After years of fan requests, the Pixel Watch finally shows us Google’s vision of a smartwatch. Can Fitbit integration and design focus give Android fans an Apple Watch equivalent? That’s what Google set out to do.

In some ways, Google has had its hand in smartwatches for a long time. The company released Wear OS (then called Android Wear) back in 2014, but stayed away from creating its own hardware. Google even partnered with Samsung to launch Wear OS 3 in 2021.

That’s where Google steps in with the Pixel Watch. Samsung has cornered the Android smartwatch market, while Apple has dominated the smartwatch world in general. It’s time to see if Google has been paying attention and learned enough to release a compelling first generation product.

Smartwatches – perhaps more than any other gadget – need to look good. You can hide your phone in a case or pocket, but a smartwatch is on your wrist for all to see. Google made a big deal with the design of the Pixel Watch, and I think this is one area where it delivered.

The design of the Pixel Watch is as minimal as you can get. There are no sharp edges or angles to be found. The black model in particular looks almost featureless; Its screen wraps around the edges and meets the stainless steel bottom half perfectly. The crown dial and subtle ‘Recent’ button are the only things that spoil the polished gemstone look.

This is the part where I was going to talk about how the Pixel Watch is smaller than most smartwatches. However, the technical dimensions tell me that the Pixel Watch is larger than the 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 I was wearing before. It’s amazing how much this rounded design makes the watch look and feel small.

The other advantage of the rounded design is that you can wear the watch comfortably for sleep tracking. I’ve never liked wearing gadgets while I sleep, but I barely noticed the Pixel Watch on my wrist. The straps are comfortable and there’s nothing for your clothes or sheets to catch on.
Speaking of bands, let’s talk about Google’s proprietary watch bands and quick release mechanism. First of all, I don’t like proprietary bands. Google doesn’t have hundreds of companies ready to make accessories like Apple, so the selection will always be limited. Proprietary tapes are also generally more expensive. It’s one of the most disappointing parts of the watch for me.

To make matters worse, it’s not even that great of a mechanic. There is a little button that you press so that the tape can slide over it. I always feel like my finger is in the way when I do this. Putting the strips on is easier, but I had trouble getting them off. I think regular Quick Release Bands (with a simple spring bar) are easier to use.
The last design feature to talk about is the buttons. One is a “crown” dial that also acts as a button, while the second is just a simple button. The crown feels good and works well, but the second button isn’t in a great place. It sits on the lower half of the watch and above the dial, which makes me feel like I have to reach for it more than I’d like. As a result, I didn’t use the button much.

Overall, I think the design is the Pixel Watch’s strongest point. Google has corrected this part. I really like how it looks and it is very comfortable to wear. My biggest complaint comes from owning bands. I can admit that it looks pretty stylish to have the strap blend seamlessly into the watch body, but I’d rather not be limited to a small selection of bands.

Software: Mark Let’s talk software is missing .
That’s Google’s strength, right? I much prefer the UI on the Pixel phones to any other Android skin, and I was hoping to find the same on the Pixel Watch. Good…

The Pixel Watch runs Wear OS 3.5, and this is really our first look at what Google itself thinks Wear OS should look like. In terms of pure aesthetics, I like what Google is doing. It has the same vibe as the Pixel UI for phones: bold fonts, simple icons, matching accent colors throughout the UI, and the occasional gradient. The Google and Tiles watch faces are nice and I like how the notifications look.

However, how the software actually works is a different story. Switching from the Galaxy Watch 5, also Wear OS, I didn’t expect the Pixel Watch to feel as disorienting as switching from Android to iPhone. The Pixel Watch software feels like a completely different OS and I’m not sure I like it.
One of the reasons I prefer the Pixel UI on phones is its simplicity. I’ve been hard on Samsung for bloating their feature phones while Google doesn’t. The Pixel Watch (and companion app) take this approach too far. I feel very restricted, and some important things are directly missing.

Some great examples are Do Not Disturb and Bedtime modes. When you activate any of these, it is not reflected on the companion device. So, if you turn on Do Not Disturb on your phone, the Pixel Watch will still emit notifications. Kinda defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? The same feature works as expected on Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy watches.
Speaking of Samsung watches, there is one thing that Google has changed that I like. Tiles – which are essentially app widgets – are in a looping carousel that you can swipe left or right through. However, Samsung only houses Tiles on the right side of the watch face. If you use a lot of Tiles, it’s quite annoying to reach the end of the list.

One change I don’t like is that the app list isn’t a swipe away from the home screen. You have to press the crown button to open it. The app list has a vertical layout with one app per line, and you can only see about three apps at a time on the 1.2-inch display. I much prefer Samsung’s grid of app icons, which can even be rearranged – Google is stuck in alphabetical order.
The Pixel Watch companion app is well-designed, but incredibly simple. Samsung’s Wear companion app lets you control almost everything on your phone, while Google has very few options. The aforementioned Samsung app grid, for example, can be rearranged on the phone. I kept looking for more settings in the Pixel Watch app and there just wasn’t much to see.

The best from Google?
You’d expect a smartwatch from Google to offer some kind of elevated experience with Google’s many services. Not at all the case with the Pixel Watch. Google Wear OS apps are also available on Samsung Galaxy watches. Google Assistant, Maps, Wallet, Keep, Home and even the Google Weather app are all there.

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