Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Smart Watches connected to the mobile cellular network let you make phone calls from your watch and offer new ways to manage personal safety. You can use them to...
Call 911 if you can’t get to a phone (Apple Watch also lets you press a button for 911.)
Be found, be called, or call for help if worried about safety or wandering with Alzheimer’s.
Activate Hard Fall Detection for sending automated emergency alert messages.
Monitor Your Heart (some even have ECGs) and other health indicators.
Set and get reminders to take meds, check the stove, or go to an appointment.
The two leading brands in North America are Apple and Samsung. While the Apple Watch remains the clear industry favorite, Samsung Galaxy watches are making progress for people in the Android ecosystem. Google Wear watches appear to be out of the game for now. Huawei is also making progress outside North America.
This PDF Checklist compares the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 5, The Samsung Galaxy Active 2, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 (Watch3 is not yet supported by carriers in Canada.)
If you are interested in either of these watches, consider looking at the tech reviews to learn more about their many other features and considerations for purchasing. I recommend TechCrunch as a starting point.
The remainder of this post reviews...
The two options for set-up - tethered and untethered - that dictate your costs and watch model choices.
What you need to make it work in the iPhone ecosystem and what you need to make it work in the Android Ecosystem,
The costs to make it work.
What to watch out for (vendor marketing information can be misleading).
Understanding Your Two Options
Your first consideration is about how the watch makes and receives phone calls.
If you expect to always have your smartphone within 100-300 feet when you need the safety features then the tethered approach provides the least costly option. If you want the freedom to leave your phone at home, you need un-tethered, a higher cost option.
Option 1. Tethered, Least Cost.
To make or receive calls, your watch talks to your phone via Bluetooth. Your Smart Phone then connects the call to the mobile cellular network. Think of your Smart Watch it as a wireless extension to your smartphone. The watch does not require built-in cellular communications ability.
Option 2. Untethered, Higher Cost.
To make or receive calls, your watch talks directly to the mobile cellular network when your Smart Phone is out of range. You can leave your phone at home! You never have to carry your Smartphone with you to make or receive calls or send messages. The phone has built in cellular communications ability.
What You Need to Make it Work.
I recommend keeping the two ecosystems separate - Apple and Android don't play well together! Within this world, you have 4 combination to consider.
Apple Watch - Tethered
An Apple Watch 2 or higher, 'GPS' only or 'GPS + Cellular' models.
An iPhone running on iOS 9 or higher.
A mobile prepaid or monthly subscription plan (No data plan required).
Mobile service provider confirmation the watch is supported on their network.
Apple Watch - Untethered
The Apple Watch 3 or higher, 'GPS + Cellular' models.
An iPhone running iOS 9 or higher.
A monthly mobile subscription phone plan with data (Cannot be prepaid plan).
An add-on mobile Smart Watch subscription plan (~$10 per month).
Series 3 and higher are required for Untethered direct communication to the cellular network. Series 5 and higher are required for the Hard Fall detection and ECG.
Samsung Galaxy Watch - Tethered
A Galaxy Watch Active 2 or Watch3, with or without Cellular.
An Android Phone operating Android 5.0 or higher supported by your mobile service provider.
A mobile prepaid or monthly service subscription plan (No data plan required).
Mobile service provider confirmation the watch is supported on their network using your Android phone make and model.
Samsung Galaxy Watchers - Untethered
The Galaxy Active 2 or Watch3 model with Cellular (LTE, 4G compatible at time of writing),
A Samsung smartphone running Android 5.0 or higher supported by your mobile service provider.
A monthly mobile subscription phone plan with data (Cannot be prepaid plan.)
An add-on mobile Smart Watch subscription plan (~$10/month).
Hard Fall detection and the ECG requires the Galaxy Watch3.
There are three possible new cost elements depending on the option you choose, your current Smart Phone and your current mobile services plan. The watch price ranges below are based on the Apple Watch Series 3 and 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Active 2 and Galaxy Watch3.
One Time Cost:
Purchase Price of Watch: $260-$600 CDN, $200 –$400 US
New Smartphone if your current phone is not compatible.
No Recurring Costs unless...
You finance the watch through your mobile services company for monthly finance fee, typically two year commitment.
You will be subscribing to a new mobile service plan or upgrading your plan.
One Time Cost
Purchase Price of Watch with cellular option: $360-$660 CDN, $300-$500 US.
