Preface: I will not mention Apple’s wearable in this post. Comparing the Apple Watch to the Pixel Watch or any WearOS device seems futile, in my opinion. I’m not saying that there isn’t a WearOS device on the market worthy of competing against Apple’s smart watch but let’s be honest, it’s “apples” and oranges. It would be one thing if I were trying to convince someone to migrate to a new ecosystem but we don’t cover Apple products and I, for one, have zero real-world experience with the Apple Watch. Now, let’s talk about that Pixel Watch.
Okay, let’s go. If you’ve been around here long enough, you are probably aware that I’m a watch guy. It happened just a few years ago. Once upon a time, I owned a Bulova Millennia and while it wasn’t a Rolex, it certainly wasn’t cheap. Well, someone had the nerve to swipe that watch and after that, I gave up on the watch scene. After not wearing or owning a watch for more than two decades, I decided to get my feet wet and get a starter watch collection going. At that time, I was 100% analog. I joined Watch Gang and purchased a snazzy leather-wrapped case to store and display my shiny new timepieces. Today, I have a modest dozen and a half pieces in my collection. Some of them are pricey, others are simply nice, affordable watches for various occasions.
Being a tech blogger, it only made sense that I bring some smartwatches into the fold. So, over the past couple of years, I have reviewed and even purchased a handful of WearOS devices. It all started back in 2019 when I got my hands on the first-gen TicWatch Pro from Mobvoi. While there was a lot to like about that watch, the overall WearOS experience was still too rough around the edges to make me a believer. Thereafter, I tinkered with a few WearOS models from Fossil and Motorola but failed to find a watch that really felt at home on my wrist.
Hello, TicWatch Pro 3
Fast forward to 2020 and I was able to get my hands on the updated TicWatch Pro 3 GPS from Mobvoi. Powered by the newer and much-improved Qualcomm Snapdragon 4100 and 1GB of RAM, the TicWatch Pro 3 GPS was the first-ever wearable experience that actually had me wanting to don a smartwatch. Still, as good as the TicWatch was, it left me wanting a little more. The watch was great. It was durable. Not too chunky and the UI ran pretty well considering the fact that Mobvoi runs its own skin overtop of WearOS. Also, it still felt more sporty than the type of watch that I prefer. Between the look and a few buggy experiences here and there, I still wasn’t totally sold on wearables. I wore my TicWatch from time to time and whenever I actually made it to the gym. Apart from that, it resided in my watch case.
After dismissing WearOS for more than a year, Google went and partnered up with Samsung to create the Galaxy Watch powered by a fusion of WearOS powered by Samsung. Whatever that means. Anyway, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 with its Exynos chip and hybrid UI was enough to rekindle my dampened desire to love WearOS. It didn’t hurt that T-Mobile was offering a free one when you added a new wearable line. So, with a new watch in hand, I set off with hopes of finally having a WearOS device with which I could fall in love.
Spoiler alert. I did not fall in love with the Galaxy Watch 4. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to like about Samsung’s wearable. My wife absolutely loves hers and I did wear mine regularly over the summer. I especially liked having it when I was on the golf course. My Galaxy Watch 4 has LTE which means that I could stow my phone away while I played and still get important notifications and calls directly to my watch while simultaneously tracking my steps for the round.
Still, I just couldn’t quite commit to saying that I love the Galaxy Watch 4. Granted, I did buy the smaller 40mm model that looks and feels a little too small on my wrist. Also, the all-black design and silicone band give me serious fitness tracker vibes and that’s just not my style. Now, I knew what I was getting when I picked up the Samsung so I really shouldn’t complain about the way it looks. That said, I do have some nits to pick with the user experience.
The Galaxy Watch 4 wasn’t just the first Galaxy Watch to sport WearOS, it was the first model to come powered by Samsung’s own Exynos SoC for wearables. Given Samsung’s experience in the wearable arena and the success of recent models, I fully expected the Watch 4 to knock my socks off with a WearOS experience like no other. Unfortunately, my expectations were set a little too high. The Galaxy Watch 4 is a solid wearable but it is by no means perfect. I found the UI to be frequently buggy with tiles freezing in mid-swipe and occasionally, the screen would lock up when trying to wake the display.
Then, there were the voicemail notifications. Whenever my watch would disconnect from my phone, I would get a voicemail notification on the watch. It happened every single time even if I didn’t have a voicemail. Dialing voicemail from the watch and clearing any new or saved messages didn’t remedy the issue. From what I understand, this little bug is exclusive to T-Mobile but still, it has yet to be fixed as far as I know. Whether it is a T-Mobile issue or a problem with the Samsung Watch, it’s a large enough annoyance that it made me not want to wear it and that’s a bad look for Samsung.
