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Hands-on with the Google Pixel Watch 2: Does the power lie inside?
Google’s original Pixel Watch arrived to… let’s call them mixed reviews. It looked (and still looks) gorgeous and promised smooth integrations with the growing Pixel ecosystem, but modest battery life and an out-of-date processor left the Pixel Watch feeling like a wearable out of its depth. Now, Google is back for a second try. It’s had another year to refine its hardware and software, resulting in a smartwatch that performs closer to how it looks. We went hands-on with the Pixel Watch 2 after the Made By Google event, and here’s what we thought of it.
At first glance, the Pixel Watch 2 looks no different than its predecessor — at second glance, too. Honestly, it’s a perfect example of Google not trying to fix what wasn’t broken since the original Pixel Watch scored plenty of style points with its polished pebble design. It’s still one of the best-looking smartwatches around. Dipping back into the well also means using the Pixel Watch 2 is an immediately familiar experience. You still navigate via a combination of the rotating crown and the singular button, but this generation’s crown is just a little bit better.
What I mean by that is the rotating crown is slightly wider, giving it a bit more surface area to twist and turn while navigating. It also feels like Google beefed up the haptics on its Pixel Watch 2, with every turn of the crown delivering a reassuring series of clicks. The haptic response to taps and typing feels good, too, and certainly more deserving of the Pixel name.
Google's pebble-like design is a little smoother and more refined like it's had a few extra tides wash over.
Outside the updated crown, the Pixel Watch 2 pulls directly from its predecessor in many ways. We compared the two to see how similar the Pixel Watch and the Pixel Watch 2 are. It still uses a 41mm case — no larger model is available — though it’s now crafted from recycled aluminum rather than stainless steel for a slight weight loss of about 5 grams. Google’s pebble-like display is still made of Gorilla Glass 5, so it doesn’t offer upgraded durability in that sense, but the Pixel Watch 2 now boasts a full IP68 rating. The original watch was already a solid swimming companion thanks to its 5ATM certification, but now it’s a more capable wearable for a day at the beach.
The Pixel Watch 2’s main external upgrade comes when you flip the watch over. Google reworked its heart rate sensor, upgrading the number of LEDs and photodiodes used to ensure a more accurate reading whether you’re logging a run or catching up on sleep. The heart rate sensor is also surrounded by four tiny pins that the charging cable can connect to instead of sitting on a simple wireless charging pad like the original model.
Perhaps the best part of Google’s decision to reuse its original Pixel Watch design is that all your existing watch bands will still work with the new model. The process for swapping said bands is unchanged, so it takes a little bit of getting used to, but consistency is key when compared to Apple’s habit of switching connector sizes every few years.
Now that we’ve covered what hasn’t changed, let’s dig into where Google made most of its updates: under the hood. One of our main knocks against the original Pixel Watch was that it launched carrying a chipset that was — at the time — already four years old. It felt like far too little, far too late, and hinted at a smartwatch that probably should have been launched sooner. The Pixel Watch 2 doesn’t fall into the same trap. It now relies on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon W5, the chipmaker’s most updated chipset at launch, and still comes in Wi-Fi or LTE configurations.
Qualcomm’s updated processor uses a slimmed-down 4nm process that’s far more efficient than the previous 10nm Exynos 9110 option. This upgrade should have a waterfall effect on the rest of the Pixel Watch 2 experience, allowing it to push the battery further and perform more efficiently, though we’ll have to wait until we’ve spent longer with the watch to be sure.
The chipset that sits half as thick burns twice as bright, right?
Google also bumped the Pixel Watch 2’s battery by a few milliamp hours, climbing from 294 to 306mAh. It’s a modest gain, but it’s also met with a slight bump in charging speed. Once you combine the suite of battery and chipset improvements, it becomes a little easier to understand Google’s claim of all-day battery life even with the always-on display active. Previously, you could only push the Pixel Watch all day with its convenient feature turned off.
With these internal upgrades comes a slate of new Fitbit Health features, many of which we’ll have to wait to truly test. The Pixel Watch 2 can provide irregular heart rate notifications and sense your skin temperature — neither of which was available on the original.
Another piece of the Pixel Watch 2’s upgraded sensor is the addition of continuous electrodermal activity monitoring or cEDA. Essentially, this allows the watch to monitor your stress level and offer occasional reminders to take deep breaths or meditate to bring your stress down through guided breathing exercises. We’ll have to wait to give this a proper test, though a full Made By Google event would have been the perfect chance for some guided breathing.
