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Pixel Watch 2 review: Not leading the way, but no longer lagging

With better battery life and some unique features, Google’s second-gen smartwatch is catching up to its rivals.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Being stressed is not usually a good thing. But when you’re reviewing a high-profile smartwatch that touts stress-tracking as one of its most noteworthy new features, experiencing stress can be helpful. During the time I tested the Pixel Watch 2, I was going through a lot emotionally. I was maid of honor at our senior commerce editor’s wedding, had a family funeral to think about and was getting updates on the results of my best friend’s cancer diagnosis. Add to that the frenzy of Google’s hardware launch event and a super tight deadline for this review, and my mental landscape became the perfect testing scenario for the Pixel Watch 2’s body-response sensor.

That’s not the only new feature Google is bringing to its sophomore smartwatch. The company also updated the heart rate sensor, added a skin-temperature sensor, made the case lighter and used a more powerful processor that should prolong battery life. Though the Pixel Watch 2 doesn’t look like a major upgrade on the outside, it promises some improvements that should make daily use meaningfully better.

The Pixel Watch 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor, but Google is still only closing the gap between its rivals

  • Intriguing body-response sensor
  • Excellent heart rate sensor
  • Improved battery life
  • Beautiful design
  • Software quirks
  • Fitbit branding causes disconnect
  • No wireless charging
  • Syncing requires Wi-Fi
$350 at Google

Pixel Watch 2: Design

As much as I adore the Pixel Watch 2’s round, shiny case and how it feels, one thing sticks out. Literally. The crown on the right side of the case juts out and is extremely easy to trigger when bending your hand backwards – I’ve already accidentally summoned the emergency SOS menu twice.

It also gets in the way when I’m working out, especially while doing push-ups or on a stationary bike. The solution for this is to adjust the watch so the screen is on the inside of your wrist, but even then I’ve accidentally pressed the knob once. To be fair, I also have to do this with the Apple Watch, especially the Ultra, but the dial on Google’s wearable just feels a bit more in the way.

Thankfully, the accidental pushes don’t happen often enough to completely ruin my workouts, and I otherwise love the Pixel Watch 2’s aesthetic. In the year since I reviewed the original, I’ve become more adept at swapping out bands using Google’s press-and-twist mechanism and can switch out the boring gray sport band I received for something nicer, like the slim black metal strap that I saw at the Pixel launch event.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist, while they grab onto the handlebars of a stationary bike. The back of the person's hand is pressing back onto the watch's dial.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

On paper, the watch is five whole grams lighter than its predecessor, which had a stainless steel case. This year’s model is made from recycled aluminum, and I have yet to scratch or damage it. Though it uses a less durable material, the new Pixel Watch has an IP68 rating for dust- and water-resistance, as well as the same 5 ATM water (pressure) resistance as the original. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch Series 9 has similar parameters, with an IP6X rating (dust-resistance only) and the ability to withstand up to 50 meters of submersion in water. The lightest model of the Series 9 also weighs about a gram more than the Pixel Watch 2.

Like it did last year, Google only offers the Pixel Watch 2 in one size: 41mm. For my relatively petite wrist and decent eyesight, this felt adequate. I had little trouble aiming at onscreen buttons, but I imagine there are probably people who wish this came in a larger size.

A key part of the Pixel Watch 2’s updated design is on the underside of its case. It houses three new sensors — a multi-path heart rate reader, a skin temperature sensor and a continuous electrodermal activity (cEDA) sensor. The heart rate scanner is supposed to be more accurate since it has multiple diodes compared to a single LED in the middle. While I was initially concerned that that potentially meant increased contact with my wrist, which could be uncomfortable, I didn’t feel a noticeable difference.

Heart-rate and fitness tracking

The updated sensor array means the Pixel Watch 2 can track even more of your physiological data than before, like your overnight skin temperature and number of minutes a day you had a “body response.”

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist with a sidewalk and some grass in the background. The screen shows the Fitbit Today dashboard with the words
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

I’ll explain that latter term in a bit. But I want to point out that, because you need to wear the device to bed for at least three nights before you can get a body temperature measurement, I have yet to see a result. For one thing, I’ve been traveling over the weekend and forgot to bring the Pixel Watch 2’s charger, and on other nights I prioritized plugging the device so I could test it the next day. (I also hate wearing a watch to bed.)