At the end of the day, Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 and 5 are still some of the best Android wearables on the market but the glitchy UI combined with the still maturing WearOS ecosystem left me once again disappointed. Honestly, I was just as happy with my TicWatch’s performance and it looked better on my wrist.
So… What now?
At this point, rumors had been long flying that Google was on the verge of announcing the company’s first-ever WearOS watch. Months passed with more rumors fueling the fire but it wasn’t until Rick Osterloh took the stage at Google I/O did we finally get confirmation that a Pixel Watch was definitely in our future. I will be the first to admit that I had already tempered my expectations for Google’s first WearOS attempt. Android smartwatches have consistently let me down and I had all but resolved the Galaxy Watch 4 would likely be my last WearOS device for the foreseeable future. While I remained skeptical, I still deeply hoped that Google would surprise us all and that the Pixel Watch would be the hero that WearOS needed.
That’s exactly what it is. Okay. Before you start bashing me, hear my case. I am well aware that the Pixel Watch has some shortcomings. Yes, the Fitbit integration could be a little better and the media playback for downloaded YouTube Music is still a bit convoluted. However, these are minor nits and honestly, Google can tweak/fix them with some simple software updates.
What else? Oh, yeah. The battery life. I’ll be the first to tell you, I have never expected 48 hours from any WearOS watch I’ve owned. Personally, I think that’s asking a lot for a device that can all but replace your phone. That said, I received a Pixel Watch at Google’s hardware event last month and I am firmly convinced that the battery life has improved over the past month. I take my Pixel Watch off the charger around 6:45 in the morning and when I take it off around 11:00 PM, I normally have around 30-40% of my battery remaining. That’s much better than some of the WearOS watches I’ve owned. It’s not a 2-day watch but as I said, I don’t expect it.
Next? I gotta be honest. I really have zero complaints about this watch. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Any hardware maker that isn’t looking to refine its products isn’t serious about pleasing its customers or making money. Is the Pixel Watch just another “meh” WearOS device? I will say with the utmost confidence, NO WAY. The fit and finish of this watch are absolutely top-notch. I would put it up against some of the nicest analog watches I own. Despite the small stature of the Pixel Watch, it still looks more prominent and definitely more stylish on my wrist than the Samsung ever did. The growing number of bands and accessories for the Pixel Watch gives buyers the ability to endlessly customize their WearOS experience.
I could go on and on about how much I love the Pixel Watch but it really boils down to just a few things. We’ve talked about the design but what about the UI? This is where the Pixel Watch really stunned me. I expected a well-made piece of hardware. The entire Pixel family of devices has always been beautifully and thoughtfully made. My fear was that the Pixel Watch’s 3-year-old SoC and WearOS were going to present a user experience similar to my previous encounters. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
From the moment we touched the demo units at the Google Event, I knew that this was going to be the smoothest, most enjoyable smartwatch experience I’ve ever had. Unboxing and setting up my own Pixel Watch simply reinforced those initial feelings as my Pixel Phone immediately prompted me to set up my Pixel Watch. Within minutes, my watch was up and running. I was even able to enable my T-Mobile wearable line directly from the watch without any extra steps or fuss. It couldn’t have been more simple. The UI is quick and smooth and despite all the scuttlebutt, I literally never notice the bezels. The Fitbit integration works flawlessly and I know, you don’t get the automatic workout-tracking but again, that’s a minor software nit not a shortcoming of the actual watch itself.
So, you’ve got a beautiful, premium smartwatch with tons of great options for bands and add-ons. The software is solid and runs better than any WearOS device I’ve ever owned. It works, as it should, seamlessly with Pixel phones. It’s priced competitively. Some may disagree but personally, I think this watch is worth $399. If you don’t, you’re in luck. The Pixel Watch will be going on sale for Black Friday. Anyway, I’ve worn this watch every day for the past month, and not once have I encountered a hiccup or bumped into anything that I would consider inferior to other WearOS watches on the market. Having said all that, there’s one more thing to point out. This is Google’s first swing at a WearOS watch. As a rule of thumb, first-gen devices are testbeds for tweaking software and discovering hardware shortcomings. The Pixel Watch doesn’t feel, in any way, like a first-generation smartwatch. For that, I believe Google deserves a ton of credit. I hope that consumers will see the Pixel Watch as a serious contender in the WearOS space and that will inspire Google to keep grinding to make the next version even better. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. See you next time.