How to avoid the Pixel Watch restart bug that locked me out till it died

Google Pixel Watch restarting text on screen
(Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

Still haunted by the memory of the countless tree chocolates and pigs in blankets I consumed over the course of Christmas (paired with the reality of the resultant waistline), I tried kicking off this month with a 'new year, new me' mentality.

As part of my newfound focus on wellbeing, I've committed to a 30-day daily yoga practice (following a free programme by Yoga with Adriene on YouTube, if you're interested) and so far, so good; well, at least in terms of the yoga... as for tracking my daily workouts, it's been a decidedly more inconsistent experience, but I swear that's not my fault – it's Google's.

The Pixel Watch is a hugely important timepiece in the current wearables landscape; serving as the poster child for the renewed Wear OS 3 experience (not to mention being among the best smartwatches currently out there), it has the potential to make or break Wear OS’ future, as a truly competitive smartwatch platform. However, with it being only three months on from the Pixel Watch's initial release, the jury is still out.

As it’s such a pivotal wearable, I've been keen to see what the Pixel Watch is like as a daily driver, and I’ve been wearing it practically everyday since it launched, mostly without issue. I've grown accustomed to its better-known shortcomings – and underhwleming battery life is chief among those, although in this instance that may have proved to be more of a blessing than a curse.

Fenced in by Fitbit

Fitbit Versa 4 on wrist

The Fitbit Versa 4 (Image credit: Andrew Williams)

Part of the Pixel Watch's current appeal is that it's the only Wear OS watch that offers access to Fitbit functionality, while also offering richer smartwatch features, compared to its closest cousins within Fitbit's own portfolio, namely the Fitbit Sense 2 and Versa 4; in essence, it's the best of both.

That Fitbit exclusivity, paired with my accidental purchase of a year's worth of Fitbit Premium (the company's paid service that offers additional insights, functionality and workouts) last April, means there are few other devices that I'm willing to strap on my wrist at the moment.

A restart ruse

So far, tracking my yoga sessions through the Pixel Watch's Fitbit app has been a breeze, but when it came to recharging the timepiece ahead of my fourth workout, I hit a snag. Everything seemed fine, until I slid the Watch onto its magnetic charging puck, and nothing happened – the screen didn’t display the familiar lightning bolt and everything looked just as it had when it was still on my wrist, moments earlier. "No matter", I thought to myself, "I'll just restart the watch – it's good practice to restart or switch off your devices from time to time, anyway". In this instance, however, it was not.

The on-screen controls were impotent

I long-pressed the rotating crown, the power menu popped up, and I hit the option to restart. 'Restarting...' appeared on screen as expected, but then it decided to make itself comfortable. I left the Pixel Watch on its charger, thinking it must just only be taking a little longer as I hadn't turned it off for a few days. Twenty, then 30, then 90 minutes later, however, the watch still claimed that it was busy restarting, complete with a spinning white circle, suggesting that things were going on behind the scenes; which they were – just not the things that were supposed to be going on.

When I had time to come back and check on it, I thought I'd try re-restarting the watch, or at least simply turn it off so that I could reboot it cleanly. There were promising signs of life too, as the power menu appeared after I long-pressed the crown once more, but these on-screen controls were impotent; merely graphics implying what was once possible.

Signs of life

Google Pixel 7 review with Pixel Buds Pro and Pixel Watch

(Image credit: Future / Alex Walker-Todd)

Out of fear of locking the watch up any further, even though it was mid-episode, for a while I just popped it back on my wrist and continued with my day. It was only then that I realized, despite what was on-screen – the facade of a restart – the Pixel Watch was still connected to my Pixel 7 Pro and receiving notifications in tandem, throwing out the occasional haptic buzz when a WhatsApp message came in, or Elon tweeted about which dystopian future we'd unknowingly backed ourselves into. I couldn't see anything on the watch face, but at least I knew the Pixel Watch wasn't yet completely dead in the water.

