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Google Pixel Watch 2 review: Small changes, big difference

Google Pixel Watch 2 review
Our Rating :
$299.99 from
£349.00 from
Price when reviewed : 439
(inc VAT)

The Pixel Watch 2 doesn’t look that different on the surface, but it’s now the smartwatch that last year’s model should have been

Pros

  • Stylish design
  • Now with a modern chipset
  • Safety features are excellent

Cons

  • Still expensive
  • Battery life is improved, but still not great
  • Fitbit Premium paywalls some stats

As is often the case with second-generation products, the Pixel Watch 2 is very much the wearable that the original Pixel Watch should have been. Which isn’t to say it’s all that different. In terms of looks, you would have to be an expert at ‘spot the difference’ to tell which is which, even with one on each wrist.

But with one big hardware change, the Pixel Watch 2 is a far easier smartwatch to endorse than its predecessor. Of course, that’s a bitter pill to swallow for those who stumped up £339 for Google’s first attempt just one year ago.


Pixel Watch 2 review: What you need to know

That hardware change is a simple one. Out goes the ancient Exynos 9110 chipset – four years old on the Pixel Watch’s release day in 2022 – and in its place comes the Qualcomm SW5100, which is only a year old.

Not only is it faster, but the 4nm chipset is also much more energy efficient than its 10nm predecessor, which goes some way to tackling the smartwatch’s terrible battery life. The slightly larger battery (306mAh vs 294mAh) and faster charging also help on that score. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

There are two other big changes. The first is the introduction of an all-new sensor: the continuous electrodermal activity (cEDA) sensor. This will be familiar to Fitbit Sense 2 owners, and is a way of estimating stress by examining stress, heart rate and heart rate variability. The second are some thoughtful safety features that could well save your life.

Finally, though it looks pretty much the same, the shell is now aluminium instead of stainless steel. In other words, Google is sacrificing a little bit of premium sheen for comfort – it’s five grams lighter on the wrist. And once again, it’s Android only. iPhone users need not apply.

Pixel Watch 2 review: Price and competition

As with last time, Google has only produced the Pixel Watch 2 in a single size: 41mm. The only choices you get are the colour (silver, black or champagne gold) and whether or not you want cellular support. You’re looking at £349 if you’re happy with just Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, or £399 if you want 4G built-in.

The Pixel Watch 2 comes with a free six-month trial of Fitbit Premium, which enables some extra fitness data. After the trial expires, it’s £7.99/mth if you want to continue it. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

What are the alternatives? Well, there’s the Fitbit Sense 2 if you care more about fitness and wellness than watch smarts. It doesn’t run Wear OS and feels a bit more limited, but it’s a stylish and competent fitness tracker, which now sells well below its original £269 launch price.

Alternatively, if you’re really into hardcore fitness and like nerdily pouring over stats, then Garmin should be your first port of call. The Garmin Venu 2 Plus straddles the gap between running watch and smartwatch quite well, and is yours for around £385.

Finally, if you just want an excellent Wear OS smartwatch, but don’t want to pay Google prices, then it’s hard to go wrong with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6, which starts at £289. Note that you can safely save a few quid by going for an earlier model, given the difference between smartwatch generations tend to be small (the Galaxy Watch 4, for example, can be had for under £150).


Pixel Watch 2 review: Design, wellness and safety

To be clear, the lack of originality in design isn’t a problem. The Apple Watch has barely changed in nearly a decade after all, and in any case the Pixel Watch is arguably the best looking smartwatch out there, with its minimalist, domed, round face and handsome crown for non-touch navigation.

While its style is to a certain extent smoke and mirrors (you see just how thick the bezel is when you scroll through notifications, but it’s hidden almost all the time by a black background), it’s a great looking watch with its bright and vibrant 450 x 450 OLED display. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

It’s comfortable to boot. I’m personally not a fan of straps where you have to thread one part through itself, but this is about the best example I’ve seen. And if it’s not to your taste, you can always replace it with something better, although it has to use Google’s proprietary locks, which limits your options a bit.

In terms of new features, the most interesting one is Safety Check which is a genuinely brilliant idea and could save lives.

It works like this: if you’re doing something that feels particularly dicey – like going for a run in the middle of nowhere, or walking home alone after a night out – you simply start Safety Check, set a timer for how long it will take you and assign a designated set of emergency contacts. At the end of the timer, the Pixel Watch 2 will ask you to check in to confirm your safety. If you don’t, an SOS message with your location will be broadcast to your emergency contacts for them to send help. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

It’s a great feature. It’s easy to use and it seemed to work well on a (thankfully uneventful) test run I went on. The only reason I’m not making a bigger deal out of it is because it’s rolling out to first-generation Pixel Watches now, so there’s no need to upgrade for it.

