Gone are the days when smartwatches relied on a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone to make the most of its best features. There are watches with 4G/LTE connectivity to help you live that untethered life.
Cellular smartwatches are still small in number, but the options are growing as more companies embrace offering that extra connectivity support. The Apple Watch absolutely isn’t your only option.
Below, we’ve rounded up our picks of the bunch that you can buy now, as well as some more information on what exactly you get with an LTE smartwatch.
Update: We first published this article in August 2017 and continue to update it regularly. In October 2021 we refreshed our selection based on our testing
Standalone smartwatches: Things to consider
If you’re in a muddle about just what a cellular smartwatch actually is, we’ve got the key details you need below to quickly get you up to speed.
What can a cellular smartwatch do?
In smartwatch terms, having one with a 4G/LTE cellular connection allows you to link to your carrier’s data plan without the connection of your phone.
This means you can take calls, listen to music, use apps, send messages and take part in all the other usual smartphone frivolities, just, you know, without your phone being present. There are some watches though that embrace that standalone connectivity for different reasons too, which we’ll get into below.
In order for a smartwatch to mimic your phone, it has to be able to connect to the same network carrier. And if you want to take calls, you’re also required to link the same number as your smartphone.
Do I need to switch my SIM card over?
No. Instead of having to carry a SIM ejector around with you and deal with a physical card, some watches use eSIM technology, which is essentially an embedded variant that can’t be moved from the hood.
The benefit of this tech over regular SIM cards is the smaller size â companies are already trying to reduce size, so this is a natural step â and the efficiency of sharing your number between phone and watch through software.
Do you have to pay a monthly fee?
This all depends on the carrier you decide to go with, but, usually, yes.
However, deals will often be bundled with a smartphone, since you need to be rocking the same network and the two go hand in hand.
Does using LTE affect battery?
Deciphering which sensors and what activities affect your battery is always a tough game, but the answer is, well, yes â using LTE will generally sap your battery faster than if you weren’t using it.
What we often see from devices with LTE is a bigger battery (and a bigger build) in order to offset the power it’s taking up.
If you’re looking to save battery and get a few more hours in the day, simply switching to a feature-slimmed mode on your device should help you out on that front.
Apple Watch Series 7 and SE (GPS + Cellular model)
Series 7 LTE: From $499
Watch SE LTE: From $359
The Apple Watch Series 7 has landed to cement itself as the best smartwatch you can buy in 2021. A big part of why it’s the best is that it comes with excellent standalone support.
Not only can you make calls, take calls and receive notifications, thanks to that built-in eSIM, but streaming tunes via Apple Music and now Spotify is also available right from the wrist. Since the feature was first introduced in the Series 3, we’ve found the LTE coverage to be both consistent and reliable.
Set it up: How to use LTE on Apple Watch
Aside from the cellular support, the Series 7 has jumped in case size moving from 40mm and 44mm to 41mm and 45mm case options. That brings more screen estate, better rugged protection and all the best software features available via watchOS 8.
Apple Watch SE
ECG is still available to track your heart rhythm and potentially spot atrial fibrillation, and the design, aside from the new display, is the same as the previous generation.
If you can live without that ECG and blood oxygen app support, you can also pick up the Apple Watch SE, which offers pretty much everything else the Series 6 offers and is available with 4G/LTE support from $359.
Naturally, you can buy the device without the LTE package, but this undoubtedly gives you the fullest experience and can free you from your phone during runs, when your phone battery dies and whatever else.
We are still putting the finishing touches on our Apple Watch Series 7 review, but you can check out what we made of the previous generation and the SE in our in-depth Apple Watch Series 6 review and Apple Watch SE review.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 (4G LTE model)
Price when reviewed: From $299.99
The Apple Watch may be the top option for those on the hunt for an LTE smartwatch, but, particularly for those with an Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 is the next best pick.
Samsung’s latest is an Android-only option now and swaps its own Tizen software for Google Wear OS, which Samsung has helped to rebuild. It comes in 40mm/44mm sizes for the Watch 4 and 42mm/46mm sizes for the Watch 4 Classic. It’s one of the few smartwatches out there that can stack up in pretty much every area with the Apple Watch.
Those LTE powers will unlock similar functionality like enabling calls, streaming music from apps like Spotify and YouTube Music and receiving notifications from your favourite apps. On top of those cellular features, you’re getting big health features like an ECG sensor, blood pressure monitoring and the ability to track your weight from your wrist.
