Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on: Finally fit to replace Fitbit

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

It’s hard to believe the Pixel Watch has already been out for a year, but Google’s long-anticipated home-brewed smartwatch is now ready for its first sequel. The Google Pixel Watch 2 packs an impressive processor update and hardware refinements into the same iconic design as the original, all while debuting important new health and safety features alongside.

Google went back to the drawing board for the Pixel Watch 2’s health sensors, packing in 25 times the heart rate sensing LEDs as its predecessor and a new, more battery-efficient processor that can actually handle the increased workload.

And while the bezels aren’t any smaller than last year’s phone, Google improved the display's brightness levels, replaced the metal with lightweight aluminum, and even tweaked the crown to be more tactile. It’s a beautiful refinement of an already gorgeous device that’s sure to win our hearts over this year.

Good design gets better

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

No one will be able to tell the difference between the Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch 2 just by looking at them. Google is still using the iconic Pixel Watch design, including the gorgeous round display with sloping edges and a metal crown and housing.

But Google improved the housing this time around by using 100% recycled aluminum, making the watch 10% lighter than its predecessor. Plus, the newly redesigned crown feels higher quality with improved tactility and a more clicky spin. Google is really utilizing those punchy haptic motors in the Pixel Watch 2 to the maximum extent here.

Google is also launching two new bands with the Pixel Watch 2 — Active Sport and Metal Slim — while still offering all the same bands from the original watch.

The Pixel Watch 2 is now made of 100% recycled aluminum, making it 10% lighter, and even features a newly redesigned crown.

Inside that sleek housing is a Qualcomm Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 processor, which is several generations newer than the Samsung Exynos processor used in the first-generation Pixel Watch. That doesn’t just mean the watch is a lot faster this time around; it also means it delivers better battery life.

Google increased the battery rating from 18 hours to a “full 24 hours” on a single charge, which should alleviate any concerns people had with the original. That also should mean we can actually use the always-on display without having to charge the watch halfway through the day, but we’ll let you know for sure in our final review.

Google also swapped out the wireless charger from the original Pixel Watch with one that has POGO pins. That means no wireless charging support on the Pixel Watch 2 at all, and the charger that ships with the Pixel Watch 2 won't work with the original Pixel Watch (and vice versa).

The Pixel Watch 2 foregoes wireless charging for faster proprietary POGO pins.

While this is a huge bummer for people hoping their existing wireless chargers would work with their shiny new Pixel Watch 2, there is a bright side: faster charging and less heat. The original Pixel Watch charged at a decent rate but it also got very hot during that process. The Pixel Watch 2 now charges much faster, according to Google, and skips the heating up that used to happen.

The Pixel Watch 2 ships with Wear OS 4 preinstalled, which packs in a few helpful new features. A new backup and restore function solves a problem that’s nagged Wear OS users since the inception of Android-powered smartwatches — although, it’s worth noting that Samsung already solved this problem several years ago. At least we can switch phones without having to completely reconfigure the watch now!

Battery life should be much better this time around, and useful features like backup and restore solve problems that have plagued Wear OS for years.

Google also includes two new first-party apps: Gmail and Calendar. These enable richer interaction with common tasks and should alleviate the need to pull your phone out of your pocket all the time.

Plus, a handful of new watch faces ship with the Pixel Watch 2 and have been designed with its hardware in mind. No word yet on when these watch faces will be coming to the original Pixel Watch.

Wearing the Google Pixel Watch 2

(Image credit: Shruti Shekar / Android Central)

But all these features might pale in comparison to the enhanced Google Assistant that now ships with Wear OS 4, which can now be used to query all sorts of new things like health data.

You can now ask Assistant how you slept last night, if you stayed in your heart rate zones during a workout, and a lot more. It all plays into Google making the Pixel Watch 2 the next Fitbit flagship device.

The new Fitbit flagship

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

While many of the upgrades over the original Pixel Watch help improve daily usage, Google’s focus with all the new sensors and other upgrades mainly revolves around remaking Fitbit as we know it.

Case in point, the new processor enables several new health and wellness-tracking experiences as well as more accurate tracking of data. Three new health sensors adorn the underside of the watch — a multi-path heart rate module, an electrode cEDA sensor, and a skin temperature sensor — plus 25 times the number of LEDs for more accurate heart rate tracking.

The new heart rate detection module features 25 times more LEDs and is 40% more accurate during workouts.

Google says the Pixel Watch 2 delivers 40% more accurate heart rate readings during strenuous activities and, combined with a Fitbit UI overhaul, means working out with a Pixel Watch 2 is likely far better than the original Pixel Watch. Google put a huge emphasis on more accurate heart rate readings, and it’s clear the company thinks this is the biggest upgrade for most users.

Second to that is the new skin temperature sensor and cEDA sensor that can be used in conjunction with heart rate sensors to provide a clearer picture of overall long-term health.

The cEDA sensor measures stress levels and is used with the rest of these sensors to deliver a Body Response score to the Pixel Watch 2. That’s a first for any non-Fitbit-branded device and works identically to how it worked on the Fitbit Sense 2. Impressively enough, Body Response on the Pixel Watch 2 is even better than on the Fitbit Sense 2 because of the more accurate heart rate measurements.

Google says that the skin temperature sensor will check your temperature constantly throughout the day and aggregate that data for long-term temperature deviation tracking. As a note, this temperature is *not* used for menstrual cycle tracking.

The new cEDA stress sensor and skin temperature sensor combine to deliver the most accurate Body Response score of any Fitbit device.

Google refined the Fitbit app’s UI — both the Fitbit phone app and the one on the watch — which now includes more glanceable information than ever before. In fact, the workout UI on the watch has been completely redesigned to help deliver heart zone alerts, paced coaching, and lots more.

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

That new processor is also able to sense workouts and other activities all the time now, enabling seven additional automatically tracked workouts this time around. This, combined with a newly rebuilt and redesigned Fitbit app, shows that Google seems to finally be figuring out what it wants to do with the Fitbit brand long term.

The new Fitbit UI better displays health data and even enables heart zone alerts, paced coaching, and lots more right from the watch.

With the new features like safety checks, emergency medical info, and car crash detection, as well as location sharing, round out what’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting smartwatch updates we’ve seen from any company in quite a few years. From what I can tell, the Pixel Watch 2 should address all the concerns everyone seemed to have about Google’s first-generation effort.

Preorder now

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Google Pixel Watch 2 goes up for preorder on October 4, 2023, and will ship out to customers on October 12, 2023. Like last year, the Wi-Fi-only model retails for $349, while the LTE-enabled model sells for $399.

The Pixel Watch 2 comes in three colorways: matte black, champagne, and polished silver. All models come with 32GB of storage, and Google says it’ll be offering the Pixel Watch 2 in a number of additional countries this time around.

Just make sure you get a good case or warranty, though, as the Pixel Watch 2 features the same repairability rating as the original.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu