After using the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5 for the last two weeks and being seriously impressed by it, I wondered what it would be like to return to the Google Pixel Watch — a smartwatch I wasn’t so taken with.
A few days with the Pixel Watch reminded me why it was a disappointment. Make no mistake: If you’ve got $350 to spend on an Android smartwatch, there’s only one model that should be on your list.
A step back in performance
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The Pixel Watch and the TicWatch Pro 5 couldn’t be more different when it comes to performance and battery life. Despite there being barely six months separating their releases, the Pixel Watch performs like a smartwatch from several years ago. There’s noticeable lag and some animation stutters when you press the buttons and scroll through the menus, either with your finger on the screen or using the rotating crown. There’s nothing like that on the TicWatch Pro 5, which uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 processor to great effect.
But speed and smoothness improvements are nothing compared to the difference in battery life between these two smartwatches. The Pixel Watch’s battery life is genuinely poor. With a single non-GPS workout tracked for 30 minutes, general use during the day, and one night’s sleep tracking, it went from 100% at around 9 a.m. to 14% the following morning. If you use apps, track a GPS workout, stream music, or use navigation, then I doubt it’ll make it through the night on day one.
During my review period, the TicWatch Pro 5 settled down to four days of use from a single charge, with similar daily use and sleep tracking to my time with the Pixel Watch. That’s four times the battery life. Even if you hammered the battery and halved that time, which I think would be a big challenge, it’ll still be twice as good as the Pixel Watch. Charging is quicker too, with the Pixel Watch taking nearly 90 minutes to fully recharge, while the TicWatch Pro 5 shaves at least 20 minutes from that time.
Passable, but never outstanding
Speed, smoothness, and battery life have long been Wear OS’ biggest problems, and the TicWatch Pro 5 with the Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 has none of them. It leaves you wondering why Google didn’t push to make the Pixel Watch — the first smartwatch with the Pixel name, and therefore a pretty big deal — a technical showcase in the same way. It’s not like the Snapdragon chip didn’t exist, as it was announced in mid-2022, or that Google had never seen a smartwatch before.
What about the fitness tracking? The Pixel Watch uses Fitbit and needs both the Pixel Watch app and the Fitbit app to be installed, while Mobvoi only requires one app (Mobvoi Health). I had some problems with tracking workouts on the TicWatch Pro 5, but even if there weren’t any issues, Fitbit on the Pixel Watch is easier to use and more attractive, plus Fitbit’s data appears to be very accurate. The app is less informative and isn’t as user-friendly, though. Plus, the TicWatch Pro 5’s health app doesn’t have a subscription model, which Fitbit does. I’d rather have everything there from the start, without being pushed to pay extra.
Elsewhere, I’ve found the Pixel Watch to simply be fine. It’s not awful (battery life aside), and the software is reliable, with notifications delivered on time, some pleasing haptic feedback, cute sound effects if you want them, and a very easy initial setup process. The keyboard is a bit slow, but it’s surprisingly accurate and usable for quick replies. I’m not going to applaud the Pixel Watch for any of this though, as I expect a $350 product from a major company to do what it’s supposed to do.
Where the design gets it wrong
The Pixel Watch hasn’t really changed since it was introduced, and my opinion about it remains very similar too. But what about the part that irks me the most: the size and the design. Where do I start?
I still think the Pixel Watch looks too small, and the plain shape and design limits its appeal. The 41mm case size sounds like it should be quite big, especially if you’re coming from a traditional watch, but in reality, the design choices make it look quite dainty.
This was confirmed when I tried on a pair of Tudor Black Bay watches, as I was unsure whether the 39mm or 41mm case size would suit me better, and the Pixel Watch had be questioning my “eye.” The 39mm Black Bay 58 was ultimately too small for my personal taste, yet it still looked so much better proportioned than the Pixel Watch, despite technically being smaller. The 41mm Black Bay looked just right to my eyes, yet it is the same size in millimeters as the Pixel Watch. The thing is, I think both Black Bay models work on my wrist. The fact that Tudor has multiple sizes in its product range meant there is a Black Bay for me, but with the Pixel Watch, I’m left with no choice at all.
I’m still disappointed by the Pixel Watch’s quality too. The crown doesn’t have the same high-quality smoothness when rotating it as the TicWatch Pro 5’s, and the pusher feels cheap next to it as well. There’s very little about the Pixel Watch that justifies its high price, whereas the TicWatch Pro 5 looks, feels, and performs like a $350 smartwatch. However, while the Pixel Watch is small, the TicWatch Pro 5 is big, and Mobvoi would have done well to provide a second, smaller version to reach more people.
In fact, when I put the two next to each other — which emphasizes the size difference — I thought to myself, this could easily be the Pixel Watch and Pixel Watch Pro, or the TicWatch 5 Pro and TicWatch 5 Mini. Two distinctive designs in two sizes, ready to suit more tastes, more wrists, and more people. What a shame it is that neither company made the effort.
The Pixel Watch still isn’t the one to buy
Spending time with the Pixel Watch again reminds me what a missed opportunity it is. The plain design, the single case size, the mediocre performance, and the short battery life didn’t push Wear OS smartwatches forward in any way. The price is also too high for what you get, so it’s unlikely to introduce anyone new to the pleasure of wearing a smartwatch.
Mobvoi has moved Android smartwatches forward. It has introduced us to the future of the platform with the Qualcomm chip, and showed that Wear OS can be fast, smooth, and provide great battery life — all for the same price as the Pixel Watch. If you’re willing to spend $350 on a smartwatch, and own an Android phone, the TicWatch Pro 5 is the one you want. It should also be viewed by Google’s engineers as the technical template for the Pixel Watch 2, and at the same time, both companies need to learn one model doesn’t suit all wrists and tastes.