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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.

AT&T and Verizon wouldn't comment on how a standalone smartwatch might be handled under their current sharing and voice plans. Paying for cellular service on both a smartphone and a standalone smartwatch might force users to choose one or the other.

"I'm unlikely to give up my smartphone, since it has more capability and is a general purpose communications device and Web device with apps, and has a bigger screen than a device I wear on my wrist," Gold said. "Will this standalone device be seen as a duplication and therefore not necessary? "

3. A cellular-connected smartwatch raises many questions about network connections. "Will a device on my wrist actually be able to adequately connect to the network?" Gold asked. "Building good radios is hard and takes up room in a device with chips and antennas. So it's not a slam dunk."

4. Battery life could be a bigger challenge than any other hardware concern. With the cellular radios and antennas in a standalone smartwatch, a bigger battery would be needed. Wearers of conventional wristwatches expect their batteries to last for years, and even a few days with a Bluetooth-connected smartwatch seems too frequent for many. Daily charges on a standalone smartwatch might be the same as with what we've come to expect with a smartphone, but some users will probably balk. The Gear 2 without cellular has a 300 mAh battery, which is tiny compared to many smartphones, which are expected to last three days with requiring a charge, based on average usage.

5. Given the need for a larger battery in a standalone smartwatch, more room for antennas and cellular radio chips, and the need to have a screen that is big enough to support videoconferencing and browsing, it is hard to believe that the Gear 2 would be large enough. The Gear 2 specs for a Bluetooth connection to a Samsung Android smartphone, as released by Samsung, show a 1.6-in. display and a 2.4-ounce overall weight. At that size and weight, it is already too large for the wrists of many people, according to analysts who have surveyed potential users.

6. Size and weight are one thing, and both point to, perhaps, the ultimate question about styling. Since many people compare smartwatches to wristwatches and therefore jewelry, the styling question could be paramount. Most female customers will have to decide, "Can I wear this?" the same way they would evaluate a bracelet, giving more attention to styling than they ever gave to a smartphone, which can be buried in a purse or pocket out of view.

Whether the Gear 2 ever lands in the U.S. as a cellular device is unknown. Samsung isn't talking, officially, at least.


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