Google’s Pixel Watch 2 brings new sensors for improved health tracking

After years of rumors and reports, Google finally released its first smartwatch last year. It was a long overdue debut for the company behind the nearly 10-year-old Wear OS. Getting there required the company to build a team and make some strategic acquisitions including, most notably, the Fitbit deal that closed in 2021.

The Pixel watch arrived to mixed reviews. Google was, after all, entering a mature space, competing not only against the massively successful Apple Watch, but also the No. 2 Samsung, which had recently started running Wear OS on its own devices.

Health tracking was, unsurprisingly, a core function. It has, after all, been largely regarded as the key driver of smartwatch purchases and use. Also unsurprising was the role that the Fitbit acquisition played, effectively letting the company hit the ground running. Announced at this morning’s Google hardware event in Manhattan, the Pixel Watch 2 doesn’t represent much of a departure from its predecessor. In fact, it’s hard to distinguish the two.

Image Credits: Google

The sequel is more about refining the formula and introducing a few new tricks into the mix. The biggest changes this time out are improved heart rate monitoring and the addition of a pair of new sensors designed to give the device a fuller picture of its wearer. The addition of a body-response sensor and skin temperature sensor are borrowed from the Fitbit line and bring along new stress management features.

Google notes:

Body-response tracking takes inputs from cEDA (continuous electrodermal activity – microscopic beads of sweat), heart rate variability, heart rate, and skin temperature to help identify acute body response moments. These can be potential signs of stress throughout the day, or from other things including alcohol, caffeine, or illness. When a body response is detected, you’ll receive a prompt to log your current mood and get suggestions for an intervention, like a guided breathing exercise or a walk, on your wrist and in the Fitbit app. Body-response tracking also shows trends over time to help you understand potential patterns and make meaningful changes to your routine.

Stress and mode are big topics of growth for wearables. Many manufacturers have seen fit to move beyond standard health tracking. It’s an imperfect science, but there are certainly a number of different things gleaned from physiology that play a role in mental health.

Image Credits: Google

The new heart rate sensor, meanwhile, switches between single- and multi-path modes, designed to offer a more accurate reading when the wearer is exercising.  The new watch also adds automatic tracking for seven different workout types, including running and cycling, while a new Pace Training feature is designed to let people know how they’re performing with respect to their goals.

A new Safety Check feature, meanwhile, joins existing offerings like Fall Detection and Emergency SOS. The wearer sets a check-in time for certain situations. When the time is hit, the watch prompts the wearer to check in and note if they’re okay.

“If no response is received,” Google writes, “Safety Check will trigger Emergency Sharing, which shares your real-time location and situation with your pre-selected emergency contacts. You can also use Emergency Sharing with contacts for a designated amount of time so your loved ones can see your real-time whereabouts, or enable Medical Info to share personal health information with emergency services, like blood type, allergies or conditions.”

Gmail and Google Calendar apps have been added this time around. There are also a half-dozen new watch faces, including some with an At a Glance feature that surfaces relevant information like weather and traffic.

Google’s Pixel 8, Pixel 8 Pro and Pixel Watch 2

Image Credits: Google

Google is promising some battery improvements, bumping the first gen’s “up to 24 hours” to “24 hours with always-on display.” Charging has been improved, as well. It now takes 75 minutes to get from zero to 100%. The Watch 2 looks a lot like its predecessor, with some subtle changes to things like recessed buttons. The back is made from 100% aluminum now, as well.

The Pixel Watch 2 goes up for preorder today starting at $349 for the standard version and $399 for the LTE model. It starts shipping October 12 and comes with six free months of Fitbit’s premium service.

Read more about Google's 2023 Pixel Event on TechCrunch