Adventures in Technophobia: The Google Pixel Watch 2
Google’s second version of its Pixel Watch is one of the slickest-looking smartwatches around, but does it deliver on the inside?
When the first Pixel Watch was introduced just over a year ago, it was already ahead of the game. It had sustainable credentials in the form of its recycled stainless steel case, the colours were minimal but sharp in silver, charcoal and matte black. With 20 different bands available in a wide range of colours and materials, you can easily change it up on a regular basis. There were 19 customisable interfaces too.
But equally attractive was the fact that each watch was fitted with a Fitbit activity tracker, Fitbit having been bought by Google's parent company Alphabet in 2021, as well as Google Assistant, the company's virtual assistant AI software. However, the response to Google’s first smartwatch was mixed, with some criticism of a lack of functionality in the first iteration. So it's not a big surprise then that the Pixel 2 comes with an upgraded performance, thanks to Qualcomm's Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 chipset – which in plain English translates as extended battery life, improved performance, decreased carbon footprint, and more features.
Drilling down, in real-time means you get 24 hours of battery life, even with the always-on display and a faster charging rate so that you get to 50 per cent charge in 30 minutes. There have been some upgrades in its health data collection too with three new sensors fitted including the improved AI heart rate algorithm – a new heart rate sensor with LEDs to produce a heart rate reading that it says is up to 40 per cent more accurate for vigorous activities like HIIT, spinning and rowing. The sensor also works to gather more accurate readings on other metrics, including calories burned, activity and sleep.
And then there is the Fitbit tech. Incorporating Fitbit’s Body Response feature, it can harness a new sensor that can point to possible signs of stress using a machine learning algorithm that combines heart rate, heart rate variability and skin temperature. And it will alert you too. So if, or when, the algorithm picks up on a physical indicator of positive and negative stress (FYI this includes any form of excitement) the Body Response feature will send you a notification. Which sounds a little like wearing the fun police on your wrist. And if you were concerned about the AI-ness of this feature, then the prompt it sends you allowing you to either reflect on how you feel at that moment or take actions to reduce your stress – like guided breathing or a mindfulness session – isn’t going to help.
Alerts telling you to be mindful is, in fact, my idea of stress, but you can see where they are going with it. The new skin temperature sensor is similarly judgey, and you can use the Google Assistant app to ask how you slept and get your daily ‘Sleep Score’ or weekly average. However, I still prefer Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai version, who once told me in an interview that the secret to feeling rested was just never looking at the clock before you go to bed.
What I do like are the safety features, and though not all unique to the Pixel Watch 2, they are reassuring. There is fall detection, which uses motion sensors to detect if you’ve taken a hard fall and will call emergency services if you don’t move or respond within a certain timeframe. You can display medical info and have emergency location sharing too. All of the tech is run on Google’s new Wear OS 4 operating system, which also offers smarter notifications like preview images and GIFs, and allows you to start a call or message or get directions in a single tap from your notifications screen. There is improved accessibility and customisation, so you can have bolder text plus when it’s time to switch to a new phone or watch, you can use watch transfer to pair to a new phone, or backup and restore to easily transfer your data and settings from your previous watch. Which may be cold comfort for the fact that the Pixel 2 is still not repairable.
And while not perfect, the design is as good as it gets in smartwatches right now. The smooth pebble domed glass, the clear, clean display and scratch-free glass, it just looks really, really good. And with the added six extra strap options to the original range, there is more customisable choice than ever.
Google Pixel Watch 2, €399, store.google.com