Why I love smartwatches, but don’t love the Pixel Watch

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  • November 21, 2022

I was disappointed with the Pixel Watch when I first used it, something that’s made very clear in my Google Pixel Watch review. Following that, I wanted to give the Pixel Watch a little space before going back and giving it another try — just in case my opinion softened, or feature updates arrived to make it a better purchase.

Upon revisiting the Pixel Watch, I’ve been reminded why I love smartwatches, but also why I’d rather wear almost any other smartwatch except the Pixel Watch. Here’s what I mean.

The Google Pixel Watch is too small

The Google Pixel Watch's Big Time watch face.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Obviously, the Pixel Watch hasn’t gotten any larger since it was released, but I wondered if I would have adjusted to seeing it on my wrist — and therefore find the 41mm case size more acceptable. I wear a lot of different watches, smart and traditional, and tend to favor larger case diameters, so I’m accustomed to seeing a big watch on my wrist. For the last few weeks, I’ve consciously worn smaller watches, along with the Apple Watch SE 2, to see if my eyes accepted the Pixel Watch more.

They haven’t. The Pixel Watch is just too small. Dainty, even. That’s fine if you want a dainty smartwatch, but not if it looks like you’ve picked the wrong size when it’s on your wrist. Like wearing a medium t-shirt when you usually choose an extra large. Samsung, Apple, and Huawei all solve this problem by offering two sizes, so I can pick the one that looks best on me. With the 41mm Pixel Watch, Google is saying I have to wear a medium t-shirt regardless of whether it’s so tight it restricts my breathing.

Google Pixel Watch on a wrist.
Andrew Martonik / Digital Trends

One thing has occurred to me after putting the Pixel Watch on again, and that’s by choosing another strap, I may be able to make it look more sensible on my wrist. Google has two leather versions with lugs that extend out of the case, and this could help increase the visual impact of the tiny, smooth, circular case. They cost $80 each, though, so it’ll be a pricey endeavor to find out. Plus, I’m not a fan of wearing a leather strap all day and night.

The included Active Band is very comfortable and perfect to wear at night, so why not change it before bed, you ask? I could, but I shouldn’t have to do it. The proprietary mechanism to change straps is simple once you get the hang of it, but the first few times, you’ll think you’re going to break something, even if it’s just your fingernail. What’s most annoying is all this thought, effort, and money could have been saved if Google had just made two sizes in the first place.

I’ll just wear another one

The Galaxy Watch 5 and Pixel Watch main screens.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I like smartwatches and get a lot of value from wearing them. The Pixel Watch is a decent (if basic) smartwatch and wearing it has only reminded me about what I really like about them. The sleep data, tracking workouts, making sure I stay vaguely active, and not always having to check my phone to see an incoming message are all big, positive aspects for me. But the Pixel Watch’s shortcomings just make me turn to the Galaxy Watch 5 or the Apple Watch. The Pixel Watch simply isn’t good enough to tempt me into wearing it all the time.

What, specifically, isn’t good enough? Firstly, the battery life is poor. Wear the Pixel Watch to track your sleep, and it’ll lose between 15% and 20% battery life overnight. That’s not good enough because it takes at least 80% to make it through a single working day, and that’s without tracking any significant workouts. It means you’ll charge the Pixel Watch every day regardless of what you do. The Apple Watch and the Galaxy Watch 5 will last two full days if you don’t track workouts, which is far more acceptable and easy to predict.

The Google Pixel Watch on its charging puck.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Then there’s keeping me motivated. A smartwatch is a great way to remain accountable when you’re trying to exercise more and be more active during the day. The Apple Watch and the Galaxy Watch 5 both have “ring” systems where you can quickly see your movement, active hours, and amount of hours you’ve stood during the day. The Pixel Watch has steps, or you can switch it to Fitbit’s Active Zone minutes, but neither provide the same level of visual motivation I need to get up and do more.

Steps are an outdated way of monitoring daily activity, and Fitbit’s Active Zone minutes require my heart rate to be high, and that only comes with exercise. I’ll accept that some people will find this motivational, but for those who aren’t athletes or really into fitness, it will do the opposite. Apple and Samsung’s system works for more people more of the time.

It frustrates me the Pixel Watch only lists Spinning and not Indoor Cycling — they are not the same thing — on its list of workouts. It’s annoying to switch the Pixel Watch to Bedtime mode manually because there’s no automatic sleep mode. The blood oxygen sensor still isn’t fully active more than a month after the Watch’s release. All these features are available on other smartwatches, so I’ll just wear one of those to get my fix.

Then there’s the price

Google Pixel Watch on a wrist.
Andrew Martonik / Digital Trends

I’m completely prepared to accept fewer features and only one design option if the price reflects this, but the Pixel Watch is one of the most expensive mainstream smartwatches you can buy. Not only that, but after six months, you will have to pay $10 per month to access Fitbit Premium and see all the data you provide on a daily basis. Buy the Pixel Watch on January 1, 2023, for $350, and by the end of the year, your actual investment will be $410.

No, you don’t have to pay, but all the data behind Fitbit’s paywall is available for free with other smartwatches. A 40mm Galaxy Watch 5 will cost $280 on January 1, 2023 (or probably less, due to Samsung’s constant and great deals), and that won’t increase at all. I just can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t do this instead.

Am I saying you should buy the Galaxy Watch 5 instead? Yes, if you have an Android phone. But also no. If you own an iPhone or are thinking of changing your Android phone to one, then the iPhone and Apple Watch Series 8 combo is the best phone/smartwatch system you can buy, and I’d recommend them over any other pair. But there is another option: The Oura Ring.

Top-down view of the Oura Ring Horizon.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Oura’s smart ring starts at $299, looks superb, has a wide feature list, and has a battery that lasts for about a week. It doesn’t take up any wrist space, so you can always wear a traditional watch. It provides motivational information through the well-designed and reliable app, plus it’s so comfortable you never need to take it off. Unfortunately, like Fitbit, there is a monthly subscription to pay after six months, but at least it’s $6 and not $10. Begrudgingly, as I really dislike health and fitness subscription platforms, it’s pretty good value for what you get. The Oura Ring doesn’t have a screen, so you don’t get notifications, but this could be seen as a positive.

I came back to the Google Pixel Watch wanting to like it a lot more than I first did. Sadly, my feelings about the watch haven’t changed, but using it again has cemented my love of wearable technology and the benefits it can bring. I’ll just continue to use a different product to get them.

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