Before I got a Pixel Watch from Google to try, I was using a Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 that seemed to get everything right. As long as I charged it once a day, I found the Galaxy Watch a more than capable companion, one of the best smartwatches I’ve used. It gave me interesting insight into my days and nights. I really loved using that watch, I just never loved looking at it.
The Pixel Watch, on the other hand, returns to the days when technology tried to emulate nature. It’s a smoothly polished stone plucked from a stream, placed upon your wrist. The OLED watch screens seem to bubble up information that flows smoothly across the face. It’s so delightful to look at that I almost don’t notice the massive bezel that makes up an outer ring.
It’s not a ‘better’ watch than the Galaxy Watch 5, but it’s the watch I’m wearing, and as long as I don't need more features I’ll keep wearing it. That change might come sooner than later, though, because the Galaxy Watch 5 really did get things right.
You can forget about the Galaxy Watch 5 in a good way
I’ve been using a Galaxy Watch 5 with LTE, provided by AT&T. Even connected to the network, battery life gets me through a day of use. On the Pixel Watch, I still haven’t figured out how to reliably keep the watch awake past dinner time.
I often forget to wear my Pixel Watch to bed at night because I left it on the charger and I was too tired to remember to put it on my wrist. I wake up feeling the way you do when you go for a jog and forget your smartwatch. Did my sleep even count? Plus, the Pixel Watch has failed to catch me falling asleep a few times, even when I remember to wear it.
The Galaxy Watch worked incredibly well with sleep, better than any other smartwatch I’ve used. It engaged the sleep mode automatically with no problems and the readings always felt accurate; it gave me a graph timeline showing my sleep patterns that matched my own experience. I even like that I can hear recordings of times I snore, working in tandem with my phone.
One of the features Google omitted from the Pixel Watch, compared to its best Fitbit devices like the Fitbit Sense, is the wealth of automated fitness tracking. It should be able to tell when you’ve started something basic, like a walk or a run, but it can’t determine that you’ve begun a pilates workout.
My Pixel Watch tracks my steps, but it doesn’t catch every walk like my Galaxy Watch could. I have two dogs and we go on 20-minute walks, four or five times a day. I love having a tracker that separates those walks as workouts, because it reminds me to follow our walk schedule. The Pixel Watch only catches two or three walks a day, and never all of them.
Worst of all, the Pixel Watch counts steps while I’m driving. That’s an egregious error for a smartwatch to make. I drove 10 hours one weekend and recorded over 6,000 steps while driving. I wish I had the time to exercise so much behind the wheel, but not even close.
The Pixel Watch is just too pretty to give up
Even with these faults, I still wear the Google Pixel Watch more often than the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5. The watch isn’t perfect, but I can excuse its faults because I love looking at it. It doesn’t feel clunky on my wrist. It doesn’t feel like I’m just wearing a second screen or a piece of tech.
It feels like a watch, and as a fashion accessory, I find the Pixel Watch much more appealing.
The Galaxy Watch 5 is ugly. It looks like a vehicle for the technology it offers. The screen is big and flat. The case is slab-sided and uniform, with no texture or detailing. The bands are average, the same as every other smartwatch gets.
Samsung Watches used to have a very cool rotating bezel, and you can still buy a Galaxy Watch 4 Classic with this feature, if you hurry. Now the bezel is a touch mechanism, and though it behaves the same, it makes less sense. I loved the rotating bezel, it was a cool mechanical addition to a digital device.
Buttons are all the Galaxy Watch 5 gets. No rotating bezel. No cool little crown dial like you’ll find on a Pixel Watch, or the best Apple Watch, or a Rolex watch. Buttons and a touchscreen drive the Galaxy Watch, just like your smartphone.
I don’t want my watch to be a smartphone on my wrist. I need it to have style. I can put my phone in my pocket, but my wrist is always swinging around in front of me.
I check my watch because it’s cooler than taking out my smartphone. If my watch looks like a smartphone, what’s cool about that?
Samsung knows how to make things look cool
The good news is that Samsung has a history of being very adaptable and highly competitive, and we need them to be, because smartwatches only work with certain phone platforms. While the Pixel Watch and the Apple Watch 8 may both appear on our overall list of best smartwatches, the truth is that you can’t use a Google watch if you own an Apple phone, or vice versa. If you’re settled on Android, it’s a matter of what’s the best Android smartwatch.
We need Samsung to step up its style game when it comes to smartwatches. The technology has reached a plateau for now. We’re not seeing leaps in innovation, and even the technology on the watch isn’t quite ready for use, like the inactive temperature sensor on the Galaxy Watch 5.
Now is the time to go for a little more style over substance. That’s what I’m going to do, as soon as my Pixel Watch is done charging.
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Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.
Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.