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Google’s Pixel Watch Hands-On: Here’s What You Need to Know

Today Google finally launched its long-awaited Pixel Watch. No wearable device has been rumored to “happen soon” as many years as the Pixel Watch. But this past spring Google confirmed it’d be coming this fall, and here we are. The Pixel Watch is a Wear OS device (as expected) that also runs a tightly integrated Fitbit experience, logical, given Google’s purchase of Fitbit a few years back. The device takes pretty much everything you’d expect from a high-end Fitbit (like the Fitbit Sense/Sense 2) and blends it with the specs of a mainstream Wear OS watch. Except very very sleek/modern looking, and, has two buttons – a digital crown and a single button above it.

There aren’t many surprises here, not just because of the leaks, but because both of these two entities (Fitbit & Wear OS) are fairly well known. And when they have a child, then the offspring simply takes the form of the combined parents. This first iteration is just that – a first iteration. Google says they aimed to build the watch that has the widest appeal, and we see that in aspects like size and usability. So with that, let’s dive into it.

The Specs:

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As usual with specs, there’s the hardware side and the software side. Starting off with the hardware components first:

– Single size – 40.8mm case/housing
– Stainless steel finishes, with three colors: Matte black, gold, silver
– Always-on display
– Onboard GPS (not multi-band/dual frequency)
– 24 hours of battery life (smartwatch mode)
– 12 hours battery life (GPS mode)
– 50m water resistance
– Gorilla glass front display
– Swappable bands (7 different band flavors announced at launch)
– Always-on optical HR sensor with ECG capabilities (different sensor/algorithm than Fitbit devices)
– Recharge time is 80 minutes for a full charge, or 20 mins for 30% (enough for sleep)
– $349 for BT/WiFi models
– $399 for LTE/BT/WiFi models
– Availability on October 13th

And then we’ve got the software side of things, covering both the platform and Fitbit pieces.

– Running Wear OS 3 (same as the Samsung Watch 5 series)
– Only compatible with Android phone (previous Wear OS versions were iPhone compatible)
– Full Wear OS app store compatibility
– Google Assistant built-in
– Google Wallet capability
– Google Home control
– Google Map turn-by-turn directions
– YouTube Music Premium availability
– Fall detection will directly contact first responders (coming in 2023)
– Using a Fitbit overlay that’s basically the Fitbit Sense 2 UI/features, but tweaked slightly
– ECG with AFib detection (but not contious Afib detection)
– 40+ Exercise/Workout modes
– 1-second recording rates for all HR (24×7) & workout features
– Usual steps/sleep/activity tracking you’d find on any Fitbit in 2022
– Comes with 6-months of Fitbit Premium free trial

As one might expect, it’s kinda hard to encapsulate the entirety of a wearable platform (be it Apple/Google/Garmin/etc…) into a handful of bullet points, especially given there’s likely thousands of features to cover. But again, the general way you can look at things is that if it’s on a Wear OS 3 watch, it’s here, and if it’s on the Fitbit Sense 2, it’s here. Make sense?

In terms of lack of iPhone integration, someone did actually ask that during one of the media calls. While it might seem obvious that a watch made by Google (guardian of Android) would lack iPhone support – the simple reality is that Google has had Wear OS support on iPhone for many years. That basically ended last year when Samsung launched the first Wear OS 3 watch (the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 series), and continues here with both Samsung and Google’s offerings.

Google noted that the main reason was that they didn’t feel like they could get the integration they wanted, due to Apple’s lack of API for the messaging (both models) and phone number sharing pieces specifically (cellular models). And they are correct, Apple doesn’t permit any 3rd party hardware to reply to text messages/iMessage (whereas the Apple Watch can). However at the same time, that never stopped them in the past from offering watches, and it doesn’t stop numerous 3rd party companies either. Still, I get it – it’s a frustrating walled garden limit of Apple that impacts more than just the Garmins of the world (who also face this). Sadly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

General Hands-On Thoughts:

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First up, we’ve got the size of the watch. Being a 41mm watch, it’s on the smaller end of smartwatches today, which generally range in the 44-50mm size, but it doesn’t feel awkwardly small – just…well…smaller. The very circular/bubble-looking design won’t appeal to everyone, but I think Google has done a good job in terms of the band and color integration options. Further, while the watch bezel looks big on paper and in renders, it actually doesn’t seem that big in real-life. I think it’s because of the curved nature of the edges, meaning that it tapers off very quickly.

