Smartwatches have started to be able to handle more and more functions over the years. Recent models typically feature waterproofing and sometimes a cellular connection, meaning you can get by with just your watch if you’d like. But this can only work if you’re still reachable–if you can take a quick call and answer your phone on a smartwatch.
It is possible to answer your phone via your smartwatch. When you’re near your phone and the two devices are connected, a call might come through on both devices giving you the choice of where to answer. A smartwatch with a cellular connection will allow you to answer your phone on your smartwatch even when the two devices aren’t nearby.
There are variations between smartwatches in how call-answering is accomplished. Some, like the Apple Watch (on Amazon), can act independently as a phone if you have a cellular model, while others require interfacing with your smartphone. For some smartwatches, though, this feature is not available at all so if this is a feature you know you want, read through our instructions on how to figure out if a smartwatch has call management below.
How to Tell if Your Smartwatch Can Manage Calls
Call management, whether Facetiming across the world or not (our guide), is usually expressly listed in the features of the smartwatch in question. If it’s not listed, don’t assume that the smartwatch is capable of acting as a phone.
Even if call management is a not clearly identified feature, there are some clues that can help determine what your smartwatch is capable of. To manage calls, firstly the smartwatch must include a built-in microphone and speaker.
After that, smartwatches basically fall into two categories: those that can use a cellular signal for connectivity, and those that cannot (more on smartwatches and what they’re capable of in our guide). Smartwatches that can connect to cellular networks are able to manage calls, though you’ll still need to figure out a data connection with a carrier.
Plenty of smartwatches, like this one from Fossil (also on Amazon), may be able to manage calls via a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, so you could still be able to answer calls on these. However, you’ll want to read through the features and watch reviews of the specific model you’re considering to confirm.
Smartwatches with a Cellular Connection Can Function as a Phone
If a smartwatch has a cell connection, it probably also has the ability to connect with a carrier using eSIM. Like your cellphone or smartphone, which may use a physical SIM card to manage the relationship with the carrier, the smartwatch with a cell connection is capable of call management. A smartwatch with an eSIM connection set up is essentially a miniaturized smartphone on your wrist. It’s capable of receiving and sending calls along with the cellular network it is associated with.
Using your eSIM-enabled smartwatch does not require connection to a separate smartphone to work, but it does require registering the smartwatch with your cellular carrier. Be aware that adding an eSIM-capable smartwatch to your existing cellular contract is equivalent to adding an additional line, like adding another smartphone. It’s usually priced a bit cheaper because they know it’s just your watch, but it’s not nothing. Plan on at least $10/mo to add your smartwatch to your phone plan.
At this point in time, there is no way to add two phones to the same cellular phone number, and this can create some 21st century-style problems. If you get a smartwatch plan from one carrier and a phone plan from a different carrier, they won’t work together as you’re expecting (make sure everything is updated as well by using our guide). You need to get your smartphone’s data connection set up at the same place your phone’s data connection is set up.
Connect a Smartwatch Via Bluetooth to Use it as a Phone
Another way a smartwatch can manage calls is via a Bluetooth connection with your existing smartphone. Smartwatches, connected to your smartphone in this way, act a bit like a smaller version of the touchscreen on your smartphone but attached conveniently to your wrist. Most smartwatches can use Bluetooth to route calls through their internal speaker and transmit audio through their microphone.
Through the Bluetooth connection, you can access most of the features available on your smartphone (including the ability to connect things like tablets and mouses – our guide). The apps you can use on your smartwatch depend on the brand and model of both the smartwatch and smartphone you use. Call management is an almost universal feature for Bluetooth smartwatches, but again, read the list of features of your smartwatches carefully.
Bluetooth smartwatches require that they be used within range of your smartphone, generally within 30 feet, and if you’re moving your smartphone will still need to travel with you. Similar to how it works when you connect a mouse to a touchscreen laptop (our tutorial), Bluetooth pairing is also a significant drain on batteries for some devices, and many smartphones will deactivate Bluetooth when their battery charge falls below a certain level. So, while this is possible, the system is somewhat more delicate when the watch doesn’t have it’s own dedicated cellular connection
Connect Smartwatch to Wi-Fi for Phone Calls
Some smartwatches can connect to a Wi-Fi network (more on what can be connected to a WiFi network in our guide), without needing a eSIM card or being paired with a smartphone. However, those won’t enable any phone calls to be managed on the watch.
Wi-Fi apps like hangouts or FaceTime Audio may work over Wi-Fi, giving you the same effect of a phone call, but a Wi-Fi connection can’t be used to route phone calls to your smartwatch. That feature is called Voice over IP (VoIP), and while it’s growing in availability, it’s not a feature common to smartwatches.
There are a couple of Samsung smartwatches that look able to connect to a smartphone via Wi-Fi (more on what can be done in our guide), in a way similar to Bluetooth. For this, your smartphone would need to be on and connected to a Wi-Fi network. More importantly for this discussion, call and text management are not available when connecting in this way.