Google Pixel Watch 2 review: 5 things to know about Google's latest smartwatch
It's second time's the charm for Google's smartwatch...
The original Google Pixel Watch was just what I wanted in the smartwatch market - a smart-looking timepiece that had fitness smarts but didn't stick out on the wrist.
It was a great watch - and still is, with a recent update to WatchOS 4 - but the biggest bugbear for me was battery. I found myself with charging anxiety, watching the battery life tick away by the minute. It was often that I would have to recharge the watch in the same day, especially if I actually got off the sofa and went to the gym.
Enter the Google Pixel Watch 2 - at first glance, it looks like not much has changed but it really has! That battery life is. So. Much. Better. And there are a number of cool new software flourishes, too.
I have had the Google Pixel Watch 2 as a wrist warmer for the last few weeks. Here's 5 things to know about Google's latest wearable...
1. Design is the same - and that's no bad thing
Google seems perfectly happy with the look of the Google Pixel Watch and that is fine by me. It has done little to change the overall look of the watch - at first glance they are both identical.
There are some subtle changes, though. The material used has been changed. Now the 41mm, 12.3mm thick case is now built from recycled aluminium (it was stainless steel before) which makes it 10 per cent lighter, too - now 31g (without strap), compared to 36g before.
It's a lovely looking smartwatch and perfect for those with smaller wrists or for those that don't want a chunky tracker weighing them down. There's a subtlety to the look of the Pixel Watch 2, but that didn't stop people commenting on how nice it looked when I was in the pub and wearing it with smarter garb.
The size of the thing means that I was comfortable wearing the Pixel Watch 2 pretty much all of the time, too. The Active Wear band that comes with it is comfortable, too, although I had to wear it on the last clasp fastener which proves this is a smartwatch built for those with smaller wrists.
2. The screen is bright and big enough for most people
Google has opted for the same screen on the Pixel Watch 2 as was found on the Pixel Watch. It's AMOLED, 1.2 inches in size and 450 x 450 pixels.
It's a beautifully bright screen and there is just enough real estate to make sure you can navigate through the myriad watch options without fumbling. I immediately went to the watch faces part of the Watch app to choose a slicker screen. There are plenty of options available here - you can go as sporty as you want or keep it nice and traditional.
The screen is protected by by Gorilla Glass 5 and you can opt for an always-on display, which will sap the battery life a little but it was my preferred way to use the watch.
I did feel like I needed to make sure that the Pixel Watch 2 was tucked into my sleeve when I was walking past things. It's not that the watch isn't durable but I have busted enough phone screens to know how easy it is to scratch and scuff glass and I was certainly aware that I had a premium gadget on my wrist.
3. The fitness features are fantastic - as long as you subscribe
One of the biggest fitness USPs with the Pixel Watch range is its integration of Fitbit. Now, you have to be subscribed the premium version to get the most out of the features. Thankfully. Google does add in a sub in the box to get you started, which lasts for six months - plenty of time to see if you need it or not.
This Fitbit integration didn't work as well as I wanted on the original Pixel Watch but it has improved with the Pixel Watch 2. For a start, auto-tracking has improved immensely. When walking you are nudged to start tracking in minutes and are asked to stop tracking when you are no longer up and about.
There's a decent amount of sleep data you can go through, too, if you want to track that part of your life (like I say, you can certainly wear this watch to bed without discomfort).
The tracking gets deeper with things like heart rate zones when working out, while you can now monitor your heart rate much more closely with the watch.
GPS is accurate but does take a little while to kick in. Also, put this on and an offline playlist and you will soon start to see that all-important battery life start to disappear. It's great to have these features, though, and the fact I could leave the phone at home when going for a run.
When it comes to running, you can set heart rate zones (light, moderate, vigorous, and peak) and there are pace alerts, too,
The devil's in the detail and that detail is in the Watch app - once you have slept, worked out or just pottered around you can check the data in the app and it was certainly comprehensive enough for me.
4. Performance is snappy
There is a new chip in the Pixel Watch 2 and it has certainly made things feel a lot slicker on the watch. Flicking between different tiles was seamless, as was taking calls and messages on the thing.
A lot of this slickness is down to WatchOS 4 - while it's not a huge change from 3.5, there are some nice flourishes to the software which make it a joy to use. It really makes use of the small screen, so you never feel like you are fumbling through the options.
Google Assistant is also on board to help but I have never been one for voice assistants on phones or watches. The times I used it was effective - you can summon it with your voice or long press the button on the side - but always opted to dig through the menus myself.
The new WhatsApp and Gmail apps were great, though, and really helped with my productivity - and meant I didn't have to always be staring at my phone when in work mode.
5. Battery life has improved... thankfully!
If there was one thing to push you to the Pixel Watch 2 and away from the Pixel Watch it would be battery life. I really was charging every single day and sometimes twice a day with the Pixel Watch and it was a frustrating experience.
Thankfully Google has fixed this for the Pixel Watch 2. Now, don't go expecting days without having to charge but the extra battery life means that you are no longer constantly worried that it will run out of juice. I went at least 36 hours and then some without having to fix it to its charger.
Interestingly, Google has changed the charger this time around - it now comes with added prongs and is a little bit fiddly to put the watch on. It's not something that can be done easily in complete darkness.
Google has also added some neat touches to make sure that battery isn't always being sapped. For instance, there is a Bedtime mode which really does reduce the battery life being used overnight.
And when I did have to charge, the charging times have been reduced. 30 minutes will charge the thing to 70 per cent and just under an hour it will be full. All of this really does make a difference to the Pixel Watch and make it a joy to use.
Google Pixel Watch 2: Final verdict
Looks can be deceiving. Yes, the Pixel Watch 2 looks identical to the Pixel Watch but some software flourishes, better fitness tracking and a battery that actually has a life make this Pixel Watch 2 a great smartwatch.
Couple this with its decent round design and the ease of use WatchOS 4 offers and what you have is a very capable smartwatch for Google - and the watch it should have released the first time around.
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