Smartwatches are being ruined by the addition of cellular connectivity

Like many inventions, the idea of a phone on your wrist came from fiction. From hoverboards, flying cars, to self-lacing shoes the entertainment industry has always been one of the greatest innovators for technology. It gave us a space to run with our imaginations, and over time, tech has caught up to those dreams.

The idea of a watch that was also a phone became most popular from Dick Tracy. Most people reading this probably aren’t old enough to remember that. Now, it’s 2017 and the ability to place a call on your watch has become quite common. The majority of the new smartwatches coming out this year feature cellular connectivity. While this isn’t exactly new, it seems 2017 is the year of the standalone watch, and that’s really not a good thing. Here’s why.

Battery

For starters, the cellular connection is a huge battery hog. We still have not reached a breakthrough in battery technology that we need to power such small devices. This leads to big, thick, chunky, unsightly watches that still struggle to make it through the day unless used minimally.



Some watches are better than others, but as a standalone device, it is a failure. Sure you can take a call on your watch now, but for how long? You have to constantly monitor your watch’s battery or try to top it off using a proprietary cradle in most instances, which is not easy to carry around to make things worse.

Calling

Another glaring issue is taking a call on your watch was better in fiction than it is in reality. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds fine and works fine, but the issue I have with it is that I have no interest in holding my arm up to my mouth and having a speakerphone call. After a few minutes, your arm starts to get tired and I have no interest in strangers listening to my private conversations.

It is true you can pair Bluetooth headphones and take calls more privately that way. However, if I’m going to do that, why not just have my phone on me? That device is a million times more capable with far better battery life. Let’s also not forget that sending text messages is more popular than calling these days, and smartwatches voice reply are only really good for quick responses.

Expensive

Paying for a cellular plan for your phone is already expensive enough. Now they want you to pay for a separate plan just for your watch. There is simply no real practical reason for the general consumer to pay for a separate plan for their watch. I’m sure there are some fringe cases where this is very useful. For most consumers, I believe it is a total waste and this should not be dictating the future of these devices.

It’s only a useful feature if your watch can truly act on its own since as long as you have your watch connected to a phone you can still make calls and text people without the need of a separate plan. The addition of the extra antennas and battery capacity also adds to the overall price of the device. This only results in the end consumer paying more for something they don’t really need.

Fewer options for you and me

Now that cellular connectivity has been added to the watches they’ve also started making them exclusive to carriers. Look at the ZTE Quartz on T-Mobile or Verizon’s own Wear24 for examples of this. Thanks to this we now have fewer options and choices when buying our device. As a consumer, I loathe this and do not want to be locked down to a carrier with any device. Especially one that works perfectly fine with any phone I have on any network via Bluetooth.

Size

The other glaring issue with adding cellular connectivity to a smartwatch is the size. Due to the embedded radios and the need for a bigger battery, these watches are always significantly thicker compared to others. While that’s fine for some with larger wrists, it really restricts what those of us with smaller wrists can wear. Just look at the Samsung Gear S2 from last year. The standard variant of that watch is compact and can be worn by just about everyone. The S2 with cellular radios, though, is significantly larger and thicker as well. That carried over to the Gear S3, where both the standard and cellular models are pretty huge.

Final Thoughts

I’m a fan of smartwatches and find mine very useful, I’m just not a fan of the direction they are going in. There are still plenty of improvements to be made, but at this time I don’t think cellular connectivity is one of them. Perhaps we are asking too much from a smartwatch to begin with. There is only so much you can do on such a small screen. Smartwatches are still a few breakthroughs away from becoming an all in one standalone device.

Until we get to that point, smartwatches should be treated as companion devices, which is where they shine. This overreach into forcing them to be standalone devices is not revitalizing the smartwatch market. If anything it is making it worse by making them larger and more expensive while adding very little value.

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