Watch Activation Fee ($0-40; varies by service provider) .
New Smartphone if your current phone is not compatible.
One time watch activation fee. Typically $40 or less and frequently waived.
$10 add-on subscription fee for watch connectivity. May vary by service provider.
Monthly Mobile Services Plan Upgrade if necessary (Typically requires a monthly mobile services plan with data ranging from $40-70 per month)
TIP Consider buying the Cellular enabled model of the watch if there is a chance you will need to to call from your watch from anywhere and want to leave your phone at home. This way, you can always upgrade to Option 2 without having to buy a new Smart Watch. Until you've worn a Smart Watch for a while, it's hard to know for sure how much you'll use it and what you'll like most!
What to Watch Out For
The marketing information and tech reviews don't always have correct or complete detail. The four topics most frequently misunderstood or overlooked in tech reviews are questions about True Compatibility considerations, The different approaches to Fall Detection, and confusion over Smart Watches that connect to the cellular network and those that do not!
Compatibility. What does it really mean?
Manufacturers can claim compatibility between their Smart Watch and a Smart Phone device when there is some level of compatibility. It is the consumer's responsibility to find out what restrictions may apply, even for key features. Frequently this means certain apps will work but regular voice calls will not.
iPhone Compatibility. Samsung claims compatibility for pairing a Galaxy watch with an iPhone but the compatibility has limitations. For example, there is no product information telling us we must pair a Samsung Phone with a Galaxy watch to connect directly to the cellular network. As noted above, a Samsung Cellular enabled watch will not connect to the network directly when paired with an iPhone or an Android phone made by another Manufacturer.
Tip: Keep it in the family. You often don't realize something is missing or a problem until you discover it after the purchase!
Bottom line, if you wish to leave your phone at home, you cannot mix and match. You must...
Pair your Apple Watch to an iPhone, or
Pair your Samsung Watch to a Samsung Phone.
Other features are also restricted when the Galaxy watches are paired with an iPhone. These restrictions include: the SOS feature, Samsung Pay, S-Health and Reply functions for text, email and chat.
Android Phone Limitations. Samsung Galaxy watch features can vary by carrier, by country and by phone manufacturer. Many of the support people I spoke with at Samsung did not know about many of the restrictions. They did eventually get me to this list here which fails to mention the Galaxy watch will only connect directly to the cellular network when paired with a Samsung Android phone.
Tip: Always check with you mobile service provider to confirm the watch will work with your Smart Phone and give you all the features you care most about.
Tip: Double check the features do indeed work during your return period!
Automated Hard Fall Detection Differences
Samsung vs. Apple. Both will send alerts to emergency contacts but only Apple has an integrated service for sending SOS messages to 911.
Apple's Hard Fall feature kicks off a 1 minute countdown for calling 911 and continues to monitor you for any movement. This is plenty of time to cancel. If you do not cancel, an emergency call is automatically sent to 911. Your emergency contacts can also receive an alert message which gives them updates on your location.
Samsung's feature does a similar countdown so you have time to cancel but only sends messages to your emergency contacts. The Samsung Galaxy watches do not not send a message to 911.
Smart Watches vs. Traditional Medical Alert Fall Detection Services. Hard Fall Detection provides a level of safety back up, but it does not equal fall detection from a pendant. Sometimes described as "trip detection", Hard Fall detection does not capture falls that can only be detected by having a device on your torso. Medical Alert services put automated fall detection in a pendant to track full body movement, not just the arms.
Smart Watch vendors also warn that highly active people may trigger the hard fall sensor by accident. With plenty of time to tap and cancel an alert message, these false positives may be annoying but are manageable.
Other Smartwatches that sound similar but have one big difference!
There are many great smartwatches with GPS that have tracking and similar wellness or reminder features. People read the words "connected", "receive text messages" or "get phone call alerts". These watches do not, however, have the same communication abilities of a connected Smart Watch. The marketing descriptions are true but sometimes confuse the consumer.
Blog Post. Best Tech For Falls & SOS (Getting Help) Compares Smart Speakers, Smart Watches and Traditional Emergency Alert Services.
Printable. Checklist comparing the Apple Watch Series 3 and 5 with Samsung's Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Galaxy Watch 3.
Printable. Key Take-Aways from this post.
Watch for a post coming soon with details on the latest Apple Watch. I'll profile the Samsung Galaxy 3 once available in Canada.
Wishing you all the best,