James Cridland

Six hours with a Google Pixel Watch

I’ve had a Fossil Sport for some time now; and before that, a Huawei Watch and that square initial Android Wear watch thing. I rather like smart watches. And now that Google have, finally, decided to launch a smart watch, I felt I really ought to have one.

I bought the one in silver and grey, ordered it from the Google Store in Australia, and it arrived in the morning of Oct 12. The official launch is Oct 13; and Australia’s more than twelve hours ahead of the US, so I’ve got one before, well, anyone else is reviewing it.

Setting it up

First, congratulations to the Google Store (operated by Ingram in Australia) for the massive box they shipped the watch and leather band with.

Once I’d worked out what to do with an extraordinary amount of cardboard (read: “leave in the kitchen”), I got to unboxing the watch.

The Pixel Watch app was available on the Google Play store, so I went to download that, and tried to set up the watch. The Pixel Watch app looks like a redesigned copy of the Wear OS app (just with the new Material design turned up to 11).

As with Wear OS, then, setting up the watch is a lot of waiting around, and watching animations going round and round and round. And then it failedon “Checking for Google Account”, which made me a little fearful that it wouldn’t work correctly on a Google Account that used Advanced Protection. I tried again, and it worked OK. Not that good a first experience.

It comes with software build RWD9.220429.033.G1 on it. It updates, though, to RWD9.220429.053.G1 as soon as you get it connected. It takes an age to do so. It seemed to work faster on the charger.

The additional strap

Above, you can see the rubber strap that comes with the watch. Quite impressively, it comes with a “large” and “small” size, interchangeable, strap: I suspect one of the reasons is so you get comfortable with switching the strap so you buy another one.

I had ordered a leather strap (for $119 Australian) and it comes in a nice paper box.

It adds lugs on the side, and makes the watch look a little more “normal”, as you’ll see below.

The connector works really well, but is proprietary.

Using it

It doesn’t come with Google Fit: though you can, if you like, install the Google Fit app yourself if you want (but apparently it doesn’t work).

Instead, it comes with Fitbit, a company Google bought in January 2021. During the setup, it prompts you to download the Fitbit app.

The Fitbit app is, to put it politely, a dumpster fire. It doesn’t have Google sign-in, so you end up having to add a new login/password. It looks very different to Google’s apps on Android, especially during the signup procedure. This is definitely something bolted on without much thought.

The bezel

The pictures you’ve seen of the watch sometimes show more of a bezel than you’d think there would be. The bezel is not a problem. Believe me.

First, when you ‘activate’ the watch from the always-on view (either your wrist gesture or you tap the screen) then the watchface expands to fill the screen. Which means the normal view of the always-on screen is not filling the screen. It’s a pleasing effect, but the bezels are not a thing to worry about.

“But, James, how big are the bezels?”

Really and truly, there isn’t a problem with the bezels. Ordinarily, the glass pleasingly grabs the reflections from the lights in the room, and ensures they’re on the rounded sides of the watch, rather than over the screen. I’m not looking at this watch and thinking “but the bezels”.

Google Assistant and Google Home

On the Fossil Sport, Google Assistant took a long time to activate, was very very slow, and (when paired to a watch with an Australian locale) was entirely silent.

On this watch, Google Assistant is instant (just hold down the button). It’s fast at recognising you, appears to know how to do rather more things, and talks back as well.

“Turn on the outside light”, as one example, works fine.

The Google Home app isn’t installed by default, and when you do get it, it’s covered in “ALPHA” notices suggesting it might not work well. It’s a bit fiddly, but it works OK too.

Google Pay

I haven’t paid with the phone yet, but it was quick to add a card. My bank’s card wasn’t listed, and the first attempt to add it failed: I reported it to the bank I use, since I thought it was a bug their end. An hour later, I tried again, and it added the card fine. (Up Bank do a number of code updates per day: I’d like to think it was my bug report that fixed it, though it probably wasn’t.)

Tap the button twice, and your bank card appears instantly.

The overall look and feel

It feels nice on the wrist. The design of the hardware is very “Googly”, and feels a good complement to the Pixel 6 Pro that I’m using. I like the leather-type strap with the lugs. Physically, it feels really nice.

The feel of the UI is smooth and polished. The crown is lovely and soft-feeling as you turn it, and it gives barely-perceptible vibrations as you flick between different items. Everything is fast, responsive, smooth.

The defaults are wrong (in my view). “OK Google” is left on, so the watch is always listening out for the hotword (which I discovered in the video below), and that will have a negative impact on the battery and the speed of the system. And, always-on screen is turned off, so it only shows the watchface when you raise your arm. (I’ve turned it back on). That seems a very strange default to have set.

Edit: I also discover that there were 16 apps in Google Play on the watch waiting to be updated, including a Fitbit ECG app and plenty of other things. Why they’ve not updated is anyone’s guess, but they’re updating now.

But is it “better” than my old Fossil Sport?

For one, the charging is wireless (though it doesn’t charge on my phone’s wireless charger: it recognises it, but won’t charge). I gather it will charge from the Pixel 6 Pro, if I want it to, which I don’t. The Fossil Sport uses two metal circular charging rings which have a habit of coming unstuck.

But is it faster and slicker than the old Fossil Sport? I thought about running them side by side. Some things are, and some aren’t.

Worth it?

Is it an upgrade from the Fossil Sport? Not quite as obvious “yes” as I thought it would be.

Is it a decent, quality smart watch? Absolutely it is. If you’ve not had a WearOS watch before, and you’re on Android, this is well worth getting.