Skip to main content

Pixel Watch hands-on: Google’s taking a page from Apple

Pixel Watch hands-on: Google’s taking a page from Apple


It’s not a bad idea for Google to copy what works for its competitors when it’s playing catch-up

Share this story

I’ll admit it: the Pixel Watch didn’t look all that impressive in official renders. It was a circular watch with a digital crown. Big whoop — it’s not like we haven’t seen smartwatches with a similar vibe before. But those renders don’t really do the Pixel Watch justice. In person, it’s actually a lot more impressive.

Looking at the Pixel Watch, it really does feel like Google decided to give some folks the circular Apple Watch they’ve been clamoring for. It’s got the curved glass display, a minimalist and techy feel, a digital crown, and a flat side button. Those elements aren’t unique to Apple Watches, but they serve similar functions here. That said, even with the Apple-esque design, it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb when you put it next to the Buds and Pixel 7. It very much feels like it fits within the Pixel family.

The new Wear OS 3.5 UI also feels like it’s taken some cues from Apple’s watchOS. For instance, pressing the side button brings up your most recent apps. You use the digital crown in a similar manner, too. It’s also almost exactly the same as the Fitbit Sense 2. In any case, the Pixel Watch feels like a distinct departure from what Samsung’s doing in this space in terms of both UI and design.

Close up of band switching mechanism.
The band mechanism on the Pixel Watch might take some getting used to. It is very subtle however.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Having used almost every iteration of Android Wear and then Wear OS, this is the best wearable interface Google’s ever put out. The bar was low, but I’m still glad it’s been cleared.

I wasn’t expecting the Pixel Watch to be a relatively small 41mm, especially since the watch only comes in one size. The trend this fall has been for smartwatch makers to go big: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 Pro only comes in one size, and that’s a larger, heavier 45mm. For whatever reason, I’d assumed the renders were showing me a 44–45mm watch... because everyone’s been doing it. Given that, a smaller, lightweight, and comfy watch is a pleasant surprise. It’s positively tiny next to the comically large 49mm Apple Watch Ultra on my wrist. And while I appreciate that larger displays mean better readability, the resolution was still sharp, and it’s nice to see the Pixel Watch doesn’t leave out petite people.

Apple Watch Ultra and Pixel Watch side by side
The Pixel Watch is positively tiny next to the Apple Watch Ultra. Great for petite wrists.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge
The Pixel Watch with a sporty band on its side, digital crown facing up.
The curved, domed display helps to hide the sizeable bezels.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

If you look at the Pixel Watch dead-on, you’ll see noticeable bezels on the display (which is a shame since there are no sensors in the bezels, so it’s wasted space). That said, the domed display also works a bit of optical magic so that they don’t look super egregious. And since most of the watchfaces use a dark background, you really have to be looking for them. If you’re just glancing at your wrist, it’s not going to jump out at you. But while the domed display does wonders for hiding bezels, I’m a bit wary from a durability standpoint. I can totally see this bumping and knocking into corners and furniture. This isn’t sapphire crystal, so we’ll have to see how easily the Pixel Watch display scratches over time.

Pixel Watch with leather straps
The faux lugs on the leather strap elevate the look quite a bit.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

There won’t be any third-party Pixel Watch bands at launch — so you’re basically stuck with what Google’s offering until other manufacturers can come out with their own versions. The way you attach the bands is certainly unique to the Pixel Watch. You snap them in via the side instead of underneath like most smartwatches. It really took me a hot second to get used to the mechanism. The button for the bands is also super subtle, so you might not notice it at all. It’s supposed to feel like a camera lens, and it sort of does! I could see this being a bit of a learning curve for folks.

But it was surprising to see how much you can change the vibe of the watch using different bands. The sportier bands attach directly, but the more stylish lifestyle bands add a faux lug. That helps give the Pixel Watch a fancier feel for more formal occasions.

A variety of Pixel Watch bands side by side in a clear tray
Some of the sportier bands.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

While I’ve only flipped through a few screens on demo units, performance seems snappy so far. I was a smidge worried when it turned out that these watches were, in fact, using a last-gen processor. However, I’m optimistic about the 2GB of RAM and the co-processor perhaps making up for that. We’ll have to see in further testing, especially with regard to the battery.

The Pixel Watch is available for preorder starting today and is expected to hit shelves starting October 13th. We’ll be putting the Pixel Watch through its paces in the meantime, so keep your eyes peeled for our review.