By Josh Teder
The Google Pixel Watch is a first-gen product at its core. It’s an adequate first attempt at a smartwatch by Google for Pixel phone users who want a smartwatch. But after six months, like most version one products, the Pixel Watch feels a bit incomplete. There are a lot of quality of life features people may be expecting with this watch that just aren’t there or don’t work. A perfect example of this is bedtime mode on the watch.
It turns the watch’s display off so it doesn’t blind you or distract you while you’re wearing the watch and trying to sleep. Now, the Pixel phone has a feature that allows you to schedule when your bedtime mode on the phone turns on and off. And you would think that the same schedule would control bedtime mode on the watch, but you’d be wrong. After six months of using this watch, that feature still hasn’t been fixed.
You still have to manually turn on and off bedtime mode on this watch. Same thing for do not disturb, by the way. Or, you know, even a feature like unlocking your phone and your watch, if it’s on your wrist, it automatically unlocks as well. That’s also missing. It’s features like that that are at the core of my complaints with the first generation Pixel Watch.
Hardware Design an UI
But for things like hardware design, UI, software, snappiness, and overall aesthetics of the watch, I think Google actually nailed all of those. The watch’s design is simply stunning in person, even though the bezels of the screen are huge. You never really notice them on this watch, unless you use the flashlight feature or in other apps that really show them, like scrolling through something on the Spotify app.
Google did a great job designing the watch’s UI in a way that doesn’t constantly remind you how big the watch’s bezels are. The stainless steel material of the watch looks great. The digital crown works well, and the watch band mechanism, which reviewers made way too big of a deal of when this watch first came out, is fine. Is it as intuitive to use as the Apple Watch’s slide-in mechanism? I’d say no, but it’s not bad, and I like that it gives you this nice little firm click when the band is properly in place.
Performance and Watch Face Customizations
Another thing that’s been great with the Pixel Watch is actually its processor and overall performance. Google delivers a software experience that isn’t laggy, but snappy and overall great. Another thing I think Google did a pretty good job of with this watch is watch face customizations. While I know some may want fully customizable options, you can customize the watch faces to show a variety of colors, different dashes for some of them, and other elements.
And of course, you can choose what complication you’d like to have on the watch face display. There are a lot of complications to choose from, which is nice, but it did make me realize how many apps are lacking support for Wear OS right now.
Lack of App Support and Media Controls aren’t great
And I do wish there were more apps that supported Wear OS, like Pocket Casts, heck, even Google Podcasts. There’s no watch app for it, but then at the same time, there are a surprising amount of apps that actually do support Wear OS at this point, more than I was expecting, like Peloton, Deezer, Amazon Music, Home Assistant, the Roku remote app, Calm, AccuWeather, and many others.
But if you want great media controls when listening to a podcast on the Pixel Watch, you’ll probably want to use Spotify. Spotify’s Wear OS app implementation is actually pretty good, and you can download songs and podcasts to the watch itself, and then pair your Pixel Buds Pro, which I’ve recently reviewed, to your watch and you can go for a run or walk without taking your phone with you.
Since Google also makes a version of the watch that has cellular connectivity built in, one frustrating thing is that, if you use another app for podcasts like Pocket Casts or even Google Podcasts, because there is no Wear OS app support, you’re stuck using Google’s terrible media controls on the watch. The buttons are too small and they don’t give you any way to skip forward or back a certain amount of seconds like you’d expect for a podcast and what you get on the Pixel phone itself when you listen to a podcast.
Battery Life and Fitness Tracking
One feature I was pleasantly surprised to see added to the watch is theater mode, which you can enable from the watch’s control panel. The last thing I’ve really liked about this watch is battery life, which did not impress me when I first got it. At first, I was running low on battery a lot, but over the first month, things stabilized and now the watch lasts me all day and I only charge it when I’m in the shower in the morning and/or at night, so for me, it works well.