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There are a ton of band options. While there are six core band types, within that there are multiple band colors. Options include leather, a woven strap, an active strap, metal (coming next spring), and a fabric stretchy one.

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The band has a pretty unique connection point that’s entirely hidden inside the watch (versus an outside attachment point like most watches). So you basically rotate the bands to lock into place. It’s clever, though I wonder going forward into future versions how much this will be retained or be a constraint since it does take up valuable internal space. The pins that you see there are for diagnostic/troubleshooting purposes.

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Next, the display is always-on, and Google says it’ll last 24 hours in smartwatch mode (basically the same ballpark as the Apple Watch Series 8 or SE). When your wrist is lowered, the screen dims, and then brightens as you raise it – like most always-on AMOLED displays.

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On the back, you can see the new optical HR sensor, which includes ECG and with it Afib detection. This sensor is different from the Fitbit Sense 2 sensor, both in terms of hardware as well as advanced machine-learning algorithms that Google says are used in real-time during workouts to improve HR accuracy. Obviously, as always, that’ll be something I test in-detail.

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Before we dive into the Fitbit aspects, some general stuffs. The upper right button accesses your recent apps list, but you can also long hold it to access Google Assistant (and then use the mic/speaker to have a discussion about whatever it is you need Google to help you with). You can also use the digital crown as both a scroll wheel and a button. And then of course there’s the touchscreen itself. I didn’t have any navigation issues with the touchscreen (indoors in a dry environment). In the case of Google Maps for example, it’ll do turn-by-turn directions – but that’s more for point-to-point journeys than any sort of navigation from a sports standpoint.

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Lastly, we’ve got the Fitbit integration – which is the first Wear OS device with Fitbit built in (Google has hinted this will come to other non-Google Fitbit devices). Probably the biggest claim out of this is that it’s “Fitbit’s most accurate heart rate tracking yet”. Google reiterated this claim numerous times, as well as the 1-second recording rate 24×7, both in pre-event briefings and the keynote itself, as well as numerous discussions with Fitbit employees at the event. I’m optimistic that given how excited they seem about this specific point (and the entire mini-movie they dedicated to it within the keynote), that perhaps it’ll actually be accurate. More soon there, obviously.

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For the most part (in a good way), the Fitbit experience on the Pixel Watch feels near identical to that of the Fitbit Sense 2. Many of the data pages and design styles are all the same. There’s options to have things directly on the default watch faces, and there’s also specific tiles that are Fitbit driven. In order to access these you’ll sign-in with your Fitbit account (which is free, unless you’re looking at Fitbit Premium features.

vlcsnap-2022-10-06-17h16m36s839 vlcsnap-2022-10-06-17h17m23s046 vlcsnap-2022-10-06-17h16m50s374

And if you do have Fitbit Premium, then you’ll get features like Daily Readiness score – as well as access to all the rest of the Fitbit Premium features if you subscribe beyond the included 6-month free Fitbit Premium trial. Also, you’ll get a 3-month free trial of YouTube Music as well.

Wrap-Up:

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Like many companies, both big and small, when you launch your first product you’re aiming to find the product with the widest possible appeal to cement your position in the market. That’s what the Pixel Watch is – it’s a watch designed to appeal to the widest possible market in terms of looks, size, band styles, features, and price points. This version isn’t designed to compete directly with sports-focused watches, instead, like Apple pre-Ultra, it’s designed to have wide mainstream appeal that does ‘good enough’ in a sports setting for most people.

