- Battery life is improved
- Excellent HR tracking
- Design is still one of the best around
- Battery still not perfect
- Still no larger case size option
- Many insights require Fitbit Premium
A year on from the debut of the original Pixel Watch, Google is back for round two. And given that this isn’t exactly a company renowned for its commitment to projects, it’s perhaps fair to even celebrate the very existence of the Pixel Watch 2.
But Google still has plenty to prove. After dropping a battery life clanger last year, the pressure is on this second-gen smartwatch to prove it can even last a full day on the wrist. Because if it can do that, we have a top smartwatch for Android on our hands.
Yet, much of what we saw with the first-gen Pixel Watch remains here, including, concerningly, the same 24-hour battery life estimation. And that’s what makes the change from Samsung’s Exynos chip to the Qualcomm Snapdragon W5+ platform crucial, as does the updated multi-path optical heart rate sensor.
Following a couple of weeks of testing, it's clear that things still aren’t perfect here, but the Pixel Watch 2 does get Google’s smartwatch line on the right track. Let’s explore.
Price and competition
As with the original, the Pixel Watch 2 begins at $349/£349, with the LTE edition adding $50/£50 onto that total.
And while it’s healthy that Google hasn’t raised the price here for the second-gen model, it is also important to put this price in context.
At least in the case of Samsung’s devices, there’s also much more choice relating to case sizes, which we’ll come onto more below.
There is also, obviously, the Apple Watch Series 9 which starts at $399/£399. But given that the Pixel Watch 2 will only work with Android phones - like other Wear OS watches - we see its main competition being within the family (for now).
Design and screen
When put side by side with last year’s model, the differences possessed by the Pixel Watch 2 are barely recognizable.
The signature domed case shape remains, as does the display housed inside. That means you’re still limited to a 1.2-inch, 450 x 450-pixel screen that Google hasn’t pushed any closer toward the edge of the case. Though, with a mostly black-background operating system, this is barely ever noticeable.
As we noted last year, our only real problem with the Pixel Watch design is that the case is just slightly too little for our own taste. Even though we only really have medium-sized wrists, as shown above, 41mm is very much on the small side for modern smartwatches.
It’s essentially the reverse of the more common smartwatch case sizing problem, where the only model offered is around 45mm, and therefore probably too big for those with small or medium wrists.
So, again, we really feel like it’s a misstep from Google not to give people the choice, as we see with Samsung and Apple’s devices every year.
Aside from this, there are a couple of positive tweaks.
Google has shifted away from stainless steel to recycled aluminum, which, while technically less premium, is essentially impossible to spot.
What you do notice, however, is that this change makes it friendlier to wear during exercise.
We felt that we really had to tighten last year’s model to our wrist during runs to avoid it sliding about, but this sits much happier at a normal level of tightness. It's just a shame there's no price reduction to sweeten this further.
And, if you look on the rear, you can also spot the new multi-path optical heart rate sensor (more on this later) and the crown sitting much flusher to the case, which speaks to Google’s closer attention to detail this time around. Aside from the case size issue, it's a design we think is one of the very best.
Features and Wear OS
After Wear OS 4 debuted on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 devices earlier this year, the latest version of Google’s smartwatch operating system now arrives on the Pixel Watch 2.
The update may be much less dramatic than the jump from Wear OS 2 to Wear OS 3, but Google’s efforts continue to deliver superb results here. As we mentioned last year, it’s now much more on par with Apple’s watchOS in overall feel and continuity between devices, and the move to Snapdragon W5+ ensures things like swipeable glances and navigation remain incredibly smooth.
Wear OS 4 on the Pixel Watch 2 even manages to beat Apple in the app department, with dedicated options for its own services - Assistant, Home, Maps, Wallet, and Calendar - alongside actual WhatsApp integration.
There’s still room for other big hitters, too, such as Spotify and Komoot, with all of these being presented as sharply as ever, and without any bugginess that plagued earlier versions of Wear OS.
