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The 12 pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch

Matt Hamblen | March 24, 2014
Samsung is reportedly working on a variant of its Gear 2 smartwatch that works over cellular networks and doesn't require a Bluetooth or other connection to a smartphone.

3. With a speaker and microphone in the Gear 2 and other standalone devices, you could make voice calls. The Gear 2 will also have a camera, which opens up the realm of the "Dick Tracy" watch, where video calling is possible.

4. Because of the cellular connection, a standalone smartwatch would have an Internet connection allowing connections to virtually any server in the world. That means a vendor could sell services in the same way that Amazon sells services to Kindle tablets, according to Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. This kind of value-add might be an ideal ecosystem for Google if it wanted to give more widespread connectivity to its coming universe of Android Wear watches from Motorola, LG and others to, say, Nest thermostats and other devices in a home or business far away.

5. It would be cool to have one. All the big vendors are hoping that early tech adopters get onboard with wearables. There are already more than 100 different styles of sport bands and smartwatches on the market, with nearly all paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Selling less-expensive sports bands that monitor your health is one way that retailers want to lure users into higher uses, and adding cellular could have some appeal.

6. It helps Samsung. At Samsung, there is a penchant for building "one of everything," which is possible because Samsung is a huge company and also makes displays, processors and many of the parts needed for consumer electronics. Samsung is likely to make a cellular-connected smartwatch partly because it can, and that puts pressure on its less capable competitors to match its efforts, analysts said.

"I am not sure a standalone smartwatch will help Samsung in the battle, but it certainly follows their approach to enter any market," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel. "It's their 'no bullet will be spared' approach, to follow that battle analogy."

The cons

1. Hardware costs might be the biggest worry for users of a standalone smartwatch with all the bells and whistles of something like an LG Watch Phone, initially listed at $800. That price is more than a high-end unlocked smartphone costs today just for the hardware. In fact, that's more than the cost of a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone and the original Bluetooth-connected Galaxy Gear smartwatch for $300. AT&T on Thursday said it will cut $50 off the $299 price for the Bluetooth-connected Gear 2 for a limited time when a customer also buys a Galaxy S5 smartphone for $200 plus contract.

2. Cellular service costs could be the deal breaker. Today, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer shared data plans that allow buying a bucket of data for use on as many as 10 devices. That approach could be applied to a standalone smartwatch, conceivably, but then users might also have to pay for a monthly service cost for the device (maybe $10 or more a month per device) and a separate voice plan in addition to the voice plan on a smartphone.


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