The $349.99 Pixel Watch 2 may not look too different from the outside, but under the hood, it’s another story. The second-gen smartwatch features a bevy of upgrades, including a new processor, an overhauled sensor array, added safety features, heart rate zone training, and Wear OS 4. Oh, and 24 hours of battery life — this time with the always-on display.
Thanks to a never-ending barrage of leaks, we knew what the Pixel Watch would look like going into today’s announcement at Made by Google. At a glance, the main difference is that the screen sits flush with the digital crown, where the original had a slight cutout. Another change imperceptible to the naked eye: the body is now made of 100 percent recycled aluminum instead of stainless steel. The result is a slightly lighter watch, but not by much. The Pixel Watch weighed 36 grams, while the Pixel Watch 2 is 31g. That’s a bit disappointing, considering the Watch 2’s price remains the same as last year.
We’re looking at the same 41mm case size and OLED display on top. But flip the watch over, and you’ll find a completely different sensor array. Instead of a single line of LEDs, there are now multiple LEDs and photodiodes to take measurements from several angles and positions. That then feeds into an algorithm that Fitbit CEO James Park says is 40 percent more accurate for vigorous activities.
“The goal of Pixel Watch 2 was really to bring the best of the Fitbit health and fitness experiences to the Pixel Watch,” Park tells The Verge. “The second was, in the areas that were important to users like heart rate, accuracy, and battery life, to make significant and meaningful improvements on that front.”
This year, Google also added a skin temperature and continuous electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor. Both help enable proactive stress tracking, which Fitbit introduced with its Sense 2. The EDA sensor detects minuscule amounts of sweat, which can help determine bodily stress when combined with metrics like heart rate variability, heart rate, and skin temperature. As with the Sense 2, you’re supposed to get a slightly delayed notification when a stressful event has been detected. You’re then encouraged to log how that event made you feel.
Battery life was a major pain point when the Pixel Watch first launched. Park acknowledges that you couldn’t use the always-on display on the first-gen watch if you wanted that 24-hour battery life. This time around, he says that the team has worked hard to make sure the Pixel Watch 2’s 306mAh battery can get 24 hours with the always-on display enabled. Users should also be able to get a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes and a full day’s worth in 75 minutes. Helping that should be Wear OS 4 — which Google says ought to extend battery life — and the new, more power-efficient Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 processor. (Speaking of Wear OS 4, Google says that, at first, it’ll be exclusive to Pixel Watch 2.)
Another gripe — the original Pixel Watch wasn’t great at automatically recording workouts. The second-gen watch will be able to automatically record workout starts and stops for seven activities, including running and outdoor cycling. The workout screen is also getting a makeover, so it’s more readable and displays more information. Users will also be able to do heart rate zone training that features voice and haptic feedback. There’ll be four personalized heart rate zones, though Fitbit told me you should be able to edit your maximum heart rate. Also new to the Pixel Watch 2 is a Pace Training mode.
As for smart features, Google’s doing something a bit interesting with a new Safety Check feature. Say you get into an Uber — you could set a timer for when you expect to arrive home. Once that time has passed, the Pixel Watch 2 will prompt you to confirm whether you’re alright. If you don’t respond, your real-time location will be shared with your emergency contacts. The neat thing is you don’t need to have an LTE plan, thanks to something Google calls Safety Signal. Each Pixel Watch 2 will have a separate eSIM so that you can get phone-free safety features, which will now come included in a Fitbit Premium subscription. (That said, you do need to have an LTE watch.)
Otherwise, the Pixel Watch 2 will include Google services like Gmail, Google Wallet, and Calendar. Google Assistant will also get new health and fitness queries so you can access your stats via voice. Each watch also comes with one month of YouTube Premium and six months of Fitbit Premium. Google is also introducing a handful of new watchfaces that draw from the Material You design language, along with a new “At a glance” complication that delivers contextual information about your day.
In person, the watches feel just like the original. It’s slightly lighter thanks to the aluminum, but I don’t think most people will really feel the difference. I did get to feel out the new Metal Slim band and perforated sports bands in person — they’re pretty much what you would expect but add some extra versatility. What I like about the perforated bands is that there’s a clear size difference between the holes. On the Apple Watch’s version, I sometimes end up securing the band to an “outside” hole, and it makes for an odd fit. That’s less likely to happen here.
I also got a few demos of the new exercise screens, stress tracking, and Safety Check. The exercise screens are larger and, in indoor lighting at least, easier to read. As for stress tracking, it’s very similar to what I saw on the Sense 2 — albeit with some new haptics and animations for breathing exercises. As for Safety Check, I dug what I saw, but I’ll have to try it out for myself under real conditions before making any judgments.
Alongside the Fitbit Charge 6, which was announced last month, there’s a clearer distinction between Google’s wearable products this year. That’s encouraging. Since Google officially acquired Fitbit in 2021, it’s been trying to integrate it within its ecosystem. It hasn’t always been successful. Last year’s wearable lineup was a confused jumble of three smartwatches — Fitbit’s Versa 4 and Sense 2, which had their smart capabilities nerfed, and the Pixel Watch, which was missing some common fitness and health features. And while there is a bit of feature overlap this year, too, it’s clear the Pixel Watch 2 is a smartwatch while the Charge 6 is a fitness band.
“A big issue in the launch of the first Pixel Watch was that the experiences didn’t seem very integrated together. That literally is like two companies coming together and trying to make one experience,” admits Park. He went on to note that while Fitbit was always strong at the health features, previous Fitbit smartwatches had a “big gap” in terms of general utility and productivity features. Park also acknowledged that progress may not be linear, but the hope is the two companies complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses in future products.
Even so, there’s been quite a few bumps along the road. Earlier this year, Google did away with some popular legacy Fitbit features. Buying a new Pixel Watch 2 and Fitbit Charge 6 will also require existing Fitbit users to migrate their data over to a Google account. This was always the plan, but Google had said that it wouldn’t be mandatory until 2025. This is still true — just not if you want a new device this year.
“Our goal is that over time, there’s going to be a great home for Google users and for the existing Fitbit users as well. We don’t mean to leave anyone out of the story. Our whole goal is to be inclusive, but it’s gonna take time to get that product experience fully there for everybody,” says Park.
On paper, it seems Google has at least acknowledged many of the Pixel Watch’s initial flaws. It’s too soon to say whether it’ll be enough to make Samsung nervous, but we’ll be putting the Pixel Watch 2 through its paces to find out.
You can preorder the Pixel Watch 2 starting today, with shipping expected starting October 12th. It costs $349.99 for the GPS version and $399.99 for the LTE version. The watches come in silver and blue, silver and white, an all-black version, and gold and hazel.
Correction, October 4th, 5PM ET: A previous version of this article said that you did not need an LTE version of the watch to use Safety Signal. Google clarified that while you do need the LTE watch, you do not need an LTE plan. We regret the error.