Smartwatches have come a long way in the last decade, and what was once a novelty tech item with limited features has now become as close to a standalone product as they have ever been. While it is true that these feature-packed pieces of consumer tech can replace, or enhance, a lot of features we tend to rely on our smartphones for, all smartwatches are not created equal.
Some smartwatches can be used without a smartphone. Typically these are the higher-end models that require micro-SIM for the operation which means that the smartwatch will communicate over a cellular network without the need to tether to a device.
While you can operate some smartwatches without the need for a phone nearby with our guide, you will often still need a phone to set up and install apps on your watch. This translates to a product that can work independently of a smartphone but still requires one from time to time. There are other products, like specialty watches with smart features (like dedicated GPS/running watches) that are an exception. But if you have a smartwatch that uses a micro-SIM, there is still a lot you can do without your phone.
Things You Can Do On A Smartwatch Without A Smartphone
Smartwatches have added a ton of features for users, and if you’re interested in finding out which ones will work without a phone, you’re in luck, because there are essentials like fitness tracking, music playing/streaming, voice commands, calling, and texting that you can do without a phone connected.
Keep in mind that you will still need to have some sort of listening device for some of these features, like a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort Bluetooth Headphones (on Amazon) or Apple Airpods Pro (on Amazon). These will make sure you can still listen to your music (our guide on this) or access voice commands with a microphone attachment.
When it comes to which features you might have access to, it will depend a lot on the smartwatch brand and model. The Apple Watch Series (on Amazon) is going to pack a lot of standalone features into your wrist. Apple has been the top innovator when it comes to smartwatches.
Expect to be able to listen to music on the go, take calls, and track your activities without the need for a 24/7 iPhone connection.
But if fitness is a significant driver for your smartwatch purchase, you may want to consider a dedicated fitness tracker smartwatch. The Fitbit Sense Advanced Smartwatch (on Amazon) will make a great addition to any runner’s gear list.
This device will track a whole slew of biometrics to give you analytics of your activity. It’s worth noting that the Fitbit will still need a smartphone to access this data, but as far as operation goes, it has all the sensors and GPS built-in so you can leave your phone at home.
If you want to listen to music while on the go without the need to grab your phone, the Galaxy Smartwatch 3 (on Amazon) has the onboard storage needed to keep your songs and playlists built-in.
You can also use streaming services like Spotify without any issues. If you plan on taking calls and texts without your phone, you should first understand how this will work and what you need to look for in a smartwatch.
Calling and Texting on a Smartwatch
To make calls and send texts using your smartwatch without the need for a smartphone you’ll need three things: 1) access to a network, 2) a speaker and/or headphones, as well as 3) a microphone. Some smartwatches will have all three built-in, so you may be able to get away with not needing anything additional like a Bluetooth headset.
Others will only support network functions, so a pair of headphones will be necessary. As far as texting goes, for the most part this will be accomplished with the voice to text feature.
But to accomplish this, you’ll need access to a cellular network. Otherwise, you will have to rely on your phone’s network access to do this. Apple watches with iMessage may also be able to send and receive texts with access to a Wi-Fi network, in fact, we’ve talked all about this in our other guide.
Fortunately, micro-SIM technology can give your smartwatch access to a cellular network. Not all watches will have this, but for those who do, it will be a small slot on the side of the device that will take this specific SIM type.
Most of the time, you will also need to add your smartwatch to your cellular plan. Most plans won’t charge you much more than $10 per month, though. Note that some models, like the Apple Watch with LTE, don’t have a physical sim slot.
Can Your Smartwatch Replace Your Smartphone
It might seem alluring to ditch your smartphone altogether, but there are still some downsides to only using a wearable.
One thing to always consider is that no matter how powerful smartwatches and other wearables get, they are always constrained by their size. Smartphones may be big, but they pack in the latest technology and features. Smartwatches just can’t compete when it comes to power.
Why You Might Not Want to Ditch Your Phone for a Smart Watch
There are a couple of other reasons why you might not want to ditch your phone in place of a smartwatch.
First, when connected to a cellular network, a smartwatch can only stay charged for around 8 hours. Since the only way to charge them is to take them off, this can be a significant inconvenience. Next, while smartwatches are very versatile, they will still lack a lot of features and functions of a smartphone.
Also, no matter how standalone a smartwatch is, you will still need to use a smartphone to add apps, music, or access fitness and health analytics.
ven as Apple has added direct downloads of apps to Apple Watch in Watch OS 7, that capability often still requires you to download a paired app on your phone. Smartwatches can significantly reduce your reliance on your bulky smartphone, but they don’t stand as a full replacement for right now.
Best Standalone (No Phone) Smartwatches
To help you find the right smartwatch for you, we have some popular options you may want to consider. All of the following products can offer a lot of features without the need for a phone to connect.
The Apple Watch Series 6 from Apple (on Amazon) is by and large the most popular smartwatch option, and for a good reason. They are jam-packed with features and are easy to use with Apple’s integrated products.
Fitbit Blaze (on Amazon) – If you want a fitness watch with text and call capabilities, then the FitBit Blaze is an excellent choice. It has a sleek design and comes with plenty of biometric functions and real-time fitness tracking. Samsung has created a well-rounded smartwatch that can operate independently with music, voice, and text, and much more with the Samsung Gear S3.
These are just a few options to consider. Remember that you need to find watches that use a micro-SIM for them to be genuinely standalone. Otherwise, you will need access to Wi-Fi or have your phone nearby to operate most functions.