An LTE-enabled watch goes beyond an ordinary smartwatch. It is no longer simply an extension of your smartphone and can function totally independently.
Cellular smartwatches: things to consider before purchasing one
Why get a cellular smartwatch?
There are many benefits to getting a smartwatch with a 4G/LTE connection. The exact functionality you can tap into depends on your device. But typical features you can expect include the ability to make and receive phone calls from your wrist without a phone present. You can also get and send notifications, go online, download music, upload watch data to the cloud and more.
Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets
It is something akin to the famous Dick Tracy watch. Debuted in the comic strip in 1946, the detective wore the iconic two-way radio on his wrist. In case you were wondering, yes, someone even came up with the idea of creating a completely functional replica of the thing!
What is the difference between eSIM and LTE?
Cellular watches use either LTE or eSIM. Although they provide the same type of functionality there’s an important difference between the two.
An LTE is like a traditional SIM. It is a physical card that you can install or remove from your watch.
An eSIM (short for “embedded SIM”), on the other hand, is a different type of animal. It comes as part of the device’s motherboard or its processor. Therefore, it cannot be removed from the device. Meaning you don’t need a SIM ejector around.
eSim is programmable and downloads your smartphone’s carrier plan indirectly. That way it mimics your phone and connects to the same network. So you are using the same telephone number as on your smartphone. Typically there will be a fee for this but it depends on the carrier and device that you own.
With an eSim, if you switch providers, the changeover is done online. This type of connectivity is becoming increasingly common. It is said that eSIMs are going to be the next big thing in SIM cards.
Is a cellular watch worth the extra cost?
Some are fans of LTE enabled watches others not so much. They think they are unlikely to use the function often.
Another thing to consider is the price. An LTE or cellular watch costs quite a bit more than a watch without that type of connection. Plus you will also need to factor in monthly service provider fees.
So these are clearly not for everyone. The good news is some manufacturers offer you a choice between cellular and non-cellular devices. Apple and Samsung are good examples of that.
If you want to stay connected on the go, even when your phone is not around then cellular watches might pique your interest. It is the combination of built-in GPS and 4G/LTE connectivity which allows for a totally untethered smartwatch. Throw in built-in storage for music and you really have independence from your phone. But if you do not want someone calling you when you are out on that run, than perhaps this type of device might not be for you.
What about battery life?
Another important consideration is battery life. Cellular connectivity is going to reduce the time between charges. It really depends on how often you use the functionality and the smartwatch you are using. But yes, it will definitely drain your battery faster than if you were not using it. This is why devices that carry 4G/LTE connectivity typically come with more powerful batteries.
The best smartwatches with LTE in 2021
The list of LTE enabled watches is small, but it is slowly growing. We’re convinced it’s only a matter of time before most new smartwatches come with this functionality built-in.
Here’s our recap of the best that’s currently on offer.
- Apple Watch Series 6,7, SE
Apple Watch is hands down the most advanced smartwatch you can buy today. Thousands of apps are available for you to install, and everything has a polished feel about it. Plus watchOS 8 comes with some handy upgrades such as respiratory information and additional mindfullness tools.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
If you own a Samsung phone, it is a no-brainer. Go for the Galaxy Watch. Those with iOS will be better off with the Apple Watch or one of the other devices on this page. That is because iPhones do not pair with the fourth Generation Galaxy watch. If you have an Android phone, you’ll need to decide between several great options.
- Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music Verizon
This is Garmin’s first LTE watch – sort of. The functionality si quite limited. You are not able to make calls but you can send and receive texts, tap into safety features and do music downloads. As long as you are on a Verizon plan. Not ideal for someone looking for a fully functional cellular watch.
- Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE
Garmin’s second attempt at a LTE watch does not go much further than the first attempt. If you want a great sports watch and can do with the safety features, it is a great option. The monthly fee for cellular is quite reasonable.
- Mobvoi Ticwatch Pro 4G/LTE
A great WearOS watch. The most unique thing about the TicWatch Pro is its unique two layer display – an AMOLED and a low power LCD display. The device is able to switch between them and preserve battery life.
- Fossil Gen 5 LTE
Another WearOS timepiece on this list, Fossil Gen 5 LTE is for those on Verizon’s network. The company has a huge number of brands under its umbrella. Expect cellular functionality to trickle down to some of these in the months ahead.
Series 6, 7 and SE versions of the Apple Watch come with LTE connectivity. As do some of the other iterations. They utilize the same number as your smartphone. Although users still need a SIM, the watch features a small electronic SIM card. And when we say small we mean it – its one percent of the size of a traditional SIM.
When you are away from your phone, the watch automatically switches to the cellular signal. This means you are able to make and receive calls, as well as messages, while away from your smartphone. Third party apps are able to tap into this signal as well.
Which version of the watch you should get depends on your needs and how much you want to spend. The latest and greatest Apple Watch is Series 7. Just launched it offers a slightly larger display and Series 6. But that is pretty much where the improvements end. Yes, there’s a new S7 processor, but it is largely the same as S6. Other improvements include 50% louder speakers, and a back that is made of black ceramic and sapphire crystal for better cellular reception.
