It took Google long enough after first announcing their wearable-specific OS, Google Wear, a few years ago to come out with their own Pixel-branded smartwatch. Well, it took time and the acquisition of Fitbit. The result is the Pixel Watch and it’s essentially as if Fitbit and Google’s Wear OS merged into one sharp-looking wrist adornment.
The Pixel Watch isn’t a sea change over previous Android-based smartwatches from brands like Fossil, but it is very refined. While Apple users gush over their watches, there are still some of us who believe watches are best when round and the Pixel is very round. The model Paste tested was a lovely, sleek black gem of a thing that at 41mm felt dangerously close to too small, but not quite. So, it’s possible that those with larger wrists will find the watch simply too small looking.
That aside, it really is an attractive piece of tech. The 320 ppi AMOLED display is bright and crisp, and easy to read. There is a noticeable bezel around the curved screen that makes it seem a little smaller. It’s a shame Google didn’t opt to either do something with the bezel (like Samsung has done) or minimize it more. The crown on the side acts as both a button and scroll wheel, but doesn’t stick out noticeably. There’s also a flat button above it, which can be customized to a variety of purposes (such as bringing up the last app used or Google Pay).
Google did pick up one annoying habit from Apple with the Pixel Watch: the bands are proprietary. They slip on and off pretty intuitively, and Google is offering a variety of choices of varying prices (from $50 to $80), but it still limits the ability to customize on the fly in a cost-effective manner. Thankfully, we’re already seeing off-brand options on Amazon and the replacement bands Google sent with the watch were sturdy and comfortable.
The Pixel Watch comes in two flavors: the $350 Bluetooth/Wi-Fi version and for $400 a LTE version. We tested out the latter, which offers the ability to leave your phone at home and still have connectivity for things like calls, texts, music, and other functions. The watch will automatically switch to LTE mode when the phone is out of reach, so you can theoretically go work out with it and still respond to text messages and calls or listen to your tunes through your favorite Bluetooth earbuds.
Of course, that LTE functionality doesn’t work magically. Your cellular provider will treat the watch as something akin to another phone on your account, though it will share your cell’s number. For T-Mobile, adding the watch was a $5-$10 monthly addition to the bill, so that is something to consider when deciding which version of the Pixel Watch you’re after.
In terms of what the Pixel Watch does, well, it does what people expect smartwatches to do, but heavily centered on Google’s and Fitbit’s tools. One thing Google hasn’t done with their Google Watch and Fitbit apps is integrate the functionality of the two. They’re still separate apps, which means you’re installing and using two different apps for the watch. While it’s not a huge deal, more simplification in the overall phone interface might be a good future step.
Beyond that, the watch does its job well. You can reasonably use the LTE model in place of your phone, although we still think taking calls through your watch is a little ridiculous. Typing on the small round screen can be a challenge, but the built-in mic lets you voice type and there are canned messages for when you just need to quickly and simply respond.
Since this is Google’s watch, the Pixel is heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem. It uses a Google account, Google Maps and YouTube Music. If you stream from other services, you can easily control your phone’s music app through the watch (to pause, skip, repeat…), but so far, you won’t be downloading tracks into the watch through, say, Tidal.
There’s a ton of content for Wear OS already on Google’s Play store, especially a stunning array of different watch faces, but also apps for all kinds of other things: health, smart home connectivity, weather, etc. For workout buffs, it has all the functionality we expect from Fitbit combined with the power and flexibility of Wear OS devices. One of the huge perks of a smartwatch is the ability to change the watch face on the fly to match your whims and the Pixel’s sharp, round screen allows for a lot of style choices.
Admittedly, most of what you’ll need to use is already installed on the watch. You can customize which phone apps the watch broadcasts notifications for, but by default it just sends over any notifications the phone receives. A slight, but noticeable vibration alerts you and the watch automatically flips to the new notification when you twist your wrist around to look at the screen.
Sleep tracking is also part of the Pixel Watch’s functionality for those that actually sleep while wearing a watch, so Google has tried to extend battery life to a full 24 hours. We found the battery under fairly active usage to be a little better than that on the whole, but it’s still not as lengthy as we were hoping (especially compared to Fitbit’s multi-day battery life). Using a lot of GPS or activity tracking functions can kill the battery life faster of course, but, overall, the watch kept going all day.
For those not invested in Apple’s ecosystem, the Pixel Watch is an excellent alternative for Android users. While we wish the bezel was less noticeable and the battery life a bit better, the watch as a whole is excellent, especially for a first go.