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Article updated on October 11, 2023 at 10:00 AM PDT

Google Pixel Watch 2 Review: The Upgrade I've Been Waiting For

The Pixel Watch 2 catches up to Fitbit's smartwatches and to other devices in key ways, making it a solid choice.

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Lisa Eadicicco
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Lisa Eadicicco Senior 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.
Expertise Apple | Samsung | Google | Smartphones | Smartwatches | Wearables | Fitness trackers
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The original Pixel Watch was a strong start. But using the Pixel Watch 2 for almost a week has convinced me that it's everything the first one should've been. For the most part, at least.

The first Pixel Watch felt like a Fitbit watch wrapped in a more elegant package. However, it was missing staple health features like irregular heart rhythm notifications and automatic workout detection, as well as Fitbit's stress tracking tools. The Pixel Watch 2 addresses these shortcomings while providing faster charging, impressively accurate heart rate readings and smoother scrolling, making it feel like a more fully realized version of Google's original vision for the Pixel Watch. 

As a result, the $350 (£349, AU$549) Pixel Watch 2 remains a top choice for non-iPhone owners looking for an alternative to the Apple Watch. It's one of the best looking smartwatches on the market, and it provides a better balance of health tracking and phone companion features than Fitbit's Sense and Versa watches. (Those watches lack an LTE option, safety features like emergency SOS and the Google Assistant, for example.) 

8.7/ 10
SCORE

Google Pixel Watch 2

Pros

  • Beautiful design
  • Accurate heart rate sensor
  • Faster charging
  • Good selection of health stats and workout options

Cons

  • Battery life could be longer
  • Some features require Fitbit Premium
  • Only one size option
  • Bezels are noticeable on certain watch faces

But the Pixel Watch 2 still leaves me wanting more. Many of the Pixel Watch 2's improvements feel like Google playing catch-up rather than setting the standard for Android smartwatches. I'd love to see Google come up with features for its smartwatch that feel practical and Pixel-exclusive, like the call screening tools available on its Pixel phones. 

There were also some things on my wish list that didn't make it into the Pixel Watch 2, such as meaningfully longer battery life and thinner bezels framing the screen. The fact that the Pixel Watch 2 comes in only one relatively small size option and requires a Fitbit Premium subscription to unlock deeper health insights may also give shoppers some pause. 

Watch this: Google Pixel Watch 2 Review: Steps in the Right Direction

Working out with the Pixel Watch 2

Workout options being shown on the Pixel Watch 2's screen

Workout options on the Pixel Watch 2.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

If you're familiar with Fitbit, logging workouts and monitoring health metrics on the Pixel Watch 2 will feel similar. There are 41 exercise modes available on the watch, ranging from spinning to Rollerblading to martial arts. 

Google added some extra features for runners this time around, following in the footsteps of Apple and Samsung. The Pixel Watch 2 has coaching tools meant to help you stay within certain heart rate zones and run at a specific pace. When starting a running workout, just tap the flag icon to set your goals. 

The Pixel Watch 2's training features may not be as robust as what you'd get with a dedicated running or sports watch like those made by Garmin. But it was enough to motivate me to pick up the pace during a recent run at a park in my neighborhood. When I started slowing down, my wrist buzzed to warn me that I was no longer in my desired heart rate zone. As a result, I spent a larger portion of my run in what Fitbit considers to be the "vigorous" heart rate zone than I usually do during a workout. 

I imagine avid runners preparing for marathons and other long-distance races may need more-customized training tools. But for people like me who just want to stay in shape and exercise regularly, this felt like enough. Google's website lists these training features as "coming soon" to the original Pixel Watch, though it's unclear when they'll arrive. 

The Pixel Watch 2's new coaching tools shown on screen

The Pixel Watch 2 has some new training tools aimed at runners. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Google says the Pixel Watch 2 can measure heart rate more accurately thanks to a new algorithm and a multipath sensor, meaning it has more points of contact to pick up signals compared with the first Pixel Watch. I compared the Pixel Watch 2 with a chest strap heart rate monitor, which is considered to be the gold standard for measuring heart rate outside of a clinical setting, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. 

The Pixel Watch 2 usually caught up to my Polar H10 strap after just a couple of seconds during a vigorous HIIT workout, and even matched the chest strap precisely to the beat during some rest intervals. The same held true when I was walking briskly on a treadmill. 

