I used to think I wanted an LTE smartwatch. Now I know better

Google Pixel Watch 2 hands-on
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
Sunday Runday

Lloyd, the Android Central mascot, break-dancing

(Image credit: Android Central)

In this weekly column, Android Central Wearables Editor Michael Hicks talks about the world of wearables, apps, and fitness tech related to running and health, in his quest to get faster and more fit.

I've tested a few smartwatches with LTE over the years: the Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE, Apple Watch Ultra 2, and Pixel Watch 2 LTE. The concept of leaving my phone behind and running free with an on-wrist backup used to tempt me. But my cellular watch experiment made me realize it's not for me. 

You'll find dozens of forums and Reddit threads for Apple, Samsung, Google, and Garmin users that are all variations on the same question: Should I buy (or do I need) an LTE smartwatch? Invariably, you'll get passionate and logical answers for both "yes" and "no."

Some people describe the joy they feel of shedding the weight of their massive Ultra or Pro Max phones during runs without losing access to emergency calls and text notifications. They say the call quality isn't too much different from that of their phones and mention how they love to stream playlists or check directions without anything in their pockets.

You get just as many people saying they never go anywhere without their phone — making an LTE watch superfluous—and that a watch display is too small to replace a phone's comfortably when they'd rather use the real thing. 

Others explain that they bought an LTE watch but ended up canceling the extra line—either because their carrier charged way too much in hidden fees or because they realized how rarely they used it. And I've heard horror stories from AC writers about LTE smartwatches overheating.

The Garmin Forerunner LTE, showing an option for Live Event Sharing via satellite

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

My first LTE watch was the Forerunner 945 LTE, part of a care package of Android watches and phones from my EIC in my early days at Android Central. I liked its running metrics, but I never tested the cellular tech. Its safety features, like LiveTrack, felt superfluous when I rarely strayed far from home on runs, and it didn't have the mic, speaker, or texting features to make it feel worthwhile. 

Since then, aside from the Garmin Bounce for kids, Garmin hasn't released another LTE watch, despite users clamoring for a cellular version of the Venu 3 or Fenix 7. Perhaps the 945 LTE didn't sell well enough for Garmin to be confident in the tech, or else the company knows the Garmin Messenger app isn't popular enough for its iPhone-owning fans to pay for LTE. 

More likely, Garmin wants to double down on satellite tech like InReach Messenger since Garmin has responded to over 10,000 SOSs across 100+ countries. Satellite fits more with its brand than cellular, which can't be counted on in areas where serious athletes or adventurers might train. 

Widgets on the Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

Back to LTE watches: During my months-long Apple Watch Ultra 2 review, I did my due diligence, setting up an expensive cellular line. If ever there was a "standalone" smartwatch that would let me leave my phone behind, I thought that would be it. 

I wasn't wrong! It works perfectly well sans my iPhone 14 Pro. I answered calls and streamed music over AirPods Pros, tapped out texts, glanced at notifications, and enjoyed the lack of weight in my pocket. I could certainly see the appeal of cellular.

The next time I went running, I kept my phone with me because my combination of dual-band GPS, Apple Music, and cellular use had burned through my watch's battery life like nobody's business. 

I prioritize long battery life when picking my favorite watches; daily-charge watches like an Apple or Pixel Watch already feel like a compromise, and LTE usage only makes that worse. You can put LTE on a fitness watch with better battery life, but you'll lose the apps and messaging that make cellular worth paying for. 

Add in the fact that my carrier (AT&T) would charge me about $180 a year for my Ultra 2 line when you add in fees and taxes, and you shouldn't be surprised that my LTE experiment ended prematurely. 

Messaging on the Garmin Bounce kids smartwatch's display

Messaging on the Garmin Bounce (Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

I recently got my hands on the Pixel Watch 2 LTE, and I'm excited to put it through its paces, but I'm not going to turn on the cellular function this time. 

LTE has its uses, especially on kids' smartwatches. Some brands have built-in cellular so you can avoid giving your child a phone too young; others have geo-locked alerts that notify you if your kid leaves a safe zone like home or school. Either way, LTE is essential in this specific use case.

