Whenever I test a new smartwatch, I tend to put it on my free wrist, meaning, I keep my regular smartwatch on and then put the test one on my left wrist. It’s a great way to understand the experience of the new wearable through a direct comparison to my current favorite.
What I did not plan on, though, was wearing the new Google Pixel Watch 2 ($349 / £349 / AU$549) and Apple Watch Series 9 45mm ($429 / £429 / AU$699 for two weeks. Yes, I got some looks and my family thought I was losing it. I, however, have gotten quite used to it. Now, though, it’s time to stop and take stock. Only one will live on my wrist for the long haul.
Let’s sleep on it
You’ll only sleep with a comfortable watch. If there is the slightest design variation – a bump that perhaps does not exist on one watch – then you’ll sleep with the other. Anything that makes you uncomfortable during sleep is essentially worthless as a sleep-tracking device. The Pixel Watch 2 is just as thick as its predecessor (12.3mm thick) and the back has too much of a bump for my tastes. When I slept, I could feel it and the discomfort often woke me up.
Eventually, I put my need for sleep over a long-term Pixel Watch 2 sleep test. After a few days of sleeping with both watches, I relegated the Pixel Watch 2 to the charger. I simply do not feel the Apple Watch Series 9, which is just 10.7mm thick, when I sleep.
Is there is something about more and more sensors?
The Pixel Watch 2 knew every time I was walking fast for an extended period of time (between 10 and 12 minutes) but the Apple Watch Series 9 did not always know. I don’t know for certain but wonder if this has anything to do with the Pixel Watch 2's heart rate sensors – it has four times as many.
Those sensors, by the way, did, at least initially, give me what I think may be a more accurate measure of my heart rate during workouts. The Apple Watch Series 9 usually caught up after a few moments (though it sometimes measured a lower rate). By week two, however, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Google Pixel Watch 2 workout heart rate readings were virtually in synch. Perhaps, the Apple Watch learned something about my heart rate along the way.
There are only so many ways you can give an attaboy
Each watch is good at giving daily approbations, but the Apple Watch's various badges and awards do it with more color. Likewise, there are only so many ways to stop, start, and pause workouts and the two watches are quite similar. The only difference is when you tell the Apple Watch you’re done, it double-checks that you’re really done. I don’t know why it now does this in watchOS 10.
You’ll notice this
I’m going into tap overload. Both watches have access to most of my email, slack, and other social media accounts. So, yes, they tap my wrist simultaneously. There is virtually no difference here, but I live the with knowledge that two watches are one too many.
Screen size matters
The Pixel Watch screen is extremely clear and bright, but feels cramped compared to the Apple Watch Series 9's big 45mm screen. There is only one Pixel Watch 2 size so it’s forced to compare to both Apple Watch sizes. For what it’s worth, the pixel density on the Apple Watch Series 9 is, at 326ppi, slightly higher than the Pixel Watch’s 320ppi. A fair comparison might be using the smaller 41mm Apple Watch, the same listed screen size as the Pixel, but we didn't have a sample to hand.
Besides, at the core of the problem is not the Pixel Watch 2's round face, but the size of the black bezel around it, which makes it seem even smaller. The Apple Watch Series 9's rectangular face contends with a much thinner bezel.
At least both watch screens win in the glanceability department. They both feature always-on displays that are just bright enough to read the time and they come to bright life when I raise my wrist.
Who wears the crown?
Pixel Watch 2 may be on to something with the slightly more prominent crown. I like the look and feel of it. Apple took extra effort to make the Apple Watch Series 9 crown almost disappear into the body.
The two crowns function quite similarly. A press to access apps and a turn to scroll through them. When you're inside almost any app or screen, each crown serves as a more efficient alternative to gesturing through lengthy screens.
Everyone needs at least one button and both the Pixel Watch and Series 9 make excellent use of theirs. However, on the Pixel Watch 2, the crown and button seem almost interchangeable when it comes to utility (a press of the crown gets you to all apps, a press of the button gets you to "Recents"). I think I prefer the Apple Watch Series 9’s relegation of the button to core settings.
Google's Pixel Watch 2 is a swipe-friendly wearable, letting me swipe from the top of the screen, the bottom, and the left or right side. All have a distinct purpose. Apple prefers you swipe either up or down (you can swipe from the side when inside apps like Workout). That's simplicity some may appreciate but I think the Pixel Watch's four-way swipe makes the home screen essentially twice as useful.
Battery life may matter most
I can’t tell you how pleased I’ve been with the battery life on both of these smartwatches. Each is capable of lasting through a whole day and into the night. I can sleep with either one, and then before I head out for the day, maybe while I’m showering, give them a quick charge up to last through the new workday.
I did that for a few days until I realized, as I noted above, I wasn't sleeping properly with the Pixel Watch 2 on in bed. At that point, I only had to top off the Apple Watch Series 9 in the morning because the Pixel Watch 2 spends its nights on its charger.
Speaking of chargers, it's a small thing, but Google's switch to physical charging pins means the Pixel Watch 2 will only seat in one direction on the charge base. This means I get it wrong approximately 50% of the time. By contrast, there's no wrong way to place the Apple Watch Series 9 on its wireless charge base.
The Pixel Watch 9 has some attractive watch face designs, but it’s sorely lacking in the fun department. For my money, there is no better smartwatch watch face on the planet than the Snoopy one now available on the Apple Watch Series 9.
Watch bands matter even more
The key to comfort is a good watchband, especially the one that ships with the smartwatch. Apple’s decision to ship the Sport Loop is a smart one. It’s a one-size-fits-all-wonder and is incredibly comfortable. (You can, of course, buy an Apple Watch with one of the slightly less comfortable fluroelastomer Sport Bands). The Pixel Watch 9 silicon band is a bit thick and a little itchy, making it tough to find a comfortable fitness setting.
My suggestion is choose a mesh band for both smartwatches. You will thank me later.
The 80/20 rule
Even smartwatches follow the 80/20 rule. I use 20% of the features 80% of the time. These tiny computers have utilities and options I almost never use or notice (like blood oxygenation levels or skin temp, or most of the workout options – I stick with strength training on both ). Of course, I can reasonably expect that your 20% will differ from mine.
The burgeoning safety features on the Pixel Watch and well-established ones on the Apple Watch Series 9, though, are the kinds of things you like having around, even if you never use them. Interestingly, I took a hard fall during a recent workout and neither watch seemed to notice. On the other hand, I was sitting minding my own business one day when the Pixel Watch 2 asked me if I had taken a fall. Weird.
I did end up liking both new smartwatches, mostly for different reasons – but the Apple Watch Series 9 is still my overall winner. It's the first smartwatch I can sleep with that does not wake me in the middle of the night.