Do You Need a Smartwatch?

And Are They Worth the Extra Cash?

Wearables with built-in cellular connectivity allow you to place calls from your wrist, making Dick Tracy's "wrist radio" watch somewhat of a reality. However, only a handful of smartwatches on the market offer this functionality, and some could argue that it's not worth narrowing your options – not to mention having to pay for the monthly data subscription – the ability to dial up friends and family without taking out your smartphone (or even having it on you).

Do You Need a Connected Smartwatch?

Most of us could easily get by without having a cellular-connected device tethered to our wrist, but if you have the funds and if the convenience is appealing to you, it could be worth looking for a smartwatch that offers this feature. With a smartwatch that offers cellular connectivity, you don't need to carry your phone around with you to make a call.

If you're on a run, for example, or forgot your phone at home, this feature could come in handy – since you might not want to weigh yourself down by carrying your handset anyway. You can set reminders on smartwatches, receive texts, make calls – you name something you can do on a smartphone and you can often do it on your smartwatch now, too.

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As a reminder, with smartwatches that don't feature built-in cellular connectivity, you can't make calls from your wrist, and most of the "smart" functionality – such as receiving notifications on your wrist – requires being connected to your mobile device via Bluetooth. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as the ability to remotely connect to your phone to receive notifications with the Samsung Gear S2.

There are some situations when it may be more than just convenient to choose a watch with built-in connectivity, though. If you're into fitness, for example, Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) has some really great apps. But there are other reasons to have this kind of watch. 

For instance, if you have a young child and want to track his or her location, you might consider a wearable that offers GPS tracking. In the same vein of keeping tabs on your child's safety, it could be worth making sure that wearable includes cellular connectivity among its feature set as well.

The HereO watch is one such device, and it could definitely make sense if you're searching for a gadget to help you stay abreast of your little ones' safety. Of course, the same logic applies to smartwatches and other wearable devices for seniors or anyone you want to keep a close eye on, for that matter.

Finally, keep in mind that there is some gray area between Bluetooth-only smartwatches and those with built-in connectivity. Thanks to a Wear OS update in early 2016, wearables running Google's wearable operating system that also have a speaker are capable of making and taking calls when you're connected to your smartphone over Bluetooth.

Wear OS smartwatches with speakers include the Huawei Watch and the ASUS ZenWatch 2. On the Apple front, you can make and accept calls with the Apple Watch and Apple Watch 2. However, Apple has yet to add cellular connectivity to any of its wearables.


What Is a Smartwatch and What Do They Do?

The Extra Cost

Hopefully, by now you have somewhat of a better idea as to whether or not you need a smartwatch with built-in cellular connectivity. If you do think this feature could be useful, just remember that there's a price to pay for that convenience.

Let's use the Samsung Gear S2, probably the most popular smartwatch to offer built-in cellular connectivity, as an example. (Note that the connected version of this device is technically called the Samsung Gear S2 3G, although the branding across different retailers isn't consistent, so you may see it written as just Samsung Gear S2 and there are now Gear Sport and Fit2 Pro watches.) With this wearable, you'll need to set up a data plan through AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon.

Here's an example of what you could pay, both up front and on a monthly basis, with each carrier (pricing subject to change at any time):

  • AT&T: ($199.99) up front (with a two-year contract) or $299.99 up front, plus $40 (for 1GB) to $460 (for 100GB) per month.
  • T-Mobile: $15 per month for 24 months for the device cost, plus $20 per month for the T-Mobile One plan.
  • Verizon Wireless: $299.99 up front (with a two-year contract) or $349 up front, plus $35 (for 2GB) to $110 (for 24GB) per month.

Compared to smartwatches without connectivity, these gadgets represent a more substantial investment. Especially if you really plan to get some serious use out of the ability to make calls from your wrist, you could be paying quite a bit each month.

The Best Smartwatches With Built-In Connectivity

Now that you have a bit more background on the subject, let's dive into the top connected smartwatch options. Your choices are relatively limited, but luckily they include some very well-received wearables.

Samsung Gear S2 3G

This device features a round watch face – appealing to those who favor a classic design – and you can navigate the 1.2-inch S-AMOLED display by rotating the bezel (there's also a touchscreen). Features include S Health for tracking daily activity levels and other more specific metrics such as water intake vs. caffeine intake. Note that the Gear S2 runs on the Tizen software platform rather than on Google's Wear OS, so you won't have the same selection of apps you'd get with, say, the Moto 360. That said, the selection isn't necessary disappointing; it includes Alipay (mobile payments), ESPN, Uber, Voxer (a walkie-talkie-style app) and Yelp, among others.

The Gear S2 comes with a wireless charging dock, and the 3G model includes a GPS sensor to support navigation. Note that the more premium-looking Gear S2 Classic is also available with 3G connectivity — worth a look if you want a more upscale design since the standard Gear S2 has a sporty, rubberized band while the Classic models are available with leather straps and platinum or rose gold plating.

Also note that this device's predecessor, the Samsung Gear S, is also a connected smartwatch. However, this earlier model has a clunkier design and doesn't offer the innovative bezel-based navigation option, among other features.

LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition

LG's first Wear OS smartwatch with cellular connectivity is available through AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

As a Wear OS device, the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition lets you ask voice questions starting with "OK Google" and displays smart notifications based on your activity. It also includes turn-by-turn navigation through Google Maps. Like the Gear S2 3G, this wearable features a round display, although the stainless-steel design is decidedly more refined than the entry-level Gear S2 (non-Gear S2 Classic) model.