So it’s a feature-packed watch with plenty of features that can take advantage of its extra cellular powers.
That LTE support is still on offer for the older Galaxy Watch 3 and the Watch Active 2, though it’s important to know that those run on Tizen instead of new Wear OS. While they will be supported for a few years, they won’t be upgraded to Wear.
Read more in our Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 review.
Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular model)
Price when reviewed: From $299.99
The first Apple smartwatch to receive cellular support is also still a very viable option – and is one of the cheapest on this list.
Coverage works in the same way as it does on the newer models – meaning you can make calls, receive notifications and stream from Apple Music – and the upgrade to the cellular model starts at $100 over the Bluetooth equivalent.
What does the Series 3 lack that the Series 7 and SE has? Well, it features the older, boxier design without the perk of an always-on screen and it can’t provide health tracking highlights like ECG readings or the new blood oxygen measurements.
That said, for those who are most interested in the prospect of cellular connectivity from the wrist, this is a great smartwatch. It runs on the same watchOS 8 software as the latest models, and you still get all the core features, such as GPS activity tracking, standalone apps and notification support.
Read all about the LTE performance in our Apple Watch Series 3 review.
Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE
For the large part, Garmin has stayed out of the LTE crowd. It launched the Vivoactive 3 Music with connected support, but hasn’t gone big on adding it to other watches. Until it launched the Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE.
It’s taken the triathlon and running-focused watch and given it extra connectivity powers. Those powers are not utilised in the same way that they are on the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch. Instead Garmin has added LTE to make use of its safety assistance features, to share live location so family and friends know where you are and to receive audio and text messages to offer a motivational boost during races.
On top of that you’re getting everything else that was available on the non-LTE version of the 945. So that’s everything you can find inside of a Fenix 6 including mapping, deeper training analysis, payments and a music player with weeks as opposed to days of battery life.
Battery life with LTE can be anywhere from 7-10 hours depending on features in use, which does mean a drop from the maximum 35 hours you can enjoy in full GPS mode without music in play.
TicWatch Pro 3 LTE
Price when reviewed: $299
The TicWatch Pro 3 LTE is Mobvoi’s latest entry into the world of LTE smartwatches and it’s available in the UK, Spain and Germany through Vodafone with a US carrier yet to be tied up.
With those extra connected powers, the Pro will let you take VoLTE calls and send and receive messages straight from the watch. You’ll get notifications from other apps, too, thanks to the watch’s cloud syncing. You’ll also be able to use Google Assistant without being tethered to your phone
Aside from the LTE, you can expect a pretty standard Wear OS experience here. The experience doesn’t quite compete with what Apple can offer, but it’s one of the few watches that can and will be upgraded to Wear OS 3.0, which should happen some time in 2022.
Mobvoi has also included Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 processor to keep performance snappy and a host of its own software including its sleep, guided breathing and SpO2 apps. It’s by far the best TicWatch we’ve tested and one to consider if you’re not a fan of the Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch.
Have a read of our TicWatch Pro 3 review to find out what to expect from the slick Wear OS watch.
Oppo Watch LTE
Price when reviewed: $484
If you’re looking for a Wear OS alternative to the TicWatch Pro 3 and prefer a square watch look to a round one, you can also consider putting the Oppo Watch LTE on your wrist instead.
It’s available in the UK through Vodafone and Celron and Orange networks in the US, though like the TicWatch, you’ll need to have it paired with an Android phone to enjoy that tethered experience. You can share your phone number and watch number as the support is based on using an eSIM
When you’re all set up, you’ll be able to leave your phone behind and view notifications, deal with calls and access the Google Play Store to download apps. With Google having killed off Google Play Music, you do miss out on a desirable ability of being able to stream music.
You do though get a smartwatch experience that on the whole is very good merging Google’s Wear OS with Oppo’s Color OS software in a really pleasing way. Battery life with LTE support enabled is roughly a day, which is what you can expect to get with the extra connectivity support.
It’s got a high quality screen, strong fitness features and is a smartwatch we enjoyed using. We should mention though that it seems unlikely to get upgraded to the new Wear OS 3.0 being Google has built with Samsung. There’s an Oppo Watch 2 now too, which is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 4100 processor but is only available in China for now.
You can check out our Oppo Watch LTE review to see how we got on with the Wear OS smartwatch.