It’s hard to disagree with the common sentiment that Apple’s smartwatch lineup is the top dog when we discuss wearables. Incompatibility with Android and a resurgent Wear OS headed by the Pixel Watch begs the question of just how far Google’s latest gadget stacks up against similarly new Apple Watch Series 8. Here’s everything you need to know.
Table of contents
Video — Pixel Watch vs. Apple Watch Series 8
Hardware and design
For the purposes of this comparison, we’re comparing like-for-like or as close as we can get to that summation. At 41mm the Pixel Watch is small, so in the interest of fairness, we’re comparing it to the 41mm Apple Watch Series 8. That’s tougher than expected given the distinct differences in shape and overall size of each wearable.
Apple radically adjusted the familiar trope of circular wearables with a squared-off design that feels very much like the rest of the Apple lineup. The Series 8 doesn’t change a thing in terms of the chassis, but it looks very much like tech. The Google Pixel Watch is more traditional with a circular shape, and it looks at home with more outfits and looks.
Wear OS is loved and loathed for a number of reasons, but the variable form factors are certainly a strength. The Apple Watch hasn’t changed drastically over the past seven or eight years. Despite the similar 41mm chassis sizes, the displays differ quite substantially.
|Google Pixel Watch||Apple Watch Series 8|
|Dimensions||41 x 41 x 12.3 mm (1.61 x 1.61 x 0.48 inches)||41 x 35 x 10.7 mm (1.61 x 1.38 x 0.42 inches)|
|Screen size||1.2 inches / 450 x 450 pixels / 320ppi||1.7 inches / 430 x 352 pixels / 329ppi|
|Battery||294mAh / 24-hour||282mAh / 18-hour|
|Case||Stainless steel||Aluminum / Stainless steel|
|Processor||Exynos 9110 / Cortex M33 co-processor||Apple S8|
|OS||Wear OS||Watch OS|
|Durability||5 ATM||IP6X / 50m water-resistant|
A lot of that is owed to Apple’s squared screen approach. The AMOLED panel on the 41mm Apple Watch Series 8 measures in at 1.7 inches while the Pixel Watch comes in at a paltry 1.2 inches. There are sizable bezels surrounding the circular display. In direct sunlight, these can be exacerbated, but in general use, you’ll barely notice. Aside from the screen size differences, the Pixel Watch and Apple Watch Series 8 displays are very close in terms of fidelity and both look pin sharp.
Google has certainly taken some design cues from the Apple Watch. The recycled stainless steel chassis has a knurled crown and a single side button for Assistant and Recent app menu access. This is practically identical to the Apple Watch, albeit with a slightly different placement in the squared-off case. It’s also important to note that the stainless steel equivalent of the Apple Watch comes in at over $700.
Although only 6g separates the two 41mm wearables, the Pixel Watch feels quite a bit lighter. The default Pixel Watch strap is overall solid and is far better than Apple’s default Sport Band but the mechanism is trickier to master. The wealth of bands available is a strong suit for both wearables, but Apple has the edge in terms of official and third-party bands/straps available.
The internals are quite different given how far apart the iOS and Android-based operating systems happen to be on the duo. Google relies on the practically ancient 10nm-based Exynos 9110 with a Cortex M33 co-processor and 2GB RAM to help with heavy lifting. Apple relies on its own S8 processor with just 1GB RAM to run Watch OS. Storage on both models comes in at 32GB, which is more than enough to hold all of your apps plus even a few downloaded playlists from your favorite streaming or podcast app.
The Pixel Watch battery is one of the main sore points, and although it’s rated at 24 hours versus the 18-hour rated 41mm Apple Watch, it actually can come up short when certain features are active. Disabling the Always-on display helps get lifespan parity, but it’s a lot closer than you would expect.
What’s interesting is that neither wearable supports third-party Qi chargers. You’ll need a compatible magnetic puck or the in-the-box charger to power up. The Pixel Watch takes around 80 minutes to fully charge, while the Apple Watch requires 120 minutes on a compatible charger to top up.
Features, functions, and experience
While the hardware can be compared more readily, the gulf between the two operating systems has never been more evident with Google’s first direct attempt at a smartwatch. Without bashing Wear OS, it still feels like an afterthought that has always been in a state of transition.
That said, it begs the question what does a good smartwatch OS look like? If it’s just handling notification handling, managing music playback on your phone, making NFC payments, replying to messages, or tracking workouts, then you’re probably covered. Watch OS has a greater volume of high-quality applications available via the App Store, which does give it an undoubted edge.
In years gone by the biggest problem many cited with Wear OS was the sub-par performance levels. The Exynos 9110 shouldn’t be holding things together so well, but there are some minor slowdowns and what feels like a lack of polish at least when compared directly to the Apple Watch Series 8.
Even with the usage of an older processor and, somewhat shockingly, when used side-by-side, the performance isn’t that far apart even if the two OSes are fundamentally different. Most apps, notifications, and menus load in good time, and the overall experience is slick on the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Pixel Watch. The Apple Watch certainly has an edge, but Google has done particularly well given this is a first-generation wearable.