The core smartwatch features here compare pretty much on-point to similarly priced offerings from Samsung, Huawei, and Apple. Sure, there are differences here and there – both in hardware and software. But on the whole they are relatively minor. Most of those differences are aligned more to wearable platforms themselves, rather than the hardware of the watches. Exceptions however would include Samsung’s blood pressure monitoring features, but those require calibration against a medical device first, and have iffy accuracy even once done. Of course, all of their competitors offer multiple sizes of their watches, which can be a factor – especially for those wanting a larger watch.

Where things get most interesting for the Pixel Watch is the Fitbit integration. As noted earlier, effectively they’ve taken a Fitbit Sense 2 (in features) and stuffed it into the Pixel Watch. You’ll link up to your account as normal, and then instantly, your Fitbit data is there. If you’re coming from an older Fitbit device, that can be a considerable advantage – as migrating between the siloed fitness/health platforms of today, is mostly non-existent otherwise. Google says they’ve spent considerable time on the optical HR accuracy of the Pixel Watch, via both hardware and software. I’m interested in putting this to the test, given some of the challenges that Fitbit has had in this arena.

With that – stay tuned for a full in-depth review soon!

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54 Comments

  1. TimmyB

    I’ve checked your site all day, just waiting for you to weigh in! I can’t wait to see your first test with this, especially with regard to GPS accuracy. I was one of those who went out on day one last month and got the new Samsung Watch and was SOOOOOOO disappointed with the GPS, as well as the inability to customize the watch face to be more useful to me WHILE I WAS RUNNING. It went back after about 10 days.

    Hope to see your full review soon.

    • John

      The gps on Samsung watches is perfect. Its just you being a twat.

    • TimmyB

      Wow, what a brave comment, John. In case you missed it, Ray himself reviewed the Samsung watch and had the same comments about its GPS. I guess he’s a twat, too.

    • Definitely no need for name-calling. And while I know the British interpretation of that is less offense than the American variant, it’s still unnecessary.

      Also, more notably, Samsung Watch 5 accuracy is hardly perfect. Better than previous Samsung watches for sure, but far from perfect.

  2. Manthan

    Great review in the short span of time. I’ve come across several people talking about there being an SPO2 sensor on the watch? which google didn’t talk about.

  3. Therealscdc

    Good to see more devices and different brands. Maybe with the Recession and Inflation pressures, prices will get a little bit of a correction.

  4. Damian Steward

    According to anandtech, the pixel watch contains a SoC which is 4 years old!
    Which means it is freaking slow compared to the Apple watches and likely already obsolete.
    And look at that massive bezel size!! We’re going back to 2010 now?

    • Al

      I think this obession with the SoC is somewhat misguided. The consumerist market which forces these companies to continually come up with faster and newer chips each year is a bit silly. If Google is able to use the 4 year old SoC and still have their watch snappy and functional then really what does it matter what the SoC is? They could have just rebranded this as a Tensor mobile chip and everyone would have been non the wiser.

      As for the bezels, they did look big in the renders but every hands on says its not as big a deal as those renders / options make it out to be. I mean even the Apple Watch 8 has bezels: link to digitaltrends.com

    • In terms of usability, it felt quick/snappy. Obviously, these watches had virtually nothing on them and were basically ‘fresh’, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. The main downside to using older chipsets isn’t usually speed, but rather power consumptions. Hence probably why we’re at 24hrs. Yet, with Apple and Samsung basically at 24-30hrs too, there’s little reason to go beyond that.

      Likewise, while there’s much talk of bezel online. Honestly, in person you don’t really notice it. Mainly because the curve/bubble shape of the watch makes it seem fairly transparent. I’d say this thinking was echo’d by almost everyone at the event yesterday, even just overhearing listening to conversations about it afterwards in the media room/cafe area while people were working on stories/edits, everyone there seemed to be of the “looks way worse on screen than in real life” opinion.

  5. Luis

    Hi Ray! Thanks for this comprehensive first look at the watch!

    Given that it could be considered as an upgraded Fitbit… does it support pairing with external sensors? 😅😅

  6. Pavel Vishnyakov

    Despite being an Apple user I must admit – it looks very nice with the round shape and stainless steel case.