But depending on when you plan to charge it, it may not be adequate. That’s just because the Pixel Watch simply does not charge nearly as fast as something like the Apple Watch does. In terms of fitness tracking, the watch has done a pretty decent job counting my steps, tracking my hikes, and my sleep. Overall, while it’s not quite as built-out as the experience I’m used to with an Apple Watch, it still gets the job done and is adequate for my fitness needs.
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While I think some will really dig the smaller form factor, it does at times make it hard to actually hit a button on the watch. I do wish that Google would make just a slightly larger version of this watch.
Another potential downside with a Pixel Watch is if you’re specifically used to a sapphire crystal display on an Apple Watch or a regular watch. Note that my Pixel Watch’s surface has a good amount of scratches over the past six months. If you’re bothered by seeing scratches on a screen, you might want to opt for a screen protector with this watch.
I’ve also had this odd screen bug on my Pixel Watch for several months. The watch screen will just go to static, and the only way to fix it is to restart the watch.
Another thing I wish Google would change is how you can trigger the Google Assistant on the watch. Currently, you have to long-press the side button. But I find it much easier to just put my finger over the digital crown. I wish you could just long-press the digital crown to wake the assistant.
Last night, I found another downside with this watch. I looked over at my husband’s Pixel Watch and noticed that the back cover was loose. I was like, “Hey, can you take your watch off for a second?” He said, “Sure.” I took the watch and the back cover just came off. I was like, “Well, this is another example of a first-generation product.”
Another thing I think Google could improve with the Pixel Watch experience is their support experience. We tried calling the Pixel or Google support number, but of course, we got disconnected before even getting to anyone. So we tried the Google support chat, which did work. Everyone we interacted with was great, but we got passed off to three different people before we got to someone who could actually help us.
We had to take photos of the watch from three different angles and give them all of our information, like the serial number and order number. I had all of that information readily available since I ordered the watch. It took like 30 minutes to finally get an answer that said, “It’s going to take about 24 to 48 hours to get you authorization so that we can then send you a new watch and you can send the broken one back.”
I was like, “Really? We just spent 30 minutes over chat just to get an answer that’s going to take 24 to 48 hours?” I guess you’re going to be put in a queue. There are other people ahead of you that also have issues with the Pixel Watch. I definitely think that support experience could be improved.
Another real downside to this watch is the Fitbit app, which has many analysis features hidden behind the Fitbit Premium paywall. You’re already paying several hundred dollars for this watch.
And to me, it seems a bit much to then turn around and ask for more money to unlock features that are standard on competing watches like the Apple Watch. For example, it tracks more things like hearing health, SpO2, cycle tracking, etc., and it doesn’t put any of its tracking behind a paywall. But the Pixel Watch, by having that Fitbit Premium paywall, kind of goes against Google’s strategy historically with a Pixel line of products, which are products that provide a tremendous amount of value to their users at a lower cost than the competition.
Having a paywall for tracking features on a watch that doesn’t cost significantly less than its competition is a bit perplexing.
So, overall, I do recommend the Pixel Watch for any Android user, not just a Pixel phone user, who wants a smartwatch with the aesthetic of the Pixel Watch. Now, if you have an iPhone and if you like the aesthetic of the Pixel Watch, unfortunately, it’s just not for you. It can only work with Android. If you have an iPhone, you should get an Apple Watch. It is the best smartwatch for an iPhone by a mile. I’d recommend looking at an Apple Watch Series 8, which I’ve also reviewed if you’re an iPhone user.
Now, given it’s been six months though, if you’re looking at a Pixel Watch but you could wait another six months, my guess is a lot of the issues I’ve mentioned with my Pixel Watch will get ironed out with the next generation of Wear OS, which the Gen 1 Pixel should support.
You could also wait for the Gen 2 Pixel Watch. It might have some additional hardware features and improvements that you’re just not going to see via a software update on the Gen 1 Pixel Watch.