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Google Pixel Watch review: A solid first attempt
Good value and good looks mark Google's first foray into smartwatches
The Pixel Watch is a great looking, low cost smartwatch with some solid core features, even if it lacks some of the meatier features of the Apple Watch Series 8.
How does one judge Google’s first attempt at a smartwatch? On the one hand, Apple has had eight iterations to refine their smartwatch; more than seven years of tinkering and perfecting design, UI and functionality. In that regard, it seems unfair to compare Google’s first Pixel Watch to Apple’s eighth generation.
But, Google has also had seven years to observe the smartwatch market and to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s had other manufacturers to pave the way for hardware and design improvements. On top of that, it’s been developing software for smartwatches since 2014. That’s eight years of powering other manufacturers’ smartwatches, seeing how its operating system interacted with hardware. In that regard, the Pixel Watch has to be held to the same standards as its competitors.
The good news is that Google’s first smartwatch is mostly a success. It’s elegantly styled and offers good functionality, and at a much lower price point than Apple.
How much does the Pixel Watch cost in Australia?
The Pixel Watch starts at $549 for the WiFi model and rises to $649 for the LTE version. Compare this to $629 for the entry-level WiFi Apple Watch Series 8 and $789 for the Series 8 with cellular connectivity, and the Pixel Watch looks very appealing. But that price advantage comes with some sacrifices when it comes to functionality.
Pixel Watch features and design
The Pixel Watch has nearly all of the functionality you’d expect from a smartwatch. It’ll push notifications from your phone, even for apps that don’t have native WearOS versions. You can push calls to the watch, stream music (from Spotify or YouTube Plus), use Google Wallet to pay for purchases; the usual suspects of smartwatch functions are all here.
It also has the benefit of WearOS being a legacy platform. Eight years of WearOS development means the app ecosystem is much richer for the Pixel Watch than the Apple Watch Series 1 had at launch.
Google also has the benefit of its 2021 acquisition of Fitbit. Rather than building its health tracking features from the ground up like Apple, Google can lean on Fitbit’s expertise. That means the Pixel Watch launches with Fitbit features like sleep tracking, automatic workout detection, heart rate monitoring, an onboard ECG, step tracking, calorie tracking and the like. It offers 40 different workout modes.
Google is offering the Pixel Watch with a 6-month free Fitbit Premium membership. This gives you access to hundreds of workout and mindfulness videos. For those who choose not to carry on with Fitbit Premium after their free membership expires, Google has promised that the Pixel Watch’s functionality won’t be affected.
As mentioned, the Pixel Watch does lack some of the health tracking features offered by the Apple Watch Series 8. There’s no body temperature sensor, for example, so it won’t offer the robust fertility and menstrual cycle tracking of the Series 8. It has fall detection but not crash detection (though this may be a plus for rollercoaster enthusiasts). While the Pixel Watch does have an SpO2 sensor, it doesn’t currently function. But, Google has promised five years of software update support, and says it will be releasing WearOS updates on a yearly basis. That means we’re likely to see the SpO2 sensor play a role in the future.
Design is the Pixel Watch’s strong point. The circular, domed watch body is a nice departure from Apple’s rectangular watches, and the digital crown is integrated elegantly into the body. Its second button sits unobtrusively flush with the watch body, though it does make it slightly difficult to push at times.
The Pixel Watch is available in three different case colours, champagne gold, matte black and polished silver. It’s sold with a fluoroelastomer band, but also offers an elastic stretch band, leather band or woven fabric band. Google is planning to release metal link and loop bracelets mid-next year.
Before launch, much was made about the Pixel Watch’s bezels. Leaked promotional photos showed the watch with some truly giant bezels, which raised some alarm bells from tech journos. Handling the watch in person, though, the bezels are barely noticeable.
Google made the intelligent choice to launch the Pixel Watch with a set of watch faces that downplay the bezels with an all-black background that melds pretty seamlessly with the watch’s domed surface. The bezels did become pretty noticeable when I designed and uploaded my own watch face, but with the standard set of faces offered at launch, I couldn’t have even pointed out where the watch face ended and the bezels started.
Pixel Watch battery life
The Pixel Watch gets about a day-and-a-half of battery life from normal screen mode, and this truncates to a bit less than a full day in always-on mode. The battery life worked well with the way I interacted with the watch. It meant I could charge it in the afternoon and early evening and wear it overnight to take advantage of its sleep tracking.
One caveat, though: I found that third-party watch face apps were absolute battery vampires. While the Pixel Watch’s proprietary watch faces got nearly a day in always-on mode, third–party watch faces drained the battery completely in about five hours.
When it is time to charge, the Pixel Watch can go from 0 to 100% charge in about half an hour. It comes with a circular magnetic charging dock akin to the Apple Watch’s dock. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support Qi wireless charging.
Pixel Watch performance and connectivity
Apple Watch SE Activity Rings
The Pixel Watch is powered by the Exynos 9110 SoC with a Cortex M33 co-processor. In general, performance is snappy and apps open quickly, though I found some of the scrolling with the digital crown to be a bit sluggish at times. It has 32GB of flash storage and 2GB of RAM.
Pixel Watch’s UI is easy and straightforward to interact with. Scrolling up with the digital crown brings up your notifications, scrolling down brings down a utilities menu. A tap takes you to your apps, while two taps opens Google Wallet. A single tap of the second button brings up recently used apps while two taps opens your most recently used app. The watch also uses touchscreen gestures for navigation, but I’ve never had to stray from the buttons to find what I’m looking for.
If you’re looking for a cellular connection, the options at launch are limited. Currently, the Pixel Watch only offers cellular connectivity through Telstra. It operates on an eSIM and can be added to a Telstra post-paid service. For a look at the latest Telstra post-paid mobile deals, check out the table below.
Google offered me the LTE version of the Pixel Watch for review, but the watch being locked into Telstra meant I couldn’t try out any of the cellular features and was tethered to my phone in all my testing.
Is the Pixel Watch worth it?
For the price, the Pixel Watch is a great smartwatch with plenty of features. It does just about everything I’d want a smartwatch to do, and it looks fantastic doing it. A robust app ecosystem helps support and expand the watch’s functionality. While it lacks some of the health tracking features of the Apple Watch Series 8, its Fitbit integration still offers plenty of health features to be excited about. Google’s first attempt at a smartwatch might not upend the smartwatch market, but it’s solid in execution and builds excitement for what the company might attempt in the future.