Google Pixel watch preview
Well, I said I wasn’t going to do that. But I’ve decided to ditch the Apple Watch soon, and I’m curious how Google’s Android Wear/Fitbit hybrid compares. So I ordered a Google Pixel Watch and will assess how it compares to both the Apple Watch and my old tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5.
Of course, I’m also several months behind the rest of the world: Google announced the Pixel Watch in October 2022 after first teasing it at Google I/O 2022 the previous May. And since then it’s added a few new features to the device via Feature Drops in December 2022 (free sleep profiles, previously a Fitbit Premium feature) and March 2023 (fall detection and new sound and display settings customizations ). Google also announced that it will transition from Fitbit to Google Accounts starting this year, but that makes sense to me, and I use my Google Account extensively anyway.
So what is this thing?
From what I can tell, the Pixel Watch is a hybrid wearable device that combines Google’s WearOS 3.5 with a large subset of Fitbit health and fitness tracking features. WearOS is a slimmed down version of Android – it used to be called Android Wear and then Wear – and it’s to the Google ecosystem what watchOS is to Apple. The Pixel Watch is, I believe, Google’s first in-house WearOS device, and so it competes with the Apple Watch the same way Pixel smartphones compete with the iPhone.
But there is more. Like Microsoft in the PC space, Google is Also competing with its WearOS hardware partners, like Samsung, which sells a family of WearOS-based Galaxy Watch smartwatches. Samsung’s latest smartwatches, the Galaxy Watch5 and Watch5 Pro, were announced alongside Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold4 and Z Flip4 Foldable smartphones last August, ahead of the launch of Pixel Watch.
But there is still more. Google bought Fitbit in January 2021 and it still sells Fitbit-branded trackers (like my Fitbit Charge 5) and smartwatches, including the Fitbit Sense 2 and Versa 4. It makes sense to me that this keeps trackers on the market, but these Fitbit smartwatches exist in a strange middle ground between trackers and “real” smartwatches, and there are questions about their future. On the one hand, they’re limited by the Fitbit-created platform they use, but on the other, each offers 6 or more days of battery life, the same as my Charge 5. is a enormous upside, assuming all you want is health and fitness tracking: I have to charge my Apple Watch Series 8 every day and from the reviews I’ve read the Pixel Watch has the same problem.
Whether one finds the Pixel Watch more appealing than a Fitbit smartwatch is neither here nor there, though I suspect Fitbit devices are regularly mistaken for Apple Watches when spied on by casual users around the world. . But I give Google some credit for going with a round design that looks more like a typical watch and is, in my eyes, sleek. It’s also a small side, apparently: where Apple sells the Apple Watch Series 8 in 41 and 45mm sizes, Pixel Watch only comes in one size, 41mm, which I imagine looks even smaller because it’s a circle and not a squircle like the Apple Watch.
I’m okay with that, given that I find my 45mm Apple Watch to be a little big, and I don’t like how it launches Siri by mistake when I lean on my wrists, which causes my hand to press the Crown. But the Pixel Watch also has large bezels and therefore a very small screen. This could be problematic for my aging eyes, although my Fitbit Charge’s display is probably even smaller. We’ll, uh, see.
Finding a band size that works is another practical issue for any wearable, at least in my case as I have large hands and wrists. With the Apple Watch, I specifically chose a Sport Loop design because it has the longest strap (including the first cuffs from 140mm to 220mm) and is easy to remove and replace. With the Pixel Watch, I just went with a basic active band, but Google includes both small and large bands in the box, with the large one working for those with 165-210mm wrists. So it should be fine, at least, although its more traditional clasp, which looks similar to my Fitbit’s, isn’t as easy to remove and replace.
I’m curious about the WearOS UI as I haven’t used this system for years. Google used a card-based UI for their wearable platform which I always thought made sense, and I’m sure it’s been revamped now. But I can’t say I’m really a fan of the Apple Watch UI, which is complex enough that I stick to a few basic interactions, almost all health and fitness related. Granted, that’s part of what I’m interested in: I can’t say I found much need for most other Apple Watch uses, and that might be the case with the Pixel Watch as well. Which means maybe a wearable Fitbit is all I need.
So let’s think about this health and fitness tracker for a moment. After all, that’s what matters most to me. It’s reasonable to expect the Pixel Watch to be a superset of Fitbit’s smartwatches and trackers, as it’s a much more capable device. But that’s not always the case, and perhaps the best place to start is to list the Fitbit features the Pixel Watch doesn’t support.
It’s a long list and includes automatic exercise tracking (for walking, running, cycling, elliptical and rowing), swim stroke tracking, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heartbeat notifications, all-day body response tracking, stress notifications, stress management with EDA scanning, guided breathing, silent and smart wake-up alarms, SpO2 monitoring (which is limited to nighttime measurements on Fitbit) , skin temperature (Sense 2 only) and a few others.
And I have to be honest here: there are features in there that I’m not comfortable losing. Among them are automatic exercise tracking, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heartbeat notifications, and SpO2 monitoring (even in a limited form). When I switched to the Apple Watch, blood oxygen (SpO2) tracking was among its biggest benefits.
In the good news department, the Pixel Watch has a few health and fitness features that current Fitbits lack, like emergency SOS, fall detection, a compass, and an always-on altimeter. Not much, I suppose.
I have yet to write about my Apple Watch experiences, but one of the main differences between the Apple Watch and Fitbit ecosystems is that the former is chatty and in your face, and the latter is quieter and runs more in the background. There are pros and cons to each approach, and we’ll see if the Pixel Watch strays from the Fitbit norm. But I found some of the Apple Watch interactions to be boring and nanny-like over time. And I’m also not very interested in paying for a Fitbit Premium subscription, which I eventually would have to do to take full advantage of this ecosystem. If there was a simple answer, I wouldn’t even debate it, I guess.
Anyway, I’m curious. Curious to know what WearOS looks like today, how well Fitbit fits into this ecosystem, and if Pixel Watch is a viable alternative to Apple Watch for an Android fan. More personally, what really interests me is whether I stick with my tried and true Fitbit Charge 5. It’s not perfect, but I understand that.