There’s a reason tech brands don’t usually take more than 1-2 years on a product, plus the fact that the long wait would scare away shareholders. You can’t just design a cool watch and insert the newest chip at the end; the whole design revolves around silicon. If you take too long, you’ll be stuck with next-gen hardware and either have to overwhelm your customers or ditch the design altogether and start from scratch.
The Pixel Watch is the exception. Google’s Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, Rick Osterloh, decided to cancel it in 2016 because he feared its lackluster performance “would bring down the name of the Google hardware brand.” He obviously gave it a second chance, and ironically, he was the one who unveiled it on stage at Google I/O 2022 last week.
But like the famous Duke Nukem Forever – a video game created 15 years ago and built on several outdated game engines – the Pixel Watch seems like an artifact from another era. And it’s fair to wonder whether or not Google should have done what it does best…and killed it again.
A source told 9to5Google that the Pixel Watch uses the Exynos 9110 SoC, the same chip found in the original Galaxy Watch, Galaxy Watch Active 2, and Galaxy Watch 3. Samsung originally announced the chip in 2018, so this will be over four years old when the Pixel Watch ships this fall.
The Pixel Watch “really looks and feels like a very Samsung-based device in both hardware and software,” Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said of the reveal.
The 10nm 9110 uses two 1.15GHz ARM Cortex A53 cores, while the 5nm Exynos W920 with the Cortex A55 cores used in the Galaxy Watch 4 has 20% better CPU performance and 10x better graphics performance , according to Samsung.
This is where I emphasize that benchmarks don’t matter as much for watches as they do for phones. Samsung has successfully used the same 2018 chip for three consecutive years because sensors, features, design and battery efficiency matter more for smartwatches than speed.
Even if we should care more, the companies that make the silicon for Android smartwatches don’t. They’re so slow to upgrade watch hardware that older watches like the Active 2 barely lost a step; we still recommend it over most fitness smartwatches despite its age.
For example, the Exynos W920 only clocks at 1.18 GHz, a small bump from the last version. It’s likely that the performance boost promised by Samsung will come from the extra 0.5GB of RAM between the GW3 and GW4, and not just the slight bump in the Cortex. And we don’t yet know how much RAM the Pixel Watch will have.
Still, you might be wondering why wouldn’t Google use the W920 for that extra boost? Because of the timing. Even though Google had abandoned the original Pixel Watch design by 2019, obviously designed the current model between then and April 2021, when Jon Prosser leaked renders that matched the final design.
When Google started designing the Pixel Watch, the Galaxy Watch series outclassed all watches not made by Apple, and Tizen made Wear OS inferior for years until Google gave up and partnered with Samsung for Wear OS. 3. It makes sense that Google would adopt the best Exynos hardware available at the time. But the Pixel Watch took so long to make that its design predates the W920 announced in mid-2021. He had gone too far to switch at this point.
Or, as Sag told me, it’s possible that Google sought change but could not thanks to the endless shortage of tokens. “Samsung probably didn’t produce enough of its latest wearable chip to supply Google as well,” he suggested. Either that or the cost of the W920 “doesn’t match Google’s profile for the watch”.
Google Tensor provided excellent performance despite using less powerful cores than the latest Snapdragon SoCs. We can hope that Google will perform similar magic here. And Pixel owners will certainly appreciate the interaction between their phone and their watch, even if the performance isn’t state-of-the-art.
Overall, this does not necessarily mean loss the Pixel Watch’s chances of being a top-class Android smartwatch, and Google could certainly do worse than Samsung’s successes.
And now I’ve played devil’s advocate for Google enough, and I can loosen up a bit. Are you joke me? If we want greater proof that Google hardware is just a vanity project, as AC’s Jerry Hildenbrand argued yesterday, it’s Google casually releasing a watch that the Galaxy Watch 5 will instantly outperform.
“I think [using old hardware] limits the watch’s capabilities, especially considering that Samsung already offers a superior chipset in its own watches and uses the same operating system,” Sag explained.
“As a Galaxy Watch 4 Classic owner, I’m not sure the Pixel Watch looks as exciting if it’s running the same chipset as my older Galaxy Watches.”
Die-hard Pixel fans will appreciate all the Material You tricks it uses, as well as the seamless access to Google apps. But Pixels tends to target hardcore Android techies who pay close attention to spec sheets, and that’s not going to get away from them.
Again, I don’t think old hardware should completely cripple its sales. But that doesn’t change the fact that Google freely plays second fiddle to Samsung with the Pixel Watch, the same way it does with its phones.
I’m also looking back at Google’s claim that only new Snapdragon Wear chips could run Wear OS 3. After Google I/O 2021, Qualcomm said Wear OS 3 could run on older hardware like the Wear 3100, and Google quickly shut it down. . The Wear 3100 was released in (drum roll please) 2018.
Samsung will stop supporting its latest Exynos 9110 watch, the Galaxy Watch 3, at the end of 2023. If Google also supports its Exynos 9110 watch for three years until the end of 2025, that would be seven years after the chip launch. Phew.
I can only hope Google finds a way to reassure us that this archaic technology won’t hold back the Pixel Watch. Like a Fitbit upgrade, it will definitely offer better app support, speeds, and better UI quality than your typical Fitbit or Garmin. But as an Android smartwatch, it has a lot to prove.