How to use an LTE Apple Watch with an Android smartphone

While testing the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular last night, I floated a crazy idea past iMore editor-at-large Rene Ritchie: What happens if you set up the Apple Watch on an iPhone, then swap that iPhone's SIM card over into an Android phone? Would the watch recognize that its paired iPhone SIM was no longer in an iPhone and stop working? Would it still work over a carrier's LTE connection? And more importantly: If it worked, what could it do?

Well, because we embrace insanity here at iMore, we tried it. And, barring a bit of hacky behavior, it works.

I'm going to preface this write-up by saying that I personally think this is a terrible way to use the Apple Watch. Your battery life will most certainly be nonexistent, because the watch solely relies on a LTE connection. You won't be able to get any fitness data on your Android smartphone. And you likely won't be able to access certain features like calling internationally or sending and receive SMS messages from your watch.

How we did it

I used my iPhone 8 Plus on AT&T and the new LTE Apple Watch Series 3, along with a loaner Galaxy S8 Active from Michael Fisher (of Mr Mobile fame), who also shot a video which we'll be posting soon.

After setting the Apple Watch up, we swapped my iPhone 8 Plus's SIM card into the Galaxy S8 Active, and isolated the iPhone 8 Plus in Airplane mode so that there was no possible way for the Apple Watch to connect to the iPhone or remembered Wi-Fi networks.

It took the Android device a few minutes to reboot and connect to AT&T. During that time, my watch showed a depressed "Disconnected," though it did attempt to connect to the (limited) cellular network inside our hotel in NYC.

Once the S8 Active was connected, I went outside (to find a stronger cellular signal) with only my watch. To kickstart it, I swapped the watch into Airplane mode, then back out of it. Then I asked Siri to call my mother. It took Siri a few seconds longer than it has over past Series 3 queries, but Apple's assistant delivered — and a few minutes later, I was talking to my very-confused mother.

We didn't stop there, however. Fisher and I then went up to our hotel's rooftop terrace and placed another call (to him), asked Siri a few queries, and checked for directions on the watch. We also sent an iMessage (!) to Rene, which delivered successfully even through cellular; it appears the watch has its own iMessage handshake protocol separate from iPhone when it's on cellular — even if your original phone SIM is now in an Android device.

I also had Fisher place an inbound call to me from his older iPhone 7. The call displayed on both the Apple Watch and the Galaxy S8 Active; I then picked it up on the watch and we proceeded to talk for a short period of time.

Wacky.

Things we still haven't tested, but I would like to explore:

  • SMS ("green bubble") messaging: I couldn't get a straight SMS message to work when using my Series 3 over cellular normally, so I'm curious to see if this will work at all. We also didn't test receiving SMS messages on the watch.
  • International calling: As with SMS, I couldn't get this to work when using the Series 3 in stand-alone mode, though this may be an AT&T limitation (along with no roaming).
  • FaceTime Audio: If iMessage has its own protocol on the watch, it stands to reason that FaceTime Audio might as well — you'd just need to set up the original iPhone with iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime addresses before switching to Android.

Who might actually want to use this

If I had to recommend this work-around to anyone, it would be families who have both an iPhone and an Android device — those who prefer Android in their pocket but want an Apple Watch on their wrist, and they have a family member with an accessible iPhone where they can still sync fitness data, iCloud calendars, and change settings.

Yes, you could use some random friend's iPhone to set up your watch, but it's a terrible idea from a security standpoint. Honestly, it's just a terrible idea, period. Don't do this.

Even if you do have a multi-device household, it's far from an ideal solution: Your watch's battery life is going to be awful from it needing to constantly try and look for LTE, and you'll be missing out on a lot of key features available to watch and iPhone users. Also worth considering: This "option" might disappear at any time with a software update or a carrier settings change.

What you need

If you are absolutely sure you want to do this, here's what you need to get started.

  • An unlocked iPhone 6 or later
  • A factory-default Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch
  • An unlocked Android smartphone with a microSIM card slot
  • A cellular network that supports Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular models
  • A SIM removal tool

How to make your Apple Watch work with an Android smartphone

  1. Remove the SIM card from both your iPhone and your Android phone.
  2. Insert your Android phone's SIM card into the iPhone.
  3. Once your data connection enables, open the Watch app on the iPhone.
  4. Set up your watch, and add it to your carrier's cellular network.
  5. Finish setting up the Apple Watch.
  6. Switch the SIM card from the iPhone to your Android phone.
  7. Toggle Airplane mode on and off on the Apple Watch to make sure it connects to its cellular network.