However, for adult use, an LTE smartwatch is nothing but a diet smartphone. I like the idea of having an on-demand backup for emergencies, but it's hard to convince myself to fit cellular into my budget when I can just be careful and keep my smartphone on hand and fully charged. 

Various quick message options on the Garmin GPSMAP 67i

My satellite-ready Garmin GPSMAP 67i (Image credit: Michael Hicks / Android Central)

As an athlete, satellite would be more useful to me in a remote emergency. And even that feels like something that sounds great on paper, but very few people will buy into it—just like LTE.

Apple made a splash with satellite emergency features on iPhones, prompting Qualcomm to sell Iridium satellite tech to eager Android brands. But this push died quickly once Qualcomm and friends realized that most people don't want to pay for satellite

Satellite on iPhones—just like LTE on watches—burns through battery life quickly and will cost about $180/year once Apple's free trial ends. People like having that emergency SOS option, but once they have to pay for it preemptively? Usage will drop off to the ultra-prepared and those who live in remote areas. 

I'd want satellite more than cellular in a crisis, but having tested niche satellite-enabled products like the Garmin GPSMAP 67i—which makes you pay anywhere from $15–65/month for InReach—I know that I'd rather try to avoid emergency situations than pay so much in the off-chance I'll run into one. 

Maybe this all makes me irresponsible or short-sighted, and I'd never begrudge anyone who pays for an LTE smartwatch or satellite SOS backups. But I'm guessing I'm in the majority of those that just don't find it worth the cost.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, Wearables & AR/VR

Michael is Android Central's resident expert on wearables and fitness. Before joining Android Central, he freelanced for years at Techradar, Wareable, Windows Central, and Digital Trends. Channeling his love of running, he established himself as an expert on fitness watches, testing and reviewing models from Garmin, Fitbit, Samsung, Apple, COROS, Polar, Amazfit, Suunto, and more.

  • rvbfan
    I'm the same, I equate it to putting my pants on before I go out. Pants? Check. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Phone? Check. No need for LTE on my watch.
  • Village_Idiot
    The LTE watch was a solution in search of a problem. It is cool and all, but for most people, it is an unneeded cost for what it gives them. It comes down to one simple question:

    "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"
  • tube517
    I have health issues so I got the Samsung GW 6. It's been very helpful as i have Afib and High Blood Pressure. I also have a Kardia and. regular BP monitor to check against the watch. The watch is pretty accurate for me (surprisingly)
  • BerryBubbles
    Good article!

    I recently entertained the idea of moving to a LTE watch & realized, in my case, there was really not a compelling reason to do so.
  • mjd19891
    I just switched to an lte smartwatch after 11yrs using a Bluetooth version. The lte version makes it more convenient to use than my watch/phone combo while walking my dogs or exercising. To each his/her/their own get what works for you. There's room for all.
  • tryfe
    Only reason I've got an LTE watch is because cellphones are not allowed in where i work. Gotta stay connected..
  • Tim Tech
    I have 2 LTE watches.. bought a Samsung LTE watch and 3 months later got a Pixel LTE Watch. What's the reason for this? I found out that the Pixel watch has no monthly fees* for LTE! (*I have Google Fi for my phone provider).
  • CaribMas
    Like most people I don't want or need a LTE watch; however I think it's good option for others.
  • LordNikonX
    I clicked on this article, solely, because I'm planning on buying a pixel watch 2 with LTE, in the hopes that I don't have to purchase an LTE line on my phone at all. And, while it was informative to know that a carrier might only allow me to purchase LTE on the pixel watch 2 if it is being used as a second line, I'm hoping they will not. But, it was disappointing to read that you tested every watch EXCEPT the pixel watch 2. This is missing important information for someone, like myself.
  • CyKenja
    I've long had an LTE capable smart watch but never really configured it. In my last upgrade I opted for LTE again, although I didn't intend to use it, knowing that 911 calls are still possible ...

    That said, after a long trip last year and realising I don't wanna be the sidewalk-accident-waiting-to-happen navigating by phone, I realised that with esims, I had some better options. Getting 1GB on my watch for a week or two when I expect to be moving about a lot, or traveling and want to keep my hands free became a no brainer. And the cost coming in at 6 bucks with most cheap esim plans that work well enough is something easy too. I probably use the esim 3-8 weeks out of the year with costs well under a hundred dollars.