For whatever reason, being second generally isn’t a good thing in our culture. It’s baked into our vernacular: sophomore slumps, second place is the first loser — even the parable of the prodigal son was about a second-born child. In the world of smartwatches, we never talk about the Apple Watch Series 2, Samsung went straight from the Galaxy Watch to the Galaxy Watch 3, and Wear OS 2 was Bad. So I’m chuffed that the $349.99 Google Pixel Watch 2 is the rare sequel that’s better than the original.
Before this watch launched, I wrote that all it needed was good battery life. Spoiler alert — the Pixel Watch 2 has made big strides on this front (though probably not enough for folks looking for a truly multiday smartwatch). The watch went from being a gadget I had to baby to something that could fit into my everyday life. That, plus a barrage of updates big and small, have, in turn, opened up a lot of possibilities that just weren’t there last year.
It ain’t perfect. While Google addressed many issues I had with the original, the Pixel Watch 2 has quirks and concerns of its own. Over the past week, I’ve had some time to mull over what this means for the Android smartwatch space. I might’ve been too hasty saying better battery life would fix everything, but it puts Google in a position where, in the not-too-distant future, it has the chance to be the best at something.
All-day battery — for real this time
Last year, the Pixel Watch could last 24 hours*.
*If you earned a master’s degree in babying batteries.
In reality, I was plopping it onto a charger twice a day. One day, a short phone call and a 30-minute run cost me 41 percent of the battery. Objectively terrible. Things were better when I revisited the watch in August after a few firmware updates. I could get 24 to 30 hours with the always-on display enabled, though battery drain during activities was still faster than I’d like.
This isn’t a problem anymore. Google’s got a more powerful and more power-efficient processor under the hood, and Wear OS 4’s whole schtick is better battery life. It shows here. This watch is zippier than the original, and for the past week, I’ve had it on maximum brightness, along with the tilt-to-wake gesture and the always-on display enabled. I’ve actively used many of its features and logged 30 to 45 minutes of GPS workouts per day. I am consistently getting 24 hours on a single charge, give or take an hour, with no battery-saving features. And I didn’t even have to wait a day or two for the watch to calibrate to my usage.
Here’s what a recent, relatively active day looked like:
- 6:35AM: Wake up to my cats yowling for kibble. Check my wrist to find that I’ve lost about 22 percent battery overnight because I forgot to turn on Bedtime mode. I’m starting the day with roughly 50 percent battery total.
- 9:43AM: After reading emails, a little work, and breakfast, I trudge outside for a bleary-eyed two-mile run with my Pixel 8 left at home. This ensures the watch isn’t piggybacking off my phone’s GPS. After about 25 minutes, I’ve used only 6 percent.
- 10:15AM: I log that I’ve got 42 percent battery left and get some more work done. The last time I charged to 100 percent was 4PM the previous day. Mental math isn’t my strong suit, but six hours on 42 percent battery seems like I’m on track for 24 hours.
- 1PM: I begin my trek to the office. Commuting is hell, so I spend it futzing around with Pixel Watch 2 settings. I arrive at The Verge office around 2PM with about 35 percent battery.
- 2:30PM: I demo several features for our photographer Amelia Holowaty Krales so this review can look beautiful. The entire session involves walking about 1.5 miles, which the watch tracks automatically. Screens are hard to photograph in bright ambient lighting, so I turn off adaptive brightness while cranking brightness up to max. This is all battery-intensive, and I wonder if we’ll make it back with enough charge.
- 4PM: I hit the 24-hour mark with 20 percent left. We walk back to the office half an hour later, and on the way back, I get a low-power battery message with 15 percent left.
- 4:45PM to midnight: I plop the watch onto the charger at the office. It takes about an hour to get to a full 100 percent. I don’t think about battery for the rest of the day — though I do a breathing exercise, set a few timers, check notifications, send a few texts from the wrist, try out the new safety check feature on the way home, and log my mood after getting a stress tracking alert.