I much prefer the Quick Tiles option on Wear OS for finding out key information quickly and, therefore, bypassing the need to launch into an application or mess around with extra menus. This is sorely missing on Apple Watch Series 8, with a left to right swipe simply changing any preset watch faces.
The dedicated apps for both wearables are also very different. You can do a great deal from the new Pixel Watch app including changing watch faces, initiating system updates, adjust the Quick Tiles, but not much else. On iOS, the Apple Watch app is a one-stop shop for everything related to your wearable including fitness tracking, full app settings, plus much more.
Notifications are handled quite differently on Watch OS and Wear OS. For starters, the squared display on the Apple Watch Series 8 makes these much easier to read and expand any app notifications by virtue of the larger area. On Pixel Watch, the rounded display can cut things off and makes spacing a bit awkward. Apple also offers rich notifications for certain applications like the Fitness app. This means when tapping a notification, you’ll sometimes get an overflow section with key information such as your recent heart rate or steps taken available at a glance.
On the Pixel Watch, notifications are quite uniform with how Wear OS has handled them for some time already. Tapping a notification allows you to reply or, in some cases, open the full version of an application. While that is fine, getting some quick information would be a nice touch. What’s more, when receiving Google Home notifications on Apple Watch you will often get a short GIF or PNG of your at-home cameras. Annoyingly, this isn’t yet available on Pixel Watch, even if the app was built specifically to launch with Google’s first-party smartwatch.
It’s also important to note that the Pixel Watch has the best haptics of any Wear OS watch to date, it just comes up short against the vibration-based feedback of the Apple Watch Series 8. Every tap is accompanied by a subtle buzz that has an X, Y, and even a Z position within Watch OS. Pixel Watch vibrations are tight and crisp.
Speakers are also similarly solid across both wearables, which is ideal for calls. Listening to audio out loud on Apple Watch is limited on an app-by-app basis, which definitely gives the Pixel Watch an edge. Although we’re not going to fully compare Siri and Google Assistant, the utility and ubiquity of Google’s AI helper wipes the floor with Apple’s AI efforts. Voice recognition and the “Hey Google” wake words are almost flawless. That said, Siri is becoming more and more useful with better voice recognition and integration with Watch features.
A pertinent point here is that neither wearable can be used across the iOS-Android divide. The Apple Watch integrates more readily into iOS, but the Pixel Watch isn’t too far behind with Fast Pair support and a simple application that lets you change the watch face, adjust settings, and more.
Fitness and tracking
Tying the Pixel Watch to Fitbit is a great step above the truly basic Google Fit suite of tracking and fitness analysis functions. And while basic workout tracking is solid, certain features being hidden behind the Fitbit paywall for extra health features is quite disappointing. This includes enhanced sleep tracking, specific health data, and even some rudimentary workout tips. It might also frustrate some people to learn that you need to use the Pixel Watch app in tandem with the Fitbit app to get the “full” experience here.
The Apple Watch has more metrics available as standard, but like the Pixel Watch you can access further workout routines and coaching with a paid Apple Fitness+ plan. Both plans start at $9.99 per month, but can get a six-month free trial for Fitbit Premium with the Pixel Watch. That softens the blow, but for tracking your workouts and basic health metrics, the free tier is absolutely fine.
Apple’s suite of fitness and health tracking far surpasses what Google and the standard Fitbit plan can offer at this stage. ECG analysis is available on both wearables, alongside sleep tracking, and constant heart rate are all included. Apple’s latest smartwatch has a few aces up its sleeve though as you have access to noise or sound detection in loud environments, menstrual cycle tracking, skin temperature reading, plus much more. It’s an unfair comparison in many ways, as the Apple Watch has extra sensors and a far more in-depth system to give you a picture of your current health.
Another sore point for the Pixel Watch is the lack of auto-workout tracking. While this is not a dealbreaker, it could be seen as an annoyance if you do happen to forget to set a mode and hit “start” while at the gym. There is no denying that, at least at this stage, the Apple Watch is a far better everyday companion if you want in-depth fitness and health-tracking functionality on your wrist.
Pixel Watch or Apple Watch: Which is the better wearable?
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It boils down to which mobile operating system you use on a daily basis as to which smartwatch is right for you. Use Android? Then you’ll want to look toward the Pixel Watch. Use iOS? Then it’s Apple Watch all the way.
Google’s first direct attempt at making a rival to the Apple Watch has overall been valiant. That said, it doesn’t quite stack up against Apple’s expertise in crafting wearables. The Achilles heel of the Pixel Watch could be considered Wear OS. While it’s fine in its own space, when compared directly to the feature-rich and mature Watch OS, it comes up just short.
It is hard to deny that the best Wear OS still belongs to Samsung. With Google working directly with the Korean tech giant to help bolster the wearable operating system, it was hard to believe that the Pixel Watch could usurp the Galaxy Watch upon release. Even so, the Pixel Watch is a great Wear OS-Fitbit hybrid that even in its first iteration has hit the mark in a ton of important areas. It’s not quite the perfect Android companion in that regard, but it’ll please a lot of people with an Android phone.
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