I set some money on fire and went for a Pixel 8 Pro promotion. For a bonus $150 trade-in value on my last generation Pixel 7 Pro, it worked out that I was spending $450 to get an incremental upgrade to the next phone plus a Pixel Watch 2, normally $350. The upgrade also provided me an opportunity to move up to 256 GB storage where my 128 GB base model 7 Pro was becoming constrained. I don’t like cloud storage for general use, so I belong firmly to the camp of SD card slot users robbed of their facilities because of smartphone trends.
At least with Google, upgraded storage doesn’t cost you an arm and leg. I think Best Buy wanted $50 more for the storage upgrade, which is still not the best, but it’s better than Apple.
Did I need to upgrade? No. In fact, I don’t recommend this. The changes are really minor. The ones I actually notice in daily use are:
- Flat screen instead of rounded
- Bigger storage (paid extra though!)
- Brighter screen
- Cool AI features in the photo editor
I upgrade because I’m a technology enthusiast and I can afford it. I develop mobile applications as part of my job, so while work utility comes into consideration, I did this because I wanted to and not because I would recommend it to others.
I’ve wanted a true smartwatch with smart in the sense of smartphone, that is, a wrist top computer where I can download applications implementing new features that didn’t exist on the device before. The ability to extend functionality by adding software separates feature phones from smartphones. JavaME doesn’t count. That software ecosystem was and still is a nightmare. I’ve always loved watches and computers, so a watch computer? Cool!
My Pixel Watch 2 Experience
Set up was bumpy. The app guided me through the process, but it appears that I can’t download software updates through my home network connection. I have to use my phone hotspot. This is not surprising because my internet is provided through a cellular modem, so it’s possible it has network restrictions that most users wouldn’t see. Once I went around my home network, setup was generally error free but not without user experience issues still.
Downloading system updates was painfully slow because the watch defaults to performing network operations over bluetooth. I don’t think this is a good default for setup. Turning off bluetooth enabled my updates to complete in a reasonable amount of time by forcing the watch to use Wi-Fi. I think the device should default to using Wi-Fi for initial setup. After the title wave of updates, a slow data trickle through bluetooth is a reasonable trade to reduce power consumption.
My out-of-box experience was more like taking public transit than the Uber Elite I was expecting for a $350 watch. Eventually, my setup reached a stage where I could use the watch UI to alter settings, and wow is it intelligently designed.
The UI is fluid and responsive. Focus is placed on actions that take seconds rather than minutes and tasks which make sense for a watch rather than a smartphone. I like that it doesn’t try to do things that don’t make sense for the form factor, instead calling out to the hefty smartphone app when appropriate. The sharp, always-on display is more suggestive of a dynamic surface than a screen, always present in the way that a wrist watch is immediately legible without having to move your wrist to activate it. There is no visible transition between the screen and the watch case. Using the watch feels natural and makes a lot of sense for the things you’d actually use it for, like asking a quick question, setting a timer, or responding to a message.
I was especially impressed with the on-screen keyboard which provides easy access to voice controls and even deferring to typing on your smartphone if you prefer. I’m not sure how they made the keyboard this useable on the small screen, but it’s a joy to use.