Google Pixel Watch – it’s about time (review)

100% human
7.9

Ever since Google acquired Fitbit in early 2021, Android smartphone owners have been keenly waiting for a true smartwatch competitor that rivals the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch line. 

While the likes of Apple and Samsung have spent years refining their smartwatches, Google is late to the party and the expectations are understandably high. Can the Pixel Watch hang with the big boys? 

Details: Google Pixel Watch

Price (RRP): $549 Bluetooth/Wi-Fi, $649 4G LTE + Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
Manufacturer: Google
Product page: Google Pixel Watch
Warranty: 2 years
Country of manufacture: China
Storage and memory: 32GB + 2GB RAM
About: Google is an American company that is most commonly known as a search engine. Although the company made its name as a search engine and the vast majority of its income comes from advertising because of this, it has branched out into a number of areas such as cloud computing, software and hardware.

Design

The Pixel Watch is arguably the nicest looking smartwatch in recent memory and it also happens to be the most comfortable.  While other smartwatches tend to look like a computer on your wrist with their square shaped case design, the Pixel Watch looks like a traditional watch with its circular face, elegant crown and domed glass that catch the light to make the materials shine. 

Sadly, the watch band connector is proprietary so you won’t be able to swap the included strap with one from another smartwatch or regular watch. The upside is that the proprietary connector is easy to swap out quickly and securely and going lugless makes the bands less bulky.

The Pixel Watch uses a proprietary connector for the watchbands

Surprisingly, the Pixel Watch only comes in one case size at 41mm, which for a fashion forward gadget category, feels like a misstep. I personally prefer larger watch cases and daily drive the 46mm Galaxy Watch 4 Classic. That said, having a smaller watch case does come with some benefits. You’re less prone to bump it into things or catch it on something and I found it doesn’t get in the way of certain exercises such as when using the cable fly machine. 

The smaller case size and luggless design makes the Pixel Watch blend more seamlessly around the wrist, making it easy to forget it’s there. I never felt discomfort with the Pixel Watch on my wrist even when wearing it to bed for sleep tracking, which is something I can’t say for every other smartwatch I’ve tested to date.

Although the watch case size is 41mm, there’s a thick bezel around the display making the usable display size closer to 38mm (1.49-inch). Google smartly designed around this, using mostly a black backdrop for Wear OS and the Pixel Watch’s rounded edges means you’re less likely to notice where the screen ends and the bezel begins. The only time I really noticed the chunky bezels was when I used a photo as a custom watch face. 

However, the cramped display size meant I had to scroll more when reading through a message and zoom out more when navigating via Google Maps. Narrower bezels or just a larger case size option would have really helped here. 

There is a secondary button just above the rotating crown that when pressed will bring up your recent apps or summon the Google Assistant if held down. The problem is that the button is tough to press as it is recessed into the bottom half of the case. 

The front of the watch case is protected by Gorilla Glass 5, while the back material is made of stainless steel, which is more durable than the aluminium casing used on the Galaxy Watch 5 and Apple Watch

The Pixel Watch is rated at 5 ATM, meaning it can survive depths of up to 50 metres just like the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch. However, the Pixel Watch is a step below the Galaxy Watch 5 when it comes to durability, with Samsung’s smartwatch boasting an IP68 certification for water and dust resistance as well as a MIL-STD-810H rating, enabling it to take a drop without being damaged beyond repair. 

You can accessorise the Pixel Watch with an array of different watchbands

Software and performance 

The Pixel Watch runs on Google’s Wear OS 3.5 and it does everything you would expect a modern smartwatch to do. This includes getting reminders to move every hour, set timers or respond to messages using Google Assistant, track your workouts, get turn by turn navigation on your wrist and pay at the counter with contactless payments using Google Wallet. 

Navigation is simple and a little different to what you would find on the Galaxy Watch. While you have the usual swipes left and right for cycling through various tile widgets and flicking down to bring up your quick settings, swiping up surfaces notifications instead of the app selection menu. The app selection screen can be called upon by pressing on the crown and scrolled through by rotating the crown, which is accompanied by some delightful haptics. 

Google offers nineteen different watch faces to pick from, all of which can be customised further with complications and different colour palettes. You can also download plenty more third party watch faces from the Google Play Store. 

In short, the interface feels intuitive to use and responsive. Other Android smartwatches tend to have performance issues where the animations appear to chug at times, but I didn’t notice such issues with the Pixel Watch.

Those coming across from a Galaxy Watch will appreciate the improved speed and accuracy of Google Assistant over Samsung’s Bixby. Although you can switch to Google Assistant on a Galaxy Watch, it is more limited in functionality and you’ll regularly be greeted by a ‘sorry I can’t do that yet’ message. Whereas using the more deeply integrated Google Assistant on the Pixel Watch, you can use the Google Assistant to do things such as initiate fitness tracking by simply saying ‘start a run’ or control your connected smart home devices. 

