While Google confirmed last month that a Pixel Watch is on the way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the device, like its hardware specs. However, the rumor mill has been buzzing, and the bottom line is that the device will allegedly feature a 300mAh battery and Samsung’s latest generation wearable processor. The latest report from 9to5Google claims that the watch will have around 24 hours of battery life on a single charge and that fast charging is not in the mix. It might be tempting to cry foul, but what if it happens? These numbers are par for the course.
Battery life remains one of the biggest challenges for smartwatch manufacturers. Try packing a bigger battery to get more juice and end up with a gargantuan watch that shuts out anyone with wrists. Try designing a slim, sleek watch, and you’ll end up with something that can barely last through the workday. Add an always-on display, an increasingly popular feature, and you end up with even worse battery life. Try to incorporate as many advanced features as possible and watch how quickly that battery goes from 100 to zero percent.
It is also a huge burden for consumers. If you want to track your sleep, having a smartwatch with long enough battery life and/or fast charging is a must. The same is true if you are an active person who does several hours of GPS activity per day. (This is one of the reasons many marathon runners opt for a Garmin, Polar or Coros over a more “advanced” wearable.) It’s also a consideration for people who use their smartwatches to take calls on the go.
When you combine all of these factors together, the Pixel Watch having 24 hours on a single charge is decent by today’s standards. I have yet to test a Wear OS watch that lasts more than a day. Apple is stuck with an estimated 18-hour battery life for all of its smartwatches, though many models will give you a bit more than that. Samsung’s Tizen watches often hovered around the 24-48 hour mark, while the Galaxy Watch 4 has been known to drop extremely below its estimated autonomy of 40 hours. Meanwhile, Fitbit used to knock it out of the park when it comes to battery life, but since it’s added always-on displays to its latest trackers, that’s down to two to three days with the feature enabled.
Of course, you will find fitness watches with a battery life of over a week, sometimes even several weeks. I’ve been testing the Garmin Forerunner 255 for over a week with about five hours of GPS activity, and I still have 40% battery left. However, that’s because this watch prioritizes fitness tracking, has a low-power transflective display, and doesn’t have a ton of “smart” features. This is usually the case with multi-sport fitness watches.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too – not yet. Currently, there is an inverse relationship between battery life and functionality of flagship watches. The more features you want, the worse your battery life will be. If you want an always-on OLED screen, you’ll have to endure frequent charging. If you want a digital assistant that can be triggered by a wake word? Sorry, you’ll have to be careful with the charge. If you want to reliably track your sleep, you’ll need a creative charging schedule.
The best solution so far has been fast charging. If the rumors are true, the most disappointing thing is that fast charging is not on the table. Again, this is also relatively new for high-end smartwatches. Fossil allowed it for a while, but Fossil also has exactly one cellular-capable watch. (And it’s not even the newest model.) It took until 2021 for Apple to get true fast charging on the Apple Watch Series 7. It’s not possible on the Galaxy Watch 4 either. Chances are that many smartwatch owners are pretty used to two-hour charge times, even if they’re not the happiest of them.
If – and it’s a big if – the Pixel Watch can manage 24 hours with an always-on display on while listening to the assistant in the background, that’s good enough. It’s only a “bad” thing if Google fails to deliver a watch that can’t last a full workday with about an hour of GPS activity. Right now we just don’t know because we don’t have the final product in our hands. Until we do, it’s best to take all rumors about Pixel Watch battery life and performance with a big grain of salt.