An LTE or 4G enabled watch goes beyond an ordinary smartwatch. It is no longer simply an extension of your smartphone and can establish a cellular connection totally independently.
Cellular smartwatches: things to consider before purchasing one
Why get a cellular smartwatch?
There are many benefits to getting a smartwatch with cellular connectivity. 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 mobile phone present, along with certain emergency functions. You can also get and send notifications, go online, download music, upload watch data to the cloud and more. No wi-fi or mobile phone needed, thank you very much.
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 smart 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
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 8, SE 2022 & Ultra
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 look and feel about it.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 range
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 Galaxy watch.
- Google Pixel Watch
The new kid on the block. This is a combination of a WearOS watch with Fitbit activity and health tracking smarts. A worthy first effort from Google and our choice for Android phone owners.
- 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.
Get a Series 6, 7 or SE version of the Apple Watch and you’ll get a choice to purchase with LTE connectivity. Some of the earlier iterations of the device also offer this. But if you want the best that is available, go for one of the latest editions. This includes the Series 8 watch, SE2 or Ultra. All of these offer a cellular option.
This utilises 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 dial numbers, 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. If you want to save some money go for an option from one of the prior years. Or SE 2 which is a low-cost variant.
Series 8 is the one that was launched last month. The additions over its predecessor include a temperature sensor, better cycling tracking with info on ovulation, Crash Detection, Low Power mode which doubles the battery life and International roaming. Plus you get all the great features of the earlier generations.
If you want all the bells and whistles, there’s the more pricey Ultra. This is Apple’s more rugged and powerful watch to date. It comes with a large 49mm display, titanium case, customisable action button, dual-band GPS chip and 100 meter water resistance. Plus battery life has been improved to 36 hours between charges, or 60 hours in low power mode.
In August 2022 Samsung released the next two iterations in its smartwatch series. Not surprisingly, this our the top pick if you have a Samsung phone.
Galaxy Watch 5 and 5 Pro come in a choice between a Bluetooth only variant and a version with LTE. The latter adds about $50 to the asking price.
Both the Pro and non-Pro come with similar features. But the first has a more robust build and is thus aimed at the outdoorsy types. Its titanium housing comes along with a larger battery and improved Sapphire display. A table comparing in detail how the two devices stack up can be seen on this link.
The watches run on a operating system that consists of a One UI Watch skin that overlays Wear OS 3.0. This type of platform provides the familiar feel and functions of the Tizen system while offering benefits from the Google Play Store. Which offers access to 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 track blood oxygen levels both on demand and passively. The timepieces also come with a 3in1 BioActive Sensor. It tracks PPG, ECG and BIA from a single unit. The one important addition to the sensor list is temperature tracking tech.
Plus you get a boatload of smart features. This includes storage for music, contactless payments and much more.
3. Google Pixel Watch
The long anticipated Google Pixel Watch is finally here. The feature-packed device comes in a slick design, something that can be worn by any gender. There’s a domed top glass that curves all the way to the recycled stainless steel sides.
As far as features, this is a powerhouse. The device runs on a fully featured WearOS 3.5 platform with all the advantages that this brings. Plus there’s the optional cellular connectivity. For an extra $50, you can pick up an LTE enabled Pixel Watch that will enable you to make untethered phone calls.
If you have an Android smartphone, the Google Pixel Watch is our recommended timepiece. In addition to all the smart functionality, you get the tried and tested Fitbit activity tracking smarts. This includes some more advanced health metrics such as heart rate variability, all-day SpO2 and ECG. And let’s not forget the SOS and emergency international calling. This works via the cellular connection (either from the watch or a connected phone).
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 and with no touch screen functionality. Nevertheless, you still get great build-quality – something that will last for years. It’s not a huge difference.
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 mode 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.
Gen 6 of Fossil watch does not come with an LTE option. But Gen 5 does. This watch may not come with the Qualcomm 4100 processor but it does come with cellular 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, you are not getting good battery life. With normal use users can expect around 24 hours on a single charge. The good news is that 50 minutes on the charger will charge it almost fully.
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