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The most important Google Pixel Watch 2 questions, answered
I’ve been wearing the first Google Pixel Watch for a year now so, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to hear all about the new Pixel Watch 2. Google didn’t implement all the changes that I had wished for: The new watch is still the same size, has the same bezels, and still only claims 24 hours of battery life. But what it lacks in flashier improvements it makes up for in several small but important refinements.
I’ve had the Pixel Watch 2 for about a week now so I can answer the most pressing questions about it. Our full review is still under processing, ha, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to know if this is one of the best smartwatches yet or not.
How fast does the Pixel Watch 2 charge?
The Pixel Watch 2 features a new charging mechanism with four pins instead of wireless charging. You can’t charge it on the original Pixel Watch cable and, although the cable looks similar to the Fitbit Sense 2, you can’t use that charger either. The magnets won’t align.
Speaking of magnets, the new watch only attaches to the charger in one orientation: The cable has to be aligned with the crown. Any other orientation will result in the magnets pushing it away. This is a bit of a downgrade over the original Pixel Watch that could be plopped down in any direction on its round puck.
Faster charging is a game-changer on the Pixel Watch 2.
The upside to the magnets is noticeably faster charging. In my tests, I noticed it go up from 48% to full in under 28 minutes, i.e. faster than Google’s claims of 50% in 30 minutes. A full charge takes around 65-70 minutes — considerably less than the 90-100 minutes of the original Pixel Watch.
This significantly changes the equation for me and fixes one of my biggest gripes with the original Pixel Watch. If I’m getting ready to go out and I notice the battery level is low, I can plop it on the charger for 15-20 minutes while I get ready and have enough juice to last me for an outing of a couple of hours. If I’m heading to bed and I see the battery is low, I can charge it for 10 minutes and get enough power for a full night’s sleep tracking with bedtime mode enabled. Those weren’t possible with the first Pixel Watch; a 10 or 20-minute charge barely moved the needle there.
Is the Pixel Watch 2 battery life any good?
So charging is better, but how about battery life? Honestly, a week isn’t enough to gauge battery life through a multitude of scenarios. At first, there was the first day or two where everything was still downloading and updating, then I spent a couple of days outdoors walking around and tracking my walks, and a few days at my desk doing nothing.
If 10-15% better is good for you, that's how much the battery life has improved.
I’ve kept the always-on-display (AOD) enabled on the Pixel Watch 2 and didn’t notice any degradation in my use compared to the Pixel Watch 1 with AOD off. It even feels slightly better. If I turn AOD off here, I might get a few more hours out of it. Our full review will have better answers regarding this, but in general, I feel that the battery life is about 10-15% better than the first Pixel Watch. Not even close to the two guaranteed days of longevity I wanted, but hey, at least it charges faster this time around!
Would you buy the Pixel Watch 2?
Does the Pixel Watch 2 automatically detect exercises?
Let’s start by clearing up what automatic exercise detection means. Fitbit trackers can do three things in regard to exercise tracking:
- Exercise recognition after the fact: this is when you go for a walk, run, or play a basketball game without tracking anything, and when you’re done, the Fitbit app analyzes your data and recognizes the exercise you did. It then splits it apart and shows it in the app with some minor stats and no GPS tracking. Every Fitbit has been capable of doing this for over a decade, including the original Pixel Watch and the new one too.
- Active exercise tracking (manual): this is when you manually start tracking an exercise on a Fitbit tracker with a display (think Sense 2, Versa 4, Charge 6) and you get to see your live stats on the screen. So you can improve your pace or adjust your speed accordingly and you don’t need to wait to be done to see the results. For outdoor activities, this also activates the built-in or connected (from your phone) GPS. Both the first and second Pixel Watch have this.
- Active exercise tracking (automatic): this is the same as before except you don’t need to manually start tracking. If you start walking or running for 10 minutes and forget to enable tracking, your Fitbit will detect what’s happening and offer to start active tracking for you. You get the benefits of live stats and GPS tracking then, without having to remember to start tracking each time. This only works for select exercises and only a few high-end Fitbits support it. The first Pixel Watch didn’t, the new one does.
So with this in mind, the Pixel Watch 2 can automatically start tracking six exercises: biking, elliptical, rowing machine, running, spinning, and walking. It’s supposed to work for the treadmill too, but the option doesn’t show up for me. And I speak about option because yes, in silly Google fashion, you have to enable the automatic tracking for every exercise separately. It doesn’t work out of the box — sigh.
The Pixel Watch 2 finally catches up to the Galaxy Watch and Apple Watch. It can automatically start exercise tracking.
To do this, open the Fitbit Exercise app, go down to All exercises, find one of the six supported exercises, tap the settings cog, and enable the settings for Start workout reminders and End workout reminders. While you’re there, I also recommend you enable Auto-pause. Repeat this for all six exercises.
