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As Google’s first smartwatch, the Pixel Watch just doesn’t cut it

The Pixel Watch is finally here, and for all the hype that it once generated, the final product seems way off the bullseye. But make no mistake; this is definitely a Pixel smartwatch, complemented by a standout curvy design and a generous serving of neat software perks.

But the whole package isn’t generous enough for a $350+ price tag. Almost every pitfall of the Pixel Watch has to do with this pricing, from controversial hardware choices to an almost-there fitness package.

Much flash, little substance

Someone wearing the Google Pixel Watch.

I’ll start with the design, which is an eye-catching blend of minimalism and neon bravery. It’s unmistakably a Pixel vibe. But the moment an app’s UI goes from a dark background to literally any other shade, those thick bezels are going to haunt you.

Not only do they look outdated, they just eat up precious pixel real estate. But unlike the capacitive bezel on the Galaxy Watch Active 2, the bezels don’t serve any functional purpose either. Now, take a peek beyond the aesthetics.

Google has fitted a 2018-era Exynos processor inside the Pixel Watch and paired it with a co-processor. Is the processor terrible? No. At least it wasn’t slow inside the Galaxy Watch 3 Classic, which I rocked on my wrist for about a year.

But that device ran Tizen OS, a far-less demanding software compared to Wear OS. Irrespective of how well Google has optimized the latter, the Pixel Watch just doesn’t seem future-proof. Plus, that co-processor has little to do with the main OS-level tasks, so there’s that.

Someone wearing the Google Pixel Watch.

Does the Pixel Watch stand out from its rivals with a brand-new biosensor with next-gen capabilities like blood glucose level analysis or temperature measurement? No. It has all the usual tricks like heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen-level analysis (only in select markets), and ECG. But so does the Galaxy Watch 5, while also saving you over a hundred dollars.

Are there any standouts in terms of fitness services? You have Fitbit Premium, but it will only be free for the next six months. After that, add $10 each month to your Pixel Watch allowance, or $80 each year for the annual plan.

Look, the Pixel Watch is not a terrible hardware deal. It’s just that the rivals are doing it better at a smaller premium. Plus, all those tiny Pixel-style Wear OS 3.5 enhancements are not worth $350, or more. But that’s not the ending for the fable of Pixel Watch let-downs.

The many Ifs and Buts

Someone wearing the Google Pixel Watch.

If you’re convinced everything that the Pixel Watch has to offer falls squarely on your smartwatch wishlist, hop on to the fine lines. If you’re rocking an iPhone, abandon your Pixel Watch dreams because of the compatibility wall. Touche, Apple!

You might want to check the geographical limitations, too. Let’s start with the availability part. The Pixel Watch is only sold in the U.S., U.K., Taiwan, Japan, Canada, Australia, and a handful of EU countries. However, Google is keeping the two-year warranty perk exclusive to the EU and Australian markets. The rest of the countries, including the U. S., will only offer one-year warranty coverage for the Pixel Watch.

The color options will vary from market to market, and not all carriers support the cellular connectivity feature of the Pixel Watch. Google Pay and Google Wallet availability is also region-specific. Fall detection is yet to arrive and will only be here in the coming winter season, save for Australia, where it will be live in the next few weeks.

Google Assistant on the Google Pixel Watch.

More importantly, the ECG app won’t be available in all countries, likely due to medical clearance hassles. Plus, the ECG feature is only fit for users above the age of 22 years. Talking about the Fitbit app, a premium subscription will be required to access some of the core fitness-centric functionalities such as sleep term dashboards.

At least the Fitbit services, which are the biggest saving grace of the Pixel Watch, should’ve come with a longer free subscription. Or maybe, just like the unlimited Google Photos upload perk for Pixel phones, Google could’ve at least liberated some of the Premium features and made them available for all buyers.

An argument can be made about the Apple Watch, which is more expensive, and yet, Apple still makes hundreds of millions of dollars selling the Fitness+ subscription. But Apple’s ecosystem is far richer in terms of fitness content, supports a wider range of cross-device functionalities, and the hardware has a proven track record of reliability, unlike Google’s maiden smartwatch.

A tale of missed opportunities

The Google Home app on the Google Pixel Watch.

The Pixel Watch has a lot going against it. First, it just doesn’t offer the hardware worthy of its price. To make matters worse, it is using a processor that is a few generations old. Google is dangling the curved glass aesthetic bait, but those thick bezels ruin that, too.

Google could’ve redeemed some of the failures by offering a few standout perks on the software side of things, especially considering the fact that it now owns Fitbit. By that extension, Google is also the master of Fitbit Premium, arguably the best rival in the Android ecosystem against Apple’s well-received Fitness+ service. But alas, Google missed this opportunity, as well!

Yet again, Google’s latest hardware has the signature Pixel problem in the approach. The Pixels are not meant to drive bombastic sales with mind-bending innovations. Instead, they serve as a showcase of the best that Android has to offer. It’s more like a reference design to teach OEMs how things should be done.

Google Pixel Watch charging.

The Pixel Watch aims to do just that, only for Wear OS. But unlike the Pixel phones of 2021 and 2022, the Pixel Watch is not even trying to stand out. Yeah, the UI looks slick, and there are a few app-centric conveniences from Google’s own software kitchen, but that’s the end of the whole marketing pitch.

It would be naive to say that Google should sell the hardware at a loss because it can recoup the money from its other profitable businesses. But it’s not hard to imagine a Pixel-branded watch that is as good a deal as the Pixel 6 or the excellent Pixel 6a — but driven by fitness subscriptions.

After all, Microsoft has been following the same strategy with the Xbox hardware, while earning the real dough from Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. If Google had launched the Pixel Watch at a lower price, it definitely would have attracted more favorable attention as a signature Pixel experience smartwatch.

Google Pixel Watch and its watch bands.

But asking around $400 for that hardware kills whatever reasonable enthusiasm could’ve been possible. And that’s just for the U.S. market. With the standard import duties and customs taxes slapped on top, the price will be significantly higher in other markets, further killing any logical incentive to pick this one over an Apple Watch or a Samsung Galaxy Watch.

Wait, or look elsewhere

Someone using a Google Pixel Watch for measure activities.

The best advice is to wait for the inevitable discounts and pick one up a few weeks or months later. But if you urgently want a smartwatch without an Apple ecosystem lock, get the Fitbit Sense 2, the latest Versa, or any of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 5 series devices.

Samsung’s smartwatches will soon get the latest Wear OS update, landing on the same OS platform as the Pixel Watch. If you have some reservations, read our Galaxy Watch 5 review, or that of its Pro model, to sift through the pros and cons. I will stick with the perfectly fine Galaxy Watch 4 Classic and its glorious rotating bezel for at least another year.

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Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
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