Google’s addressed a lot of what annoyed me about the first Pixel Watch, but repairability and continued Fitbit integration are still question marks.
Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.