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How to turn on Pixel Watch's new Fall Detection feature (and why you should)

Google's Pixel Watch just got an important new safety feature that everyone should turn on.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Pixel Watch Fall Detection feature

Whether you're prone to occasionally take a tumble, or it's something you've never really had to deal with, the latest Pixel Watch update adds a critical safety feature that every Pixel Watch owner should turn on. Actually, I'd go as far as saying that Google should enable the feature by default. 

Also: Google's first Pixel feature drop of 2023 is official. Here's what's new

The new Fall Detection feature uses a combination of sensors in the Watch to detect when whoever is wearing it falls. The wearer then receives an alert on the Watch asking if they're alright, and depending on the answer -- or worst case scenario, non-answer -- the watch will contact emergency services and get help. 

Fall Detection isn't only for those who are accident-prone, like an elderly family member, (pardon the cliché) but it's for everyone. Ever used a ladder to change a light bulb? Go on frequent hikes alone? Or walks in general? All are situations where it's easy to fall and get hurt. This feature on the Pixel Watch provides peace of mind, and there's value in that. 

Review: Google Pixel Watch: Not the Apple of Android (yet)

Now that I've planted a seed of fear, you surely want to know how to turn the Pixel Watch's new Fall Detection feature on, right? Good! Here's what you need to know.

How to turn on Fall Detection on the Pixel Watch

1. How to update your Pixel Watch's software

Google announced the Pixel Watch was getting its Fall Detection feature near the end of February through a slow rollout. As long as your Pixel Watch and the necessary apps are current, you should have access to Fall Detection. 

More recently, Google announced the March Pixel feature drop included an update for the Watch. I haven't seen the March update on my Watch yet, but I gained access to Fall Detection after installing the February update (I was a couple of months behind) and installing all available updates in the Play Store on the Watch itself. 

Also: The best smartwatches 

To update your Pixel Watch's software, open the Settings app on the Watch and then scroll to the bottom of the list and select System. Next, tap System updates. If an update is available, your Watch will begin downloading and installing it. It's a good idea to put your Watch on the charging puck and keep your phone nearby. 

Pixel Watch update notification
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

2. Update all of the apps and services on your Pixel Watch

Once the software update has finished, press the digital crown on the Watch to view all of your installed apps. Scroll down and select Play Store from the list. Scroll to the bottom of all the Play Store listings until you see a button labeled Manage apps and select it. Let the next screen load -- it can take a few seconds -- and then tap Update all; it should be the first button available. 

The Play Store will then download and install all of the available apps and services updates. 

Google Pixel Watch closeup of face

The spinning crown and button on the right side are well designed

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

3. Enable Fall Detection in the Personal Safety app

With your Watch's software current and all of the available Play Store updates installed, you're ready to turn on Fall Detection using two different methods. 

You can turn it on using the Pixel Watch app on your phone. The easiest way to get to the proper settings screen is to open the Watch app on your phone and tap the Messages icon at the top of the screen. You should see an alert letting you know Fall Detection is now available and ready to be turned on. Alternatively, you can open the Watch app and then select Watch preferences > Safety and Emergency > Fall detection.

Also: The best Pixel phones

The other method is to turn it on directly on your Watch. To do that, press the Watch's digital crown to view your list of installed apps, then scroll down until you find the Personal Safety app; select it. On the next screen, find and select Fall Detection. Toggle the switch to the On position. 

Note that if you're prompted to approve the required location permissions, you'll need to do so directly on your Watch. You can do that by going to the Fall Detection section of the Personal Safety app using the steps I just highlighted, and then setting the permission to allow while using. 

Pixel Watch Fall Detection
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET


What happens when you fall?

When the Pixel Watch detects a hard fall, it presents an alert on the Watch asking if you fell and if you're alright. You have 30 seconds to answer the prompt, after which it'll begin playing an alarm sound and vibrating and ask if you need help. If no movement is detected or you fail to answer the prompt within 60 seconds, your Watch will call emergency services and play an automated voice message letting the first responder know where you're at and that a fall was detected. 

What do I do if there's a false alarm?

The best thing you can do if your Pixel Watch detects a fall when you're perfectly fine is to dismiss the prompt as soon as possible. Google says it's tested the Watch's algorithms in many different scenarios -- such as during an intense workout or while skiing -- and that it shouldn't be accidentally triggered. But it's bound to happen. 

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