With the setting enabled, I noticed that the recognition was pretty spot on. As I was walking around Paris snapping pics with the Pixel 8 Pro, I got a vibration asking me if I wanted to track my walk within 10 minutes. Tap yes and all the live stats pop up on the watch. The Galaxy Watch 6 and Apple Watch Series 9 (and several of their predecessors) have this, so it’s about time the Pixel Watch 2 joined them.
Does the Pixel Watch 2 sync bedtime mode and DND with your phone?
A couple of days after I set up my Pixel Watch 2, I was surprised to see a new notification pop up on my phone asking me if I wanted to sync bedtime mode and Do Not Disturb (DND) status with my watch. Wait, what?! The absence of this option was one of my biggest complaints about the original Pixel Watch because I always forgot to enable bedtime mode and ended up losing 30% battery overnight or getting woken up by random notifications.
So I immediately agreed to enable syncing with my Watch 2 and, lo and behold, it works like a charm. Every evening, I plug in my Pixel 8 Pro to charge overnight, which automatically activates bedtime mode on the phone and on the watch. Ta-da! Simple but fantastic improvement.
I no longer have to manually enable bedtime mode on the Pixel Watch 2 or risk losing 30% battery overnight.
Enabling DND on the watch also carries over to the phone, or vice versa. I do wish the setting was separate, though, because I like setting my phone to DND but keeping my watch’s notifications on. But for now, this is a step forward.
I’m not sure if this is a Pixel Watch 2-exclusive or if it’s coming to last year’s model, if it’s a Wear OS 4 feature that’ll make its way to other competitors, or if it requires a special version of the Pixel Watch app. For now, what I can tell for certain is that it works on the Pixel Watch 2.
Is there any performance difference with the Snapdragon W5 chip?
One of the reasons I fell in love with the original Pixel Watch is how smooth it was compared to every Wear OS smartwatch I’d tried before, including the Galaxy Watch 4. Stutters, hiccups, touch response latency, and scrolling issues; all were par for Wear OS. But the Pixel Watch changed that and I thought the more powerful made-for-phones Exynos chip had a role to play. So naturally, I was curious whether a switch back to a smartwatch processor would affect performance.
Everything is as buttery smooth on the Pixel Watch 2 as it was on the original.
I’m happy to say that no, it doesn’t. The Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 chip is just as good as the Exynos 9110 from the first Pixel Watch. It’s buttery smooth with no hiccups or latencies that I can notice. This gives me hope for the rest of the Wear OS platform as a whole.
What are the best features of Wear OS 4?
If you look at Wear OS 4 on the Pixel Watch 2 and compare it against Wear OS 3.5 on its predecessor, you won’t notice much difference. Everything looks the same, save for a few extras I’ll talk about later. The Material You improvements aren’t live yet, so your watch face’s color won’t change the accent of every toggle and menu on the watch.
Backup, restore, and transfer should make it easier to set up a new watch or transfer your existing one to a new phone.
However, one major improvement is that your watch is now connected to your Google account. You can now easily transfer your watch to another phone without resetting it and starting from scratch again. No lost data, no reinstalling of apps, no remembering which settings to toggle and how.
Another improvement is a new backup and restore function that saves all of your watch’s settings, app data, tiles, and watch faces to your account. Restoring should be easy then if you move to a newer watch. Since the first Pixel Watch doesn’t have Wear OS 4 yet, I couldn’t test this to transfer my info from it to the newer Watch 2, but I hope this will simplify the process in the future.
What else is new on the Pixel Watch 2?
I love the new default watch face options on the Pixel Watch 2. Unlike third-party faces, the Google-made ones are better with battery consumption, integrate well with all the data complications, and better fit the general Pixel Watch aesthetic, but the options were limited on the original Pixel Watch and not very information-dense.
The new watch faces are delightful. They offer more information-dense options, bolder colors, and fun color mixes.
The new faces include Adventure, Analog Arcs, Analog Bold, Concentric with three dials, Dial, Digital bold, and Rotation, and they include options with more complication slots for more information, bolder colors, and even a mix of colors in some faces (*audible gasp*). I’m especially a fan of Analog Bold and Rotation; the latter spins the seconds dial and pops a bubble around the 1-12 marks each time it hits one of them. You have to see it in action to get how cute it is.
Other improvements include better Google Assistant integration with a new tile where you can assign shortcuts for two actions. It’s handy if you frequently activate a scene or routine, control specific smart home devices, or ask Assistant the same question.
There’s a new gesture to take screenshots straight on the watch. The new Calendar and Gmail apps are welcome (though they should be coming to the original Pixel Watch as well), and I especially like that the new Calendar app lets me navigate via Google Maps to the location of an event. The Pixel Watch 2 also adds emergency location sharing to help you stay safe when you’re out and about.
The new stress response feature hasn’t proven to be helpful yet; either I’m too chill and never stressed or it hasn’t worked for me yet. The temperature variation exists, but I’m not sure what to do with the data just yet. I don’t think Fitbit is sure either. Again, we’ll explore these further in our review, once we’ve had enough hands-on time with them.
And there you have it, all of the pressing Pixel Watch 2 questions, answered. If you have other questions, please let me know.