With the new heart rate sensor, the Pixel Watch 2 is supposed to deliver more-accurate readings during vigorous activities, which should mean I’m getting a better report on my HIIT sessions.

I’ve been wearing the Pixel Watch 2 alongside the Apple Watch Series 9 to all my workouts this week, and they generally showed similar results. It’s worth mentioning that you still have to use the Fitbit app to view your stats from Google’s watch. On devices by Samsung and Apple, you’ll just use the native health apps. Oh, and a quick aside: The AI chatbot that Google showed off at its keynote last week won’t be available in the Fitbit app until 2024 at the earliest.

On the Pixel Watch itself, you’ll have to launch the Fitbit Exercise app or set up a tile to start a workout session. To see your data on your wrist, you’ll use the Fitbit Today app. I get that Fitbit doesn’t want to disappear into the Google ecosystem, but this still makes the Pixel Watch 2 feel a little disjointed compared to its competitors.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist, showing a list of Fitbit apps. From top to bottom, they are Fitbit ECG, Fitbit Exercise, Fitbit Relax and Fitbit Today.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

On my HIIT sessions, both Apple and Fitbit showed my duration and average heart rate as the exact same number. But they differed on stats like calories burned and how long I spent in each cardio zone. The Pixel Watch 2 tended to say I spent more time in “vigorous” and “moderate” ranges, while the Series 9 determined I hung out more in “Zone 1,” “Zone 3” and “Zone 4.” Apple clearly labels the number of beats per minute each of those zones include, while Fitbit doesn’t.

Based on my memory of these workouts (and how out of breath I felt), I think Apple’s calculations were more accurate. But these aren’t precise scientific devices and frankly this type of data is best used to look at your progress over time rather than for a snapshot of your performance in an individual session. I do appreciate that Apple automatically tracks and shows me my post-workout heart rate, since that metric is quite telling of my heart health.

One of the most glaring features missing on the original Pixel Watch was automatic workout start and stop prompts. While it would record your activities without you having to first launch them, Google’s debut smartwatch would not alert you if it had detected you had been, say, out brisk walking for a while. It also didn’t nudge you when you had stopped.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist, with a purple pillar in the background.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

This year, the Pixel Watch 2 brings these reminders to start (and stop) for seven types of activities — walking, running, rowing, outdoor biking and more. It’s a very simple feature, but it brings me so much joy. The activity I track the most is the 20-minute trek to and from my gym, and I don’t always remember to start it when I head out. Having the reminder pop up when I’ve been walking for ten minutes is usually a relief, especially compared to the frustration I feel when I realize at my destination that I’d forgotten to launch the tracker.

New features: Stress and body-response management

Speaking of frustration, the feature I was most keen to check out this year was the body-response measurement system. Now, “body response” is sort of vague wording, but in this case it’s specifically referring to how your body reacts to stress. Using the cEDA sensor, the Pixel Watch 2 will look for physical signs of stress and prompt you to log your mood or take a walk when it detects these. Typically, cEDA sensors are looking for sudden changes in sweat levels, and Google takes that data, alongside your heart rate variability, to determine how stressed you might be.

In the few days I’ve worn the Pixel Watch 2, my stress levels have been fairly high. Like I mentioned before, I’ve encountered numerous moments of emotional intensity, and for the most part it seems like the device noticed about a third of them. For example, it registered that I had a body response at about 8:50 am on the morning of the wedding, which lines up with when the bridesmaids and I had to rush and finish getting dressed for photos. However, it didn't notice my excitement when I got a message with some good news from my best friend about being in a relatively early stage of cancer. When it did detect a reaction, it usually served an alert about 15 to 30 minutes later, so I sometimes had to struggle to remember what caused my response.