With Google still exclusively reserving Fitbit integration to the Pixel Watch, as well, it begins to really hold a strong set of cards.
Fitbit Today still gives you a live look at all your key stats, while Fitbit Exercise remains your portal for jumping into tracked workouts. Things are now even better on that front, as well, with automatic exercise detection added - something we’ve found very reliable for activities like walks.
Your hub away from the watch is still the Fitbit app, which, with recent refinements, is one we place alongside Whoop and Oura as the best examples of how to present both trends and historical data.
Google has also upped its safety features with the Pixel Watch 2, adding to the emergency SOS feature and fall detection support that was added following the original watch’s release.
This time, there’s 'Safety Check' and 'Safety Signal'.
The former is a really helpful and smart addition, allowing you to set a timer that will notify chosen contacts if it expires before you check in - providing, of course, you have an internet connection (or the LTE edition of the Pixel Watch 2 and a cellular plan).
For those who always text friends, family, or partners that they’re home safe after being out, Safety Check is a great alternative - and also very considered. You can choose from a list of activities while setting up a timer, and even have the choice to send your location discreetly before the timer finishes, should anything look dicey.
Things are a bit more narrowly supported for Safety Signal, which allows you to make use of safety features like emergency calling and location sharing even if you don’t have a cellular plan. This not only requires the LTE version of the watch, but also a Fitbit Premium subscription.
While that’s a little disappointing, we do still applaud what Google has done here - and also for the fact that Safety Check will be coming to Pixel Watch 1 owners when they update to Wear OS 4.
Sports and fitness tracking
As we’ve already touched on, there are the odd improvements to the fitness tracking experience on the Pixel Watch, which is all still provided by Fitbit.
The big story here, though, is that revamped multi-path optical heart rate sensor.
As we’ve seen with the Fitbit Charge 6, the tech has been upgraded with Google-powered AI and machine learning, and the company indicates that tracking accuracy during more strenuous workouts should be increased.
One of our big gripes with the original Pixel Watch was that it consistently avoided reporting higher heart rate figures, so we’ve been very keen to test this out. And the initial results are encouraging.
Heart rate monitoring
We’ve tested the heart rate sensor against a Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2), which features Garmin’s latest optical heart rate tech, and the ever-reliable Wahoo Tickr X chest strap, and the Pixel Watch matches up incredibly well.
In four runs against one another, the three devices were never separated by more than a combined total of 1 BPM in the final average HR.
That’s pretty incredible - and rare - especially when you consider that a couple of these runs were interval workouts, like the one shown below. In real-time, the Pixel Watch 2 also responds very quickly - just like Garmin’s Elevate V5 sensor and the chest strap.
In a couple of cases, it actually managed to register a session’s maximum HR more in line with the chest strap than the Garmin, though we would say it still errs very slightly on the side of underreporting effort overall.
Our only real gripe with the heart rate monitoring is the HR zones setup on Fitbit, which places any of our effort between the incredibly wide range of 139BPM -172BPM as ‘vigorous’ and under the blanket tag of ‘Cardio’.
Setting up a custom zone can help with this - and we did, just so we could keep an eye on our range during some Zone 2 running - but this doesn’t appear post-workout, so it’s relatively pointless.
These very general labels of your effort are ultimately just used to feed Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes measurement, too, which we still find pretty impenetrable.
We understand how Active Zone Minutes might be solid for beginners and intermediates who just want to make sure they’re in that ‘Cardio’ zone, but, for us, it’s just too general to glean anything meaningful from.
GPS tracking accuracy
The Pixel Watch 2 features the same GPS architecture as the original, and we found that it was once again pretty reliable during our test runs.
It does have a tendency to deviate a little from our gold standard - the Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2)’s All Systems + Multi-Band mode shown above (right) - but it’s never enough to get concerned about.
In our test runs, there were two occasions in which the Pixel Watch 2 was within 0.02 miles of the Garmin over five miles - impressive - while a four-mile run was overreported by 0.1 miles and an eight-mile run was overreported by 0.15 miles.