  1. Use your Apple Watch alongside your Android smartphone.

If you want to change your settings or sync your Apple Watch, you'll have to repeat steps 1-3 then adjust accordingly from the Watch app.

What do you think?

Would you try this insanity to get a little slice of Apple on your wrist even without an iPhone in your pocket? Let us know in the comments.

iPhone 8 at iMore: Everything you need to know!

18 Comments
  • The nerd in me says cool. But what's the point of using an inferior set up?
  • I'm one of the biggest nerds an i say heck nah just get a gear s3 an keep it moving. I've never seen a Apple watch that looked good on a man wrist just my 2 cents
  • So true. My wife loves the look of the Apple watch. She says it looks very petite and goes well with dresses.
  • You do realise they come in two sizes?
  • Yep, girls size and ladies size.
  • By the way I heard there having all kinds of issues with the LTE an the already sucky battery is now worse
  • and they know what caused the issue and will fix it. I had one of the first generation Apple Watches, it was great but I gave it up for a watch that had LTE which is a S2 from Samsung. Not sure I would go back to Apple after the blow up of them not wanting to help the FBI with the terrorist issue. I am sure there was a work around instead of just saying no. But that is my opinion
  • It sucks with or without an iPhone, so why bother pairing it to an Android phone?
  • Exactly
  • Probably the same reason I pair my Moto 360 with my iPhone. I bought the watch to try out a smart watch, found out they suck and will not buy another until they improve the tech.
  • I would do something like this. I hate IOS but love iMessage. If I could still use my Android and iMessage at the same time that would be perfect for me
  • I'd love it if apple went the way of BBM and released an app.
  • They would *never (I know, I know, never say never) release I message to Android. The only people I know that are "in the fence" between ios and Android is because of wanting to maintain contact with imessage family/friend users. It's only unique attribute is that it is tied to ios platform where as mms is stupidly charged for by carriers.
  • This works in a different fashion on my AW series 2. I have it paired with an iPhone, then take that sim and put it into my android phone. The AW uses the hotspot feature on the android phone and I can leave the iPhone at home and most of it works. Notifications work perfectly for most stuff, apple pay works, all the remote apps I've tried work, etc. Main things not working are Siri and calls. I can send and receive text messages. It's not something I will do long term, just wanted to experiment. iOS11 and watch OS4..
  • Hey spinedoc,
    Can you explain your process a little further? Did you have to setup your AW in the iPhone with the SIM in first? I just set up the AW with iPhone and never had the SIM in the iPhone. I SO want to test this out. How am I getting AW to connect to my Android phone hotspot? Haven't used an AW since they initially came out.
    Thanks in advance!
  • Updating my prior reply and questions to spinedoc...I figured it out. here are the details for others (it is NOT necessary to initially have a SIM in your iPhone when setting up. I am using a Series 3 GPS Only AW):
    1) Turn on the Hotspot on your Android device (I'm using a Note 8).
    2) Connect your iPhone’s wifi to the Android phone's Hotspot.
    3) Your Apple Watch will access the internet using the wifi hotspot connection on your iPhone.
    4) Now that you have “established” an authorized/known (can’t think of the word Apple uses) wifi connection you can leave the iPhone at home and either leave the hotspot running or turn it on when you need updates to certain apps on your watch!
    5) Go into messages on your iPhone (especially when the SIM is NOT in it) and be sure you have an email address that is checked off to use with iMessage. I used iMessage seamlessly - with voice text entry…too small to type (of course there is no trail of the SMSs on your Android phone). My weather updates, mail comes in and I can respond. Haven’t tried anything else except Siri who told me the time but couldn’t answer a couple of questions about Apple Watch.. Surprisingly, I didn't get much of a hit on the battery either in my Note 8 or on the Apple Watch when I left the Hotspot on. Not sure how much data was used but I get a 10GB/month hotspot on my AT&T plan so doubt I'll eat that up before the next bill comes out.
  • Interesting that in the iMore version of this article Serenity feels the need to make a snarky comment about the S8 Active crashing as soon as she picks, something she claims occurs whenever she encounters an Android device, but that text is omitted on the article here on AC. Is this Serenity being genuinely unlucky in her experience of Android devices, or a straw man to distract from the Apple Watch's own failings?
  • "This is a terrible idea and you probably shouldn't do it. Anyway, here's how to do it." I love it. :)