Therefore you can save a few bucks by opting for Series 6. Or save even more by going for SE. It lacks the always-on functionality, blood oxygen measurements, ECG app but you still get a very solid timepiece.
In August 2021 Samsung released the next two iterations in its smartwatch series. Galaxy Watch 4 and 4 Classic are updated versions of Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Galaxy Watch 3. Both come in a choice between a Bluetooth only variant and a version with LTE.
There are various subtle design enhancements over earlier devices. But the watches retain the traditional Galaxy look, including the rotating bezel. You can pick up Watch 4 in a choice between a 40mm and 44mm. Watch 4 Classic comes in a 42mm and 46mm. The size of the screen is fractionally smaller than previously but the device looks better and is thinner. The resolution of the display is better, too. You can check out a detailed comparison of this and the previous generation on this link.
The important news here is that the watches run on a new operating system. Instead of Tizen OS, they have a One UI Watch skin that overlays Wear OS 3.0. At the moment, Galaxy Watches are the only device that runs on the latest version of Google’s operating system. This type of platform provides the familiar feel and functions of the Tizen system while offering benefits from the Google Play Store. This includes a plethora of apps that can be downloaded and installed.
All the great health and fitness tracking functionality is still there. The SpO2 sensor can now track blood oxygen levels both on demand and passively. The timepieces also come with a new BioActive Sensor. It tracks PPG, ECG and BIA from a single unit. BIA is something that was not available before. For listening to tunes on the go, there is on-board music storage with offline Spotify playlist support.
Vivoactive 3 is a Swiss knife of activity trackers. Plus it looks good. The LTE enabled device comes with support for messages, phone-free safety features and music downloads.
The specs are mostly unchanged from the normal version. This means it comes with built-in GPS, barometric altimeter, compass, accelerometer, thermometer, heart rate, built-in music storage and NFC for contactless payments. There are 15 built-in sports profiles, including ones for snowboarding, cardio, yoga, eliptical and stair stepper.
Safety features include an all new incident detection during select activities, that is capable of notifying emergency contacts of your location in real-time. The other option is to trigger it manually or switch the Garmin LiveTrack feature on.
You won’t be able to make phone calls, but sending and receiving texts is supported. As its name implies, you’ll need a monthly Verizon service plan to access all of these new features.
As its name implies, Forerunner 945 LTE is a cellular update to the original version. The 945 is one of the most popular devices in the Forerunner range. It is ideal for someone looking for a fully fledged sports watch that doesn’t break the bank. Think of it as a Fenix, but in a less premium body.
This is Garmin’s second attempt at a LTE watch. It doesn’t go any further than the first attempt. So you will still get safety features, music downloads and the ability to send and receive text messages.
The safety features are perhaps what is most useful. For example, there is something called Assistance/Assistance Plus. This allows you to send a message to your emergency contacts with your location information. The Plus is a more professional version of the same. It automatically sends your name and location to the Garmin IERCC, a 24/7 staffed emergency response unit.
The monthly LTE plan will set you back $6.99 and $1 less with an annual contract. Which sounds pretty reasonable if you need that type of functionality. There’s only a $50 difference between the LTE and non-LTE versions of the Forerunner 945.
Mobvoi represents a great addition to this list. TicWatch Pro 4G/LTE users are able to share their existing phone number on Verizon and conduct VoLTE voice calls without a smartphone. This also extends to SMS and use of messaging apps.
The timepiece comes with some other updates over its non-LTE predecessor. For example, there are SOS alerts that tap into the cellular connectivity. Similar to the Apple Watch, when there’s an emergency, the device dials 911 and sends your location to your pre-selected contacts.
Not much has changed, though, in terms of the unique design which is a good thing. The current version’s main party trick is that it has a layered top which provides unique power-saving functionality. This was retained for the 4G/LTE edition.
Announced at the start of this year at CES 2021, this watch may not come with the Qualcomm 4100 processor but it does come with LTE connectivity. It’s important to note that this only works with Verizon’s network.
But if you absolutely must have it, don’t forget that there is always the option of getting the non-LTE version – but you just won’t be able to leave the phone behind.
The cellular functionality works in combination with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. These are pretty decent specs that keep the watch running nice and smooth. Internal specs include the usual gamut of fitness sensors (Accelerometer, Altimeter, Compass, Gyroscope, Off-body IR, PPG Heart Rate), NFC, GPS, loudspeaker and a microphone. All of this is tamped with a 5 ATM water resistance rating.
Just like the Apple Watch and most WearOS watches, battery life is not that great. You can expect around 24 hours on a single charge. The good news is that 50 minutes on the charger will charge it almost fully.
*Disclosure: We are a review site that receives a small commission from sales of certain items, but the price is the same for you. We are independently owned and all opinions expressed here are our own. See our affiliate disclosure page for more details.
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