Even the (usually brilliant) optical heart rate sensor was lighting up as frequently as normal. It was only later that I learned that whatever inner turmoil my Pixel Watch had endured had created a three-hour gap in heart rate data; no big loss, as I wasn't actively working out during that time.

Out of options

With my next yoga session looming, I tried, in vain, to wrestle the Pixel Watch back from this strange twilight state of semi-operation, but no luck; I had to sweat, stretch, breathe and tense for 35 minutes, knowing that the only quantifiable data I'd be able to take away from my session was my internal gauge of next-day muscle soreness, rated on a scale of 'eugh' to 'oooOOOooohhh'.

Long-pressing the crown for an extended length of time did nothing, and (once I'd learned that it was an option) even a last-ditch attempt at a hard reboot (pressing both the crown and side button simultaneously) didn't appear to break the Pixel Watch's restart trance.

At this point, all I could do was resign myself to the fact that I'd simply have to wait for the Pixel Watch to tire itself out, in the hope that – assuming it would then charge – I could expect a return to normalcy, once the watch's 294mAh battery was back to full power.

When the watch had finally expired, I popped it once more on its charging puck – as I’ve done dozens of times before – and to my relief the familiar lightning bolt appeared on the screen, accompanied by the charge ring that closes over the course of the watch's refill.

Once it was near fully charged, I pulled the Pixel Watch off the puck again, put it on, and unlocked it – and it served up its Wear OS (3.5) user experience, just as Google had intended, with no signs of software stutter or any hardware hiccups to speak of.

The devil was in the details, all along

Google Pixel Watch crown and side button closeup

The solution was staring me in the face (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

I still don't know what caused my Pixel Watch to malfunction in the first place and even though the episode was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, I'm still ticked off about losing both heart rate data and the opportunity to log an additional workout in the Fitbit app.

Time is (somewhat ironically) a great healer, however, and despite this hiccup, until that Fitbit Premium membership is no longer in play it'll likely be the Pixel Watch that you'll continue find on my wrist (that or one of the best Fitbits currently out there).

As it turns out, my solution to the issue wasn't the only (or recommended), one and I'd actually come painfully close to remedying the problem a few steps earlier; if only I'd done one thing differently...

The hard reboot does indeed rely on you long-pressing both the crown and side buttons together for about 15 seconds; however, if you're still wearing the Pixel Watch, it apparently won't result in the reboot taking.

As discovered by user Andy Price, on the official Google Pixel Watch support forums, taking a semi-functional Pixel Watch off your wrist activates the screen lock state, necessary for the hard reboot to take effect.

Andy described in their post – dated October 16 2022 – that they simply stumbled across the solution by "randomly trying button combinations", which seems as good an idea as any, under the circumstances, with the process apparently absent from the Pixel Watch's user guide.

Only Google can fix this

Google Pixel Watch back

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

The bigger issue here isn't that it took a lone user to come up with the answer to a problem that – based on a quick glance across the Pixel Watch support forums and the likes of r/PixelWatch on Reddit – has affected tens, if not hundreds of other Pixel Watch owners; it's that it's still an issue at all.

In the same thread as their solution to the hard reboot, Andy detailed that the need for a solution arose from a similarly unresponsive Pixel Watch screen to my own. And at the conclusion of the thread, a 'community specialist' was the one to lock posts and mark the whole thing as complete.

While not official Google employees, community specialists are listed as ‘Google-approved partners’, and if they have the ability to sign off on official forum threads, they also, presumably, have the ability to send feedback on reported issues to those on the Pixel Watch team with the power to actually do something about them. At least, you'd hope that’s the case, otherwise the Pixel Watch's currently pivotal position in the smartwatch space may not tip in Google's favor.

Alex Walker-Todd
Senior Phones Editor

Alex joined as TechRadar's Senior Phones Editor in June 2022, but brings over a decade's worth of experience to the role, with an expertise in smartphones, tablets and wearables. He's covered keynotes hosted by the biggest brands and attended the launches for some of the most influential mobile products of the last few years. His experience was amassed at some of the most reputable consumer technology publications out there, including GSMArena, TechAdvisor and Trusted Reviews.