Google Pixel Watch Review

Google's first smartwatch is a solid first attempt, but the company needs to address a few things before it can become a solid contender in the wearable market.


I’ve been a Pixel phone owner since day one in 2016, and though I’ve happily stuck with Google’s mainline phones ever since, I’ve always had a nagging feeling of jealousy any time I saw an Apple user with their first-party smartwatches. No longer: Google established the deep interconnectivity of its software ecosystem as one of the main draws of its hardware lineup and that carries through to the release of its long-awaited wearable, the Pixel Watch. In the same way that the first Pixel convinced me Google was onto something with its smartphone design, the Pixel Watch represents a confident, exciting first step into new territory for the company that has a lot of room for iteration and improvement in the future.

Pixel Watch - Design and Features


The $349.99-$399.99 Pixel Watch is a slick match for the Pixel phones: the finish on the matte black LTE model I’ve been spending my time with complements both the glossy black glass of the face and my matching Pixel 6 Pro. The watch face is 41 mm and boasts a vibrant AMOLED display that renders text and images very clearly on the small round screen. Much has been made about the Pixel Watch’s bezel, which noticeably encroaches on the display’s real estate, but I’d be lying if I said it bothered me in any functional sense once I got used to it. In fact, the way the bezel blends into the curve of the watch face almost makes the more limited screen space feel like a design choice… but that doesn’t mean it’s not something Google should have its eyes on improving for the first revision. I do have serious concerns about breakability: the sides of the watch face aren’t reinforced at all, so it seems like one drop from more than a couple feet might be enough to smash it. Fortunately, I have yet to test that theory.
The crown, which doubles as a home button, features nice, subtle haptic feedback as you twist it, and conveniently brings up your quick settings and notifications screens from the main screen, but I didn’t find it more convenient than swiping for navigation most of the time. The crown represents one of only two issues I take with the Pixel Watch’s design: it feels just a little loose and I worry that catching it on the edge of a table or door just once may be enough to pop the top of it right off. The side of the Pixel Watch opposite the crown is home to its microphone and speaker, both of which I found to be of adequate and expected quality for a portable smart device that fits on my wrist and can make phone calls.
Aside from that flimsy-feeling crown, I’m not entirely sold on the responsiveness of the touchscreen. General swiping is fine, but even drawing the pattern for my unlock code reveals that accuracy isn’t quite perfect for fine inputs, and that’s before you even talk about tapping out a message with fat fingers (though slide-to-type is surprisingly usable).
In addition to the crown, the Pixel Watch has a dedicated multi-use button for calling up recent apps and summoning your Google Assistant. You definitely won’t be hitting this one by mistake, as actuating the button requires some intentional force that requires bracing the other side of the watch with another finger.
There’s a selection of first-party wristbands available for the Pixel Watch at launch, with more premium metal bands on the way, and I’ve been alternating between the Active and Stretch variations, the former of which is included in the box. The silicone Active Band gets points for keeping the Pixel Watch snug on my wrist, but I’ve noticed I pinch myself frequently when feeding the strap through its loop. Switching to the smaller band available in the box mitigated, but didn’t eliminate this problem. The Stretch Band feels like the one I’ll be going with more often: the corded material has just the right amount of grip and allows you to position the Pixel Watch exactly where you want it with much more ease.
It’s also much easier to charge the watch using the USB-C magnetic cable (which looks very similar to the Apple Watch’s version) with the Stretch Band on: the slack of the stiffer silicone band means that it can sometimes take an extra few seconds to balance the watch on a surface, whereas the Stretch Band holds a more consistent shape. I did find that the app button was easier to trigger with the Active Band on, as the looser fit of the Stretch Band meant that the watch would move when I tried to press it.
The Pixel Watch features an array of fitness tracking sensors on the back, including ones for heart rate and blood oxygen, though the latter has yet to be enabled. The free six months of Fitbit Premium that come with it ($9.99/month afterwards) make it easy to start collating all that data, and for someone like me that needs to gamify their fitness whenever possible that’s much appreciated. The Pixel Watch also has built-in sleep tracking, though I’ve noticed that data doesn’t always line up with when I went to sleep and woke up, and sometimes doesn’t seem to register at all.

