Google Pixel Watch review: The Apple Watch of the Android world? - MrLiambi's blog

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Wednesday, 12 October 2022

Google Pixel Watch review: The Apple Watch of the Android world?

We've had Android-based watches available for a long time, with any number of manufacturers trying their hand at smart, connected Google-powered wrist wear. From Motorola, LG and Samsung right at the beginning, through to fashion and luxury brands like TAG Heuer, Montblanc and Fossil. 

But in the whole time it's existed as a platform, it's felt like there's one thing missing: a Google watch. A watch that is to the Android ecosystem what the Apple Watch is to iPhone users: a tightly integrated experience that promises a fluid and highly customisable user interface, with great fitness tracking. 

With the Pixel Watch, that's exactly the feeling we get, leaving us with the feeling that this is - indeed - the Apple Watch for Android users. For better and for worse. 

Design  

  • 41 x 41 x 12.3 mm - 36 grams
  • Stainless steel case/frame - Champagne Gold, Matte Black or Polished Silver
  • Gorilla Glass 5 lens
  • 5ATM waterproof 

It might be a surprise to see that the watch described as the 'Apple Watch of Android' is completely round, shunning the square look of Apple's smartwatch completely. But even here there are elements where Google has taken a similar approach to the world's most popular smartwatch. 

One of those is the fact that Google has gone with an entirely proprietary strap-fixing mechanism. Unlike pretty much any other smartwatch maker, you can't just buy a 20mm or 22mm quick release band and swap it out when you want. Instead - at least for the short term - you have to go with Google's own watch straps. 

Still, the mechanism is pretty cool. The band is held in place within the edge of the stainless steel case, with a small button to one side of the band that allows you to release, and then slide the strap out. The advantage of this method is that you get a really sleek, seamless look, and a close fit. 

With the silicone band that ships with the watch as standard, the fit around the wrist is really close, and you don't get those big gaps you sometimes get with some lug/strap designs. (We're looking at you Galaxy Watch 5). 

Google is launching the watch with a number of different, additional watch bands and straps though. There a chunky leather options for people who like those, the standard silicone bands, woven bands and a one-piece 'stretch' band. And those bands are all comfortably under the £100 price point. From next year, Google will also offer a 'Metal Mesh' (read: Milanese) band too. 

The case itself is a really nice example of how to built a round smartwatch, but in a way, that's a little different to the rest. There are no flat lines or straight edges anywhere, everything is rounded or curved. 

The black glass dome rounds down the edges, seamlessly joining with the stainless steel case, which then continues the curve down to the rounded underside featuring the optical sensors for all your health metrics. 

We were going to complain about the placement of the buttons when we first saw the watch. Chiefly because the rotating crown/button sits right in the middle, on the part of the curve that would be closest to the back of your hand if worn in the typical orientation. With watches like this in the past we've found ourselves exiting workouts when our hand bends back and press the button, or launching Google Assistant accidentally. Thankfully it doesn't have to be an issue here. 

Google has designed the watch to be worn in any orientation on either wrist. So you can wear it on your left or right wrist, with the button facing away from your hand on the other side of the watch, and choose that orientation in the initial set up. The interface then rotates to be the correct way up. Problem solved. 

As well as that rotating crown - which can be used to scroll through lists, threads and virtually any part of the software that you can swipe up and down through - there's a single clickable button. A single press takes you to recent apps, a long press launches the Assistant. 

Our only criticism with the watch design is the size. Or, rather, the lack of options in size. The Pixel Watch comes in 41mm only. For a lot of people that's going to be a great size, and will work well on smaller, slimmer wrists where so many other Wear OS watches are simply too big. But we'd love to see a larger 43/44mm option, because on this reviewer's wrist, it looks just a tiny bit too small. 

Display, software and features

  • 1.2-inch AMOLED display - 1000 nits peak
  • 320ppi pixel density 
  • Wear OS 3.5 

In the smartphone world, Google uses the Pixel to show off the best of its mobile platform features, free from the third party manufacturer skins that can tarnish the experience (sometimes). The same is true with the Pixel Watch. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 or Galaxy Watch 4 series, the Pixel Watch is free of the Samsung elements. And we like it a lot. 

Swiping and moving around the interface seems fluid and clean, that's only helped further by the glossy, rounded feel of the display that really adds to that feeling of frictionless fluidity. It's responsive too, so nothing feels like it takes time to respond. Even the Play Store loads relatively quickly, and apps download fast too. 

It feels like a real 'finally' moment that the stock Wear OS watch faces are now customisable to a level similar to what you'd find on Apple's Watch OS. That means you can customise the accent colour - with a plethora of hues available - as well as change the index style and complications. You're not just stuck with a watch face that only lets you change what data appears in the little complication windows. 