  7. Dave Lusty

    24 hour battery life for just being a smartwatch. At first I thought that was GPS on time but then read the next line and for a moment thought you’d made a typo. It’s times like this you realise just how good Garmin are at this, sometimes I forget the Fenix even needs to be charged. While I get the whole “oh but there are apps” argument, I’ve never actually seen anyone use a watch app that isn’t available on a Garmin. I’m not even sure I recall seeing an Apple watch user open any app other than WhatsApp or messages.

  8. gingerneil

    Do you know if it supports offline YouTube music? If so… and that proves its ‘possible’, do you think we’ll ever see it on Garmin?

  9. Milen

    To me it seems quite clear that it does not have an spo2 sensor as none of the official socumentation mentiones it.
    Maybe Ray can double check with Google 🙂

    • Mike Richie

      I think it has the necessary hardware, but not the firmware. The Google site specifically says the Pixel Watch has “Red and infrared sensors” whereas for the Sense it says “Red and infrared sensors for (SpO2) monitoring”. Unlike, say, Fall Detection, they probably don’t want to commit themselves to delivering that functionality.

    • Ok, so a bit of clarification on the SpO2 sensor from Google. It’s there today, and is being leveraged today, but not being shown for manual readings yet. It’s currently just for the estimated oxygen variation timeline.

  10. Therealscdc

    To me the Google Watch looks like a scratch or break magnet. Nothing protecting the sides or corners. I like round, but this is ugly ugly and ugly.

    I think the ultimate round look is probably the highly NOT recommended Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro (image in this message). Even today, it exceeds the look of any watch I’ve seen. I tried one just for giggles and it was the most premium feeling watch I’ve put on my wrist.

    Love my AW Ultra, but damn it’s ugly. 🙂

  11. gideon

    thanks for the info….on the plus side at least it is fully functional across ALL phones/platforms.

  12. mikeR

    As a long term Garmin owner, it really frustrates me how Pixel (and Apple Ultra, and Samsung Galaxy, even $100 chinese no brands) can provide such useful/wearable LTE capabilities for the same price as a Forerunner 255. Come ON now Garmin! Either rise to meet the market, or be left behind.

    • TimmyB

      It seems there must be something more to it because I’ve yet to see an LTE watch that has anywhere near as good GPS tracking as a dedicated running watch, such as the Garmin line. I purchased the Samsung 5 last month and was astounded at how bad it was, despite it being a FABULOUS smart-watch! I took it back within the return period. I wish Garmin could simply take one of their great running watches and drop an LTE chip into it but there must be something that makes it more difficult than that.

    • Matt

      Main concern is likely battery life. I’ve got the 945 LTE to leave my phone at home since I mainly just wanted emergency and tracking. When using it for music, GPS, and live tracking (every 1 minute data uploads), it’s around 7-10 hours of battery life. I think Ray tested it in the every 5 minute upload mode and it was much longer, but even then, the battery life will plummet if it has to do intermittent use throughout the day. I can’t imagine Garmin can get the best chips at an affordable price like Apple, Google, or Samsung can.

      I would love extra features though, like calls/texts and transit apps like Uber, but I just don’t see that happening anytime in the next few years.

    • TimmyB

      The Samsung 5 was a FABULOUS watch for all those things you listed. Unfortunately, it was a complete pile when it came to running. The GPS was so bad, it showed my running pace as varying between 6-minute and 12-minute miles, and this was for the entire duration of the run. Simply unacceptable and that’s what is so baffling to me. A company with the financial resources of Samsung, who can put out a fabulous smartwatch, but this is the best they can do on that front?

    • Peter Z.

      All tests of the Apple Watch seem to give it very good GPS accuracy ratings.

    • MaDMaLKaV

      Amen.

    • Dave Lusty

      I suspect Garmin have done their market research (partly by launching watches!) and found that the number of people who want a Garmin and also want LTE (and the compromise that brings) is tiny. If you read the comments on this website you’ll see that a large portion of Garmin customers would rather have a watch without LTE, either to make it lighter, smaller, or better battery.