A Pixel 8 Pro next to a Pixel Watch 2, with both devices showing the Stress Management pages of their apps.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

When the Pixel Watch 2 notices one of these moments, it can prompt you to log your feelings or start a walk, as long as you’ve enabled the feature. The problem is, along with the generic “body response” wording, the results are hard to make sense of. First of all, when you’re looking back at your daily report in the Fitbit app, you’ll see in the “Body responses” section under “Stress and mindfulness” a number of minutes. Not the number of instances you were found to have been having a reaction, but a duration for all the emotions you logged that day.

So on Tuesday afternoon, all I see under “Body responses” is “5 minutes” and one mark on a horizontal scale showing 12 am on the left and 11:59 pm on the right. Tapping on that card brings up more details like a stress management score, number of mindful days and a weekly summary. Scrolling down shows me all the body responses logged in the previous days, and here I can see that Monday was particularly stressful, since I had 36 minutes of body responses that I had labeled as “frustrated.”

On days like Friday where I had logged different emotions, the app says I was “stressed then content.” It’s a tiny bit more useful than I had expected, and though I still find number of minutes to be a strange metric, I can see it being a handy reference when I’m comparing stressful days in future.

You can edit your logged moods via the app and add them to detected body responses that you maybe neglected to label in the moment. I encountered a strange quirk on Monday afternoon where, after I labeled what I was feeling on a bunch of body responses that had been registered on Friday, they showed up on the Fitbit Today dashboard on the watch as having been registered on Monday. It’s a bug that shouldn’t exist, especially when you consider that Fitbit’s been offering stress management tools since it launched the Sense smartwatch in 2020.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist in mid-air, with the screen showing several mood options including
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Google’s approach to tracking your emotional wellbeing is also slightly unsophisticated when compared to the option on watchOS 10. While Apple’s system doesn’t register changes in your body, it does offer more mood options for you to log. On the Pixel Watch 2, you can only choose from one of eight choices, like “Excited,” “Content,” or “Sad.” Meanwhile, you can choose from dozens of labels and varying intensities on an Apple Watch. I’ve found on at least two occasions that none of the eight words offered by Google fit what I was feeling, and went with, say, “worried” when it would have been more accurate to say I was feeling “unsettled.”

These are, however, issues that feel easy enough to fix via a software update in the future, and aren’t so major that they’d prevent me from recommending the watch. I’m encouraged to see more mainstream tech companies consider emotional and mental wellbeing as part of overall health, and giving users a convenient means to log their feelings will help people have more informed conversations with their therapists or healthcare professionals, too.

Performance and in use

Beyond the new sensors, the Pixel Watch 2 also has a new Snapdragon Wear 5100 processor that should be more responsive and power efficient. Swiping through the Wear OS 4 interface was a breeze and most stats displayed quickly. Using the smart home shortcut to turn my lamp off was satisfyingly convenient, and it reacted quite quickly.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my inbox load quickly in the Gmail app, and I have yet to struggle to read text on the screen. It’s mostly been cloudy these days, so I haven’t had an issue seeing what’s on the Pixel Watch 2’s AMOLED panel. It does go up to the same 1,000 nits as its predecessor, though it’s worth noting that the Apple Watch Series 9 can hit 2,000 nits.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist held up in mid-air, with some of the surrounding scenery reflecting off the screen. On the display are options for logging the user's mood, including the words
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The Google Assistant was slightly slow at noting what I was saying, especially compared to Siri on the Series 9, which processes on-device. I wish Google would make on-device Assistant processing available on its smartwatch soon. When I left my phones at home while going to the gym one day, Siri was still able to launch an outdoor walk workout while the Google Assistant was completely useless. Neither watch was set up with cellular connectivity, and they were both offline. I also had to laugh when I looked at the Fitbit app and saw it had recorded a 7-hour walk during which I apparently traveled just 0.9 miles.

This is what actually happened: I was on a fairly vigorous hike with some rowdy friends, racing each other up some hills, and I didn’t realize the Pixel Watch 2 was running out of juice. Before it died, though, it had recognized that I had been “walking” for a while and suggested I start tracking. I did, and shortly after that the watch conked out. It still had some power left, because tapping the screen aggressively would show the time and a red empty battery icon.

