- Classy and slim design
- Fitbit integration is a great addition
- Superb sleep tracking
- Battery life is crippling
- Mild HR accuracy issues
- No larger case version
We’ve been waiting for Google to release a Pixel Watch for a very, very long time - way before it teased the smartwatch at its I/O event back in May.
Pixel Watch rumors have been doing the rounds since the heady days of 2017, back when the second big iteration of Wear OS was just landing on our wrists and the LG Watch Sport was the platform’s defacto flagship.
Fast forward half a decade, with Fitbit now firmly part of the family, Google is finally giving Wear OS smartwatches a head of state that delivers the same deep integration and rounded experience that Apple gives to iPhone fans.
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And, when you look down the spec sheet and at the design, it’s set up to compete. In essence, the Pixel Watch is a Fitbit powerhouse that boasts the might of Google’s services - Assistant, Maps, Home, YouTube Music and the Play Store.
It costs a fair whack, though, starting at $349 / £339, and therefore lives in the same neighborhood as Apple and Samsung’s alternatives. It gives itself little wiggle room for failure.
In plenty of ways, it does compete with the top smartwatches, offering a real glimpse of the future of Google’s smartwatch platform with the Pixel Watch as its chief mascot. But it does also fall foul of some oft-seen first-gen issues.
We’ve been wearing the debut Google device over the last couple of weeks. Here are our experiences.
Case size and comfort
In the months since Google first revealed the look of the Pixel Watch, we’ve been eager to see just how much of an effect the display’s edge had on the day-to-day experience. Renders and the marketing department did infamously try and make that bezel edge appear smaller, after all.
To our surprise, after wearing the device in all kinds of scenarios, it really isn’t something we’ve noticed. Kind of like the camera notch on a phone, it’s not ideal, but you quickly stop seeing it.
Google has also done a nice job of building the watch’s UI to mask this, as well. Unless you open up the flashlight function or use the Photos watch face, you’re never really going to see a screen without a black background.
While the software has cleverly negotiated its way around the thick edge, however, it can’t make up for everything, and the singular 41mm case size is something we’ve struggled with slightly during testing.
This reviewer has an average male wrist, and the Pixel is just a little too small. As a point of reference, the larger case size of the Apple Watch is always a great fit and look on the wrist, and a 46mm Garmin (our daily-use watch) is our preferred option.
You don’t get such an option with the Pixel Watch, though. There’s only one case size available here, and we really think those with even average wrists will find that the small screen takes some getting used to.
It's good news for the slender-wristed, as shown below, and it's possibly the only time we've criticized a smartwatch for being too unisex. Still, lots of people are going to love it - and for good reason.
It’s slim and sleek, featuring a crown that doesn’t appear overly techy and a shiny stainless steel gloss that hides the singular side button really nicely. If it can achieve this all with just a fluoroelastomer strap, too, we think it’s easily able to rival the Apple Watch in terms of looks - even in formal settings.
We just really wish there was a larger case size - and not just for the look, as we’ll get into further below.
The firepower to finally compete
It’s no secret that Wear OS just hasn’t been a serious platform over the last few years - at least not compared to watchOS, which has helped propel the Apple Watch to a very healthy share of the market.
There have been countless problems, but one of the biggest has been Google’s own buy-in. That changed instantly when the company actually decided to release the Pixel Watch, but it’s also part of a wider, concerted effort - Wear OS vendors like Fossil have explained to Wareable that Google is finally all-in on watches after long periods of laying dormant.
It means that the UI delivered in Wear OS 3.5 is as friendly as it’s ever been. Tiles are an excellent way to absorb glanceable metrics like Sleep Score or heart rate, jump into a Strava workout, or get directions from Google Maps.
We still wish there were more - a Spotify one, say, and not just one for YouTube Music - but it’s a very refreshing overall experience. In fact, the biggest compliment we can pay Wear OS on the Pixel Watch is that it’s Apple-like.
There are no real game-breaking hiccups here, as we've experienced in the older versions of the software.
Offline Spotify playlists download quickly and easily, Bluetooth headphones pair instantly, the GPS signal locks on in mere seconds and performs very accurately, and menus are responsive and without bugs.
Raise-to-wake is slightly slow and inconsistent - something that we’ve also criticized Fitbit smartwatches for - but that’s the only element that still feels slightly behind the industry standard.
Fitbit features tested
This marked improvement is also something that has been brewing since the acquisition of Fitbit, and it’s this integration that finally gives the Wear OS platform the real shot in the arm it needs to become a serious alternative to the likes of Samsung and Apple.
No longer are you stuck fumbling around trying to get Google Fit permissions to register with your Wear device, or be constricted by a third-party app and its super-basic metrics - everything the watch tracks is now fed into the intuitive and detailed Fitbit app.
We’ve seen criticism of the fact Google has the ‘Watch’ app and also requires you to use the Fitbit app, but, really, we just don’t see this as a big issue for most users. You’ll only use the Watch app during initial setup, when you fancy adding some new faces and maybe changing some settings. Mostly, you’ll be spending your time with Fitbit.
