I am still finding my way with the Pixel Watch. Until now, I’ve been faithfully wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 on my left wrist to track my steps and, most importantly, my stress levels. Before Samsung adopted Android’s Wear OS, I was on a first-gen Galaxy Watch Active, which used Tizen but integrated with Samsung’s services. The Pixel Watch will change this routine for me. After so many years of collecting data within Samsung Health, I’m hesitant to go back to the Fitbit ecosystem and start all over with my logs.
The initial impressions the internet has of the Pixel Watch seem... middling. There are concerns the battery life isn’t as long-lasting as hoped, and its GPS capabilities don’t seem as on the mark as its competition’s. The Fitbit—excuse me—the Google Pixel Watch is a good smartwatch, but after a few days with it, it’s not inspiring me to ditch last year’s Galaxy Watch 4.
I still have to put the Pixel Watch through its full paces for our review. But I wanted to get some of my first impressions of Google’s first-party smartwatch on paper first.
When unboxing my Pixel Watch review unit, I first thought to myself: “I hope I like this.” As much as I’m a fan of my Galaxy Watch 4, it wasn’t my first choice for design. I’ve acquiesced mostly because it’s been the only Android-based smartwatch worth buying so far.
The Pixel Watch looks like a pebble—specifically, it reminds me of the Samsung Pebble, an mp3 player you probably don’t remember. Whereas the Galaxy Watch 4/5 has this aluminum bumper on either side of the device, the Pixel Watch keeps it simple with the domed display. The 1.2-inch OLED screen stands out bright in a dark room or outside in the sunlight.
I do like the crown on the Pixel Watch. It’s as smooth as the Apple Watch Series 8's, which I’ve been wearing every few days for the last month to familiarize myself with it, and it feels just as responsive. I’m confused about what pressing it does, however—I understand it goes back, but I’m used to the two-button mechanism on the Galaxy Watch 4/5. There is also a button beside the dial that brings up the Recent apps screen. The same feature exists on the Galaxy Watch but is launched through a shortcut in the app drawer.
The stock watch strap on the Pixel Watch is the Active band, and my review unit is in the color charcoal, a palatable gray. It feels like familiar material compared to the Apple Watch’s stock Sport band (Also, seriously? What’s with these names?). They’re both so nice and smooth.
But I’m annoying, and I like to go on Amazon (it’s an easy place to find third-party accessories) and buy the wackiest third-party watchbands I can. On my Galaxy Watch 4, I’m sporting this ridiculous plastic shell. However, before I found this one, I’d amassed several watchbands to fit on my Galaxy watches. And because the watch strap mechanism hadn’t changed between generations, I could use them even after upgrading the Galaxy Watch.
I don’t have that choice with the Pixel Watch, because it uses a proprietary strap mechanism. Rather than requiring you to pinch to remove screws on either side of the band, like on the Galaxy Watch and other Android smartwatches, there’s a release button you press and then slide the band over (kind of but not exactly like the Apple Watch). It’s not super intuitive, but it is easier than pinching and aligning the tiny screws. But I’m not too keen on having to start collecting watchbands to match my outfits from scratch. The Pixel Watch does have several other watchband choices through Google, but they’re $50 and up. Ouch.
Full disclosure that part of why I need more time with the Pixel Watch before writing a review is because I’m desperately trying to refamiliarize myself with Fitbit. The app looks different than when I last used it, back in 2017. As I mentioned, I’ve been using Samsung Health, plus a third-party app, to sync my stats with Google Fit and Strava. I have the most disjointed fitness tracking situation, but it works for me and ensures I have logs backed up in multiple places. I love logs.
The Pixel Watch is primed with sensors. It has all the following: a gyroscope, altimeter, compass, EKG sensor, continuous heart rate monitoring, and an Sp02 sensor for blood oxygen monitoring. What’s missing from this list? A body temperature sensor. I’m still learning the abilities of the built-in temperature sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8 and waiting impatiently for Samsung to enable it in the Galaxy Watch 5. But it seems egregious to ask for a $350 base for the Pixel Watch and not have that sensor bundled in when the competition already has it.
I did manage to take one of my usual afternoon post-work romps around the neighborhood. The Pixel Watch’s step count and mileage counter were a little behind the Galaxy Watch 4’s, even though I’d started the walk tracking in the same spot on both watches. I need a little more time to try tracking a few routes around the neighborhood and comparing the results to the same tracking in Strava.
Let’s get this out of the way: the Pixel Watch has a built-in camera remote. I think it’s neat, and it helps out if you’re positioning the phone far away to try to take a full-body selfie or a group shot. It also doubles as a security check-in if you’ve left your phone in another room of the house or office—not that I’m endorsing you use it for this reason, but I know you were thinking it.
The other thing I’m enjoying perhaps too much is the ability to adjust the lights from my wrist. I never set up Samsung SmartThings to work in my smart home, because I’m already pretty squarely in the Google Assistant/Google Home app ecosystem, so I don’t have the ability immediately available on the Samsung watch. My house has smart speakers and other ways to relay the command. But there’s nothing like tapping in from your wrist to get the mood lighting going.
I hope that the difference in smart home control across Android’s smartwatches isn’t a secret effort in fragmentation. It’s befuddling why these smart home controls are currently only available on the Pixel Watch. And while I can appreciate that Samsung and Google are curating their own device ecosystems, Android users are here because they hate this exclusivity.
There’s still so much I need to test on the Pixel Watch. Right now, I’m running down the battery. We’re at about 58% after I left the watch off the charger last night—it was at 80% when I went to bed around 9 p.m., but I also didn’t use it for sleep tracking. Stay tuned for our full Pixel Watch review, coming soon. And let us know if there’s anything you’re particularly interested in us checking out.