The Pixel Watch is proof that Wear OS isn’t bad, it just needs a lot of work

A Google Pixel Watch rests on a yoga mat and displays a user's activity stats on a standard watch face.

Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

For a long time, the general consensus among users of Wear OS watches was that the platform was not that good. Stuttering, sluggishness, weird bugs, frequent phone connection, and the lack of a well-integrated fitness and health service were some of the main reasons for that thinking. Not to mention Google’s on-again-off-again relationship with the platform, with updates one day and neglect the next.

Then the Google-Samsung partnership and the Galaxy Watch 4 happened, signaling Google’s long-standing commitment to Wear OS on an abstract level and the not-so-suckiness of the platform on a concrete level. It was one of the first examples that Google’s software enabled watches to be smooth, responsive and competitive with the best of the best smartwatches.

Wear OS on the Pixel Watch feels more mature and stable than ever before. But it’s still lagging.

A year later, the Galaxy Watch 5 has reinforced that impression, but it’s certainly the Pixel Watch that has reinforced it. Even without Samsung’s bells and whistles, Wear OS feels more mature and stable than ever before. The Pixel Watch is the first time I’ve really enjoyed using an Android-based smartwatch, and I finally see a lot of promise in Wear OS. The problem is that every aspect of it needs something extra – an obvious improvement or addition of features that should have been there already.

When everything clicks together

Google Pixel 7 Pro, Pixel Watch and Pixel Buds Pro

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

In my eight years of using a variety of Wear OS watches, the Pixel Watch is my first time experiencing a stutter-free experience. The Galaxy Watch 4 came close, but still lagged behind in some places. Google’s new watch, on the other hand, is fast, super-smooth, and hasn’t shown me a stutter or janky moment in over a month of use. The main interface is easy to get used to with simple swipes, one button and an intuitive rotating crown. Even the Google Assistant is fast and accurate as long as you’re connected to the phone (more on that later).

The built-in Fitbit activity tracking is spot on too, with steps, stairs, sleep, heart rate and various exercises all tracked without me lifting a finger.

The Pixel Watch offers the smoothest Wear OS experience I’ve seen and integrates well into Google’s ecosystem.

Google has also made sure that the Pixel Watch integrates well into its own ecosystem. The camera shutter controller is useful for taking some shots remotely with my Pixel 7 Pro, the Google Pixel Buds Pro connect instantly to the watch since they’re already paired with my phone, and some apps (like Google Maps and Citymapper) put my navigation directions from my phone screen to the watch screen. Notification sounds also sync pretty well between phone and watch. When I wear the watch, it vibrates while the phone remains silent; when i’m not wearing it the phone starts pinging instead.

Overall, the experience seems solid, but that’s about it. There’s nothing new with Wear OS 3.5, and there’s been nothing really new with Wear OS for years. While competitors like Samsung and Apple are busy adding features and improving ecosystem integration between their smartwatches and phones, Google gives us a robust foundation that lacks a million extra pieces.

Watch out for all the missing features

Google Home app on the Pixel Watch prompting you to open the app on the phone for more controls

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Every time I use an app or feature on my Pixel Watch, I’m annoyed by something that’s missing. Take Google Maps, for example: the Wear OS app doesn’t support transit directions, and you can’t even get transit notifications from the phone app to appear on your watch. Or if you open a Google Calendar event with a mapped location on your watch, you won’t be able to tap that location to navigate to it, regardless of the navigation method.

Messaging apps like the default Google Messages or WhatsApp don’t support GIF and voice notes. If you and your friends/family use those a lot, you’ll need to reach out to your phone quite often to have a conversation, negating the benefits of messaging on a watch. (In my personal observation, voice note usage is quite high among people who chat in languages ​​other than English, especially languages ​​with non-Latin alphabets.)

Every little aspect of Wear OS is still missing in one form or another. Even Google’s apps lack crucial features.

Other built-in apps also lack simple features. Google Wallet cannot display loyalty cards or gift cards. The Google Home app doesn’t let you organize smart devices or pin the most-used devices to the top. The Google Assistant can very well crouch without a connection to the phone. Even if the watch itself has a Wi-Fi connection, you can’t set a simple timer with voice.

Even the Fitbit features, which I would have expected to be top-notch given Google’s purchase of Fitbit, leave a lot to be desired. There’s no active workout recognition while you’re in the middle of an activity, no period tracking, and many stats are phone-bound for now. For example, the daily readiness score, stress management, respiration rate, water and food logging, and more are simply missing from the wrist app.

Despite solid ecosystem integration, some obvious cross-device features with phones, computers, and speakers are nowhere to be found.

In terms of the ecosystem, Google’s integrations feel like a step forward, two steps back. There is no cross-device unlocking for your Android phone or Chromebook with your watch. Do not disturb settings cannot be synced between phone and watch, nor bedtime mode. You don’t get a friendly nudge to open the camera controller on your wrist when you launch the camera on your phone. All Google Cast controls on your home’s smart speakers will not be displayed on the watch for easy operation.

Finally, Google’s own Wear OS implementation is still pretty weak on the customization front. We should have more watch face styles and designs, more colors, and more app tiles. (I’d like to see one for reminders, a world clock, Citymapper, and Todoist, for example.) I also need options to pin my most-used apps to the app list, and custom hotkeys to quickly launch my favorite apps.

What do you think of WearOS?

35 votes

Time for some quick and extensive updates

A Google Pixel Watch rests next to a Galaxy Watch 5 pro.

Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

The Pixel Watch has left me with many conflicting feelings, but the most obvious one is this clash between my awe at how good the Wear OS experience can be when it works and my annoyance at everything that’s still missing. There is a solid foundation here, but it needs to be leveraged as soon as possible.

Part of me wants to forgive Google for being the first smartwatch, while the other can’t just overlook the fact that we’re not in the early days of Wear OS at all. The platform was launched eight years ago and we are already at version 3.5; the fact that we’re glad it’s finally in a usable condition and that we have a solid foundation is sad, frankly. Meanwhile, the competition has also moved miles ahead.

This isn’t Google’s first rodeo, as much as the company would like us to think it is. Some important updates are expected as soon as possible.

Since we can’t consider this Google’s first rodeo, the company needs to catch up quickly. We’ve been promised annual Wear OS updates even quarterly Pixel phone like features to the Watch so it remains to be seen if Google is able to take advantage of these updates to bring its smartwatch platform in line with Samsung and Apple.

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