A lot of the preinstalled watch faces also take full advantage of the way the black glass/bezel around the actual display area blend into each other. So for a lot of them, you can't tell where the display ends and the bezel begins. 

It's a good thing too, because it disguises the fact that the 1.2-inch panel is on the small side compared to a lot of other smartwatches. Still, at 450-450 resolution, it's a sharp display and being a 1000 nit peak brightness AMOLED screen means it's easy to read in any condition. 

Another nice touch is something you can't see: haptics. When you have a notification come through, you get a subtle tap on the wrist, rather than a buzzy, look-at-me vibration. And this is met with some cute, subtle sounds to alert you to a new message. It's not a loud, attention-hogging system, although we'd quite like the ability to adjust the haptic/vibration strength to make it a tad stronger. 

Otherwise, it's got everything you need. Once set up, you can load up a contactless card on your wrist by double-pressing the crown. You can pair earphones and listen to music, and you can use it to track your workouts and activities. 

Fitbit in a smartwatch 

  • Optical heart rate sensor - ECG - Blood oxygen saturation 
  • Altimeter, Accelerometer, Compass and Gyroscope
  • GPS for route tracking

One of Google's biggest weaknesses with any previous WearOS watches was not having its own, competent, detailed fitness and health tracking platform. Google Fit, for whatever reason, seemed lacking in investment and not as fully featured as efforts from rivals like Samsung Health or even Huawei Health. 

So when it bought Fitbit, the natural assumption was that it would bring Fitbit's platform to WearOS. With the Pixel Watch, that was made a reality at long last. 

The watch - of course - measures all the usual health and fitness metrics. It has sensors for all of it, whether that be all-day HR, sleep tracking, step counting, breathing rate and all the rest of it. What we like, however, is the way Fitbit organises that data in the app home screen to make it easy to understand. It's well organised and pretty fool proof. 

After waking up, once the watch has realised you've stopped sleeping, you can open the Fitbit app and see a breakdown of last night's sleep right on that first screen, without having to go digging. 

From a workout tracking perspective it's pretty reliable too. We tested it alongside the Garmin Epix 2 on a couple of workouts, comparing GPS and heart-rate intensity. For the most part, it matched the Garmin well, measuring virtually the exact same distance (plus or minus a few metres). Heart rate was similar too, measuring the same peak heart rate, but with a slightly higher calculated average. This - in turn - led to the Pixel Watch calculating that we'd burnt more calories too. 

In truth, there's not a lot in this, and the important thing is that the heart-rate sensor seems to be accurate with any workout where your heart rate gradually increases. Where it doesn't perform well is when using it for HIIT workouts. 

Like some Fitbit tracker models - and some older smartwatches - it seems to take 5-6 minutes to realise you really have gone straight into a high-intensity workout. During one such session it was showing a heart rate between 90-100 for that initial period, which - for this tester - is about the heart rate we'd expect when strolling.

The Epix 2 on the other wrist was much better at reading immediately, and we've found the same to be true of the Apple Watch and Samsung or Huawei watches over the past year. Google's first watch simply can't quite compete in this area. Once it catches up, however, it's generally fine and matched the Garmin burpee for burpee, but you lose the accurate intensity data from that first few minutes. 

Battery and performance 

  • 294 mAh battery - up to 24 hours use
  • Magnetic wireless charger
  • Exynos 9110 processor - Cortex M33 coprocessor
  • 32GB storage - 2GB RAM
  • Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi - Cellular/LTE option available

When a smartwatch - and a small one no less - has a great display, and a feature-rich, fluid interface, you can almost take it for granted that the battery life isn't going to be the strongest. That's certainly true of the Pixel Watch. Google rates it as good for 24 hours, and - in our testing - we'd say that's pretty accurate. 

Even with the always-on display switched off, we didn't once manage to get it to the end of a second day. Over a one day, 24 hour, period without any GPS intensive activity tracking we were down to about 30 per cent battery 24 hours after taking it off charge. This was with notifications coming through during the day, and wearing it at night to track our sleep. On the days we did our working out/running (for roughly 25-30 minutes), that percentage was understandably a little less, but still similar. 

What that means, then, is that in reality you're not going to be able to make use of the Fitbit sleep tracking features every night, at least not if you're up and out early in the morning. If you wake an hour or so before you leave the house in the morning you should have just about enough time to completely refill the battery from when you wake up if you place it on charge while you shower, get dressed and do breakfast. 

Most days we found we ended up doing exactly that. Once the school run was done in the morning (we aren't losing out on those steps), we'd take it off our wrist, place it on charge while we started work, and put it back on when it was fully charged about an hour later. For those who don't work from home, the logistics might need closer fine tuning.



Source : https://www.pocket-lint.com/smartwatches/reviews/google/162929-google-pixel-watch-review

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