Here’s All the Ways It’s Better
The original Pixel Watch finally showed up in 2022 after years of rumors and speculation about a potential launch. When we did get one on the wrist and learned all of its specs and features, I think it was pretty obvious that we were getting a first-generation type of product, one with flaws and also surprising strengths. It was a product that showed where Google could take its smartwatch (and Fitbit) goals and eventually reach them, assuming there were next-generation versions.
The Pixel Watch 2 is that next-generation version with several noteworthy improvements. I think Google choose the right areas to make improvements to, and has delivered a better Pixel Watch, but this is still far from a perfect wearable.
Let’s dive into some thoughts in our Pixel Watch 2 review.
What’s good about the Pixel Watch 2?
Design and size. For round 2, Google kept the same exact shape and size for its new Pixel Watch. To me, that’s a great thing, as I view the Pixel Watch (and now Pixel Watch 2) as the best looking smartwatch you can buy. This thing is a beauty, with its smallish 41mm case, domed glass design, and lack of watch band lugs. It’s a minimalist dream watch, really.
The size here is the big sell for me. So many smartwatches are so enormous and wear so poorly, that the Pixel Watch 2 is once again a breath of fresh air in the space. This watch is the size that a watch should be and should then fit everyone’s wrist, even the smallest. For those who would consider it feminine, you are a fool – I’m sorry that you love to wear 46mm tanks on your wrist because those look terrible. 41mm, in the classic watch arena, is certainly not thought of as being small, if you can believe that.
My rude comment on size aside, I fully understand why someone would want a bigger watch or at least another size option. That reason is likely for battery life. A bigger case means room for a bigger battery. The Pixel Watch 2, which I’ll talk more about soon, has better battery life, but it is most definitely not a king in this area. Size options, Google, people want them.
This new Pixel Watch 2 comes with polished silver, matte black, or champagne gold cases, like the original did, but Google switched out the stainless steel and swapped in an aluminum case. That is arguably a downgrade in terms of quality. However, the watch feels lighter now and is less noticeable during workouts or while sleeping. And to be honest, this isn’t something I’ve thought about while wearing it this past month as if I’m missing that extra weight or supposed more premium design choice.
Google also upgraded the crown to a thinner, yet bigger design that is easy to scroll with and that has better haptics. It looks nicer and less like a the poorly-fitted crown of the original that started stuttering on me within weeks too.
When it comes to watch bands, Google brought back its not-great band system that requires far too much effort to remove or connect bands. Once a band is connected, they look quite slick since they attach directly to the case, but it still means there aren’t a lot of great third party options. I’ve also struggled mightily to remove these bands on two different watches, because they often feel like they are stuck and don’t want to be removed no matter how slowly or precisely I try to work this weird system.
As far as the quality of bands and their design, Google’s are still very nice. The included active band is of the highest quality and should wear well for you at all times, especially during sweaty workouts. I switched immediately to the new sport band, though, and it is lovely. It’s lightweight, has a soft rubber feel, and looks snazzy.
Overall, the Pixel Watch 2 is once again a beauty on the wrist.
Performance. Google tossed aside the ancient Samsung leftover chip from the Pixel Watch and gave us Qualcomm’s newest wearable chip, the Snapdragon Wear 5100 or W5. This is a 4nm chip that sips less battery without suffering in performance. Not that smartwatches do enough to be able to truly stress-test them, but I’ve done my best with the Pixel Watch 2 to put it through some workload. This watch runs great at all times, all day and night.
When I use a smartwatch, I turn most notifications off except for the important stuff like messaging, calling, emails, and calendar items. Your boy isn’t out here trying to play watch games or view media or anything odd like that. These are notification machines that also track health. And when it comes to doing both of those at the same time, like running a Fitbit workout and still managing notifications, I could jump in and out of those with ease on the Watch 2. The watch never got hot on my wrist, I haven’t had to force a reboot that I can recall, and if I need to use Google Assistant, it listens to me and completes the task if it can.