Unlike other WearOS smartwatches, performance is smooth on the Pixel Watch

Fitness

The fitness and sleep tracking will feel familiar to anyone who has used a Fitbit in recent years such as the Fitbit Sense 2. The exercise, ECG and sleep tracking are all done through the respective Fitbit apps on the Pixel Watch and all the metrics can be viewed in more detail using the Fitbit app on your smartphone. 

The Pixel Watch does lack a handful of features that have become default on Fitbit watches and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch such as skin temperature and exact SpO2 readings. The Galaxy Watch also has a surprisingly accurate blood pressure monitor and a not so accurate body composition feature (see my in-depth Galaxy Watch 4 review for more details). 

The Pixel Watch’s heart rate monitor is continuous, meaning it is logged every second throughout the day. Google claims that it is the most accurate heart rate tracking that’s ever shipped in a Fitbit product. To Google’s credit, the Pixel Watch tracked very closely to the results pulled from my Polar chest strap heart rate monitor, which is generally considered one of the most accurate consumer devices available for heart rate measurements. The Pixel Watch mostly stayed within a beat or two of the chest strap while doing light cardio. 

You can also set the Galaxy Watch to track the heart rate continuously as well but as noted in my Galaxy Watch 4 review, it generally skews a few beats higher than the chest strap monitor and Pixel Watch. 

The heart rate activity is one of the key metrics used to determine the calories burned during a workout and, as a result, the Pixel Watch produced a more accurate picture than the Galaxy Watch 4 after my 95 minute weight training session. The Pixel Watch estimated 601 calories whereas the Galaxy Watch 4 determined 713 calories were burned during the same session. 

Pixel Watch’s heart rate monitoring (top) is more precise, painting a more accurate picture of the calories burned during a workout than the Galaxy Watch (below)

However, the Pixel Watch is a bit limited in some other aspects. For example, you won’t get a voice coach telling you how you are tracking halfway through your workout. The Pixel Watch auto exercise detection isn’t very reliable either with less strenuous exercise such as light walks and yoga sessions not being picked up at all, whereas the Galaxy Watch 4 had no trouble with it. Or when it does auto detect a workout, it’s not good at telling you that it has until you finish the workout or check the mobile app. On another day, it interpreted me mowing the lawn for an hour as a 25 minute biking session. 

I also missed the ability to see a map of my route after a run, which on the Pixel Watch, can only be viewed from the Fitbit smartphone app. 

There are 40 different workouts to choose from but I would love to see the list expand to accommodate different sports such as basketball and even VR-related exercising. Some workout categories could use some cleaning up as well. For example, why are there three different workout activities to pick from for weight training (weightlifting, strength training, weights)?

It’s worth noting that many in-depth health insights are locked away behind a $15/month Fitbit Premium subscription. These include health trends over the past 90 days, detailed sleep data and a wellness report that collates your activity, sleep, weight and heart rate as well as access to workout videos and meditation programs.  Google does include a six month Fitbit Premium subscription with the purchase of a Pixel Watch but after that you’re on your own. 

It does seem like an unnecessary ongoing charge for Pixel Watch owners when you consider that you essentially get a lot of those ‘premium’ features included for free within the app experience on competing devices such as the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch.  

Battery life 

The Pixel Watch’s main weakness is battery life, requiring a charge twice a day, even on days when I didn’t exercise. Note that both the GPS tracking and always-on display are disabled out of the box and I turned on both features during the test period. 

The Pixel Watch also requires a minimum of 30% charge for sleep tracking, which means you’ll need to remember to give it a second charge by the evening before slapping it back on before bed.

Due to the way the underside of the watch case is domed in shape, the Pixel Watch won’t work with a regular Qi wireless charger or from reverse wireless charging from the back of a smartphone. You will need to rely solely on the included charging puck and hope that you don’t lose it. 

Google claims charging takes 30 minutes to 50% and 80 minutes to full charge, which aligned with my testing.  

The Pixel Watch is comfortable enough to wear to bed for sleep tracking

GadgetGuy’s take

Despite its issues, I enjoyed my time with the Pixel Watch. It looks really nice and is comfortable enough to wear for sleep tracking, while the heart rate monitoring is more accurate than the majority of smartwatches on the market. There’s a strong foundation here that Google and Fitbit can build and iterate on. 

At the same time, the Pixel Watch comes with one too many caveats that other big name smartwatches have figured out over the years, making it difficult to recommend in its current form. While I’m confident that Google will improve the auto detection of workouts through software updates, other critical aspects of the Pixel Watch – namely the below par battery life and lack of different case sizes – likely won’t be addressed until the second generation. Hopefully by then we’ll also see better cohesion between the two brands and the subscription model done away with. 

Google Pixel Watch
The Pixel Watch nails the looks and comfort while also delivering an accurate heart rate monitor but its underwhelming battery life and lack of different case sizes limit its appeal
Features
7
Value for money
6.5
Performance
7.8
Ease of use
9
Design
9
Positives
Gorgeous design
Comfortable enough to wear to bed for sleep tracking
Accurate heart rate monitoring
Slick and smooth interface
Negatives
Below average battery life
Limited auto-detection of workouts
Only one case size
Access to select health metrics requires a monthly $15 subscription
Proprietary charger and straps
7.9