And that’s a great thing, as it’s a very solid alternative to something like the Apple Fitness app or Apple Health.
The complication here is the subscription fee for Fitbit Premium if you want to access the more advanced features, but the core of what Fitbit does well - sleep tracking and easy-to-understand breakdowns of your activity and health metrics - are all here as standard.
Sleep tracking accuracy is particularly important, as well, given how this feeds into the rest of the data Fitbit gives you, like Daily Readiness.
There’s definitely room for some improvement, too, however. Active Zone Minutes - Fitbit’s primary and proprietary metric for registering the intensity of your exercise - aren’t nearly as engaging as Apple’s Activity Rings, for example, and, as we’ve found on other Fitbit devices, the stress management and mindfulness features struggle to resonate.
And in terms of health tracking, the Pixel Watch doesn't have cutting-edge metrics. While Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 and Galaxy Watch 5 Pro boast temperature sensors, blood oxygen measurements and blood pressure readings, the Pixel Watch feels a generation behind with ECG readings, HRV, breathing rate and resting heart rate measurements.
With the Fitbit Sense 2 playing the role of ‘health watch’ in the current lineup, this isn’t entirely surprising, but we expect the Pixel Watch to grow here in future generations. At present, it’s just not trying to be that smartwatch.
Battery life issues
While the design and software experience flourish, however, there’s a pretty big elephant crashing the party - battery life. So often the scourge of early smartwatches, not even the Pixel Watch, launching in an era in which the standard has greatly improved, can avoid the trap.
To put it simply, the Pixel Watch's battery life is just not nearly enough to power the experience.
Unlike the claim of 18-hour battery life from Apple, which is easily surpassed and often doubled, Google’s 24-hour estimate with the Pixel Watch feels ambitious.
It’s possible to reach it with minimal tracking, interaction and the always-on display turned off, but it can very quickly turn into a 16-hour or 20-hour battery life. Over an hour of run tracking, for example, even without music streaming, can drain the battery 35-40%. A night of sleep tracking is roughly 15-20%.
If you’re somebody who lives by a very consistent daily schedule, fitting in a quick charge of the Pixel Watch likely won’t be too big of a problem. We found it took around an hour to go from post-sleep levels of 5-20% to full charge, and placing it on the puck before exercising or sleeping can see you get 20-30% in around 15 minutes.
The problems begin as soon as you mix up your schedule. Never mind taking your charger with you if you’re going away for the weekend - you’ll need to basically have one within arm’s reach at all times if you dare to step out of your comfort zone. And that’s really inconvenient, obviously.
It forced us to delay longer runs, use different devices to pair Spotify, and even avoid using some features altogether, such as the always-on display, because longevity (or at least some semblance of it) is king. It also feels fairly disingenuous to calculate a battery life estimate that omits a core feature like always on display, but that’s another matter.
This feeling of battery anxiety reminds us of the early days of smartwatches.
The big difference there, though, is those devices weren't designed as sleep monitors, so the overall system worked. Sleep tracking is arguably this watch’s biggest strength, but something has to give during your day as a result.
The fact this could have potentially been mitigated somewhat with a larger version of the device only adds to the annoyance, and, all in all, it’s an Achilles heel that makes the Pixel Watch tougher to recommend.
Heart rate and fitness testing
It’s not the only shortcoming, either. Heart rate tracking was a pretty mixed bag during our testing - though, thankfully, it doesn’t handicap the device in quite the same way the lack of battery life does.
When Google unveiled the Pixel Watch and Fitbit CEO James Park explained the details behind the heart rate sensor - one that was going to take a reading every single second - we were intrigued.
What promised to be a different kind of heart rate sensor has indeed been that - but not exactly in the way we hoped. As we’ve experienced with other Fitbit devices, there was sometimes a bit of an aversion to entering the fifth heart rate zone, which Fitbit describes as ‘Peak’.
While this didn’t seem to pop up during gym sessions or steadily increasing sections of runs - as shown in the example above, in which it was only slightly behind the Garmin and in line with a Wahoo Tickr X that clearly faltered with a dip during the one-mile test - it was slow to warm up to the pace during short-to-medium bursts.
In another run, when we were pushing at a goal pace for half-mile intervals, we’d often see the Pixel Watch register us around the 165-175 range rather than the 175-185 we saw on the chest strap and Garmin.
With meager battery life and questionable accuracy at peak zones, it means the Pixel Watch 1.0 isn't adept at sports tracking in the way that something like the Apple Watch is.
But that's not to completely dismiss the Pixel Watch's heart rate capabilities.
Lower heart rate zones stood up to scrutiny, often registering changes a few seconds quicker than our Garmin. That included long and steady runs, where we felt like the Pixel Watch matched up more accurately with how we felt in the moment.
Still, these quirks aren’t just limited to exercise tracking. Resting heart rate readings and VO2 Max estimates are well above what's delivered by Garmin, Whoop and Apple, and this mix of over-reporting general data and underreporting exercise tracking does leave us with a feeling that there are some kinks to iron out here.
How we test