    • Garmin’s has previous tried the whole ‘just stick an LTE chip and call it good’ in there, and it just didn’t work (Garmin Vivoactive 3 LTE). The problem is that the *majority* of Garmin customers are iOS, and they expect iMessage. And without it, it’s a non-starter. It becomes a biforcated mess of messages, due to lack of cohesion. Garmin can’t get around that, that’s a hard wall from Apple (just like Fitbit/Suunto/Polar/COROS/etc can’t get around it).

      Garmin’s approach with the FR945 LTE was actually fairly clever, but just not flexible enough for what some people wanted. I think they’re actually on the right path, and I think the reason you saw them effectively skip a FR955 (or Fenix 7/Epix) version of LTE is to take a step back and figure out how to deliver what people want – at the price point people want.

    • Therealscdc

      Ray,

      That’s not completely true. I tried a Samsung Galaxy watch and I used a messaging app through android (iphone appears as a green text from someone SMS). I had no problems receiving and sending texts.

      Garmin just needed to have a messaging app that receives and sends VIA SMS by phone number. that would have worked out just fine.

      But, the average person wouldn’t be able to figure that out and would grow frustrated. Apple just has a superior ecosystem and the AW fits right in.

    • Right, you can send it and such as plain text – the problem is that it’s not consolidated correctly on the iPhone. So basically, on my phone, it doesn’t show what I sent via the watch. And then to other people, it shows green dots as if sent via text message.

      On Android, that’s not a problem (for Garmin), because Google permits it, so it all looks seamless. Apple doesn’t, except for the Apple Watch. This is very much an Apple walled garden problem.

    • TG

      I disagree. They tried an LTE option, but made it so limited, and so expensive for what it did offer, that it was honestly pretty useless. I couldn’t use it for making calls. I couldn’t use it to text back and forth with someone. I couldn’t use it in general for most of the purposes I would want to use it for. It was really only for emergency purposes. And for most of the emergency purposes, I’d need to pay a monthly fee that is over half the cost of just adding an additional phone line to my existing phone service. I’d much prefer being able to add the phone to my existing service, ideally with the same number I use for my main phone. *That* would be truly useful.

  13. Ron Scubadiver

    My take: The proscessor is old. Fitbit paywalls things which are standard on other smartwatches. Charging is on the slow side. On the plus side it’s pretty and has GPS.

  14. Antler

    Thanks for the Video.
    Unfortunately this very much Looks Like a me-too Product. If you are late to the Party you should better have a good excuse. One day battery Life, 4 year old soc, non Standard Bands, No dual frequency GPS, Subskription to use your own Data, the expectation that it will be killed in 1 year and high price. Yeah no thanks.

  15. Xaba

    I wait a little for Altavista watch

  16. Gerhard

    I would like to see a Amazfit 4 GTR (as the GTS only has the crown), especially the GPS accuracy but also to see how it works as a sportwatch. I like to see a more open platform like Google Wear but it does not seem like they are designed for athletes. The Pixel Watch review will be interesting…
    See what Coros releases too. I hope to see a Pace-3 but a Apex-2 is more likely.
    It may be a Garmin 255 after all, now it should get wrist based power too, more fun data…

  17. TG

    Huh… I was about to push the button on a fr955, but I’d love to have my watch be my phone. I wish I could have the best of all the worlds… Long battery life, running tracking/metrics, maps, phone/text capability, and the audible app. If I had those items, I would be happy. I’m hoping for a more in-depth review about how this one behaves in a run and how that affects battery!

    • Peter Z.

      I’m curious how the Venu Plus has worked out with the microphone/speaker for phone connection. That could be a nice feature on Garmin higher-end watches. I know the waterproofing becomes a bigger challenge.

  18. Henrik

    My Christmas wishlist includes an “Apple Watch Ultra”-style watch that runs WearOS and has ANT+ communication. I guess that Santa will have some sourcing problems for this year and maybe even the next few years ahead.

  19. Don Rhummy

    I just don’t get these devices which last less than 24 hours when used for exercising for active athletes. I train for triathlons and am on the lower end of hours spent per week (due to work and life getting in the way) and these watches wouldn’t work even for me. I don’t see how it can be considered in the same game as a Garmin watch that lasts 1.5-2 weeks with many hours of multi-band GPS usage.

