By Ben Stegner
Smartwatches have plenty of perks and offer a convenient companion to your smartphone. But what if you want to use your smartwatch throughout the day withoutcarrying your phone?
While early smartwatches required a connection to your phone, you’ll find modern smartwatches that can operate independently of one. A watch can’t fully replace your phone, but they’re great for those always on-the-go and can reduce the temptation to use your phone too often.
Here are smartwatches you can use standalone, and some information on why good smartwatch phones are so rare.
1. Apple Watch Series 3
Apple’s premiere smartwatch has gone through a few iterations, and the newest adds LTE support. This allows you to send and receive calls and text messages, stream from Apple Music, get directions, receive notifications, and more—all without your phone.
Of course, you also get all the features of the Apple Watch, with a growing list of compatible apps, customizable watch faces, Apple Pay, and much more. This is the best standalone smartwatch for Apple fans, though of course Android users should look elsewhere.
The Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular starts at $399. These watches include a SIM card, which you must activate with your carrier (at an additional cost). You’ll need an iPhone 6 or newer to set it up, which you can do with Apple’s help page.
Buy Now: Apple Watch Series 3 from Apple
2. Samsung Gear S3
Samsung is one of the most popular Android manufacturers, so it’s no surprise that the company offers a standalone Android smartwatch too. The Gear S3 is available in Classic and Frontier flavors, both with an LTE option.
On Samsung’s purchase page, you’ll see options for the standalone Gear S3 on Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T. The Gear S3 costs $349 for AT&T and $399 for other carriers.
The Gear S3 lets you text, email, pay with Samsung Pay, and more without a connection to your phone. It also runs Samsung’s Tizen OS, which is great if you don’t prefer Android Wear.
Buy Now: Samsung Gear S3 from Samsung
3. LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition
LG is another big player in the Android market, and it too offers a smartwatch with LTE connectivity. The Watch Urbane features a classy design complete full a full-circle P-OLED display for a crisp display.
Unlike Samsung’s offering, LG’s smartwatch includes the standard Android Wear OS. It’s water and dust resistant, and lets you stream music stored on the phone.
And thanks to the LTE connectivity, you can call and text without your phone. It’s available from both Verizon and AT&T, with pricing depending on carrier.
Buy Now: LG Watch Urbane 2 from LG
4. LG Watch Sport
Another offering from LG, the Watch Sport was one of the first smartwatches with Android Wear 2.0 and LTE connectivity. It has a crisp screen optimized for bright light outside, and features the power of Android Wear including Google Assistant support.
The Watch Support works with Android Pay, so you can make payments at participating locations with just your watch. Unfortunately, it’s on the bulkier side and only available on AT&T. But if those don’t bother you, this is a solid all-around standalone smartwatch.
Buy Now: LG Watch Sport from LG
The State of Standalone Smartwatches in 2018
We looked at some other smartwatches for this list, but unfortunately the market is pretty slim and these didn’t make the list for various reasons.
The Huawei Watch 2 is a slick device, but it’s not available with LTE in the US. ZTE’s Quartz watch was a great introductory model, but it’s no longer available. And the Omate O5 looks feature-rich, but there’s no way to order on its website.
Why is the market for LTE-enabled standalone smartwatches so thin? There are two main reasons:
Carriers Charge Too Much
Because standalone smartwatches require LTE to connect anywhere, you have to set them up with a carrier like AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile. Unfortunately, this leads to a costly barrier to entry.
Most carriers charge at least $10/month simply for the privilege of having an LTE smartwatch on your plan. Plus, carriers charge you an activation fee of up to $30 when you add the smartwatch to your plan.
Carriers thus treat smartwatches as if they were tablets. Adding a tablet to your data plan can us several gigabytes per month from streaming Netflix, music, and similar while on-the-go. But for a minor device that doesn’t use much data, this pricing feels like overkill.
Battery Life Is Unacceptable
Fitness trackers without smartwatch capabilities, like the Fitbit Charge 2, last a few days on a charge. But smartwatches do more—with fairly large screens and more ways to connect which sucks up battery quickly, most need charged every night. This gets even worse with LTE connectivity.
The Apple Watch 3 lasts just an hour when making a call on LTE. This means even a 15-minute call would drain 25 percent of its battery. That’s not enough juice for you to go out all day with just your watch.
Unfortunately, current battery limitations keep smartwatches from being standalone power devices most of the time. Being able to respond to a text during a run with just your watch is nice, but you can’t expect to use it all the time in place of your phone.
Watches aren’t quite the futuristic devices we hoped they’d be yet.
Watches to Replace Your Phone
We’ve seen the best LTE-enabled watches on the market today. While there are a few worth your time, they come with some big drawbacks. Adding a smartwatch to your data plan costs too much, and you can’t use them for long without draining the battery.
But if you don’t mind the cost and often need to get in touch without your phone nearby, it might be worth dealing with the annoyances. Hopefully, smartwatch technology improves in the near future so we can enjoy a better standalone experience.