As before, the Pixel Watch 2 is compatible with devices running Android 9.0 or newer but doesn’t support iOS devices.
Google Pixel Watch 2 Specs
|Google Pixel Watch 2|
Custom 3D Corning Gorilla Glass 5
320ppi AMOLED display with DCI-P3 color
Brightness boost up to 1,000 nits
Materials and finishes
100% recycled aluminum
Active band: Fluoroelastomer with soft-touch coating
Dimensions and weight
31g (without band)
Cortex M33 co-processor
Storage and memory
32GB eMMC flash
Up to 24 hours with always-on display
USB-C Fast charging cable
Promised charging speed:
About 30 minutes to 50%
About 43 minutes to 80%
About 75 minutes to 100%
Wear OS 4.0
Blood oxygen sensor
Multipurpose electrical sensor
Optical heart rate sensor
Ambient light sensor
Electrical sensor to measure cEDA
Skin temperature sensor
Fitbit health and fitness
Messages and notifications
International emergency calling
Fall detection (up to 32 g-forces)
5ATM + IP68
4G LTE and UMTS
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, Quasi-Zenith Satellite
Android 9.0 or newer
Small: 130-175mm around
Large: 165-210mm around
What’s in the Box
Google Pixel Watch 2
Active band (small and large)
USB-C Fast Charging Cable
Quick Start Guide
US, CA, JP, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Indian:
UK,EEA, France, Switzerland and AU:
Matte Black Aluminum case / Obsidian Active band
Polished Silver Aluminum case / Bay Active band
Polished Silver Aluminum case / Porcelain Active band
Champagne Gold Aluminum case / Hazel Active band
Google Pixel Watch 2: My first impressions
It’s not easy to jump into first impressions of a smartwatch, much less a Fitbit-fuelled, health-focused one like the Pixel Watch 2. As mentioned above, many of the wearable’s best features — and many we took issue with on the original Pixel Watch — will take some time before they kick in. Key metrics like sleep tracking and irregular heartbeat notifications don’t happen overnight — well, sleep tracking does, I guess. Anyway, what I’m saying is that these are primarily surface-level features that jumped out at me.
For starters, the setup process is quick and painless. Once I got my Pixel 8 Pro up and running, it took just a few minutes in the Pixel Watch app to go from startup to my watch face. The Pixel Watch app remains the easiest way to manage your collection of faces, as well as add complications like your step count or the current weather.
I was thoroughly impressed when I tried to start a run on the Pixel Watch 2.
Sticking with the smoother overall experience, I was thoroughly impressed when I tried to start a run on the Pixel Watch 2. I had no intentions of picking up a few miles for the day, so I swiped to the Quick Start widget in the middle of a restaurant, and the Pixel Watch 2 quickly grabbed my location and counted down a short timer after just a few seconds. How the watch would have fared with GPS accuracy in New York City’s tall buildings, however, is a test for another day.
Outside of the run tracking speed and accuracy, which was a gripe with the previous Pixel Watch, it’s nice to see Google double down on matching the Pixel Watch 2 with the rest of its ecosystem. This is twofold, with colorful band options that match the vibrant Bay of the Pixel 8 Pro and safety features lifted right from the last few Pixel phones.
Safety Check is now available on the Pixel Watch 2, allowing you to set a timer for when you expect to return home from a list of activities. If you’re not home at the end of the timer, the Pixel Watch 2 will ask you if you need to alert your emergency contacts or if you just ended up seeing the sights for a bit longer. I set up a sample Safety Check while getting to know the Pixel Watch 2 and was impressed by the number of activities, which include walking by yourself, going for a run, going for a hike, and even taking transit like an Uber or Lyft. Oh, and if you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber, you don’t need an LTE watch line for the Safety Check to work. In cases of emergency, Fitbit Premium subscribers can get access to a 4G LTE network for using safety features only, in case you were on the fence about the extra subscription.
Would you buy the Pixel Watch 2?
We’ll still have to wait a while before we can pass a final judgment on the Google Pixel Watch 2. We’ll keep a close eye on features like the battery life and any bump in performance that comes from the newer Qualcomm processor. In the meantime, it’s great to see Google stick with the original starting price of $349 for the Wi-Fi model and $399 for the LTE version, so hopefully, it means that the Pixel Watch learned the right lessons for its second generation.