Solid premiere after a late start

Trying on makes sense

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Trying it on makes sense: Compared to other smartwatches, the Pixel Watch can appear relatively dainty depending on the wrist. © Bernd Diekjobst/dpa-tmn

For many years, Google took care of the software for smartwatches and left the hardware to partners like Motorola, Fossil or Samsung. But now Google is stepping into the ring with the Pixel Watch.

Berlin – In September 2014, the first Apple Watch came onto the market and quickly rose to the top of the sales list – to this day. However, 2014 is also the year in which Google presented the first version of an operating system for smartwatches, at that time still under the name Android Wear.

The list of computer watch manufacturers who tried their luck with Google software is long. It ranges from Asus to Fossil and HTC to Samsung or Huawei. But nobody was able to stop the triumph of the Apple Watch, not even the Swiss watch pioneer TAG Heuer, who tried their hand at an Android smartwatch in 2015.

Google itself has not built a single smartwatch in all these years. But the very first Google Pixel Watch has been available since the beginning of October. We tested them in everyday life for two weeks:

Opinions differ on the appearance of Google’s first smartwatch. The classic round shape of the Pixel Watch with its curved watch glass is reminiscent of the elegant Bauhaus wristwatch that the Swiss designer Max Bill created for Junghans in 1961. The others, on the other hand, attest the Pixel Watch to have a boring design, precisely because it looks so much like a conventional wristwatch.

Make design judgment with watch in hand

You shouldn’t base your own judgment solely on photos, because when you hold the Pixel Watch in your hand, it appears very elegant and of high quality, not like a “watch from a gumball machine”, as was read on Twitter.

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Compared to the Apple Watch or the Samsung Galaxy Watch, the Pixel Watch is dainty. Google only offers them in a version with a diameter of 41 millimeters. That might be too small on the wrist of someone with a strong forearm.

The round screen has a disadvantage compared to a rectangular display like the Apple Watch. Longer messages are much harder to read. And a virtual keyboard has so little space on the round that you have trouble hitting the right letter with your finger.

This is also a challenge with the Pixel Watch because the round 1.6-inch display with 384 by 384 pixels also has a comparatively thick black border. Google’s solution: Voice control that works perfectly. In addition, the AMOLED display with 1000 nits is so bright that you can clearly see the content on the watch even in sunlight.

Dark background hides the edge of the display

The digital dials (watch faces) provided by Google almost all have a dark background. On the one hand, this saves power and also conceals the black screen edge. We found the dials “Concentric”, “Classic” and “Pilot Bold” to be particularly successful. Each watch face offers many customization options.

Formal selection
Formal choice: The selectable digital dials almost all have a dark background. This saves power and conceals the black screen edge. © Bernd Diekjobst/dpa-tmn

With “Classic”, for example, you can choose between Arabic numerals, Roman numerals or blank dashes. You can also specify what each of the four complications displays, such as the current weather, the number of steps taken or the battery level of the watch. You can also customize the accent color of each dial to suit your preferences.

The crown of the watch serves as a scroll wheel and home button. You can also call up Google Pay with it, for example to be able to pay at the supermarket checkout without a wallet or smartphone in your pocket. However, using PayPal is not supported in the Google Wallet on smartwatches, although it works well on Android smartphones.

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There is also a hardware button above the crown that you can use to bring up the most recently used apps on the display. A long press prepares the watch to receive a voice command. The operating concept is consistent and works well in everyday use.

Aged chip with turbo

When reading the technical data sheet, it is noticeable that Google uses a fairly outdated system chip from Samsung inside the Pixel Watch, the Exynos 9110. It was introduced four years ago and was already used in the first generation of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 2018. It cannot keep up with current system chips such as the Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 from Qualcomm.

However, Google reached into its bag of tricks and provided the chip oldie with a coprocessor (Cortex M33). The result is amazing. Everything runs quickly and smoothly, nothing gets stuck or falters. The two gigabytes (GB) of working memory (RAM) should also contribute to the good performance despite the aging main chip. The 32 GB mass storage for apps and data is also generous.

As with the normal Apple Watch, the battery of the Pixel Watch lasts a good day, but it does not come close to the runtimes of the Apple Watch Ultra, which can be used for up to three days at a time. The best special smartwatches for athletes are in a different league anyway. The Garmin Epix 2 comes with an always-on display for six days.

A number of functions from the trackers and smartwatches from the fitness specialist Fitbit – bought by Google last year – have been incorporated into the Pixel Watch. With the Fitbit know-how, Google can support 40 training types and sports from the start. In the comparison test with a Fitbit smartwatch, however, the same training results were not displayed.

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Fitbit Confusion on Calories

The Pixel Watch burned around 30 percent more calories than Fitbit’s Sense 2. Sports such as aerobics, crossfit or running must be started manually for tracking to be accurate. When jogging, the Pixel Watch and the Sense 2 were of the same opinion about the distance covered.

The Pixel Watch comes with a six-month Fitbit Premium subscription: For 9 euros a month or 80 euros a year, you can also get sleep advice and guided training programs, among other things. But you can also calculate a daily form index and have extended stress analyzes carried out. This is similar to Apple’s Fitness Plus program, which also costs 80 euros a year. However, Apple does not hide as many health analyzes behind a payment barrier on its watches as Google does.

It is annoying with Google that fitness friends have to deal with two accounts. You need a Google account to set up the watch. In order to be able to use the watch extensively during sports, a separate Fitbit account and the installation of another app are then necessary.

Conclusion: Overall, we liked a lot of things about the Pixel Watch. The display reacts quickly, health data such as heart rate measurements are recorded precisely. Many sports are supported with the Fitbit functions and a precise sleep analysis is made possible, even if the result here is predictable: Going to bed early and sleeping late is good.

Training partner on the wrist
Training partner on the wrist: The watch is intended to support its wearer in many sports. © Bernd Diekjobst/dpa-tmn

When it comes to design, tastes differ: anyone looking for a smartwatch that doesn’t look like a smartwatch at first glance will get an elegant timepiece with the Pixel Watch. Google should consider whether an XL version might be useful for larger wrists.

Pixel watch
First work: The Pixel Watch is the first smartwatch that Google is launching on its own. © Google/dpa-tmn

Google does not push the Pixel Watch into the market with a competitive price: the version with Bluetooth and WLAN costs 379 euros, with an additional mobile radio option you end up at 429 euros. Unfortunately, Google is unnecessarily restricting its sales market: While Fitbit smartwatches also play together with Apple’s iPhones, the Pixel Watch only serves the Android camp (from version 8). dpa