Pixel Watch Thoughts and Impressions
I drowned my Fitbit Sense smartwatch over the summer — not intentionally, I just thought it was more water-resistant than it turned out to be — and as I still wanted to count steps and tell time from my wrist, was in the market for a new tracker or smartwatch. Not long after the Google Pixel Watch came out; I was interested, just not full price ($350) interested. Then I remembered that, due to the fact I update my Pixel phones annually and I buy them direct from the Google Store, I had a $300 credit there. A Pixel Watch for $50? That, I could very happily do.
I’ve now lived with the Pixel Watch for a few weeks and have some thoughts on it. What follows is not a complete nor technical review, just my observations on how I work with it and use it. By and large I’m happy with it, but as with anything there are a few things here and there I think are worth noting.
1. To begin, I like the aesthetics of the watch. I like the circular shape and its unobtrusiveness on my wrist, and while it has a fairly large bezel for watch its size, as a practical matter I don’t see it when I look at the watch. Other reviews have noted concern about its sturdiness, but I have to say after three weeks I don’t notice it being notably fragile; I knock into things and it handles it just fine. It’s attractive and I don’t notice its weight, either during the day or when I sleep with it on. It’s fine!
2. Except for the battery life, which is considerably shorter than the Fitbit Sense I had prior to this Pixel Watch. The Sense could go four days before I had to recharge it; the Pixel Watch goes, basically, for 24 hours at best before I have to charge it again. This is, I understand, within the usual range of other smartwatches like the Apple Watch or the Samsung Galaxy Watch, and the Sense should be understood as a fitness tracker, which usually have longer battery lives. All that is fine, but I’m still not in love with it. It’s not an issue when I’m at home, since I can recharge the watch when I’m taking a shower or just sitting at my desk and not actually moving around for a bit. I found it more restrictive when I was traveling.
It can be managed — I’m extending my battery life by having the screen turn off when I’m not looking at it directly — but I’m more aware of my battery than I have been in years of having Fitbit trackers. If battery anxiety is a thing for you, here’s a yellow flag.
3. One of the tradeoffs for longer battery life is more functionality outside of fitness tracking: the Pixel watch has a number of integrations with one’s Android phone (and I suspect in particular with Pixel phones, one of which I have), and one can control a number of phone functions from the watch. I can, for example, read and send messages, have map directions ported to the watch, or take pictures with the phone using the watch as a viewfinder, which could come in handy for finally getting one’s self into group photos without a selfie arm. You can also take phone calls on your watch (it has a speaker and a microphone).
In theory this is all lovely, and I’m absolutely certain there is a Pixel Watch user out there for whom all of this is fantastic, but it turns out I’m not that user. I turned off receiving messages on my phone almost immediately, because by default the watch face shows the messages, which means they’re visible to anyone who happens to be looking in the direction of the watch, and I don’t like that at all. I tried taking a phone call on my watch, and it was all right, but I felt a little weird talking into my wrist and it’s not something I need to do again. I do see the remote camera option being useful, but in three weeks of having the watch I’ve not come across a circumstance in which it was necessary.
Basically, a lot of the cool functionality of the Pixel Watch are things I don’t really want or need, except on a highly occasional basis. Even then, most of the time I could just use my phone, which is in my hand anyway. It turns out that what I want to use a watch for is to tell time and to track steps and other health-related stuff. Again, there is someone else for whom all these functionalities are relevant, and good for them. For me, I don’t know that I would pay extra for them, on top of time-telling and fitness stuff.
4. On that subject, how is the fitness stuff? Well, Google bought Fitbit a couple of years ago, and has incorporated Fitbit’s app and all its tracking into the Pixel Watch. It’s not quite as seamless as it was with the Fitbit trackers I’ve had over the years (Fitbit is an app on the phone, not the OS itself), but it’s easy enough to use, and tracked my movement and heart rate well enough in the gym and when I was walking around the convention I was at last weekend. I also enjoy finding out how much I sleep via the app, but don’t find all that much utility in it beyond personal amusement.
The Pixel Watch offers a free six-month subscription to Fitbit Premium, which I’ve had before and did not get much use out, and currently have found nothing to change my mind about that. The basic Fitbit functionality is sufficient for me and I’ll likely drop Fitbit Premium when the free trial runs out.
By and large, however, the Fitbit integration does what I need it to do on the Pixel Watch very well, and I have been happy with that aspect of the watch.
5. How does the Google Pixel Watch compare to other higher-end smart watches, like the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watches? I have no idea! I don’t use them so I can’t say. From the various reviews I’ve read from professional critics, it would seem that it’s pretty decent but still a first generation attempt at a smartwatch. I suspect in the end a lot of it will come down to integration with the phone you currently own. For iPhone owners and others in the Apple ecosystem, an Apple Watch is a no-brainer; likewise someone with a Samsung phone might find one of the company’s watches more congenial. I’m neck deep in the Google ecosystem — I have a Pixel phone, Pixel ear buds and a Pixelbook — so a Pixel watch fits into that pretty well. I was also using Fitbit before it was sold to Google, so that integration here is a plus for me as well.
(This is where, from a privacy standpoint, I will note that any of these watches are absolutely not your friend, and that by wearing one Google and/or Apple and/or the NSA know where you are at all times and what you are doing and probably with whom. That said, I’m not currently cooking meth or doing other crimes and I find it useful to have the functionality Google gives me in trade, so, uh, yeah. I’m a privacy disaster at this point, and I’m guessing you probably are too. If these issues are a concern for you: No smart watches! Here’s a nice Timex for you.)
6. Would I recommend the Pixel Watch? If you’re in the Google ecosystem and think you might actually use the apps and functionality that come packed into the watch, and don’t mind charging your watch daily, sure. It’s pretty, it’s feature-packed, and I have had absolutely no complaints about it other than its battery life, which, again, I understand is on par for other comparable smartwatches. If all you need is a time piece and some fitness tracking, you might look elsewhere, as there are fitness trackers who can do what this does — from Fitbit and other providers — often for a hundred dollars less (or more).
Since I am using mine as a glorified fitness tracker, I don’t know that I would have paid full list price for it. For the price I paid, it’s pretty great. When it comes time for me to pick up a new smartwatch/fitness tracker, hopefully at least a couple of years down the road, what will decide what I buy next is whether I start using my watch to do more than tell time and track steps. Or, you know, if I have an abundance of store credit again.