost of its battery life. I kept track of how charged it was over a bunch of days, when the watch was in a few different places, to see how long it should last.
After an hour of running with GPS, the Pixel Watch lost 8% of its charge from a full charge. That’s not bad at all, and it fits with Google’s claim that it takes 12 hours. After a full charge, the watch had 21% power left after 24 hours.
But this was only when I was passively tracking my fitness and using the GPS for an hour.
The Pixel Watch is easiest to use when its display is always on. This means you can see the time without having to flick your wrist to wake up the screen. When this mode was turned on at 11:11 a.m. one morning, the battery was fully charged. The next morning, at 9:30 a.m., the battery died.
Again, this was done without any other work that was hard. Unless you plan your charging cycle carefully, you have to choose between tracking how much sleep you get and having a screen that is always on. The battery life could be even worse than in an Apple Watch.
The speed of charging, which is rated at 80 minutes for a full charge, is also not very impressive. It uses a magnetic wireless charging pad that looks a lot like the one on an Apple Watch.
The Pixel Watch has a good range of sensors for health and fitness. In addition to GPS and an optical heart rate sensor array, we also get SpO2 (which wasn’t working at launch), an altimeter for counting the stairs you climb, a compass, and what Google calls a “multipurpose electrical sensor.”
The main thing this sensor is used for is to get ECG readings. When you put one finger on the crown, an electrical circuit is made that goes through your body and to the other electrode on the underside of the watch. Start the ECG mini app on your Pixel Watch, and in about 30 seconds, it will check your heart rhythm for any problems.
To run an ECG, you have to be signed into Fitbit, which tells you a lot about how the fitness side of the Pixel Watch works. This watch doesn’t come with Google Fit, the fitness platform that earlier Wear OS watches used. Instead, it uses Fitbit Exercise. If you try to download and run Google Fit from the Play Store, you’ll get an error message that says “Fit is not currently supported on this device.” RIP.
This mostly means that your workout data goes to Fitbit instead of Google Fit on your phone, since the workout screens on, say, a Fitbit Versa 4, are a little different. When I go for a run, the Pixel Watch shows me the time, how long I’ve been running, how far I’ve gone, my heart rate, and how fast I’m going.
I worked out with the Pixel Watch, the Apple Watch Series 8, the Garmin Fenix 7, and the Garmin Venu Sq 2 Music to compare GPS and heart rate results. As soon as the first few minutes of each workout are over, the Pixel Watch does a great job.
The Google Pixel Watch is a small, stylish smartwatch that shows off the latest version of Google’s Wear OS software and points the company’s wearables in a new direction. Fitbit is really part of the Google family now that the Fit platform has been taken over, and this integration has mostly paid off.
The battery life is a big problem, as it is with other Wear OS watches. In its best display mode, the Pixel Watch lasts less than 24 hours. This makes it less appealing as something to wear all the time. Apple Watches have a better selection of apps, and Garmin alternatives track fitness more deeply.
There are some nice improvements to the Wear OS interface, and most of the time, the Pixel Watch’s heart rate readings are surprisingly accurate. But you’d better like the way things look, because the software doesn’t offer anything really new at this point.