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Style Google Pixel Watch review: An ambitious first attempt

08:30  20 november  2022
08:30  20 november  2022 Source:   msn.com

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I've never been entirely sure what I should expect out of the Pixel Watch. On the one hand, it's a first-generation product from a company that's never made a smartwatch before. Growing pains can be expected. But at the same time, that company is Google, the zillion-dollar behemoth behind Wear OS and Android on the whole, that's been building some of our favorite phones and smart speakers for years now.

  Google Pixel Watch review: An ambitious first attempt © Provided by Android Police

What we ended up with is, thankfully, a promising first attempt: in a lot of ways, the Google Pixel Watch is very good, with ambitiously high-end styling and great day-to-day performance. For $350, though, it’s not an easy sell compared to the best smartwatches from the likes of Samsung — exclusive Fitbit integration or not.

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Google Pixel Watch

7.00 / 10
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It's not the revolutionary Wear OS "hero device" we hoped for, but as Google's first smartwatch, the Pixel Watch gets a lot right. With average-at-best battery life and lackluster Fitbit functionality, though, it doesn't do enough to justify its premium price tag.

Specifications
  • Display: 1.6" 384x384 AMOLED, up to 1000 nits brightness boost, Ambient light sensor, Always-on display
  • CPU: Exynos 9110 SoC, Cortex M33 co-processor
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Battery: 294mAh, "up to 24 hours"
  • Connectivity: 4G LTE, UMTS, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz, NFC, GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo
  • Durability: 5ATM
  • Software: Wear OS 3.5
  • Health sensors: Optical heart rate sensor, Multipurpose electrical sensor, Blood oxygen sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Altimeter, Compass
  • Price: $350 (BT/Wi-Fi), $400 (LTE)
  • Strap: Active band included: Small (130 - 175 mm) and Large (165 - 210 mm)
  • Dimensions: 41 x 41 x 12.3 mm
  • Weight: 36g (without band)
  • Audio: Built-in speaker
  • Mobile payments: Google Wallet
  • Workout detection: Yes
  • Color options: Matte Black with Obsidian Active band, Polished Silver with Charcoal Active band, Polished Silver with Chalk Active band, Champagne Gold with Hazel Active band
Pros
  • Unique, high-end styling
  • Premium hardware
  • Google's exclusive watch faces are killer
Cons
  • Average-at-best battery life
  • Unusually high calorie burn estimates
  • Too expensive
Buy This Product
Google Pixel Watch
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Google Pixel Watch: Design, hardware, and what’s in the box

The Google Pixel Watch’s design might be a little divisive, but it’s unique — you won’t mistake it for anything else on the market right now. At a glance, it looks a bit like a round Apple Watch, with its curved edges, digital crown, and single hardware button. The Active band the watch ships with is basically a copy of the bands from the Fitbit Sense and Versa lines. That’s not a bad thing, though; I really like that band design.

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The watch itself is available in three colors: Obsidian, polished silver, and champagne gold. The matte black obsidian version comes with a matching black band, champagne gold comes with a cool gray Hazel band, and polished silver comes with either chalk or charcoal. While there are precisely zero third-party bands from reputable brands on the market today, Google offers a pretty wide range of additional bands and plans to offer more over time. The watch case is made of stainless steel, a more durable and premium option than the aluminum used in many wearables. Overall, the hardware feels as premium as it should for the price.

Bands attach with a proprietary connector, so you can’t use standard watch bands. I understand that using regular lugs on the Pixel Watch would’ve spoiled the unique look Google was going for, but it’s still a shame — Google’s options are pricey and have no competition.

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The proprietary connector is very slick, though. There’s a little trench on the top and bottom edge of the Pixel Watch. Each has a button at its counterclockwise side that holds the band in place. Pressing the button with a band attached lets you slide the band over it and pull it away from the watch to detach it. To attach a band, you have to press the button using the band, then slide it clockwise into place, which allows the button to pop up and lock the band in.

It sounds more complicated than it is — in practice, it’s pretty effortless. While it's annoying that the proprietary connector gives Google such strict control over what bands you use, it also lets the bands sit flush against the sides of the round watch body, creating the illusion that it’s all one piece (with some bands, at least).

