Google Pixel Watch Review – IGN
I’ve been a Pixel phone owner since day one in 2016, and while I’ve happily stuck to Google’s headphones ever since, I’ve always had a nagging sense of jealousy whenever I saw an Apple user with their first-party. smart watches. Not anymore: Google established the deep interconnectedness of its software ecosystem as one of the main features of its hardware lineup, and that continues until the release of its long-awaited wearable, the Pixel Watch. Just as the first Pixel convinced me that Google was on to something with smartphone design, the Pixel Watch represents a confident, exciting first step into new territory for the company that has plenty of room for iteration and improvement in the future.
Google Pixel Watch review
Pixel Watch – Design and Features
The $349.99-$399.99 Pixel Watch is a perfect match for the Pixel phones: the finish on the matte black LTE model I spent my time on complements both the glossy black glass face and my matching Pixel 6 Pro. The watch face is 41 mm and has a vibrant AMOLED screen that reproduces text and images very clearly on the small round screen. Much has been made of 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. Indeed, 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 have serious concerns about breakability: the sides of the dial aren’t reinforced at all, so it seems like a drop from more than a couple of feet might be enough to shatter it. Fortunately, I have yet to test that theory.
The crown, which doubles as a home button, has nice, subtle haptic feedback when you twist it, and easily brings up your quick settings and notification 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 have with the Pixel Watch design: it just feels a little loose and I worry that catching it on the edge of a table or door just once might be enough to pop the top off straight off. The side of the Pixel Watch opposite the crown is home to the microphone and speaker, both of which I found to be of adequate and expected quality for a wearable smartwatch that fits on the wrist and can make calls.
Aside from the flimsy crown, I’m not entirely sold on the responsiveness of the touchscreen. Generally swiping is fine, but even drawing the pattern for my unlock code reveals that the accuracy isn’t quite perfect for fine inputs, and that’s before you even talk about punching out a message with fat fingers (although swipe-to- type is surprisingly usable ).
In addition to the crown, the Pixel Watch has a dedicated multi-purpose button for calling up recent apps and summoning the Google Assistant. You definitely don’t want to hit this one by mistake, as activating the button requires some intentional force that requires bracing the other side of the watch with another finger.
There’s a range of first-party bands 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 variants, the former of which is included in the box. The active silicone band gets points for keeping the Pixel Watch snug on my wrist, but I’ve found myself pinching myself frequently when threading the strap through the loop. Switching to the smaller band available in the box mitigated but did not eliminate this problem. The stretch band feels like something I’ll be wearing more often: the corded material has just the right amount of grip and lets you place 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 (very similar to the Apple Watch version) with the Stretch Band on it: the slack in the stiffer silicone band means it can sometimes take a few extra seconds to balance the watch on a surface, while the Stretch Band keeps a more consistent shape. I found 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 has a number of fitness sensors on the back, including heart rate and blood oxygen sensors, although the latter is not yet activated. The free six months of Fitbit Premium that comes with it ($9.99/month after that) makes it easy to start collecting all this data, and for someone like me who needs to gamify their exercise whenever possible, it’s greatly appreciated on. The Pixel Watch also has sleep tracking built in, although I’ve noticed that data doesn’t always match when I fell asleep and woke up, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to register at all.
Pixel Watch – Software
After years of using partner smartwatches as guinea pigs, Google finally gets to show off 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 easy. Essentially, there’s not much more setup than taking the watch out of the box and turning it on; my Pixel registered it immediately and we were off to the races.
The small-sized Android experience centers around swiping from app tile to app tile, each providing a quick glance at things like the weather or health information like your heart rate, with the option to tap for a more detailed readout of the relevant information. For the most part, I haven’t found myself diving deep into the apps anyway, so the design of each individual tile has become a major area of interest for me: what crucial elements each app decides to have represented above the visible part, so to speak like that? How is it balanced with a pure user experience? Google-developed apps seem to err toward 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 rides 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 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 small 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 towards your destination to make it easier to glance down and reorient yourself without having to bring up the whole map again.
But the Pixel Watch wasn’t always the Google wrist-topia I’d hoped for, as sweet as being able to take a photo remotely with your phone’s camera. Google touts the benefits of using several of the gadgets together to unlock maximum functionality, and yet I can’t activate my Google Assistant by holding the Pixel Bud if it’s only connected to the Pixel Watch and not the Pixel 6 Pro. What the hell? And as someone who spends a lot of time in Google Meet video calls, it’s frustrating not having any functionality from that app on my watch.
There are some simple and obvious misses in which of Google’s apps were chosen to debut with the Pixel Watch (where’s Authenticator!?), something it will need to address in future updates. That’s a particularly pronounced shortcoming, as third-party support for Wear OS apps doesn’t seem 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 reply instead of being able to reply in line with slide-to-type . It’s a shortcoming that we’re almost certain will be improved over the Pixel Watch’s lifetime, but something to be aware of if you’re thinking of adopting early.
Google’s Pixel phones have historically had pretty strong battery life, and Google tried to match that standard with the Pixel Watch. Overall, I’ve found the advertised “up to 24 hours” figure to be pretty accurate. Especially on days where I had my phone more easily accessible and wasn’t using more battery-hungry features like GPS navigation, hitting the 24-hour mark was usually no problem. Charging times were also in line with Google’s advertised expectations: it takes about half an hour to charge the Pixel Watch from 0 to 50%, and then about another hour and a half to fill the rest of the battery. Especially in cases where my watch was dead and I just wanted it for a trip down to the store, the quick battery recharge time was appreciated.
While I’ve been testing out the $399.99 LTE model, I’ve taken the watch out without my phone to see how it fares in the wild without its smartphone big brother to tether to. So 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.