What I would say as a takeaway from performance is that the Pixel Watch 2 has done everything I’ve needed it to do during weeks of testing. Never once did I find frustration in a task because it just worked.
Battery life. For the original Pixel Watch, I gave it semi-favorable battery life marks for at least meeting the numbers Google gave us. If you turned off the always-on display, you could easily get through a full day of use, including with workouts and sleep tracking. Now, that’s nothing special, but it at least didn’t completely disappoint.
For the Pixel Watch 2, Google changed chips to that Qualcomm chip we just talked about and is now promising at least a day with the always-on display active. I can confirm that this watch lasts more than a full day. In fact, I’d peg this right at 1.5 days no matter what I do with it. I’ve tested it with the always-on display both off and on, slept with it, tracked my heartrate at all times, and taken it through workouts and it always hits the same numbers.
Looking back through notes, a typical day would start with 100% charge at around 8:30AM, keeping always-on display active throughout a day, hitting a 50-60 minute workout, sleeping with the watch, and waking up to roughly 40% battery remaining. At that point, you get to decide if you charge back to 100% as a part of your morning routine or wearing it into the evening to charge before bed, because it will absolutely not make it through that second night of sleep. Trust me, I tried and woke up to dead Pixel Watch 2s a handful of times. Sleep tracking takes anywhere from 20-30%, so make sure you have at least that much before going to bed.
So again, the Pixel Watch 2 has decent battery life and is getting more in my testing than what Google is promising. This is a 1.5-day battery.
In the charging department, Google says you can get 50% of a charge in about 30 minutes or 100% in about 75 minutes. Those numbers are pretty accurate. On one morning when the Pixel Watch 2 had died over night, I put it on the charger at 7AM and checked it at 8:25AM – it was fully charged to 100% by then. This isn’t fast charging, but it’s probably also not the slowest.
Finally, the charger here uses a 4-pin connector rather than last year’s bad wireless charging setup. While I just said that it isn’t necessarily the fastest in the game, it is a charger that produces more reliable results. The PINs magnetically connect to the watch in a single orientation and hold strong enough that you shouldn’t have any issues with charging, even if you the watch gets bumped. Unfortunately, a PIN charging solution means no traditional wireless charging and no way to charge your watch with your phone, if that was something you thought you might want to do.
Fitbit. Since Fitbit isn’t really making new Fitbit-branded smartwatches anymore, the Pixel Watch 2 is essentially what you would look to if you want a smartwatch that can track all of the Fitbit metrics. And if that’s what you need, this watch does it very well. The Pixel Watch 2 is the Fitbit smartwatch going forward.
Outside of not having dark mode in the all-white app, the Fitbit experience is really good. You get a 6-month Fitbit Premium subscription with watch purchase to see all that Fitbit can offer. That subscription means a sleep score with sleep stages and quality, guided workouts and conditioning, meditation and mindfulness media, recipes, and wellness reports with monthly trends. While that stuff is neat, Fitbit also just does such a solid job at the basics and presenting it all to you in an easy-to-digest way.
Once you connect your Pixel Watch 2 to the Fitbit app, the new app lets you decide what to focus on, like whether or not you want to be more active or get more sleep, track your weight, manage stress, etc. That’s the section that will sit at the top of your daily feed, followed by sections for sleep, your activity and readiness, minutes you’ve spent in a workout zone, steps, calories burned, heartrate, weight, stress, and a whole lot more. The Pixel Watch 2 even tracks heartrate variability (HRV), skin temperature variations, SpO2, and food and water intake. When comparing this to the recap my Garmin Forerunner gives me, it’s right where it needs to be as a serious-enough fitness tracker.