The watch’s crown serves as a scroll wheel, home button, and shortcut to Google Pay all in one. It offers very satisfying resistance when turned, and the watch’s haptics — higher quality than those found in most Wear OS devices — tick subtly as you move through menus. Above the crown (or below it, if you wear the watch on your right wrist) is a single hardware button that opens your recent apps and calls up Google Assistant. Double-tapping it opens the last app you used; a long press prepares the watch to accept voice commands.

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Both buttons do what they’re meant to just fine, but it’s annoying that they can’t be remapped to other functions. Each does several things all at once, and you’ll probably be pretty well covered, functionality-wise. But if, for instance, you want to make the hardware button open YouTube Music instead of your recent apps, you don’t have that option.

The Pixel Watch's 41mm face features a round, 30Hz OLED display at a resolution of 384x384, surrounded by a large bezel. Before I used the watch myself, I was a little miffed at the thickness of that bezel, but having spent some time with it on my wrist, I’ve come to find it’s not really noticeable unless you’re looking for it. Google’s custom Pixel Watch watch faces all have black backgrounds, too, so the display blends pretty seamlessly into the watch's body. You’ll probably only notice the bezels if you decide to set a third-party watch face that has a lighter background — or the Google Photos watch face Google debuted on the Pixel Watch.

That screen is housed under a sort of glass dome that looks very slick, but has sparked concern over durability. It's not hard to see why: the edges of the watch you're liable to knock against things are all glass rather than metal. That said, after wearing the Pixel Watch consistently for several weeks, the only damage on my unit is a minor scuff on the flat part of the glass. So you may need to be a little more careful with the Pixel Watch than other wearables, but it won't shatter if you look at it the wrong way.

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There’s a microphone and a speaker on the watch for calls and Google Assistant interactions — and notification sounds, if you want them. The watch's underside is home to the usual raft of health sensors.

In the box are the watch itself, two sizes of bands, the literature you’d expect, and a magnetic wireless charger. The charger is permanently attached to a cable with USB-C at the other end, so you won’t need to bring a separate power brick to charge your watch when traveling.

Google Pixel Watch: Software and performance

The Pixel Watch is running Wear OS 3.5. The vast majority of Wear OS devices still aren’t on Wear OS 3 — aside from the Pixel Watch, only a handful sport the latest version. Samsung’s take, as seen on the last two generations of Galaxy Watch, is customized with lots of Tizen-inspired flourishes, but the Pixel Watch’s software sticks closer to what we're coming to understand as stock Wear OS.

Like other Wear OS 3+ devices, the Pixel Watch doesn't connect to the legacy Wear OS app. Instead, you're prompted to download a dedicated Pixel Watch app when pairing the watch (which is very easy, thanks to Fast Pair — just turn it on near your phone). I'm annoyed on principle that the Wear OS app is seemingly being phased out in favor of apps from individual watchmakers, but in practice, it's not much of a hassle.

If you’ve used Wear OS, even prior to the updates in 3.0 and later, the Pixel Watch’s software is more or less what you’re used to: you can swipe up from home to see your notifications and down to access quick settings. The Google panel that used to live to the left of the home screen has been nixed, though; customizable app “tiles” are now accessible to both the left and right of the home screen, looping back to your watch face when you reach the end in either direction. Maybe a little surprisingly, Google doesn’t offer any super-cool, super-exclusive software features outside the custom watch faces and Fitbit integration.

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Google Pixel Watch
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I actually like a lot of those watch faces, though. I don’t typically venture far from the faces offered by any given smartwatch out of the box, and Google’s got a handful of bangers here I’ve really enjoyed using. My favorites have been Classic, an analog face with slots for four complications; Prime, which spells out the time in big, bold words; and Concentric, another analog-style option that features nested dials for hours, minutes, and seconds.

Each exclusive watch face has customizable elements — Classic, for example, lets you choose between Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, or unlabeled dashes, and pick what each of the four complications shows (from options like the current weather, your step count, or the watch’s battery level). You can also customize the accent color of every watch face to be practically whatever you want, and the interface you’ll use to do so is simple. I always like the idea of customizing my smartwatch’s face to match what I’m wearing, but it’s usually more hassle than it’s worth. Here, it’s quick and easy, and I’ve had fun playing with all the customization options.