A Pixel Watch 2 on someone's wrist with a Pixel phone in the background showing heart rate data

This photo is a bit blurry, but you can tell the heart rate on my Pixel Watch 2 matches the reading I got from my chest strap heart rate monitor shown in the Polar app.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

All your workout data lives in the Fitbit app, which was recently redesigned. The app is now divided into three tabs:

  • Today: The dashboard with your daily fitness stats.
  • Coach: Health and wellness programs.
  • You: Badges and goals.

I spend most of my time scrolling through the Today tab, which isn't very different from the previous version of the app, so this change hasn't made much of a difference to me. But the interface does look a bit cleaner and more streamlined.

If you don't want to dig through statistics in the Fitbit app, you can also ask Google Assistant certain health-related questions. Just keep in mind that Google sends these requests to the cloud for processing, unlike the Apple Watch Series 9, which will resolve them on the device when that feature launches later this year. Still, Google Assistant easily answers questions like, "How much sleep did I get Saturday night?" and, "How many Active Zone minutes do I have so far this week?"

The Pixel Watch 2 gains another convenient feature: automatic workout detection. That means that when the Pixel Watch 2 detects certain exercises, including walking, running, elliptical, rowing, outdoor biking and spinning, it can nudge you to start a workout if you forget to do so. This worked for me consistently during outdoor walks and when walking or running on the treadmill. This feature feels like it should've been standard from the start, but it was one of the first Pixel Watch's major shortcomings. Luckily for first-generation Pixel Watch owners, Google's website suggests this feature will come to its original watch in the future.

Pixel Watch 2 health tracking

Google Pixel Watch 2
James Martin/CNET

The Pixel Watch 2 inherits some of the health sensors found in the Fitbit Sense 2 that the first Pixel Watch lacked. That includes a skin temperature sensor as well as a sensor for measuring continuous electrodermal activity, or changes in sweat levels. These sensors generally behave the same way they do in the Fitbit Sense 2, which is to say they contribute to broader health observations rather than being designed for spot-checks.

Both sensors factor into Fitbit's "body response" readings, which nudge you when the watch detects potential signs of stress or excitement. The blood oxygen sensor works in a similar fashion by playing into your sleep data.

The Pixel Watch 2's passive stress monitoring brings it up to speed with the Fitbit Sense 2 when it comes to the sheer breadth of available health tracking options. If the watch detects a body response, it'll alert you and provide the option to log your mood. You can also record your mood directly from the body response tile on the watch by tapping the "check in" button. If you select "frustrated" or "stressed," the watch will suggest that you take a walk or engage in a breathing exercise to calm down. If you choose "happy," it'll prompt you to reflect on your current mood. 

A Pixel Watch 2 showing breathing exercises on screen

Breathing exercises on the Pixel Watch 2.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Fitbit is no stranger to stress tracking; the original 2020 Fitbit Sense was the first model to come with sensors meant to look for signs of stress. But the feature is arriving on the Pixel Watch 2 as tech companies are looking to mental health as being the next major area of exploration when it comes to health tracking. The Apple Watch's Mindfulness app, for example, allows you to log your mood straight from your wrist. Wearables that claim to track metrics like stress and fatigue levels were also a trend at CES 2023 in January. 

Despite this push, I haven't found Fitbit's stress management tools to be all that useful yet. I understand the value of reflecting on your current state of mind, and I'm sure some people will use these tools to keep track of their mood and stress levels. But for me, Fitbit's body response notifications didn't make much of a difference, and they sometimes came at random times. While I did receive a body response alert while sitting in the dentist's chair (I mean, who doesn't get a little uneasy at the dentist?), I also got one as I was relaxing while listening to music on my way to work. 

I find some of Fitbit's other tools to be much more useful, like the Sleep Score and Daily Readiness Score, both of which distill into a simple rating the myriad signals your watch gathers throughout the day and night. The Daily Readiness Score, as its name implies, recommends whether you should take a rest day or go for a hard workout, while the Sleep Score assesses the quality of your slumber.

However, you need Fitbit Premium, which costs $10 per month or $80 per year, to access all of Fitbit's health insights. The Daily Readiness Score requires Fitbit Premium, as does gaining more details about the factors that impact your sleep and stress scores, personalized sleep analysis profiles and wellness reports. You'll also only get previews of workouts, mindfulness sessions and recipes unless you subscribe to Premium. 