Pixel Watch - Software


After years of using partner smartwatches as guinea pigs, Google finally gets to showcase its Wear OS on its own hardware. As with most Google products, setting up the Pixel Watch and getting it to communicate with my Pixel 6 Pro was a cinch. Essentially, there’s not much more setup than taking the watch out of the box and turning it on; my Pixel immediately registered it and we were off to the races.
The bite-sized Android experience centers around swiping from app tile to app tile, each of which present an at-a-glance look at things like the weather or your health info like your heart rate, with the option to tap in to get a more detailed readout of the information in question. Mostly, I haven’t found myself diving deep on the apps anyway, so the design of each individual tile has become a great area of interest for me: what crucial elements does each app decide to have represented above the fold, so to speak? How does that get balanced with a clean user experience? Google-developed apps seem to err towards a “less is more” design that seems like the right move for most tiles, like the attractive and simple Weather tile; the Agenda tile, on the other hand, could use something other than just white text in the middle of a black screen to make it more useful.
Navigating on walks with Google Maps was easy enough – the Pixel Watch’s GPS tracking felt reliable and I didn’t notice any drift on the circular GTA minimap-style readout. But the Pixel Watch Maps app doesn’t offer the full functionality of its phone-based counterpart (no transit directions yet, for example) and could use some smarter integration into the phone’s UI: there’s a little static arrow icon on the home tile that indicates when you’re using navigation, and it feels like a missed opportunity to not have that arrow constantly pointing toward your destination to make it easier to glance down and reorient yourself without having to call the full map back up.
But the Pixel Watch wasn’t always the Google wrist-topia I’d hoped for, cute as being able to remotely take a photo with my phone’s camera may be. Google touts the benefits of using multiple of its gadgets together to unlock maximum functionality, and yet I can’t activate my Google Assistant by holding in my Pixel Bud if it’s connected only to the Pixel Watch and not to my Pixel 6 Pro. What the Pix-hell? And as someone who spends a lot of time in Google Meet video calls, not having any functionality from that app on my watch is frustrating.
There are some easy and obvious misses in which of Google’s apps were chosen to debut with the Pixel Watch (where’s Authenticator!?), something it’ll have to catch up with in future updates. It’s an especially pronounced shortfall, as third-party support for Wear OS apps doesn’t appear all that strong right now. I still use Facebook’s Messenger as my primary messaging app, but because there’s no Messenger app for Wear OS I’m forced to open the app on my phone to respond rather than being able to reply in-line with slide-to-type. That’s one shortfall we can be all but assured will be improved upon over the Pixel Watch’s lifespan, but something to be aware of if you’re thinking of adopting early.

Performance


Google’s Pixel phones have historically had pretty strong battery life, and Google made an effort to match that standard with its Pixel Watch. Overall, I’ve found the advertised “up to 24 hours” number to be pretty accurate. Especially on days where I had my phone more readily available and wasn’t using more battery-hungry features like GPS navigation, hitting that 24-hour mark was usually no problem. Charge times were also in line with Google’s advertised expectations: it takes about a half hour to charge the Pixel Watch from 0 to 50%, and then roughly another hour and a half to fill the rest of the battery. Especially in instances where my watch was dead and I just wanted it for a walk down to the store, that quick battery top-off time was appreciated.
As I’ve been testing out the $399.99 LTE model, I’ve been taking the watch out without my phone to see how it handles itself in the wild without its smartphone big brother to tether onto. Thus far I haven’t noticed any drops in service, so knowing whether this or the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi model is for you comes down to whether the Watch itself has enough apps to get you there and back again.

This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Tom Jorgensen

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