I had my doubts about the Pixel Watch’s performance. It’s powered by the same chipset that was in the first-generation Samsung Galaxy watch, which launched in 2018 — a strange choice for a device landing in late 2022. But Google added a co-processor to the mix, making for an overall good experience.

Navigating menus is snappy, and opening and swapping apps is quick enough. Even when you’re in the middle of a workout with the Fitbit app, I’ve found it’s easy to swap to other apps without the watch stuttering. It likely helps that the Pixel Watch comes with 2GB of RAM; even the burly Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Ultra only packs 1.5GB.

Google Pixel Watch: Fitbit integration and fitness

Fitbit integration is here, and it’s… integration with Fitbit. The Pixel Watch can track your activity, workouts, and sleep, importing that data into the Fitbit app. There are no show-stopping Pixel Watch-exclusive features in Fitbit — the experience is about what you’re used to from other devices, for better or worse.

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You can choose from about 40 different exercise types to manually track workouts; if you don’t choose one before your workout starts, Fitbit will broadly classify it with labels like walking or general “activity” once you’re finished. Fitbit breaks your effort down into three Zones: Fat Burn, Cardio, and Peak. These Zones are defined by your heart rate. However, the only guidance Fitbit offers about how that calculation works is that it varies from device to device (on the Pixel Watch, my Fat Burn Zone is between 121 and 142 beats per minute; Cardio is 143 to 171; and Peak is anything over 172).

Each minute you spend in Fat Burn earns you one Zone Minute, and each minute you spend in either of the other two nets you two Zone Minutes. You can define daily activity goals in Zone Minutes, and set watch complications and tiles to show how many you’re getting on a given day. I've come to really like Zone Minutes as a metric for how much activity I'm getting day to day; not every form of exercise involves taking a lot of steps.

Google’s talked up the Pixel Watch’s heart rate tracking accuracy — it measures your pulse continuously, once per second. Comparing what the watch says to manual measurements, it does feel accurate, but constant heart rate tracking seems like overkill when you're not actively working out. You can also take ECG measurements, and the Fitbit app lets you export the results as a PDF to share with your doctor. There’s no support for blood pressure measurements, though.

There’s also no support for skin temperature and electrodermal activity (EDA) sensing, features present in other, less expensive Fitbit-branded products. Coming from the Fitbit Sense 2, I actually miss EDA monitoring. I don’t think electrical activity in your skin is an accurate measure of your stress levels (which is how Fitbit frames it), but the periodic mood check-ins the Sense can send when it detects changes can be a helpful way to stay mindful of your emotional state. I wish the Pixel Watch had something similar.

The Pixel Watch can track your sleep, estimating things like how long it took you to fall asleep and how much time you spent in different sleep stages like light, deep, and REM. I’ve never put much stock in smartwatch and fitness tracker sleep features — the insights always boil down to go to bed earlier and keep a consistent sleep schedule.

But through Fitbit, the Pixel Watch can deliver that same information. Sleep data doesn’t line up exactly with figures from other devices I have on hand, but it’s similar; I chalk the variation up to differences in how competing trackers crunch numbers. You may want to top up before bed, if you’re interested in tracking sleep with the Pixel Watch: AP editor-in-chief James Peckham notes that his Watch’s battery has dropped as much as 20 percent while tracking his sleep overnight, even in Bedtime Mode (which silences notifications and keeps your screen off).

Another sleep-tracking quibble: while many wearables measure your blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) overnight, the Pixel Watch does not. It has the required hardware, but the functionality isn’t enabled yet. I don’t personally find that to be a problem, but compared to many competing options, including ones from Fitbit itself, it’s a point against the Pixel Watch.

Possibly worst of all, though, Fitbit’s calorie estimates here seem very generous. Compared to both the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and the third-generation Oura Ring, we’ve seen four-figure discrepancies on especially active days. The Pixel Watch once said I burnt upwards of 4,000 calories in 24 hours. That was on a day with a pretty rigorous workout, but even so, there’s no way that’s accurate. The same day, my Oura ring clocked my calories burned at about 2,800 while crediting me with roughly the same number of steps as Fitbit did.

