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The Pixel Watch Is a Good Start. Here’s What It Needs Next


With the Pixel Watch, Google built a strong foundation for what could very well become the best Android smartwatch. Its sleek design and suite of Fitbit health tracking features earned it a CNET Editors’ Choice Award. 

But at its core, the Pixel Watch still largely feels like an answer to the Apple Watch and other popular smartwatches. It meets, and in some ways surpasses, expectations for a smartwatch of its price. Yet it doesn’t necessarily do much to push the smartwatch industry forward, nor does it overwhelmingly convince you to side with the Pixel over a cheaper Samsung or Fitbit watch. 

The Pixel Watch is essentially Fitbit software wrapped in a more attractive, Google-designed package. In 2023, I want to see the Pixel Watch take on an identity of its own. That’s critical for Google now that ancillary gadgets like watches and earbuds are a bigger part of Android’s future direction.

Google should imitate its Pixel phone strategy

There are plenty of things the Pixel Watch gets right, from its elegant curved edges to its easy-to-use software and comprehensive exercise tracking. But for the wearable to really stand out, Google should take a page from its Pixel phone playbook. 

As I’ve written in the past, I’d like to see Google develop clever features for the Pixel Watch that solve real inconveniences. Pixel phones, for example, have phone calling tools for letting Google’s virtual assistant wait on hold for you. They also have interesting photo editing features, like the ability to sharpen old photos that may be out of focus. Google is clearly concentrating on two of the most basic tasks people use their phones for: making calls and taking photos. It’s these features combined with the Pixel’s great camera that make it stand out.

The Google Pixel Watch and Pixel 7 Pro

The Pixel Watch should take a cue from Google’s Pixel phones.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

But Google has already released seven generations of its Pixel phones, meaning it’s had time to refine its approach and figure out what works. The original Pixel from 2016 was a skeleton of today’s devices; it had the bones of today’s Pixels, like a sharp design that rivaled that of the iPhone, a standout camera and the Google Assistant. But it took years for Google to flesh out its Pixel phone strategy. The case will likely be the same for the Pixel Watch.

It’s hard to say exactly what that will look like. Fitness and health seem to be the biggest areas in which today’s smartwatches are growing and improving across the industry. Google’s progress in those fields will largely come down to Fitbit, which pioneered the digital health movement but now faces increased competition from Apple. That rivalry is likely to escalate in the coming years considering Apple is reportedly working on new health features, including an AI-powered wellness coach, mood tracking tools and blood pressure monitoring.

Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8

Apple is said to be working on more health tools for the Apple Watch, which would give Google and Fitbit tougher competition. 

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Health monitoring aside, I’d like to see additional features that make the Pixel Watch a more crucial part of the Android ecosystem. Given Google’s progress with the Google Assistant, I had hoped Google’s virtual helper would play a bigger role in the Pixel Watch. Yes, you can do all the basic things you’d expect, like make calls, start timers, play music and control smart home devices with your voice. 

But I’d like to see new features that feel more specific to the Pixel Watch. Since smartwatches aren’t ideal for long touchscreen interactions, there’s a big opportunity for Google to use the Google Assistant to surface contextual information in new ways. Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the future as Google deepens its artificial intelligence push. 

The Pixel Watch’s growing pains

Google Pixel Watch

The Pixel Watch inherits a lot of Fitbit features. 

James Martin/CNET

While Google figures out the Pixel Watch‘s long-term direction, there are several near-term fixes it could make to push the Pixel Watch forward. 

Longer battery life is at the top of my list. To be fair, Google isn’t alone in this regard; Apple’s and Samsung’s respective flagship smartwatches typically last only one to two days on a single charge. This may be satisfactory if you plan on charging your watch overnight, but it makes it difficult to regularly track sleep.

Though I’ve praised the Pixel Watch’s sleek, pebble-like design, its black bezel is still too noticeable on certain backgrounds — particularly colorful ones like the Photos watch face. This can distract from the Pixel Watch’s otherwise stellar design.

For its price, the Pixel Watch should also offer all the same health features as the Fitbit Sense 2. Compared with the Sense 2, the Pixel Watch lacks alerts for an irregular heart rate, notifications for high and low heart rate, and temperature-sensing. The Pixel Watch also can’t automatically detect and start a workout on your wrist. 

I understand that Google needs to make some compromises to distinguish the Sense 2 from the Pixel Watch. But Google already does that well enough with the Pixel Watch’s more premium design and additional smartphone companion features, such as its Google Play Store support. 

When it comes to the consumer electronics market, Google is in a unique position. It has to balance differentiating its own Pixel products with improving the entire Android ecosystem — including Android gadgets made by companies it competes with, like Samsung. Google is fighting two battles: Android versus iPhone, and Pixel versus everyone else. And sometimes that shows in its products. 


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