Photo: Victoria Song
As a longtime Android user, I’ve spent the better part of a decade on the sidelines of an entire product category, awaiting a wearable that could rival the Apple Watch. From startups to traditional watchmakers, many companies have promised a worthy alternative, only to release smartwatches with crippling compromises. Each failure dimmed the hopes for a viable Apple Watch rival, while Google, the company responsible for the underlying Android smartwatch OS, seemingly lost interest in its own platform.
Now there is reason to be hopeful again. Google recently awoke from its slumber and partnered with Samsung, whose Galaxy smartwatches have long been the best options for non-iPhone users, to build Wear OS 3. When the first smartwatch running the new software platform arrived in the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, it was widely heralded by critics (including us) as the “first good Android smartwatch.” Sales of that watch have increased Android’s wearables market share in recent months.
Google plans to build off this momentum with the long-awaited release of its own Pixel Watch. Yes, a Pixel Watch, not a Fitbit one as was posited after Google’s acquisition of Fitbit last year. I’m not getting my hopes too high, but everything I’ve seen so far suggests Google’s first smartwatch could soon form a tan line on my left wrist.
The latest encouraging information comes from leaker Jon Prosser, who posted on his YouTube channel what he claims are official promotional photos. Matching earlier renders from the same sources, these leaked marketing materials show images (albeit grainy ones) of the rumored Google Pixel Watch.
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If these are the real deal, the Pixel Watch will have a simple circular design with a practically bezel-free watch face that seems to waterfall around the edges. On the right side is a substantial crown for physical controls. And unlike the somewhat chunky Apple Watch, the Pixel Watch appears impressively thin in these renders.
It looks, well, luxurious. And while not everyone will take to the design, the low-profile watch looks so small that you probably wouldn’t even notice it throughout the day, even during a workout. I also like that there is a physical dial to interface with Wear OS 3 because swiping around such a tiny display can be a pain in the ass.
While the leak doesn’t reveal specs or give a features rundown, a few of the alleged marketing slides show what you can do with the watch, including the ability to get directions on Google Maps, track health metrics, and answer phone calls.
I admit, I’d stopped paying much attention to Pixel Watch rumors as a means of shielding myself from any further heartbreak, but the success of the Pixel 6 has rekindled my faith in Google after some questionable hardware decisions (raise your hands, Pixel 5 owners). Remember, Google upset the smartphone industry when the original Pixel launched and it has the opportunity to do so again with the Pixel Watch.
But let me slow down for a second, because there are still too many missing pieces in this puzzle. How Google plans to position the Pixel Watch—as a full-fledged Apple Watch rival or a fitness-focused Fitbit-like wearable—remains a mystery, as are the components tasked with providing a smooth experience (something past Android watches have struggled with).
I’m also worried about what the watch’s slimness means for battery life: the Achilles’ heel of most wearables. Using a battery that’s too small to get through a full day of use is a surefire way to ruin a smartwatch. I wouldn’t mind a few extra millimeters of thickness if it keeps the wearable alive into day two. I’m speculating here, but poor endurance has been the kryptonite of many an Android watch, and the petite design shown in this latest leak unsettles me.
Google is rumored to debut the Pixel Watch sometime in 2022, so Android users can start setting their analog watches for what we all hope will be the last time.