For seven years, Apple has been the undisputed king of wearable tech—its Watch is the best-selling smartwatch in the world. So can Google’s long-awaited Pixel Watch, which launched October 13th, really hope to compete?
We’ve done quite a few smartwatch teardowns, but we’ll be honest, almost all of them have been Apple Watches. So we were enthused about the prospect of tearing open some genuine competition. While it’s hard to judge first-gen tech against the now-decade old Apple Watch line, we’re not sure Pixel is quite there yet.
That said, it has enough promise that if Google sticks with it, and takes some repairability notes, in a couple generations the Pixel watch may yet top our smartwatch list.
We know we shouldn’t be judging a watch by the case. But with a cheap-looking crown, and a screen that announces itself with questionable durability, it makes for a heck of a first impression. Let’s hope that screen is easily replaceable at least.
Prying the wraparound upper case off is surprisingly easy despite the crown protruding under it. Once inside, this watch is serving serious not-quite-polished Android looks. The bare foil battery pouch is pretty standard but with a bunch of yellow Kapton tape stuffed in here, it’s like real-life awkward baby pictures, aww, so gen one. Granted we’ve been doing a lot of Apple teardowns lately, so that’s a tough act to follow, but stuff like Kapton tape is often a sign of quick fixes. At least there’s no copper tape in here… yet!
The internal design leaves something to be desired, and that something is accessibility. With a labyrinthine path to both screen and battery, we hit a few dead ends before getting it right. Side note: Repair manuals would make this part a lot easier.
Granted, smartwatch designers have to make a number of trade-offs and compromises, but neither the screen nor battery—the two most replaced components—are easily accessible. Brackets, tiny contacts, teeny T2 Torx screws, and layers of tertiary parts separate us from these repairs. The screen connector is under the battery, requiring some gentle prying to access—not our favorite as a pried battery is a potentially damaged one. And the battery requires some contortion and lots of component removal to access.
And as a final nail in the coffin, all of the mechanical inputs—the crown and the side button—are on the same cable as a test port that seems rather permanently attached to the case. That means no replacing stuck switches, at least without some collateral damage.
With all the growing pains that the Pixel Watch needs to work out, it has tackled a repair feature right out of the gate that Apple took nine years to get around to: a removable back.
The first generation Apple Watch was a mess, the System in Package was a Cthulu-esque tangle of cables, and its sensor assembly was stubbornly wedged into the case and read glass. The Pixel takes a prescient cue from the Apple Watch Ultra, allowing rear entry access. The Pixel may not have screws—our usual favorite fastener—but it manages to have something almost as cool.
The rear glass appears to be held in place by a kind of liquid gasket that seals tightly, but comes open clean. It also peels off the glass with virtually no residue. If we can get our hands on some replacement adhesive, that would be huge. There are a lot of other gadgets we’d love to see this glue in. We usually hate glue, but it’s not the glue itself we hate. It’s when glue prevents, or complicates repair eg super strong seals, or tedious cleanup and reapplication. We’ve already accepted stretch-release adhesive into our hearts, and there’s more than enough room for more repair-friendly goop in our lives.
Overall the Pixel Watch isn’t a bad device. It suffers from an awkward first outing, perhaps exacerbated by a lengthy production process, but it’s a strong start. With a foundation like this, we may yet get an Apple Watch contender to root for. They just need to figure out some repairability points along the way.