Fitbit isn't the only company leaning on a subscription model; Oura and Whoop similarly charge to make the most of their products. Samsung and Apple, however, don't paywall certain health statistics, though Apple does charge for its Fitness Plus app, which includes virtual workout programs. (The Apple Watch also lacks a "readiness score" or "sleep score" equivalent.)

Pixel Watch 2 safety features

Google Pixel Watch 2  and Google Pixel 8

The Pixel Watch 2 arrives alongside the Google Pixel 8.

James Martin/CNET

Taking a cue from Apple, Google is also dialing up the Pixel Watch's safety offerings this year. Safety Check, which was previously available on Pixel phones, is now accessible on the Pixel Watch 2. This feature lets you set a timer to check in with an emergency contact during specific situations, such as when you're walking home at night or hiking alone. 

When the timer expires, the watch will ask if you're all right and ask if you'd like to contact emergency services or share your location. And if you don't respond, the watch will share your location with emergency contacts.

I tried this when walking alone at night to meet some friends for dinner, so that my husband would know when I safely arrived at the restaurant. When the timer expired, the Pixel Watch prompted me to end the Safety Check session or start emergency sharing, which would send my location to my designated emergency contact. While this feature is launching with the Pixel Watch 2, Google says it will be available on the original Pixel Watch soon. 

Apple has a similar Check In feature that debuted with iOS 17, but it's primarily designed for the iPhone. Though you'll get Check In notifications on your Apple Watch, you need to initiate the process through an iPhone. 

If you subscribe to Fitbit Premium, you'll also be able to use Check In and certain other safety features, like emergency location sharing, without a data plan. The catch, however, is that you still need the LTE version of the Pixel Watch 2, which costs $50 more than the standard edition. 

Pixel Watch 2 design, battery and performance

Google Pixel Watch 2

The Pixel Watch 2 has the same attractive design as the previous model. 

James Martin/CNET

The Pixel Watch 2 looks and feels a lot like its predecessor, and that's a good thing. With its curved glass display and soft, pebblelike shape, the Pixel Watch may be the best-looking Android smartwatch on the market. It's been my smartwatch of choice over the past year when switching to Android, and that'll continue to be true moving forward with the Pixel Watch 2. The Pixel Watch 2 has an aluminum build instead of the first version's stainless steel body, but I don't mind this change, since the curved glass is really what makes the Pixel Watch's design stand out. 

However, since the screen size and shape haven't changed, that also means those familiar black bezels are still present on the Pixel Watch 2. They aren't noticeable on most watch faces, but you can see them on certain colorful apps and backgrounds. When these borders are visible, it makes the Pixel Watch 2's screen feel smaller than it actually is. 

Like last year's Pixel Watch, the new version is available in one 41-millimeter size option. While I prefer petite watches, since I have a small wrist, I imagine some users might prefer a larger screen. My colleague Stephen Shankland, who's also been using the Pixel Watch 2, said metrics can be hard to see while mountain biking, which makes for a compelling argument that a larger size would be appreciated. 

The Pixel Watch 2 has a new quad-core processor that replaces the dual-core chip in the first model. As a result, apps load slightly faster on the Pixel Watch 2 compared with the original. Still, there were some times when I experienced a slight pause when pushing the crown to move from the clock face to the app list. Thankfully this wasn't noticeable enough to hinder my overall experience using the watch.

But the more important difference is the new crown, which feels significantly smoother than last year's version. Though the original Pixel Watch's crown felt a little stiff and had some resistance to it, the new one scrolls with ease. 

Google Pixel Watch 2 with the charger attached

The Pixel Watch 2 connected to its charger.

James Martin/CNET

Battery life is generally the same as it was with the first Pixel Watch, but the Pixel Watch 2 can last for 24 hours with the always-on display activated, which wasn't the case with the previous version. I generally found this to be true, but mostly on days when I didn't record an outdoor GPS-powered workout. 

On a day that involved mostly checking notifications and viewing the time, the watch lasted for more than 24 hours. But on a separate day during which I used GPS to track outdoor runs and walks for about 30 minutes and installed and updated apps, the watch died overnight in the middle of tracking my sleep. 

The good news is that topping off the watch should be easier, though I got the best results after charging the Pixel Watch 2 for an hour. Google changed the charging mechanism this time around, meaning you won't be able to use the old Pixel Watch's charger to power up the new device. Both Pixel Watches charged from empty to about 50% after 30 minutes, but the Pixel Watch 2 replenished 97% of its battery after an hour, beating the first Pixel Watch.