We've spoken to Google about this, and it turns out what we've observed is partially due to a bug that causes the watch to calculate its wearer's basal metabolic rate in a weird way. Google says restarting the watch should fix that part. But the Pixel Watch also estimates calorie burn from workouts as significantly higher than many other wearables do. That part is evidently not being caused by a bug, but a difference in calorie-crunching algorithms.

Quantifying human energy isn't the most exact science to begin with, and the Pixel Watch should still provide internally consistent results. But if you're trying to hit a certain ratio of calories in to calories out by tracking your food and activity — whether to lose, gain, or maintain weight — the Pixel Watch's calorie figures are probably going to be less useful than what you'll get from most other fitness trackers.

The Pixel Watch comes with six months of Fitbit Premium, which confers benefits like guided workouts and mindfulness activities, more complete sleep data, and a daily readiness score that uses your tracked data to estimate how well-rested (and so, ready) you are each day. If you’re really into Fitbit, you’ll probably benefit from keeping the subscription active after the trial — but then, if you’re really into Fitbit, you should probably buy an actual Fitbit tracker. For all Google’s bluster, the Pixel Watch isn’t a great substitute.

Google Pixel Watch: Battery life

Google described the Pixel Watch’s battery as good for up to 24 hours of wear. That number had me a little worried — smartwatches rarely hit their advertised battery figures under real-world use, and many advertise battery life longer than what Google quotes for the Pixel Watch. But it seems like, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Pixel Watch is about as battery-efficient as Google says.

I'm ambivalent about this. The Pixel Watch's battery life is indeed about in line with what you'll get out of most fully featured smartwatches: options like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 and the Apple Watch Series 8 also typically require daily charging, and that's easy enough to live with. In my time with the Pixel Watch, I've been charging at my desk for an hour or so each morning, which generally provides enough juice to make it to a charging session the same time the following day.

But whether or not it's fair, I can't help but feel that the confluence of pedestrian battery life and Google's pushing Fitbit integration so forcefully makes for an experience that doesn't meet expectations. Prior to the Pixel Watch, Fitbit was practically synonymous with excellent battery life — many of the best fitness trackers can eke out a week or more on a single charge, and even Fitbit's own recent watch-style trackers like the $300 Versa 2 can manage three days or so with the always-on display active. I never expected that kind of longevity in a Wear OS watch (though the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro can get pretty close), but I was hoping for better than one full day if you're careful.

On my 4G-enabled review model, mixed use over LTE chews through about 15 percent of my watch’s battery per hour. Walks or runs tracked by GPS are similarly resource-intensive; AP managing editor Stephen Schenck tells me GPS tracking has been responsible for much of the battery use on his Pixel Watch most days. If you plan on using GPS or LTE, make sure you also account for time to recharge, or your watch probably won’t make it until morning.

Charging from zero to full with the included magnetic puck takes just about an hour, in my experience, beating Google’s estimate of 80 minutes (though that could vary based on temperature, among other things). That’s hardly fast for a tiny 294mAh battery, but it’s about on par with other Wear OS watches. The charger connects to its power source by USB-C, which is worlds better than the USB-A chargers most watches still ship with. I’d have preferred USB-C input on the puck, though; I have a lot more USB-C chargers around than easily accessible USB-C ports.

The Pixel Watch also recognizes regular Qi chargers and plays a charging animation when placed on them, but it doesn’t actually charge there. Reverse wireless charging from your phone is also a no-go. That’s just as well, considering the Pixel Watch’s bands prevent the watch from sitting flat on a surface — popping the band off to charge would be a crummy experience.

Google Pixel Watch: Competition

At $350, the Pixel Watch is high-end as far as Wear OS devices go. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 — another premium Wear OS 3 watch — starts at $280. With similar performance and battery life, a better display, access to all the same apps through the Play Store, and the option to use standard watch bands, it's an easier recommendation for most people than the Pixel Watch. The last-generation Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, which shares most of its components with the newer Watch 5, is regularly available for less than $200. The Pixel Watch wins on style versus Samsung's wearables, but looks aside, the Pixel Watch's biggest unique selling point here is Fitbit integration.

The Fitbit experience is still best on dedicated Fitbit trackers, though. The Fitbit Versa 4 retails for $230 and tracks more health metrics than the Pixel Watch. Plus, it can last up to six days on a single charge. While the Versa doesn't have access to the Play Store, it is set to get Google Maps and Wallet integration soon. If robust health tracking in a watch-like package is what you're after, it's worth a look.

