In my line of work, I often hear people say that they won't buy a first-generation product from a company, and I would usually roll my eyes at that kind of statement.
After all, I love the idea of getting to try out the latest tech. However, with the launch of the Pixel Watch 2, I can't help but feel that this is exactly what the first Pixel Watch should've been, and it also makes a good point about why you should think twice before buying a first-gen product.
Google's first smartwatch was a long time coming, and despite its gorgeous design and decent performance, there were still many ways the original Pixel Watch fell below expectations, such as the sub-par battery life and the limited Fitbit experience. With the Pixel Watch 2, Google has taken much of what we loved about the first smartwatch while addressing many of its shortcomings, making it a much more capable device. It brings a powerful new Qualcomm chipset, upgraded sensors, improved battery life, and more mature software, positioning the Pixel Watch 2 as a more refined version of its predecessor, and exactly what we should've gotten from the get-go.
A big part of this is the new chipset. Google used the Snapdragon W5 Gen 1, which is a Qualcomm chip that launched in 2022 and is only found on a handful of smartwatches at the moment. It's a surprising departure from the Samsung Exynos chip used in the first Pixel Watch, although not too surprising considering that it was a four-year-old chipset. Still, we naturally expected Google to go with the more up-to-date Exynos W920 or the newer W930, both of which offer great performance on Samsung's Galaxy Watch lineup.
That's why moving the Pixel Watch 2 to a Snapdragon chip is actually a pretty big deal. What this tells me is that despite leaving Qualcomm in the proverbial dust when developing Tensor, Google seems to have faith in the company's latest wearable chip. Remember, Qualcomm's chips haven't exactly fared well for Wear OS smartwatches in the past, offering so-so performance that was seemingly leagues behind what Samsung or Apple were doing with their smartwatches.
However, the new Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 is no slouch, and Android Central's Andrew Myrick was quite impressed with the platform's performance on the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5, a sentiment he shares with the Pixdl Watch 2. That's why it was a bit of a slap in the face for the original Pixel Watch to not feature Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon chip despite launching in the same year. I wrote last year about how I was excited about what the W5 Gen 1 could do for the Wear OS platform, offering what could be a truly next-gen experience for smartwatches.
This is actually a big reason why I feel much more inclined to purchase the Pixel Watch 2 than I was with the original model. The first Pixel Watch wasn't a bad smartwatch and no doubt a tempting buy for many, but it felt held back, like Google wasn't quite ready to give us a consistent experience that perfectly married its Pixel and Fitbit efforts together. Subsequent updates attempted to remedy this little by little, but the Pixel Watch 2 feels like a much more complete smartwatch that can actually compete against the best Android smartwatches, particularly those from Samsung, a company with tons of experience making smartwatches.
A likely scenario is that switching to Qualcomm was the plan all along. After all, the original Pixel Watch apparently took several years to develop, and it seems likely Google was stuck with an aging chip on the first Pixel Watch as it offered the best performance at the time without having to potentially delay the watch to upgrade to a newer chip or completely switch platforms.
The way I see it, the first Pixel Watch was the perfect test product to see what worked and what didn't. This could be the reason why the watch wasn't available in more countries, whereas the Pixel Watch 2 is seeing expanded availability in regions like India, Singapore, and more. The U.S., for example, is a huge market for wearables and Pixel phones, as we've seen in recent years. Bringing the first-gen Pixel Watch to an area where consumers may be more willing to spend the money on one is an ideal place to test the waters.
This is particularly true when you think about Google's fanbase. People love Pixels because you'll often get the latest software features before anyone else, along with Pixel-exclusive features you won't find anywhere else. Pixel phones are the perfect early-adopter devices, but the Pixel Watch and even the Pixel Fold take that to another level by offering that on a hardware level. While other companies are on their fourth or fifth generation of smartwatches or foldables, Google has been biding its time as anticipation builds for its first foray into other hardware.
We waited for years for a Pixel Watch to launch after it was first rumored back in 2016. And now that Pixel smartphones are more popular than ever, having a smartwatch to pair with it only seems natural. After all, this could be the Apple Watch of Wear OS, but Google still needs to go through a trial-and-error phase, something other companies have already experienced with their smartwatches and foldables.
Still, there are plenty of people out there willing to spend the money to get their hands on a first-gen product just because the thought of it excited them, or bragging rights, or whatever floats their boat, and that's who the original Pixel Watch was really for.
With the Pixel Watch 2, Google seems much more confident with its product. Not only does the new chip help enable longer battery life, but Google upgraded the sensors for better accuracy while adding a skin temperature sensor and a cEDA sensor for monitoring stress. With this comes a revamped Fitbit experience that should have been available from the start, bringing the Pixel Watch 2 more in line with the advanced health experience you'd expect from a Fitbit smartwatch like the Fitbit Sense 2.
That's not to say devices don't always improve with each new generation, but there's a difference between iterative updates and more substantial ones. The Pixel Watch 2 feels very much like the Galaxy S23 in that it's what we should have gotten from the previous model but for some reason didn't. The difference is that Google is a newcomer to the smartwatch space so it still has to prove itself, and so far it's showing that it can do just that.
The hope now is that with Google's newfound confidence in Qualcomm, the company will start to give Snapdragon chips more attention. A problem with previous generations is that Wear OS watches like the Fossil Gen 6 and others had to wait much longer for Google Assistant support, long after the updated version rolled out on Exynos-based smartwatches. Now that Google is embracing Qualcomm, this selective approach to software releases may be a thing of the past. We just have to wait for more smartwatches to adopt the new W5 chipset so Wear OS — and the Pixel Watch, by extension — can really shine.
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Derrek is a long-time Nokia and LG fanboy who loves astronomy, videography, and sci-fi movies. When he's not working, he's most likely working out or smoldering at the camera.