The cEDA sensor for measuring stress, however, is a hardware upgrade that can’t be patched in. It is nice to have, but I’ve always been a bit sceptical about such sensors’ utility. If you don’t realise you’re stressed, perhaps you’re not stressed enough for it to be a problem?

Nonetheless, it pops up occasionally telling you it has detected the tell-tale signs of stress, and asking whether you would like to log your mood. While you might find this useful, or a good excuse to do a breathing exercise or two, some of these alerts have been completely baffling to me, and actually a touch annoying as a result. I’m hopeful that it’s just taking a while to calibrate itself to my body’s rhythm – if not, it’s sadly just not that useful.

Still, it’s another string to the Pixel Watch’s fitness bow, and the Fitbit integration is, once again, very well done. Your steps, heart rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature, oxygen saturation, resting heart rate, exercises and sleep are all diligently tracked and plotted in the Fitbit app and presented in a nice, easy-to-understand manner.

Once again, unfortunately, certain elements are paywalled behind Fitbit Premium, which will set you back £7.99/mth once the six-month trial included with every Pixel Watch 2 expires. The full details of what you miss without a subscription are available here, but the main omissions are Daily Readiness Score – which tells you whether to go for it or rest – audio and video workouts, wellness reports and deeper sleep insights.

Most of that’s disappointing, but reasonable – however there’s one unforgivable exception, given it concerns safety. Safety Signal is a new Pixel Watch 2 feature on the LTE model that allows you to use emergency features like SOS and location sharing even without your phone nearby. But it needs Fitbit Premium, which feels extremely disappointing for those who already stumped up an extra £50 for the cellular version of the watch.


Pixel Watch 2 review: Performance and battery life

The big, welcome upgrade to the Pixel Watch 2 is the introduction of the Snapdragon SW5100 chipset in place of the ageing Exynos 9110. It’s a triumph: the watch is smooth and zippy in operation, and it really helps Wear OS 4 shine.

While once feeling a little half baked, Wear OS has matured into an operating system that’s pretty nice to use, with Google apps integrated into the heart of the Pixel Watch 2. The latest addition is Google Calendar, though this has also just landed on the original Pixel Watch along with Safety Check, and it’s pleasingly well adapted to the small screen, just as Google Maps and Google Wallet were before.

Where Google has led, others have followed, and there’s now an impressive selection of Wear OS apps from the likes of Spotify, Audible and WhatsApp – the latter of which isn’t yet supported by the Apple Watch, in something of a coup for Google. For WhatsApp, and anything else that requires keyboard input, the Pixel Watch 2’s microphone voice detection works better than the swipe-gesture keyboard, though the latter is usable in a pinch. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

While you can download any number of fitness apps for on-device tracking, Fitbit is integrated, so it makes sense to use it. And it works pretty well, with a decent number of pleasantly readable metrics on the screen: distance, time, heart rate and pace for runners, with more visible via a swipe to the left. Other exercises are supported, from paddleboarding to spinning, but usefulness definitely deteriorates if the GPS isn’t involved (same as with any fitness tracker).

As for accuracy, it felt pretty good to me. Over a handful of 5km runs, the Pixel Watch kept pretty close to the Garmin Forerunner 245 on my other wrist, which has proved accurate on measured races in the past. It wasn’t a direct match, tracking between 0.05 and 0.1km further than the Garmin, but not enough to trigger a Pixel Watch 2 stress prompt over.

When compared to a chest strap connected to the Garmin, the Pixel Watch 2’s built-in heart-rate sensor proved pretty impressive as well. The two tracked pretty closely over the durations of the measured runs, with the same peaks and troughs. Even the overall averages were pretty close, with the Pixel Watch 2 giving me just 2-3bpm less than the chest strap’s calculated average. Google Pixel Watch 2 review

And what about battery life, the original Pixel Watch’s Achilles Heel? It’s definitely better. You’re able to get a day with the watch between charges, even with exercises and the always-on display switched on. For some, that still won’t feel particularly great, but it’s a huge step in the right direction, and brings Google in line with Apple, which is a clear win.


Pixel Watch 2 review: Verdict

The Pixel Watch 2 is a solid improvement. It looks extremely stylish, Wear OS 4 works zippily and it feels very comfortable indeed. The new safety features are extremely welcome, and while I don’t think a cEDA sensor is all that helpful, it’s certainly nice to have. Battery life has now reached what I would call the bare minimum for a smartwatch, too, though your stamina standards may be higher than mine.

But even if that works for you, the Pixel Watch 2 remains prohibitively expensive for a wearable. Starting at £349, it’s £60 more than the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 which also runs Wear OS 4 and has many of the same qualities. With such little difference between generations, you could save even more and go for a Galaxy Watch 4 for less than half the price – it’s been updated to Wear OS 4 too.

If you do stump up the cash for a Pixel Watch 2, you won’t regret it, though. It’s the smartwatch Google should have released this time last year, and I suspect the company is kicking itself for not holding off and making the brilliant first impression it should have.

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