You can then dive into each metric to see trends, each day or night’s numbers, and set alerts for your heartrate or if you want Fitbit to measure your stress levels. Just the other day after I had finally turned on stress monitoring notifications, the watch immediately noticed how annoyed I was at local construction and traffic as I was on my way to my kid’s swim lessons. It then popped up again as we left and dove back into congestion. This stuff is smart.
The Pixel Watch 2 now does automatic workout detection too, so if you are on a walk it should recognize that and ask if you want to track it. Yesterday, I thought I started my workout on the watch manually, but apparently didn’t. After getting off my warmup on a bike, I looked at the screen and it was asking if I was indeed on a bike and wanted to track it. In my testing, it has been spot on with its suggestions.
As for workout tracking (and all of the all-day health tracking), we have a new sensor that should provide even more accurate heart readings, can measure SpO2 (the original didn’t for almost a year), and does an overall better job of tracking during workouts. What I mean by that is the new sensor seems to keep better contact with my wrist to more accurately inform me of my heartrate no matter the type of exercise, when the older Pixel Watch often jumped around more than I’d prefer. I also like the new UI on the watch for workout tracking, with 2 pages of info now that are overall easier to read with zone minutes front and center if you want them. I feel like Fitbit really nails the idea of presenting you basic info so that you aren’t overwhelmed, but can then let you dive deeper into the numbers through the app afterwards. While I’d still like to better customize the activity tracking screens, the two they give you aren’t bad.
I think what Fitbit is so good at here is doing its best to stay out of your way while tracking so much data in the background. It can be at the front during workouts without overwhelming you, but then gives you quite a bit of info should you dive into its brand new app. The app, by the way, is quite good and should make sense to almost anyone who looks at it. There’s the top level info as an overview, but you can also dive in to see trends of almost any metric if that’s your thing (it is definitely my thing). I really like Fitbit as a health tracking service and it might keep me around once again even as I finish this review.
Can we get a dark mode already, though? Sheesh.
What’s there to complain about?
Durability. I started my Pixel Watch 2 testing period with a review unit from Google for a solid week and then immediately switched over to the watch I received from my Pixel 8 Pro pre-order when it arrived. My pristine Pixel Watch 2 was only that for about a week before I scratched its display. I took a short trip with some friends where there was a pool, probably too much beer around, and the next thing I knew, I had a large gash on the upper left side. It’s deep enough that there is no coming back from it.
As you may know, the Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2 are not repairable. If you break the display on your Pixel Watch 2 (or scratch it like I did), you have no choice but to either live with it or get a new one. That’s unfortunate, because this watch isn’t cheap.
The thing is, Google is only covering the display with Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which I’m not sure anyone believes is any sort of scratch resistant. Watchmakers like Samsung and Apple are putting sapphire glass on their smartwatches at this price point and they probably would have survived my trip with friends. The Pixel Watch 2, because it has basic protective glass on it, did not.
Durability with this watch will always be a concern. You’ll have to baby it to some extent. You may even need to find a goofy ass case for it if you are truly worried about the display taking damage.
Software gets better, I need two notification changes still. Let me be clear here – the Wear OS 4 experience on the Pixel Watch 2 is completely fine and usable. I actually don’t have a lot of complaints because Google has pushed out improvements, but I also don’t have much to say about it either. Wear OS in this basic form on the Pixel Watch 2 does the job it needs to, even if it’s not as good as what Samsung or Apple provide on their watches.
You can customize pages with Tiles for easy access to info, it has apps if you actually run apps on your smartwatch (Google has convinced app makers to bring them back to Wear OS too), Google Assistant is a button press away, and all of the Fitbit stuff is great. There are several fun watch faces that can be customized, the Pixel Watch companion app keeps getting better, and Google will even let you move your watch to a new phone now without having to reset it. That process is a buggy mess and rarely works on the first 2 or 3 attempts, but in theory it’s a thing. Google also now lets your watch sync DND and sleep mode to your phone, will warn you to charge before going to bed, and there is a backup and restore option baked in. The improvements are noteworthy in Wear OS 4 on the Pixel Watch 2.
