Google’s much-anticipated entry to the smartwatch market has arrived – has it been worth the wait?
Product appeal can be won and lost within seconds and, even before the packaging reluctantly gave up its contents (one of those incredibly tight fitting slide in boxes), E&T was impressed the looks of the debutant Google Pixel Watch. It’s a bold move from Google when the fashion seems to be trending towards large-faced thin watches, to produce something that unkindly could be described as small and fat. Rather more kindly, E&T felt it had immediate visual and tactile appeal. Its looks and feel were more reminiscent of a pebble of jet, smoothed over millennia in the bed of a babbling mountain stream.
It’s not taken millennia exactly, but for fans of Google Pixel phones who have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the watch, the launch this autumn might have felt protracted. Original plans for the watch, which date back half a decade, were revitalised with the purchase of Fitbit, and much of the interest in the device revolves around the integration of Fitbit into the new smartwatch.
First of all, out the box, the pebble-like Pixel is made of 80 per cent recycled stainless steel and is in a choice of three colours – Gold, Silver and Matte Black. These are matched up with four active bands – Charcoal, Obsidian, Chalk and Hazel – all made of fluoroelastomer. On test was the Matte Black with Obsidian (black) strap, which made a stylish combination. Further woven, stretch and leather straps are available, with more on the way.
Two active bands are provided to suit those with small wrists (130-175mm) and 165-210mm for those with larger wrists. The soft-touch coating on the active bands and the smooth stainless steel case sits comfortably on the wrist. The domed AMOLED screen is 41mm across and couldn’t be sharper. A choice of faces is available from the app.
Full charge was reached in well under an hour, ahead of Google’s advertised 80 minutes; however, the good news about the battery ends there, more of which later.
Set up was easy and intuitive. There are separate apps for the watch and for the Fitbit functions. It might have been desirable to squeeze all functions in one app, but keeping the two apart is actually a clean solution. The Google watch app essentially configures the device and its operation, while the Fitbit app presents the health and fitness information coming back out. The watch needs a phone running Android 8.0 or above, so if your phone is five years old or less you are in the clear.
Unlike some watches, the phone doesn’t need to be a constant companion for all functions to work. So going for a run, gathering your fitness stats while listening to music, can be done with the phone left at home. This is also true of Google Wallet, which again is very easy to set up and is activated with two clicks of the control button. Calls and texts with the phone in close proximity can be made on the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi version of the watch, which costs £339. If you want full connectivity and the ability to make calls away from your phone there is a 4G LTE version (plus Bluetooth/Wi-Fi) and that comes in at £379.
Other features separate the Pixel Watch from the two most recent Fitbit offerings on the market, the Sense 2 and Versa 4. The main one is the ability to make LTE calls and the Google Pay facility, but the Pixel also benefits from Google Maps, the Google Assistant and Youtube music. Apart from stress monitoring and oxygen saturation (SpO2), the Pixel watch features virtually all of the capabilities on the Fitbits.
Under the hood, the smart electronics are provided by a Exynos 9110 SoC and Cortex M33 co-processor; combined with the 320 ppi AMOLED display it’s sharp and instantly reactive – a pleasure to use.
However, an elephant has been lurking in the review room, and for some, it will be a deal breaker. The battery life is, at a stretch, only 24 hours and that is without putting it through any gruelling GPS workouts, music streaming, or similar battery-draining activities. It seems a missed trick when some other leading smartwatches also suffer from poor battery life, and yet better battery tech is out there. Would this not have been the ideal time to consolidate competitive advantage? Overnight charging is not an option if you are using the watch to monitor your sleep quality. But those who love the watch – and people will love this watch – will find routines to work around this. It’s sufficiently waterproof to withstand the shower (or swimming pool) but perhaps charging during the morning routine is the answer.
Maybe the second generation of this debutant device will focus on this crucial factor, as it seems Google has got right the vast majority of design and technical aspects of its Pixel watch.
Being launched at the same time as the new generation Pixel 7 phone (and new Bluetooth earbuds), there are, unsurprisingly, offers around if you want to package your Pixels up together. Vodaphone, for example, were offering the watch for free if purchased with the phone.
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