HomeNewsGoogle Pixel Watch review: a good first attempt
Google Pixel Watch review: a good first attempt
October 20, 2022
Google’s first Pixel smartwatch is finally here after years of waiting, integrating the company’s Fitbit health-tracking tech and hoping to take on Samsung and the dominant Apple Watch.
The Pixel Watch costs £339 ($350/A$549) and, while designed as a companion for the company’s smartphones, it will work with most Android phones with access to the Google Play Store but not with Apple’s iPhone. It runs Google’s Wear OS software based on Android but is heavily integrated with Fitbit – the fitness tracker firm Google bought in 2019 – potentially making it the best of both worlds.
Unusually for a smartwatch, the Pixel Watch only comes in one small size with a 41mm case. Its domed Gorilla Glass 5 screen merges smoothly into its stainless steel body, which is available in a choice of three colours. It is a simple and unfussy design.
The 20mm bands detach with a small button each side but the slightly fiddly proprietary attachment mechanism means standard watch straps won’t fit. Each Pixel Watch comes with a high-quality rubber band, with other types available from £59.
The watch certainly looks and feels well made, and is comfortable to wear. Despite being quite thick, its smooth finish slides under shirt cuffs without issue.
For those with smaller wrists, the compact size will be a boon, but it was a bit too small for me. The screen is bright and crisp and can be turned on all the time, which I think is an essential feature for a watch. But it is smaller than you might expect, with large bezels around the outside. The predominantly black interface hides well but text, images and information look pretty small on the 3cm display.
The watch is responsive. Taps, swipes and crown turns are smoothly executed. Apps open swiftly, and Google Assistant loads and responds quickly to queries. It’s not quite as snappy as an Apple Watch but it is miles faster than most rivals on the Android side, matching Samsung’s Galaxy Watch line.
The battery only just lasts long enough on a day-to-day basis. With the screen always on, the health-monitoring features active and the “bedtime mode” with sleep tracking overnight, the watch lasted about 25 hours between charges.
But if you track any exercise during the day, the watch won’t last the night, meaning you will have to charge it for at least 15 minutes before bed to track your sleep. A full charge takes just shy of 80 minutes from dead using the USB-C charging puck and your own power adaptor.
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, wifi n, NFC, optional 4G/eSIM
Google does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery but it should last in excess of 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity. It cannot be replaced and the watch is currently unrepairable.
The watch runs the latest version of Wear OS 3.5, with Google’s customisations making it look a little different from Samsung’s version of it. Google will support the watch until at least October 2025. It will run third-party apps downloaded from the Play Store including Strava and Spotify with offline music downloads.
Google Assistant is baked in for quick voice assistance, which works significantly faster than older-generation Wear OS watches and Fitbits. Press and hold the side button to bring it up or just say “Hey Google”. Google Maps, Gmail, Calendar and Wallet apps are available, too, alongside Home for controlling smart lights and other bits.
It displays full notifications from your phone, including images in alerts and chats, with the ability to respond to them. Typing replies on the watch is hard as the keyboard is tiny but voice dictation works pretty well.
Google’s Fitbit takes care of health and fitness-tracking features, both on the watch and a companion app on the phone. The experience is very similar to what you get on Fitbit’s Versa and Sense fitness trackers, providing solid general health tracking including steps, calories, sedentary alerts, all-day heart rate and ECGs, but no irregular heartbeat notifications, temperature sensor or fall detection yet.
Sleep tracking is good, with cycles, breathing rate and heart-rate variability all recorded.
Exercise tracking is a bit more of a mixed bag. The Fitbit app nails the basics with pretty fast GPS and heart-rate monitoring, which beat actual Fitbit devices for accuracy.
But while the watch tracks 41 different workouts with heart-rate zones and different goals, the data it captures and displays during the activity is fairly basic. For running, you have no cadence or route guidance. You can’t set up interval workouts. Cycling lacks power and other bits. All workout controls are touch-screen based for pausing or setting laps, which makes doing so much harder than it needs to be.
Fitbit also offers a “premium” subscription, which costs from £7.99 a month and unlocks some extras in the app. For sleep it will show you restlessness and sleeping heart rate, more mindfulness sessions, a breakdown of your stress through the day and a daily “readiness” score, which shows recovery from exercise. You get a free six-month trial with the watch.
The built-in exercise options will be fine for casual users but are certainly more limited than competitors including Apple and Samsung. They can be augmented with third-party Wear OS apps, such as Strava or Komoot for route guidance.
The Google Pixel Watch costs £339 ($350/A$549) or £379 ($400/$649) with 4G (data contract required).
The Pixel Watch is a good first try for Google but it isn’t yet up to par with rival smartwatches, including Samsung’s Galaxy Watch line, which use the same software.
It is a small, well-made watch that is responsive and merges the best of Fitbit with Google’s Wear OS. You can run third-party apps and use all of Google’s various services, from Gmail and Calendar to contactless payments.
However, the battery life is a bit too short – only just enough for 24 hours without exercise. Fitbit isn’t as capable as rivals when it comes to workout tracking yet. It is relatively expensive and might be a bit small and plain for some, too.
But a bigger issue is that the watch is currently unrepairable, so if the battery wears out or you break the screen, you’re out of luck. Google said it was looking at repair options but for now that loses it a star.
Pros: responsive, smooth design, 50m water resistance, Fitbit, Play Store, all Google apps including Maps, Pay and Assistant, good integration with Google ecosystem, good watch faces, works with most Android phones.
Cons: short battery life, Fitbit limited for workout tracking, not repairable, expensive, small size only, strap release a bit fiddly, not compatible with an iPhone.