I was also able to go from 6% to 38% in 15 minutes after a night of sleep tracking, which was enough to get me through the afternoon until I went to sleep around 11 p.m, even when recording a 22-minute outdoor walk.

Check out the table below to see how the Pixel Watch 2's charging speeds compare with those of the original Pixel Watch and Fitbit Sense 2.

Pixel Watch 2 charging speed vs. Pixel Watch and Fitbit Sense 2


30 minutes60 minutes
Pixel Watch 51%81%
Fitbit Sense 2 37%80%
Pixel Watch 2 50%97%

Pixel Watch 2 overall thoughts

Google Pixel Watch 2
James Martin/CNET

The Pixel Watch 2 feels like the watch I wanted last year. It doesn't get everything right, but it fills in most of the gaps that Google missed with its first smartwatch. Its sleek design, wide variety of workout choices and faster charging make it a strong choice for Android fans looking for an Apple Watch alternative.

That said, you'll have to subscribe to Fitbit Premium to get the most out of the Pixel Watch 2, though Google does provide much more functionality in its free tier than you'll get with some other wellness gadgets, like the Oura Ring Gen 3. Still, if you don't like the idea of a subscription service and happen to own a Samsung phone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 may be a better option. 

You'll get many of the same features found in the Pixel Watch, like fall detection, personalized heart rate zones, running tools and automatic workout detection. Sleep coaching and personalized profiles are also available without a subscription. But Samsung is also restrictive in its own way, since irregular heart rhythm notifications and ECG monitoring are available only if you have a Galaxy phone. 

Overall, the Pixel Watch 2 feels like a much-needed step forward for Google's already impressive smartwatch. Now that the Pixel Watch 2 has caught up to other smartwatches in key ways, I'm looking forward to seeing how Google pushes things further next year with the Pixel Watch 3. 

Get a Closer Look at Google's Pixel Watch 2

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Pixel Watch 2 vs. Pixel Watch Specs


Pixel Watch 2Pixel Watch
Shape RoundRound
Watch size 41mm41mm
Materials, finishes AluminumStainless steel
Display size, resolution 1.2-inch, 450 x 450 pixels (320 ppi)1.2-inch, 450 x 450 pixels (320 ppi)
Dimensions 41mm x 12.3mm41mm x 12.3mm
Weight 31g36g
Colors Matte black, polished silver, champagne goldMatte black, polished silver, champagne gold
Always On YesYes
Interchangeable bands YesYes
GPS YesYes
Automatic workout detection YesNo
Compass YesYes
Altimeter YesYes
Water resistance 5ATM, IP685ATM
Calls YesYes
Microphone YesYes
Speaker YesYes
Voice assistant Yes (Google Assistant)Yes (Google Assistant)
Mobile Payments Yes (Google Wallet)Yes (Google Wallet)
Sleep tracking YesYes
Heart Health ECG, irregular heart rhythm notifications, high and low heart rate alertsECG, high and low heart rate alerts
Period tracking YesYes
Sensors SpO2, ECG, accelerometer, gyro, ambient light sensor, skin temperature sensor, electrical sensor for body response tracking, barometer, magnetometerSpO2, ECG, accelerometer, gyro, ambient light sensor, barometer, magnetometer
Emergency features Safety Signal, Safety Check, emergency sharing, fall detection, medical information, emergency SOS, emergency international callingSafety Check (coming later), emergency sharing, fall detection, medical information, emergency SOS, emergency international calling
Compatibility Android 9 and aboveAndroid 9 and above
Software WearOS 4Wear OS 4 (later this year)
Processor Qualcomm SW5100 (quad core)Exynos 9110 SoC (dual core)
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi, NFC, 4G LTE optionBluetooth 5.0, WiFi, NFC, 4G LTE option
Memory and storage 2GB memory + 32GB storage2GB memory + 32GB storage
Charging USB-C to magnetic pin chargerUSB-C to magnetic charger
Battery life 24 hours with always-on display24 hours
Battery capacity 306 mAh294 mAh
US price $350 (Wi-Fi), $400 (Wi-Fi + LTE)$280 (Wi-Fi), $330 (WiFi + LTE)
UK price £349 (Wi-Fi), £400 (Wi-Fi + LTE)£279 (Wi-Fi), £329 (WiFi + LTE)
Australian price AU$549 (Wi-Fi), $649 (Wi-Fi + LTE)AU$449 (Wi-Fi), AU$549 (Wi-Fi + LTE)