Overall, I’d call Wear OS on the Pixel Watch 2 better. It’s solid. Google isn’t doing anything special or new here and they certainly aren’t meeting the robust software and settings experience that Samsung and Apple are on their smartwatches. They are getting there, though.
Where my biggest complaint lies is in quality of life changes that I complained about last year in the notifications department. Smartwatches are notification machines at heart and they need to get them right. I need an option to allow notifications to wake my damn watch when they come in. The wrist flipping gesture sucks on the Pixel Watch 2, like it did on the Pixel Watch, which means that if I feel a buzz and don’t quite get that wrist motion right, the screen doesn’t wake and by the time I get it to, the notification that just came in is gone. Then I have to manually touch and interact with the watch instead of glancing at whatever the notification was and moving on. Samsung has had a setting to wake your screen with new notifications for years. Give me this, Google. Holy sh*t, it’s a basic smartwatch idea.
That may seem like an odd thing to have such big feelings about, but again, I view smartwatches as notification machines that also track health. If the notifications part is frustrating, it sets a bad tone. Google could fix it all with one setting.
My other complaint is just in notifications themselves. When a notification rolls in, I’d love to see the notification and a couple of lines from it, along with buttons to archive or clear or or whatever shortcuts that notification would have on the phone, all on the screen upfront. As they currently stand, notifications come in and show you some info, but to interact with them, you almost always have to scroll a bit to get to those buttons. As an example, if a new Gmail message arrives, that pops up on the wrist with a big chunk of their email visible with scrolling getting me to the respond or action section. What I’d like is to see just a notification as I described above, where a tap might get me into an expanded version. Because often times, I could deal with that notification from the initial notification with a single tap if I could see those buttons.
For the most part, I think Google has issued a handful of proper improvements to Wear OS with Wear OS 4. I still think they are lacking in notification customization and that’s a big part of a smartwatch.
Price. At $349.99, I still think the Pixel Watch 2 is slightly overpriced for what you are getting. The best comparison I can give you is with the Galaxy Watch 6. This watch comes in 40mm and 44mm variants, both of which are cheaper than the Pixel Watch 2. They feature sapphire protective glass, support for a universal watch band system, match the Pixel Watch in every other category and spec (outside of storage), and they do all of the advanced health and sleep tracking stuff but without the need for a Fitbit subscription. The software is also more robust with more customizable features on the Galaxy Watch line. The past year has even shown that Samsung may still be better at updating its watches to new versions of Wear OS, as the Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 5 both had Wear OS 4 before the original Pixel Watch.
Deciding between these shouldn’t be difficult because you are getting so much more for less with Samsung’s new watches. Picking the Pixel Watch 2 would mean you just really love Google’s hardware and design and aren’t a fan of Samsung’s. Otherwise, I’m not sure why you’d pay $350 for one.
Should you buy a Google Pixel Watch 2?
The Pixel Watch 2 has a number of meaningful improvements over the original Pixel Watch that make it an overall better watch. It gets far better battery life without changing from its beautiful design, has picked up a number of software changes that were needed to help it better compete, and the Fitbit experience has several changes that have only made its integration more robust. If you like this design (I do), think Fitbit gets a lot right in the health space (I think it does), and are cool with charging your watch every 1.5 days, then this watch might be right for you. There is quite a bit to like here, especially how well the watch wears from day-to-day and through the night.
Why wouldn’t you buy a Pixel Watch 2? It’s kind of expensive when compared to Samsung’s offerings that are as-good-if-not-better. You wouldn’t be wrong in being worried about long-term durability, especially when it comes to the domed glass that is not repairable. And maybe you need longer battery life because you don’t want to charge your smartwatch every day.
My recommendation would be to keep an eye out this holiday season for deals as there are bound to be many. The Pixel Watch 2 is worth considering, I just wouldn’t tell you to pay full price for it.