Google Pixel Watch 2: My Hopes and Expectations for the Next Wearable
Commentary: The first Pixel Watch was a great start. But there are several ways Google can push its smartwatch forward in 2023.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
The Made by Google event tomorrow is where we'll learn more about the Pixel 8, 8 Pro and Pixel Watch 2. All three devices have been teased, but there's still a lot that we don't know about them, especially the watch.
The original Pixel Watch, with its sleek design and suite of Fitbit health-tracking tools, had the potential to become the best Android smartwatch. But at its core, the Pixel Watch still largely feels like an answer to the Apple Watch and other popular smartwatches.
There are plenty of things the Pixel Watch gets right, from its elegant curved edges to its easy-to-use software and comprehensive exercise tracking. But for the wearable to really stand out, Google should take a page from its Pixel phone playbook.
As I've written in the past, I'd like to see Google develop clever features for the Pixel Watch that solve real inconveniences. Pixel phones, for example, have phone calling tools for letting Google's virtual assistant wait on hold for you. They also have interesting photo editing features, like the ability to sharpen old photos that may be out of focus. Google is clearly concentrating on two of the most basic tasks people use their phones for: making calls and taking photos. It's these features combined with the Pixel's great camera that make it stand out.
But Google has already released seven generations of its Pixel phones, meaning it's had time to refine its approach and figure out what works. The original Pixel from 2016 was a skeleton of today's devices; it had the bones of today's Pixels, like a sharp design that rivaled that of the iPhone, a standout camera and the Google Assistant. But it took years for Google to flesh out its Pixel phone strategy. The case will likely be the same for the Pixel Watch.
It's hard to say exactly what that will look like. Fitness and health seem to be the biggest areas in which today's smartwatches are growing and improving across the industry. Google's progress in those fields will largely come down to Fitbit, which pioneered the digital health movement but now faces increased competition from Apple. That rivalry is likely to escalate in the coming years considering Apple is reportedly working on new health features, including an AI-powered wellness coach, mood tracking tools and blood pressure monitoring.
Health monitoring aside, I'd like to see additional features that make the Pixel Watch a more crucial part of the Android ecosystem. Given Google's progress with the Google Assistant, I had hoped Google's virtual helper would play a bigger role in the Pixel Watch. Yes, you can do all the basic things you'd expect, like make calls, start timers, play music and control smart home devices with your voice.
But I'd like to see new features that feel more specific to the Pixel Watch. Since smartwatches aren't ideal for long touchscreen interactions, there's a big opportunity for Google to use the Google Assistant to surface contextual information in new ways. Hopefully we'll see more of that in the future as Google deepens its artificial intelligence push.
The Pixel Watch's growing pains
While Google figures out the Pixel Watch's long-term direction, there are several near-term fixes it could make to push the Pixel Watch forward.
Longer battery life is at the top of my list. To be fair, Google isn't alone in this regard; Apple's and Samsung's respective flagship smartwatches typically last only one to two days on a single charge. This may be satisfactory if you plan on charging your watch overnight, but it makes it difficult to regularly track sleep.
Though I've praised the Pixel Watch's sleek, pebble-like design, its black bezel is still too noticeable on certain backgrounds -- particularly colorful ones like the Photos watch face. This can distract from the Pixel Watch's otherwise stellar design.
For its price, the Pixel Watch should also offer all the same health features as the Fitbit Sense 2. Compared with the Sense 2, the Pixel Watch lacks alerts for an irregular heart rate, notifications for high and low heart rate, and temperature-sensing. The Pixel Watch also can't automatically detect and start a workout on your wrist.
I understand that Google needs to make some compromises to distinguish the Sense 2 from the Pixel Watch. But Google already does that well enough with the Pixel Watch's more premium design and additional smartphone companion features, such as its Google Play Store support.
When it comes to the consumer electronics market, Google is in a unique position. It has to balance differentiating its own Pixel products with improving the entire Android ecosystem -- including Android gadgets made by companies it competes with, like Samsung. Google is fighting two battles: Android versus iPhone, and Pixel versus everyone else. And sometimes that shows in its products.