The GPS worm within the Fitbit app (left) confirms that this isn’t the most reliable routing, but it’s absolutely enough to get by with - and the theme of slightly overreporting is at least consistent.
As ever, we think Fitbit does a great job of delivering the core insights. Calorie burn estimates are consistent with our baselines and well presented, while steps are also always in the same ballpark as our other test trackers.
Despite having solid tracking tools with its HR and GPS performance, though, the feedback is still quite basic or generalized (in the case of something like Active Zone Minutes).
Meanwhile, some of the more advanced insights, like VO2 Max (though right in line with Garmin), are hidden deep within the app.
This isn’t totally unexpected, obviously - Fitbit tracking has always been more about serving the masses than prosumers - but it is also starting to get left behind in some areas.
Apple has recently begun to offer the likes of vertical oscillation, cadence, and ground contact time for runners, as well as deeper insights for cyclists, and Samsung is delivering much of the same in the Galaxy Watch 6.
So while the Pixel Watch 2 is a superb fitness tracker, it’s not necessarily the device that we would recommend as the top Wear OS device for runners or other exercisers.
You also still have to consider the fact that features like Daily Readiness are behind the paywall of Fitbit Premium.
The revamped optical sensor isn’t the only element that Google has tinkered with, as the Pixel Watch 2 also borrows the continuous electrodermal activity sensor (cEDA) from Fitbit’s more premium trackers to help track stress.
The skin temperature sensor is also new, with its findings shown within the Fitbit Health Metric dashboard.
This hub now feels both very complete and akin to what you’ll find on Whoop, where your heart rate variability (HRV), SpO2, breathing rate, and resting heart rate are displayed alongside changes to your skin temperature.
It’s a quick and easy way to check in on your baselines, as well as wider trends for each of these, and the accuracy was generally very aligned with our Oura and Whoop.
The only metric that seems slightly out of sync here is HRV, with our seven-day range on Oura being 75-96ms and, on Whoop, 74-88ms. On the Pixel Watch, this was instead 59-69ms. These can sometimes even out after a few weeks of wear, but it’s something to keep in mind nonetheless.
We should also note that Fitbit/Google does track resting heart rate a little differently to both of these other devices, and instead takes your lowest heart rate reading from an inactive, awake state. Often, others will take this from your lowest reading during sleep, which is why the Pixel Watch 2’s figure is the highest out of our worn devices.
All in all, then, it’s accurate enough to use for daily check-ins. But what about the stress tracking?
Well, as with Fitbit trackers offering this proactive mood logging, our time with it has been a little mixed.
Sometimes it’s able to accurately capture a stressful spike from 10 minutes ago - like a stressful drive or phone call - and leave us impressed. On other occasions, though, and sometimes for most of the day, it doesn’t really track anything.
Maybe we’re just excellent at managing our stress levels, but this doesn’t really feel true to our body’s response - and it does nothing to help us build up an accurate picture of our day. And the mood logging, we think, is just a bit too generic for you to really reflect properly on what’s happened.
Ultimately, however, the goal here is to help you become a bit more aware of your body and regulate your mood in the moment, and we think the Pixel Watch 2 does do a better job of this than probably any other smartwatch, despite its imperfections.
Personally, we prefer the more passive approach of Whoop and Garmin, which simply log in the background and give your day a low-high stress rating or score, but the Pixel Watch 2 certainly looks out for you more than other devices.
And combined with those new health insights, it does begin to build up a strong case as one of the top wellness watches on the market.
It also hasn’t fallen foul of ecosystem locking yet, like Samsung, whose latest Galaxy Watch models require you to also own a Samsung phone to access certain health features.
There is obviously Fitbit Premium, which affects your ability to tap into wellness reports and stress management scores, but there aren't really any features exclusive to Pixel phones - yet, anyway.
One area in which Fitbit has always been close to the top is sleep tracking - and, as we found with last year’s model, the Pixel Watch 2 is among the very best on the market.
