Ah, the elusive Google Pixel Watch. We’ve only heard a handful of unfulfilled rumors regarding a Google-made wearable, but now it seems the Pixel Watch is definitely, 100% arriving next year.
Forgive my cynicism, please. I refuse to let the recent report of the Pixel Watch’s impending launch, though corroborated by more than one source, get my hopes up. I’ve thought many times about the gap in the smartwatch market Google can gobble up, and what I’d want the first modern Google wearable to look like. What would it need to become the best smartwatch money can buy?
In other words, what would it need to eclipse the Apple Watch as the best smartwatch? The Apple Watch 7 is the current gold standard, complete with everything I’ve come to expect in terms of convenience, connectivity and health features. That’s not to say the Pixel Watch can’t share the spotlight.
The Pixel Watch could even steal the show, with a few key specs and features. Here are the 5 things the Pixel Watch — or whatever Google call its first smartwatch — needs to succeed.
1. The best of Wear OS
Google is no stranger to the wearable software business. Some of the best smartwatches for Android run on Wear OS, despite Google not selling proprietary hardware to match. Perhaps with the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, (which runs a refreshed version of Wear OS called Wear OS 3) there’s been an obvious disconnect. I mean, who can forget that time Google Assistant was broken for months, and no one noticed?
The Pixel Watch needs to deliver the best of Wear OS. Building on the Galaxy Watch 4’s tiles, improved app store selection and intuitive navigation, the foundational Pixel Watch experience can’t falter. Accessing any setting, tool or app has to feel effortless — and the Apple Watch does this better than pretty much any other smartwatch I’ve ever tested. Google should do everything it can to emulate the Apple Watch’s ease of use.
2. Everything Google on your wrist
The part of Wear OS that fell flat on the Galaxy Watch 4 was the availability of Google programs. Google’s software suite thrives thanks to user loyalty, and not just among those with the best Android phones. Whether it’s relying on the best Google Assistant commands, knowing how to use Google Maps, making calls through Google Voice or sending notes through Gmail, there’s a number of Google services I couldn’t go a day without.
Now, imagine them all on your wrist. I know I’d jump for a smartwatch with every Google app on-board. Even as an iPhone user, I prefer Google Calendar for managing my schedule and use Google Photos app to store images in the cloud. I’d like to see a smartwatch app for the best Google Home compatible devices, too. The Apple Watch updated its HomeKit app in watchOS 8, making it more smart home-friendly than before. The Google Pixel Watch should try to be a control panel for the wrist, too.
3. Fitbit’s health tracking
The only Google service the Pixel Watch should ditch, perhaps, is Google Fit. Google Fit works OK, but it's nothing special. Most notably it introduced respiratory rate readings via Pixel phone cameras earlier this year, though no standout updates have come since. Is it a sign the company is pivoting away from Google Fit and towards a more reputable fitness-tracking service in its portfolio? Since the Fitbit acquisition is complete, it could be time to extend the best Fitbit features to a Google-branded wearable.
A few Pixel Watch features Google could easily borrow from Fitbit include workout tracking, sleep tracking and stress tracking. Adopting advanced health sensors such as ECG or EDA aren't as necessary as long as the Pixel Watch can master the basics, though we would like to see Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score and Active Zone Minutes carried over. Maybe early Pixel Watch users could use Fitbit Premium, too.
Google Fit hasn’t done enough to earn it’s stake in the saturated fitness-tracking market, let alone to keep up with Apple Health and, by proxy, Apple Fitness Plus. Just give me my favorite Fitbit features in a Pixel Watch, and it’ll have a chance.
4. A competitive price
I’m not sure whether the Google Pixel Watch price would have a deciding impact on its rating, but I’m certainly curious as to how much it’ll cost. Either way, it should look to undercut the Apple Watch 7’s starting $399 price tag. I’m not saying it needs to become one of the best cheap smartwatches, but it should look to land in the Galaxy Watch 4’s ballpark. Samsung’s smartwatch costs $249 and $349 for Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 vs. Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, respectively.
I expect to see it fall in the $200-$300 price range depending on size and LTE options. This is just speculation based on what I know about Google’s pricing strategy for the rest of its hardware division. The release date report I mentioned in the intro said the Pixel watch will cost more than a Fitbit, though the source didn’t specify what kind of Fitbit. Fitbit’s premium smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense, costs $299, while the brand’s best fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge 5, costs $179.
5. Killer battery life
There's no rumor on the Pixel Watch battery life yet, but I know what I'm hoping to see. At minimum, I want Google's first smartwatch to outlast the Apple Watch 7. I'd really want it to go at least two full days, even with fitness tracking and other premium features in use. When Google announced the new Wear OS, it promised battery life would benefit from the overhauled software. Then, during a Qualcomm-led wearable summit, a Wear's Director of Product Management said it they're working on an "always-connected experience that extends battery life."
The Apple Watch made me accept charging my smartwatch every day, but it doesn't mean I like it. If the Pixel Watch's battery life could look more like the Fitbit Sense's (6 days), or even the Amazfit GTR 3 Pro's (12 days) I recently reviewed, I'll be impressed.
Of course, battery life alone won't let the Pixel Watch beat the Apple Watch. I think it needs all five of the things outlined above to live up to the hype built around the hopes of a Google smartwatch. But who knows? Maybe the hype pent up over the past years alone will help.