The 12 pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch

Samsung Gear 2 variant would be a standalone smartwatch, according to reports

Samsung is reportedly working on a variant of its Gear 2 smartwatch that works over cellular networks and doesn't require a Bluetooth or other connection to a smartphone.

The Korea Herald reported this week that Samsung and wireless carrier SK Telecom of South Korea are working together on the project, according to unnamed sources. Initially, the new device would be sold in South Korea but could eventually be sold globally.

Galaxy Gear 2 (2)
Samsung is reported to be working on a standalone version of its Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch that doesn't require connection to a smartphone.

SK Telecom would release the new smartwatch with a USIM (Universal Subscriber Identity Module) for use on various cellular networks.

The concept of a cellular-connected smartwatch isn't new, and a few startups showed prototypes of such devices, including the Neptune Pine smartwatch, at International CES in January.

In 2009, LG Electronics created the Watch Phone to function over 3G cellular. LG's device had a camera and 1.4-in. display, which could be used for voice and video calls. It was also priced at more than $800.

Given that Samsung is expected to create a similar standalone smartwatch device and the recent introduction of developer software from Google and Samsung, as well as smartwatches and smartwatch upgrades that connect to smartphones via Bluetooth from prominent vendors like Motorola and LG, it's worth pondering the many pros and cons of a cellular smartwatch.

The pros of a standalone smartwatch

1. You can get quick access to many functions that would otherwise require a connection to a smartphone. This avoids digging into a pocket or purse for the smartphone once you get a notification, either on a Bluetooth-connected smartwatch or by hearing a tone on the smartphone, of an email or a call. Studies show that users check a smartphone dozens of times a day, and a quick glance at a watch would be more convenient.

Professionals, including stockbrokers and doctors, have told vendors they want something like a smartwatch for quick notifications on the movement of a stock price or the change in a patient's condition.

This notification capability with a standalone smartwatch isn't entirely different than a Bluetooth-connected smartwatch, except that the standalone device offers the promise of getting or sending quite a lot more information that might mean not having to use or carry the smartphone much at all.

2. Depending on the size of the display, you could see plenty of information on a standalone smartwatch. The Neptune Pine, which startup Neptune is building with funds from Kickstarter, has a very large (for a smartwatch) 2.4-in. display with cellular, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, which makes it large enough to run most Android apps. Conceivably, a standalone Gear 2 could make it possible to search an Internet browser on your wrist, which might work for viewing YouTube videos, if not for reading stories on the New York Times site. The same applies to text messages and emails, the latter which might be readable, at least the subject line and sender.

3. With a speaker and microphone in the Gear 2 and other standalone devices, you could make voice calls. The Gear 2 will also have a camera, which opens up the realm of the "Dick Tracy" watch, where video calling is possible.

4. Because of the cellular connection, a standalone smartwatch would have an Internet connection allowing connections to virtually any server in the world. That means a vendor could sell services in the same way that Amazon sells services to Kindle tablets, according to Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. This kind of value-add might be an ideal ecosystem for Google if it wanted to give more widespread connectivity to its coming universe of Android Wear watches from Motorola, LG and others to, say, Nest thermostats and other devices in a home or business far away.

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