I believe it was probably still tracking the duration of my workout in the background but couldn’t log any other metric (like distance or steps). This is funny, since Google says your stats will be recorded up till the device dies, and then be uploaded and synced with the Fitbit app after it’s recharged and turned back on.

That’s another small gripe I have about the Pixel Watch 2 — for your data to show up in the smartphone app, you’ll have to be connected to the internet. It doesn’t matter if your devices are paired over Bluetooth. You’ll have to be online for the information to sync.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist, showing the words
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

If you’re a Fitbit Premium subscriber (for $10 a month), you’ll be able to send emergency communications over LTE even if you don’t have a cellular plan for your watch or you’re not within range of your own provider. To be clear, this only works on the LTE model, not the Wi-Fi only version. This is particularly handy for the new Safety Check feature, which Google brought over from the Pixel phones. With it, you can select an activity like walking alone, hiking or going for a run. Then, start a timer for however long you think you’ll be out and confirm your emergency contacts.

When you are one minute away from the countdown ending, the watch will buzz and nudge you to end the timer. If you don’t, your contacts will get a selection of information that you can choose, including your live GPS location and whether you’ve called emergency services. You can also decide to alert them when your battery dies.

All of this is stuff you’ll have to set up in the Fitbit or Watch app on your phone, which brings me to another observation: I never really have to go deep into the Apple Watch’s settings to enable new, helpful features. With the Pixel Watch 2, I had to be sure to enable everything, even the reminders to start and stop workouts, which seemed like things that should be on by default anyway. This is pretty emblematic of the Android vs Apple experience, where the former is typically more involved, but is more customizable. You can add a tile to make your favorite functions easier to find, for example. Apple products, meanwhile, don’t require a lot of work out of the box, but you don’t have as much freedom to organize your apps.

The Pixel Watch 2 on a person's wrist, showing the time overlaid on an exercise summary, as part of the Always On Display feature.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

It’s not really a criticism of the Pixel Watch 2, though I will point out that this year’s model comes with Always On Display enabled by default, whereas the original didn’t. Google was probably taken to task for not making this the primary setting out of the box, and it’s possible the company turns more features on by default in future. AOD activated makes so much more sense, but I understand the impact it has on battery life.

Battery life and charging

With its new processor and slightly larger battery, the Pixel Watch 2 is supposed to last 24 hours with the AOD enabled. I was pleased to see that when I took the watch off at the end of the day, it usually still had about 35 to 40 percent left. That’s enough to track your sleep at night, according to Google.

My concern is if I do opt to wear the watch to bed instead of charging it overnight, it might not juice up fast enough for my morning workouts. The Pixel Watch 2’s overhauled contact charging system is supposed to get you back to 100 percent in 75 minutes, which is a grand total of five minutes shorter than last year’s model.

That’s not a dramatic improvement, but thankfully I was able to get the watch from 29 to 44 percent in about 5 minutes, and that lasted me through two outdoor walks, a circuit training session and several workouts with heart-rate range and pace alerts enabled. By the time I was able to plug the watch back in after all that, I still had 21 percent left.

The Pixel Watch 2 worn on a wrist held in mid-air, with sunlight streaming through leaves in the background.
Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget



In general, the Pixel Watch 2 lasted almost as long as the Apple Watch Series 9 (41mm model), which means it’s closer to being on par with its main competitor. Of course, Samsung watches and other activity trackers tend to last longer, but Google has a higher pulse sampling rate of once every second. Sadly, like its predecessor, the Pixel Watch 2 doesn’t support wireless charging, so you can’t use your Pixel or Samsung handsets to share a bit of juice when you’re on the go.


I’m conflicted. The Pixel Watch 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor, and offers several unique features that set it apart from the competition. In particular, the stress management tools are things that rivals like Apple are yet to offer. Fitbit (or Google) continues to offer industry-leading heart rate measurements and insights, thanks to years of experience and expertise. But some software quirks and confusing data presentation get in the way.

With the Pixel Watch 2, Google is reducing the gap between it, Apple and Samsung on things like battery life, while giving itself an edge with its approach to measuring stress as part of wellbeing. It’s still far from being the best smartwatch around, but for Android users at least, it’s becoming more of a solid contender.