Google Pixel Watch: Should you buy it?

Being Google’s first Wear OS watch, nearly a decade into that platform’s life, I expected — or at least hoped — the Pixel Watch would be a genre-defining wearable, ushering in a new era of Android smartwatch competition. It isn’t that.

In the Pixel Watch, Google built a competent Wear OS device with high-quality hardware and an eye-catching aesthetic. Honestly, I like it a lot, and if that’s all you’re looking for in a wearable, you probably will too. But it costs $350 to start, and I’m having a hard time seeing why.

Fitbit's integration is a bust; exercise calorie estimates are higher than what we see in competing devices, and you’ll be charging the watch multiple times a day if you want to use the built-in GPS. Even if you don’t, reliable sleep tracking requires a level of battery vigilance unseen in prior Fitbit devices. While dedicated Fitbit trackers can last a week or longer at a stretch, depending on the features you’re using, the Pixel Watch typically needs daily top-ups, even with lighter use.

UPDATE: 2022/11/19/ 11:00 EST BY TAYLOR KERNS

Long-term impressions

This review has been updated to be accurate as of November 2022.

Weighing a full smartwatch’s battery life against a fitness tracker’s might seem unfair; trackers universally last longer than smartwatches do. But in pushing Fitbit integration so hard, Google’s inviting that kind of apples-and-oranges comparison. There’s Fitbit branding on the box, Fitbit apps pre-installed, and a prompt to link the watch with your Fitbit account during setup.

Even if the Pixel Watch’s battery could keep up with something like the Fitbit Sense 2, it’s still missing health and fitness features you can get in other, cheaper Fitbit trackers, like skin temperature sensing and more robust automatic workout tracking. Google's also all but confirmed the Pixel Watch's too-high workout calorie figures are here to stay.

Take Fitbit out of the equation, and you’re left with a good-looking smartwatch that features premium styling and a price tag to match. If that aligns with your wearable priorities, you’ll find a lot to like here. For most people, though, it’s going to be a tough sell against other smartwatches with similar performance and battery life — most of them cost less than the Pixel Watch does.

Buy it if…

  • Premium styling and great build quality are at the top of your wearable wishlist.
  • You want to try Wear OS 3 without Samsung’s Tizen-flavored customizations.

Don’t buy it if…

  • The Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 (or even the Watch 4) looks good to you. Outside Fitbit, there’s not a lot here you can’t get there.
  • You mostly want Fitbit features. A dedicated Fitbit tracker will serve you better.

FAQ

Q: How does the Google Pixel Watch compare to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5?

The Google Pixel Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 both run Wear OS 3.5 — though due to customizations in each's software, the experience isn't identical. Day-to-day performance out of each is comparable. The Samsung watch has a smoother display at 60Hz (the Pixel's is 30Hz), plus marginally better battery life. The Galaxy Watch 5's display is also covered with sapphire crystal, which is more durable than the Gorilla Glass used in Google's watch. The Pixel Watch enjoys access to Fitbit for activity tracking; the Galaxy Watch uses Samsung Health. The Galaxy Watch 5 retails for $280, $70 less than the Pixel Watch.

Q: How does the Google Pixel Watch compare to the Fitbit Sense 2?

The Pixel Watch is the first Wear OS device with Fitbit integration, so you might wonder how it compares to Fitbit's high-end dedicated trackers. The Fitbit Sense 2 takes all the same measurements as the Pixel Watch, and it can also measure skin temperature, electrodermal activity, and blood oxygen saturation — the Pixel Watch can't take any of those three measurements (it does have the hardware required for SpO2 tracking, but it's not active at launch). The Pixel Watch has access to all the apps on the Play Store, though; the Fitbit Sense 2 does not. The Pixel Watch also offers more software personalization options than the Fitbit. Being a fitness tracker rather than a full smartwatch, the Sense 2 handily beats the Pixel Watch on battery life. It can manage up to a week on a single charge, whereas the Pixel Watch typically makes it a day or so. The Fitbit Sense 2 sells for $300, $50 less expensive than the Pixel Watch.

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