The consistency is right alongside Oura, from our testing. While devices from the likes of Garmin are good, they do still suffer the odd hiccup - be that registering a nap when you’re just sat on the couch, or being unable to detect awake periods during the night. That just doesn’t happen with the Pixel Watch 2.
Time in bed, falling asleep times, and wake-up detection are all in close agreement with Oura, and everything is presented, once again, really nicely both within the Fitbit app and on-watch.
As shown in the example above, even sleep stages - not something we put major stock into, given the fact that accuracy is essentially impossible to achieve from the wrist - generally line up with other devices, while a 3 a.m. trip to the bathroom was logged perfectly.
The only downside to Fitbit’s sleep tracking is that it's another thing that requires a Premium subscription to get the very most out of. Features like sleeping heart rate, restlessness, and sleep profile trends are all locked, though you still get sleep scores and estimated oxygen variation graphs (SpO2).
And given that Oura also requires a subscription, we won’t criticize Fitbit too much here. The fact remains, however, that owning one of the industry's very best sleep trackers will add another subscription to your life.
After so badly letting down the debut Pixel Watch, battery life was the absolute must-fix issue for Google with this second go-around. And we’re pleased to say it's done so - kind of.
In every day I've worn the Pixel Watch 2, it’s been able to meet or surpass Google’s own 24-hour battery life claim, and this mercifully now means it can survive an actual day in the wild.
For our test period, we enabled the always-on display for the duration, tracked 1-2 hours of outdoor exercise per day, and enabled Bedtime Mode for sleeping hours. Naturally, we also dealt with incoming notifications throughout the day, as well as fooled around in some apps and checked our stats. Fairly typical stuff.
We found that around 10-20% is sapped during sleep tracking, and roughly the same amount is used up per hour of outdoor GPS tracking. The rest is then left for you to do with as you please - but, even still, the equation here isn’t totally ideal.
Like with the core Apple Watch devices, which have an ‘all-day’ battery life of 18 hours, the Pixel Watch’s similar estimation just isn’t really enough to alleviate anxiety about it running flat. Ultimately, this is still very much a watch you have to worry about.
Will it make it through the night with 20%? Can I squeeze in a workout with 16% if I don’t use my headphones? If I stick it on charge for 10 minutes will that be enough to get me through the rest of the day?
These are daily questions with the Pixel Watch 2. And while the answer is generally a more positive one than with the original watch, we’d love to see the 24-30 hour battery stretch to the multi-day offering from Mobvoi's TicWatch Pro 5.
We should also say that it’s not exactly the most consistent battery - at least in our brief experience.
Sometimes we were only just about able to make it last 24 hours, and other days we went into Bedtime Mode around 30%, even if not much was really different about our day. This, again, makes it difficult to predict how to use the device.
Luckily, the charging times have been massively upgraded this year, and you can bump the Pixel Watch 2 up from roughly 20% to a full charge in 40-50 mins. If you’re going from zero, it generally takes just over an hour.
So, it’s far from perfect, but you can at least work with what Google gives you now. And given that Samsung has just delivered two watches with very similar battery life, the Pixel Watch 2 is by no means an outlier in Wear OS terms.
Should you buy it?
The Google Pixel Watch 2 rights many of the wrongs of its predecessor, bringing battery life up to a respectable level and delivering superb performance in areas like heart rate monitoring.
Some sections of Fitbit's fitness tracking do lag behind rivals, but the wider experience is still outstanding if you're a general user. And it not only continues to boast arguably the best smartwatch sleep tracking, but is also now a top health and wellness tracker with the additions of a cEDA and skin temperature.
We don't think the Pixel Watch 2 is complete enough to really scare Apple, but we do think it's a legitimate alternative to the latest devices from Samsung and Mobvoi. And that also means Google has set itself up to really blow the doors off rivals with the Pixel Watch 3.
Google Pixel Watch 2 key specs
|Specs||Google Pixel Watch 2|
|OS||Wear OS 4|
|Processor||Snapdragon Wear W5+|
|Screen tech||Super AMOLED|
|Battery life||24 hours|
How we test