    • TimmyB

      A smartwatch was never designed to be a replacement for a triathlon watch or even a marathon watch. Anyone who is serious about training/competing (as you are) isn’t going to consider this (or the Samsung or the Apple) for that purpose. On the other hand, anyone who wants a device that can communicate easily with others while they are out running or biking needs a smartwatch like this. Like you, I wish that Garmin could just stick an LTE chip inside one of their fabulous watches and call it good. There is obviously something quite complex that prevents them from doing so.

    • Aleksander H

      Someone considering a Forerunner 255 might consider the Pixel Watch for the smart benefits. Someone with your requirements though is well outside the scope of the Pixel Watch. It’s simply not trying to cater to your needs (at least not at the moment). I’d argue however that there are more people out there going for 5 – 10 km jogs a few times a week and maybe a sunday hike, than there are people training for triathlones. Those are the people these will be aimed at.

      Advertising showing extremely fit people doing very sporty things with their smart watches are probably more designed to lure in the semi fit/unfit to give them the feeling that this watch can help them be better, rather than actually trying to sell to the very fit.

  20. Joe

    I’ve gotten too used to my Epix to go back to Wear OS but I do miss the full standalone LTE connection that I used to have way back when with the LG Watch Sport, it was nice to be able to go without my phone and still be connected.

    Still, even with the new Fitbit integrations it seems that Garmin is just way too far ahead on the fitness / cycling side (even if this is better as a smartwatch, if my Galaxy Watch 4 Classic is anything to go by).

  21. Chandra

    What i’d like to know is if this thing lasts longer than the fitbit devices. I loved my Versa 3, but the first one died in just shy of a year, then the replacement died in 7 months. I’ve been an avid Fitbit user since 2015, but I have to replace the devices every 1.5 years, spending about 150-250$ per new or discounted second replacement purchase. I’m getting pretty tired of spending this money on non-robust electronics.

    So,… does the Pixel Watch have a longer life overall, or is it destined for the electronic waste bin?

    • Dan Morrissey

      x2 Chandra, Agree completely. From Charge / Charge 2 all the way to Ionic…they gave me a year or two MAX. So… despite liking the FITBIT overall usability and ecosystem, I’m out. By comparison I’m still enjoying (though I always want more/newer/cooler) my 3-4 year old-ish Vivoactive 3 Music with zero problems. I’d really like to go back…I still like the user experience better…can’t do it.

    • TimmyB

      I’m not understanding the logic. Fitbit made your devices, not Google. Since then, Google has purchased Fitbit, so therefore these devices will be inferior from a hardware perspective? Fitbit is providing nothing but software to the Google Watch.

    • Gašper

      My Fitbit Versa 3 still works after almost two years. Occasional (less than 1x per month) freeze and restart, other than that super reliable and functional. Also no noticeable battery degradation.

    • Chandra B

      I have no idea how either operate. But I figured Google would have some weigh in on longevity for the devices their company owns. But that hasn’t been the case.

      So if it’s just software Fitbit is passing on, that’s a possibly different story.

    • Chandra B

      My above reply is for @Timmy B

    • TimmyB

      I understand your frustration, Chandra. I would be upset too, spending that kind of money every couple of years. If I understand correctly though, Google didn’t actually start “selling” FitBit products under their wing until early 2021. I don’t believe we can blame them for the original company’s problems. I’m optimistic that Google will put out a very solid hardware product, as they seem to be doing with phones. (I can’t speak for myself on that front, just from what friends have said and articles I’ve read.)

  22. Aleksander H

    Really looking forward to seeing GPS accuracy. My Suunto S7 has been requirering a factory reset more and more frequently lately. I now usually manage 3 months before I get the blank Suunto app screen where nothing works anymore, requirering a new factory reset.

  23. Lance Andre

    No ANT+??? so it doesn’t integrate well with other sports-related products. I will have to pass until they have ANT+ to broadcast HR.

  24. thanks for this review