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Wednesday, Oct 12, 2022
After years of rumors, Google (GOOG, GOOGL) is finally releasing its Pixel Watch.
The company has long dabbled in the market, providing software to third-party hardware partners like Samsung and Michael Kors. But this is the first time Google is actually in control, building both the software and hardware.
See, the Pixel Watch, which starts at $349 with Wifi or $399 with LTE, is a mix of Google and Fitbit, which the tech giant acquired for $2.1 billion in 2021. That makes for an intriguing setup on paper, and it largely lives up to those expectations and then some. It’s easily the most elegant looking piece of hardware since Apple (AAPL) debuted its watch in 2015. And it certainly has plenty of workout and health tracking.
Still, its battery life, when its always-on display is active, isn’t quite as long as the likes of Samsung’s $279 Galaxy Watch 5 or the $399 Apple Watch. Though it seemingly improved over time. And its screen sports a rather large bezel, leaving wasted space around the sides.
All told, the Pixel Watch is a competent smartwatch with a great design and software. It doesn’t knock off the Apple Watch as the best smartwatch on the market, but it finally puts Android watches on a near-equal footing with Apple’s offering.
A standout in a crowded market
The Pixel Watch’s design is surprisingly simple and compact. It features a standard circular body with a single button that recalls recent apps and a digital crown for navigating to the apps page and returning to the home screen. Flat out, it’s one of my favorite looking smartwatches on the market. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 also sports a circular watch face, but Google uses polished materials that make the Pixel Watch look more like a piece of high-tech jewelry.
And while the Apple Watch looks great, the Pixel Watch is different enough to draw even the attention of diehard Apple fans. Heck, I bought the Apple Watch Series 8 and had a touch of buyer’s remorse when I opened the Pixel Watch’s box.
Unlike Apple, which offers two sizes of the Apple Watch, a 41mm option for those with smaller wrists and a 45mm one for larger wrists, the Pixel Watch comes in a single 41mm size. I traditionally wear a 45mm Apple Watch but didn’t find the Pixel Watch especially small. Text, whether from Slack messages, emails, or updates about my Mets losing, was easily visible and buttons were tappable without issue.
My one complaint about the Pixel Watch’s design is its large bezels. They’re almost invisible while using most watch faces, thanks to the fact that they blend into their largely black backgrounds. But when you use a photo background, they take up a good chunk of space that could be dedicated to displaying more text.
Samsung and Apple offer watches with smaller bezels that give you more room to view content at once, which is helpful when you need to take a quick glance at your watch while on a run.
Fitness by Fitbit
While the Pixel Watch’s design is certainly worth talking about, what sets the timepiece apart from its competitors is its inclusion of Fitbit’s fitness and health tracking software. That means you get workout tracking for a litany of exercises ranging from swimming and running to yoga and canoeing.
During workouts you’ll get a readout of your overall progress including data like your heart rate zone, distance, calories burned, and Active Zone Minutes. Active Zone Minutes are Fitbit’s proprietary fitness measurement and count how many minutes your heart is working harder than normal based on your weight and other stats.
My one issue with the Pixel Watch’s workout tracking is that, when you’re working out, you can’t control music from the Fitbit app. Instead, you have to press the recent apps button to pull up Spotify and change songs or raise or lower the volume. That’s not exactly easy to do when you’re on the move and don’t want to have to stop moving.
Google is also pushing Fitbit’s Readiness Score as an important metric for Pixel Watch users. The feature, which takes into account things like your sleep score, recent workouts, and heart rate variability, lets you know if you should take more time to rest or if you’re ready for an all workout. But to access the app’s Readiness Score you’ll need to sign up for Fitbit Premium.
The service, which costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, includes things like guided workouts, health metrics for the past 90 days, and sleep score breakdowns. Google is offering 6 months of Fitbit Premium for free, after which you’ll need to pony up the cash. That said, you don’t need Premium to take advantage of the watch’s own features, just the Fitbit app’s offerings.
Long battery life, sort of
Here’s where the Pixel Watch runs into a wall. Google advertises 24 hours of battery life for the watch with the always-on display turned off. And that’s more or less what I got. But when you turn the always-on display on, you’ll get just a hair more than 12 hours of battery life.
The Apple Watch and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 will get you through your day and then some with their always-on displays active. To be clear, this isn’t a total deal breaker since the Pixel Watch still does everything else you expect it to, but it’s certainly a downer considering that this is designed to look like an attractive timepiece. Still, I did notice battery life improve slightly towards the end of my review time.
As for performance, the Pixel Watch was about as zippy as you’d expect a smartwatch to be. I noted a few hiccups here and there, such as when double-tapping the recent apps button or crown to activate Google Pay, but those instances were rare.
Should you get it?
The Pixel Watch is a beautiful piece of technology with top-notch fitness and health tracking capabilities. It finally puts Google on the map as an exceptional hardware maker capable of putting out some truly attractive gadgets. And sure, its bezels could be smaller, but I’m not too hung up on them.
I do, however, wish that the watch’s battery was stronger when the always-on display is active, especially given the watch’s premium price tag. That said, if you’re an Android user and looking for an otherwise strong smartwatch contender, the Pixel Watch is certainly one of the best options out there next to Samsung’s offerings. It doesn’t quite beat out the Apple Watch as the top-of-the-line smartwatch on the market, but it certainly comes close.
By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley
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