That’s a fairly typical review day for me, but as with any gadget, your mileage will vary. If you optimize battery settings, you could probably push past the 24-hour mark — especially if it’s a day where you’re lounging around at home or glued to your desk at work. If you are using a lot of GPS tracking, it depends on how much you use the watch during said activity.
The most battery-intensive workout I did was a 35-minute GPS walk while streaming an offline YouTube Music playlist and using Safety Check. I was checking my wrist every few minutes, and even so, I only blasted through 15 percent. But for the most part, my runs and walks this week averaged around 25 to 45 minutes, and I typically burned around 6 to 10 percent battery.
One thing: Bedtime mode makes a huge difference. If you turn that on, overnight sleep tracking only drains about 10 to 15 percent battery. The mildly annoying thing is that automating Bedtime mode appears to be tied to Digital Wellbeing, and it’s not intuitive to set up. First, you’ve got to set up a bedtime schedule in your phone’s settings app. While Android phones are required to support Digital Wellbeing in some way, you also have to toggle a switch in the Google Pixel Watch app to sync your phone’s Digital Wellbeing modes with the watch. Also, if you don’t want to use Google’s Digital Wellbeing, you’ll have to turn on Bedtime mode manually via the watch’s quick settings menu.
The only sacrifice, if you can call it that, that the Pixel Watch 2 made for better battery life is that the charger has adopted pogo pins — which some folks were none too pleased about. I wrote about that more in-depth here, but personally, this is a tradeoff I’m happy to make. In my testing, faster charging plus a regular routine means I’ve only lost maybe 45 minutes a day to get up to 95 or 100 percent.
Some folks will see 24-hour battery life as a continued failure. After all, Garmins and Fitbit trackers can last for days, even weeks, without charging. But as far as flagship smartwatches go, Google’s one job was to make a watch that could last an entire day without caveats. And it’s done that.
Fitbit integration and health tracking
Last year, the Google-Fitbit integration and product lineup was a mess. There was the Google Pixel Watch, Fitbit Versa 4, and Fitbit Sense 2 — three smartwatches that were so similar Google had to make up arbitrary reasons to set them apart. The Pixel Watch was missing key Fitbit features. The Fitbits had previously available smart features taken away. None of it made sense.
That’s not as much of a problem this year with the Pixel Watch 2 and the Fitbit Charge 6. You look at these two devices, and you know what to expect out of each.
For this watch, it feels like Google lurked on Reddit, noted the things that people complained about most, and went about fixing them. For example, the Pixel Watch 2 now has automatic workout tracking for seven activity types. This was sort of missing last year, as auto-tracked workouts only popped up in the Fitbit app after the fact. This past week, I reliably got prompts on the wrist for any walk over 10 or 15 minutes, depending on what I chose in the settings — as well as prompts to end workouts if I had been inactive for about five minutes.
Meanwhile, the new multipath sensor supposedly translates to 40 percent greater accuracy for heart rate tracking during rigorous activities. That’s hard to verify, but in runs, the heart rate reported by the Pixel Watch 2 was within five beats per minute or so of my Apple Watch Ultra 2 and my Polar H10 chest strap. And when I raised my wrist mid-run to check my stats, there wasn’t as much lag in reported heart rate as I’ve had with previous Fitbits. Sleep Profiles, abnormal high and low heart rate alerts, irregular heart rhythm alerts, and nightly SpO2 — all features that were missing at launch last year — are all supported.
That said, GPS could be better. The Pixel Watch 2 took much longer than my Ultra 2 and phone to get a signal. It’s understandable since I live in a challenging GPS environment, but the lag was long enough to be mildly annoying. It also tended to overreport my distance by about 0.05 miles per mile. That’s not a big deal if you stick to shorter distances, but it adds up if you’re running half and full marathons.
In one instance, it also erroneously logged a two-mile run in the Fitbit app as 1.3 miles — even though I could clearly see that it registered as 2.09 miles on my wrist. It took about 24 hours before this fixed itself in the Fitbit app, though the map still wasn’t quite right. It’s possible this is due to pre-release software. But while this happened during multiple runs last year, it only affected one GPS workout this year.
The Pixel Watch 2 also gets some much-needed training features. The big one is you now have four personalized heart rate zones: light, moderate, vigorous, and peak. Fitbit’s had them on its trackers for a long time, but the way they’re implemented in the Pixel Watch 2 is easier to understand and read. You can see the color-coded zones on the side, and if you’re so inclined, you can program it so you get notified each time you move between the four zones. You can also choose a target zone and will receive notifications if you move outside it. If you’re training for speed, you can now enable pace alerts as well.
As a runner, these come standard on most training-oriented Garmins and the Apple Watch, and Samsung also introduced similar features with the Galaxy Watch 6. It’s good to see Google and Fitbit catch up here, and the Fitbit app gets kudos for letting you customize your max heart rate. Most companies will “personalize” this based on a cockamamie formula that subtracts your age from 220 while giving you no recourse to alter that if it doesn’t line up with your actual fitness levels.
As for whether these exercise views are more readable: yes and no. The metrics and other information like heart rate zones and pace are. It’s much easier to digest information at a glance — provided the sun doesn’t have other plans. The Pixel Watch 2’s display just doesn’t get bright enough in direct sunlight, and even brightness boost settings don’t do much to fix that.
Text me when you get home
It’s a culturally ingrained habit that whenever I hang out with my gal pals, we all say, “Text me when you get home.” We don’t go to bed until we can confirm our buddies got home safely. Likewise, I text my spouse anytime I’m on my way back or if I head out while they aren’t home.
So, understandably, I quite like the Pixel Watch 2’s Safety Check feature. It’s a proactive timer that you can set so that, should something happen to you, your loved ones have a better shot of knowing where to find you. You can specify an activity (e.g., taking public transportation, going for a walk alone, etc.), a duration, and whether you want to notify your emergency contacts why you’re starting this timer. Once that time is up, you have the option to turn it off or your location will be automatically shared with your preset emergency contacts and local emergency services. If you’re in a real pickle, you don’t need to wait for the timer to lapse, either — you can discreetly share your location should the need arise. It’s thoughtfully designed, and I appreciated the level of specificity I had at my fingertips.
As a lifelong city dweller, I’ve had several dicey encounters, and so this became something I used every time I left the house or office. Granted, my spouse ignored most of the alerts because I was “just testing something for work,” but my best friend dug the notifications. She gets it. My main problem was forgetting to turn off the timer when I got to where I was going. In the future, some geofencing capabilities might be useful.
Another feature I liked was Safety Signal, which lets you use cellular emergency SOS features even if you don’t have an active LTE plan. To test this, I purposefully didn’t activate LTE on my Pixel Watch 2 and lo — I was still able to use Safety Check on my solo walks even when I left my Pixel 8 at home.
What I don’t love about Safety Signal is it requires you to pay the extra $50 for the LTE model of the Pixel Watch 2 and you must have a Fitbit Premium subscription. So, technically, you’re still paying for that cellular connectivity; it’s just that you can only use it in emergencies, and it saves you a grand total of $10 per month over having Premium and LTE all the time. Buying a Pixel Watch 2 gets you six months of Premium free, but whether the cost makes sense is up to your individual needs. For me, the math isn’t quite mathing. I understand the intent and that there are technological requirements at play, but it’d be much cooler if every Pixel Watch had this capability at no extra cost.
That said, it’s nice to know that safety features won’t be limited to the Pixel Watch 2.
“Personal safety is very important to us, so we are making sure people who have Pixel Watch 1 can also get all of the latest peace of mind features, like Safety Check,” Google spokesperson Sofia Giovanello tells The Verge. “It will be available to them very soon and will be the same experience. Much like the rest of the Pixel portfolio, Pixel Watch will continue to get updates over time.”
After a day of running around the Made by Google event like a headless chicken, I set up the Pixel 8 and Pixel Watch 2 and grumpily rode the ferry home. About an hour later, I got my first stress alert.
The Pixel Watch 2 adds the Fitbit Sense 2’s continuous electrodermal activity (cEDA) and skin temperature sensors. This helps enable Fitbit’s proactive stress tracking. When signs of physical stress are detected, you can choose to receive notifications that prompt you to log your emotions, do a breathing session, or take a walk. A week later, I remember nothing about how I felt during that first alert, except that at the time, I marked myself as happy. Right before bed, at around 11:30PM, I got another alert, and this time, I marked myself as frustrated. Again, I don’t remember why.
While imperfect, this delayed prompting actually encourages you to try and remember how you felt. Mood logging is an unnatural behavior, and it gives you an opportunity to engage and reflect if that’s something you’re interested in. Apple introduced a similar feature in watchOS 10, but because it’s passive, I never remember to use it. This at least reminds me to think back to a time and a place. And over the past week, it’s been curious to see the disconnect between my physiological stress and emotional well-being.
Last week was a personal rollercoaster. On top of a busy workweek, my grandma died, I closed an emotional chapter in dealing with my mom’s estate, and out of nowhere, I somehow scratched the living bejeezus out of my Pixel Watch 2 review unit (more on that below). You’d think the Pixel Watch 2 would’ve been buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. But no. I may be stuck on the struggle bus, but I rarely triggered the alerts and generally didn’t get notified until several hours later.
For example, the Pixel Watch 2 remained silent when my cousin called to say my grandma had passed. Truthfully, I’m not surprised. Grief is a funny thing, and I didn’t really “feel” anything until I ugly cried on my commute home. (It is a New York City rite of passage to privately bawl in public.) About an hour after that, when I was home and processing my feelings with a pint of ice cream, that’s when I got the stress alert. The time period indicated? Exactly when I was crying my eyes out. It was a bit weird, but I logged my mood as sad and did a little breathing session. It fixed nothing, yet I felt 3 percent better.
That’s one extreme. On the other, my most recent stress alert was for a one-hour period when I was stuffing my face with Korean barbecue. That, I logged as a happy moment.
There may be a personal element to why I don’t get as many stress alerts as I think I should. If anything, I’ve taken away that I’m excellent at compartmentalizing during periods of high stress, and as my therapist says, I need to work on feeling my emotions in my physical body. It’s been something to reflect on this past week — and that’s not nothing.
Google doesn’t have a plan when it comes to Pixel Watch or Pixel Watch 2 repairability. This is not great because, for the second year in a row, The Verge ended up with a messed up Pixel Watch screen. Last year, my colleague Chris Welch ended up with a cracked display within days despite doing nothing out of the ordinary. This year, my Pixel Watch 2 ended up with deep scratches on day two.
I have no idea how this happened. I did not partake in extreme sports, and I didn’t faceplant during my runs. It was fine when I went to bed. I woke up, took it off to shower, and when I sat down to work to record my overnight battery drain, scratches were everywhere.
After reporting the damage to Google, I gave them my scratched-up unit to see if they could figure out how it happened. Right after this review first published, Google reached back out to tell me that the scratches appear to be the result of scraping against a hard or uneven surface, and are unlikely to be something related to incidental contact. The only thing I can think of that fits that scenario is perhaps my arm brushed against my metal bed frame while I was asleep. Otherwise, I’m still clueless.
Reviewer privilege is Google rushing out a new device to me as soon as I told them. I doubt you’d have the same luck if you were a regular paying customer and not writing a review for a tech publication. I asked Google to outline what the average person could expect if this were to happen to them and Giovanello gave me the same response as the last time I asked.
“At this moment, we don’t have any repair option for the Google Pixel Watch. If your watch is damaged, you can contact the Google Pixel Watch Customer Support Team to check your replacement options.”
Google can’t continue to leave Pixel Watch 2 owners in the lurch. It has a partnership with iFixit for its Pixel phones — why not its other devices? [Update: shortly after initial publication, Giovannello emailed to clarify that Google has decided to extend Preferred Care to Pixel Watch 2 in the US and Canada. That’s good news, as this wasn’t available for the original watch, and was a criticism I had when this review first published. Giovannello also says Google will “continue to explore customer support options and will share updates as they become available.”]
Ironically, design is the aspect of the Pixel Watch 2 that Google’s changed the least, but it’s probably the area it needs to rethink the most. Don’t get me wrong. This is a gorgeous watch, and I love how the water droplet-inspired display looks on my wrist. But it behooves Google to consider sapphire crystal based on all the complaints of cracked screens on Reddit — not to mention the cracks and scratches Verge staff have personally experienced. As a tiny-wristed person, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it also ought to consider a larger size. The 41mm case looks great on my bird wrists, but I’ve heard many of my colleagues complain that it looks too dainty on them.
I still think we could all chill about the bezels, though.
All the small things
It’s saying something that, so far, I’ve only touched on the main updates. There are several tweaks and updates that I haven’t gotten to, so here’s a lightning round of smaller things that did and didn’t work for me.
- The new recycled aluminum case is not light enough to justify getting rid of stainless steel while keeping the price at $349.99.
- If you get a Pixel Watch 2 and are a legacy Fitbit user, you’ve got to migrate your Fitbit data to a Google account ahead of the 2025 deadline to use the watch. I don’t love this, but dems the breaks.
- I like many of the new watchfaces! Adventurer is my favorite and the one you see most through this review. Analog Arcs is also great. I’m less of a fan of the big, numbers-only faces, but that’s because I love my glanceable data.
- In theory, I like the new At a Glance complication. It’s meant to be a contextual widget that shows you relevant information throughout the day (i.e., calendar events, temperature, etc.). But so far, it’s only shown me the temperature!
- Gmail for Wear OS is convenient but clutters up my notifications feed. I have liked having Calendar on my wrist, though. Super helpful.
- Wear OS 4 adds cloud backups. Once I read the instructions, swapping between the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro was pretty easy, and I didn’t have to factory reset. Huzzah!
- The new Material You design language is hit or miss. It’s great on the wrist — the new inhale and exhale animations for breathing exercises are pleasing to watch. It’s taking me some time to get used to the new look within the Fitbit app. The more simplistic palette makes it easier to breeze past some metrics.
For a watch that looks nearly identical to its predecessor, the Pixel Watch 2 is notably better in every way that really matters. Last year, I had a long list of things Google and Fitbit needed to work on. (Battery life was written in all caps, underlined several times.) This year, that list is much smaller. What the next Pixel Watch needs to deliver is repairability, durability, and a larger size option. Everything else — including wonky GPS — I expect is due to pre-release software or will improve via updates, just as it did last year.
After this week, I’m increasingly convinced that Google has the wherewithal to make the best Android smartwatch in the not-too-distant future. It just needs to — excuse my French — keep its shit together. That means clearly communicating what’s happening with this ongoing Fitbit integration, which, to my eye, is the most obvious potential stumbling block outside of its fragile screens. Change is never easy, but legacy Fitbit users have been through enough this year, and Google can’t afford to backslide here.
With the Pixel Watch 2, Google is almost there. More so than with its Pixel phones, Android smartwatches are where Google has a shot of being really good at something. And unlike Samsung, it has momentum on its side. My one concern is that should Google succeed here, it’ll start entering the Pixel Watch into the ecosystem wars. I didn’t see overt signs of that while testing, but there’s a forthcoming feature where you’ll be able to screen calls from the Pixel Watch 2 — if it’s paired to a Pixel phone. Maybe it’s nothing, but success is the slipperiest slope into a walled garden.
If I were Samsung, I’d be nervous.
Update, October 11th, 2:36PM ET: Added updated warranty information and Google’s results analyzing what happened to my scratched-up Pixel Watch 2.