Samsung phones are great, but they’re overloaded with features—Google Pixel phones offer a better Android experience for most people. However, I can’t say the same about the Pixel Watch. Samsung out-Googled Google this time.
While Samsung’s One UI and Google’s Pixel UI are both built on Android, they look and feel very different. The same thing can be said about the company’s smartwatches, which are both built on Wear OS. But in this case, it’s Samsung offering the better experience, and it’s just as Google-y.
Samsung Is the Standard for Wear OS
One of the interesting side-effects of Google taking so long to make its own smartwatch is it didn’t get to set the precedent of how Wear OS functions. Google made the first Android phone, but when it revamped Wear OS, it partnered with Samsung to kick things off.
Unlike previous versions, Wear OS 3 is intended to be customized by the manufacturer. However, since Samsung is the main producer of Wear OS 3 smartwatches, its vision for the OS is basically the only one we’ve seen. It set the standard.
As expected, Google has its own custom experience for Wear OS on the Pixel Watch, but its decisions don’t feel like different interpretations, they feel like departures from the norm. I’m constantly expecting things to work like they do on the Galaxy Watch 5. When they don’t, it doesn’t feel different, it feels wrong.
That’s what happens when you let others carry the torch for your software. It’s like if you switched from a Galaxy phone to a Pixel, and the notification shade was in a completely different spot.
Switching from the Galaxy Watch 5 to the Pixel Watch felt very different than switching from a Galaxy phone to a Pixel phone. I expected things to look different, I didn’t expect them to function so differently.
Trying to Run Before It Can Walk
I will admit it might not be fair to consider Samsung’s customization of Wear OS as the “correct” implementation. Not everyone who uses a Pixel Watch will have prior experience with a Samsung watch. Google may be late, but it deserves its opportunity to show us what it thinks Wear OS should be.
Google seems to want the Pixel Watch to be the Android ecosystem’s equivalent to the Apple Watch. It’s certainly priced that way, designed to be a fashion accessory, uses proprietary bands, and has highly-marketed fitness features with Fitbit.
The problem is Google is aiming at the wrong target. It’s trying to compete with the Apple Watch before it has even come close to the Galaxy Watch 5. The Pixel Watch is simply not the best ambassador of Wear OS. The OS can actually be relatively close to the Apple Watch, but you can’t see that on the Pixel Watch.
Google should have set its sights on knocking off Samsung before it tried to play on the same field as Apple.
A Better Google Smartwatch Exists
Here’s the thing Google probably doesn’t want you to know—there’s already a better Google smartwatch out there, and it’s $80 less than the Pixel Watch. That watch is the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
It's like the Pixel Watch, but better.
As mentioned in my review, the Pixel Watch doesn’t really offer an elevated Google experience. Almost every Google feature on the Pixel Watch can be used on the Galaxy Watch 5. Apps such as Google Assistant, Wallet, Maps, Keep, Clock, Weather, and Home are available in the Play Store for the Galaxy Watch 5.
It’s not just about the price, either. The Galaxy Watch 5 has more sensors for fitness tracking, a newer processor, a more durable display, and better battery life. It can use standard watch bands, too. Plus, you don’t need to pay $10 per month for “Premium” features in Samsung Health.
The few things you miss are Google’s watch faces, some extra app Tiles, and Fitbit integration. It’s hard to justify paying $350 for the second or third-best Wear OS smartwatch. If you want a Google-y smartwatch, you should buy the best one.
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