Do You Need LTE Support on Your Smartwatch?

LTE can be incredibly helpful, but it comes with a cost

As smartwatches gain more capabilities and we use them for more activities, being able to leave their companion phone behind becomes far more helpful. That's possible thanks to some smartwatches coming with an embedded LTE radio.

The two major players in LTE-connected smartwatch platforms are Apple, with the Apple Watch running watchOS, and a broader vendor ecosystem reliant on the Wear OS (formerly Android Wear).

LTE Smartwatch Technology

When in range of its paired smartphone, a smartwatch can take calls handed off from the phone. But an LTE-equipped smartwatch doesn't need the smartphone to be anywhere need it in order to work as a phone. Along with calls, the smartwatch can handle text messages and other data from the internet (weather, stocks, sports scores, etc.).

Of course, the size of the smartwatch has some drawbacks such as not having as big of a battery, so calls use up more battery power on the watch than the same call on a smartphone.

Apple Watch taking a call via the cellular network.

hocus-focus / Getty Images

Carriers generally provision LTE-capable smartwatches with a separate data plan and a dedicated phone number, which subordinates to the primary phone number for your account. When someone calls your smartphone, your smartwatch will also ring, and you can place or accept voice calls through its onboard microphone and speakers.

Depending on the vendor, you can pair an LTE-enabled smartwatch with wireless earphones. Pairing an Apple Watch with Apple AirPods, for example, lets you play music and conduct phone conversations using the AirPods rather than the Watch's microphone and speakers.

Are LTE Smartwatches Worth It?

For whatever reason, if bringing along your smartphone is a problem then, yes, you might very well find having LTE on your smartwatch to be worth it.

If you rarely leave your smartphone behind, the extra features of the LTE-enabled smartwatch likely won't be worth the extra cost for the device and the monthly carrier fees.

Not only do you have to pay more for the technology to be in the watch, you also have to pay your current cellular carrier for another line. Typically the charge is one half to one third of the price you pay for your cellphone, but there is a charge and it can add up.

Choices for LTE Smartwatches

You can choose a smartwatch from two major ecosystems—the Apple Watch and a smartwatch running Google Wear.

Devices With watchOS

All currently shipping versions of the Apple Watch offer a variant with LTE as an option. Because of its deep vertical integration, the Apple Watch series of devices pairs perfectly with other Apple hardware, and the platform has nearly 38% of the smartwatch market in North America. Typically Apple charges $100 on top of the price of the Apple Watch to add LTE.

Three Apple Watches from 2023.

Apple, Inc

Apple releases both LTE and non-LTE versions of the Apple Watch, with a $100 price difference.

Devices With Wear

The Google-developed Wear is a multi-platform smartwatch operating environment optimized for voice commands and swiping. Wear devices ship in several models by a variety of manufacturers, and they work with both Android phones and tablets (many also work with iPhones as well).

Using a Wear OS smartwatch to view a weather app
Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images
  • How much data does a smartwatch use?

    This is hard to answer because each person will use their watch differently. The easy way to answer is to not worry about it since the major carriers, as of publication, use plans that have unlimited data for smartwatches for around $10 a month.

  • How will people call my smartwatch?

    While your cellular carrier (AT&T, Verizon, etc) will technically issue you another phone number dedicated to your smartwatch, your original line will also be forwarded to your smartwatch. So, in theory, you can answer on either device or, while you are away from your smartphone, you can just answer on your watch.

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