If you’ve noticed that the Apple Watch on your wrist has been looking over its shoulder lately, it could be because there’s a new kid on the smartwatch block gunning for it. Sort of.
Technically speaking, the Pixel Watch ($349, $399 with LTE), which comes out Thursday, Oct 13, is Google’s first-ever smartwatch. But the platform giant is not starting from scratch. Far from it.
Google has been building and maintaining a smartwatch operating system since 2014, the year before Apple unveiled the first Apple Watch. The platform, now called Wear OS by Google, undergirds smartwatches from other electronics makers like Fossil and Samsung.
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So all the smartwatch-y stuff – like email and calendar notifications, voice assistance, electronic wallet, music storage and control – is already pretty well dialed in.
Beyond smartwatch chops, though, what really sets the Pixel Watch apart is Fitbit. Tried-and-true health, fitness and wellness features from the fitness tracking pioneer, which Google bought nearly two years ago, are built in. Of course, it all works with Fitbit’s popular app.
I’ve been testing the Pixel Watch for a week now, and I like it. The domed display is bright and attractive, as advertised. It has the feel of a true premium device, something that’s been absent from the Fitbit lineup.
And yet, the Pixel Watch is lacking some of the advanced health and wellness features that premium-priced devices like the Apple Watch Series 8, Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 and even Fitbit’s own Sense 2 – which was released late last month and costs less than the Pixel Watch – include.
Like the others, for example, the Pixel Watch can perform an ECG test. But it does not have the ability to monitor your heartrate for signs of irregular beats and prompt you to take an ECG. And it doesn’t monitor blood oxygen (SpO2) or skin temperature, two wellness features that are now commonplace on other premium devices.
Like the Apple Watch Series 8, the Pixel Watch does include fall detection and SOS capabilities. Battery life is, well, as good as Apple’s. In my testing, both the Pixel Watch and the Series 8 last about a day between charges, and they both take about the same amount of time to charge.
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A single day’s worth of battery life is pretty paltry for a Fitbit device, though. The Sense 2 promises six days between charges. I’ve been getting seven.
But the Pixel Watch only works with Android smartphones. Some Wear OS watches do work with the iPhone, and so do Fitbit-branded wearables. So that may not always be true., but it is now.
To see if the Pixel Watch received preferential treatment from Google smartphones, I paired it with both the Pixel 7 Pro, which debuts tomorrow along with the watch and the Pixel 7, and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4. I haven’t noticed any difference.
The built-in LTE has worked well, which means that you can text, take and make calls, stream music – anything that requires a connection. The watch does work as well with YouTube Music as it does with Spotify, which is something I haven’t seen before.
The Pixel Watch only comes in one size. I wish Google also offered a larger 45mm option as Apple and Samsung do, but that’s just a personal preference.
Indeed, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very nice premium watch. Yes, there are some obvious areas for improvement that I expect will be addressed next time.
But don’t forget, the Pixel Watch is also priced below the Apple Watch. And it is, after all, the new kid on the smartwatch block.
USA TODAY columnist Mike Feibus is president and principal analyst of FeibusTech, a Scottsdale, Arizona, market research and consulting firm. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeFeibus.