The Google Pixel Watch 2 Still Feels Like It’s Missing the Mark

The Google Pixel Watch 2 Still Feels Like It’s Missing the Mark

When Google released the original Pixel Watch in 2022, it did so to a lukewarm response. Battery life issues made up the breadth of complaints, as did the lack of multiple display sizes, but for the most part, reviewers shrugged off the original Pixel Watch as a first-generation attempt. It’ll get there. The Pixel Watch 2 has now arrived, and while it does bring some software and hardware improvements, it’s not the second attempt many were hoping for.

Pixel Watch owners could happily miss the Pixel Watch 2 completely and not feel like they’re missing out. Sure, battery life of the original Watch is nothing special, but it’s completely manageable if you’re charging the device whenever you get home or when you’re sitting at a desk. The new features on the Pixel Watch 2 aren’t enough to make it worth the upgrade and with most of them being software-related changes, this new release would have probably made more sense as a mid-life update for the original device.

The Pixel Watch 2 also commits a sin – changing the charger just one generation in. You physically cannot use the same charger as the original device, and wireless charging via a Qi charger is still not supported. In the same year that Apple finally switched its outdated charging standard to USB-C, Google has already grandfathered a charging standard for an accessory after a single generation.

What timeline are we living in?

Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Checking the time

I’ve been using the Pixel Watch 2 for a week now, and for the most part it just feels like the same device. While Google says the new Watch has been upgraded inside and out, new features boil down to advanced heart-rate tracking capability, skin temperature detection, high/low heart rate notifications, stress detection, Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score (Fitbit subscription required), Google Assistant prompts for health and fitness tracking, Gmail and Calendar integration, Safety Check (for sharing your location to emergency contacts if you don’t return to a location at a preset time), a new quad-core CPU, a 24-hour battery life, and Always On display enabled by default.

Battery life has seemingly been improved between generations, but battery size has not increased (the CPU is the reason for the performance bump). With the watch on all day, by the time I got home from the office, it was down to 69 per cent. Nice. For comparison, the same day out would result in a 52 per cent battery life with the original Pixel Watch.

The Pixel Watch (left) and the Pixel Watch 2 (right). Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

I did enjoy getting prompts on my watch for whenever it detected that I was exercising; for example, when I walk to the shops, it asks me if I’d like to record a walking exercise. If it detects that I’ve stopped, it’ll ask me. I’m not a particularly fit guy, but I appreciated the health features the app had to offer – I liked the gamification of walking, and the little congratulatory message that played when I’d finish walking.

Externally, the Pixel Watch 2 is almost identical to the original device, though the new crown is more flush than on the original device. Flip the device over, and you’ll see the new module that enables those advanced heart-rate tracking capabilities, along with the four pins required to enable the new charging system.

The Pixel Watch (left) and the Pixel Watch 2 (right). Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Of the earlier listed features, the new CPU, new heart rate tracking, and skin temperature tracking capabilities make up the breadth of hardware changes – the device is largely the same, bar tweaks to the operating system and its features. It’s not often that smart watches will have dramatic hardware changes from generation to generation, but comparatively, for what was considered a pretty quiet year for the Apple Watch, the Series 9 introduced hand gesturing to answer phone calls.

I did like the new included band that the Pixel Watch 2 comes with. It’s smoother and is less coarse than last year’s band. Also, all the official bands from last year are compatible with the Pixel Watch 2, so I was able to use the expensive titanium band Google sent us a couple of months ago.

And that’s pretty much everything I had to say that was nice about the Pixel Watch 2. Unfortunately, the charging thing is too hard to get past.

Out of sync

The most disappointing thing with the Pixel Watch 2 is that it uses a new charging system, switching from wireless charging to pin-based charging. From what I can tell, this doesn’t appear to have improved charging speeds (which can refill to about 85-90 per cent within an hour across both the original device and the Watch 2), but it is a notable disadvantage that the Pixel Watch 2 can’t use the same charger as the Pixel Watch.

pixel watch 2
Pixel Watch charger (left) and Pixel Watch 2 charger (right). Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

For comparison, Apple has never changed the charging method of its smartwatches – a charger released alongside the original Apple Watch will work with the current generation Watch Series 9. Google switching the charging method with its second-generation device is annoying, confusing, and wasteful.

It isn’t entirely unprecedented, though. The original Galaxy Watch relied on a special charging cradle, grandfathered in from the earlier generation of ‘Samsung Galaxy Gear’ devices, while following devices were wirelessly charged. This was slightly different though, as Samsung was several generations into the smartwatch business.

Unfortunately, this switching in charging type means something disappointing – while the original Pixel Watch was technically (though never officially) capable of Qi charging via the back of your smartphone or a charging mat, the Watch 2 simply isn’t capable of this. No software patch can fix this.

pixel watch 2
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Thankfully, you’ll get the new charger in the box – it’s a bit smaller than the original charger and has the four pins sticking out of the top. It’s not the most aesthetically appealing design.

And, thankfully, unlike both the Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, the Pixel Watch 2 has not been subject to a price rise this year.

Apart from this, my only other major complaint is that Google’s watch faces still suck. Most of them take up such little screen real estate compared to other major smartwatches, which is a shame considering how much space there is to play with. I’m imagining part of Google’s hesitance to utilise the entire screen has to do with the glass folding in around the edges, and that there’s an obvious cut-off when pixels reach the end of this display. My reprieve for this has been to use the photo widget, that projects a photo you choose as the watch’s background. Not pictured are the adorable photos of my niece that I made the background of the original device.

pixel watch 2
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Should you buy the Google Pixel Watch 2?

The original working title for this review was ‘The Google Pixel Watch 2 Should Not Exist’. Now that I’ve had time to brood on it, I’m pulling back a little.

The Google Pixel Watch 2, on its own, is a good smartwatch, and it makes the most sense of any smartwatch if you’re a Google Pixel user (as you’ll get the most integration). For this reason, I recommend it to Pixel users who did not buy last year’s Pixel Watch. If you bought last year’s model, don’t buy this one.

Unfortunately, the Pixel Watch 2 has left me with the same lukewarm feeling as the original device. I feel like I’m waiting for something to really grab me. For the Pixel range of phones, it was the camera bar and the dramatic redesign that came alongside the Pixel 6. It was also the Pixel 3a, a device that completely changed the affordable phone market. I hope the Watch’s time will be soon.

The Pixel Watch 2 is a beautiful, capable and well-integrated Google device that has very obvious pitfalls that just rub me the wrong way.

It’ll get there.

Google Pixel Watch 2 pricing and availability

The Google Pixel Watch 2 will be available in Australia from October 16.

  • Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: $549
  • 4G LTE + Bluetooth/Wi-Fi: $649

The Pixel Watch 2 is available in the following colours: Polished Silver Aluminium Case (Blue band), Matte Black Aluminium Case (Black band), Champagne Gold Aluminium Case (Hazel band), and, featured above, Polished Silver Aluminum (White band).

Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

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