Can a Smartwatch Replace a Phone?

It’s that time of year when the tinsel comes down, the empty bottles and boxes are finally cleared out and many of us embark on plans to be happier and healthier. Whether it’s Dry January or plans to hit the gym, New Year’s resolutions are all around. And I think that mine — despite only planning to keep it up for a month — might be the most difficult to maintain.

In January 2023, I’m embarking on a grand adventure that will require perseverance, grit and determination. I’ll be ditching my phone and exclusively using a smartwatch to test the texting and calling features over a long period and observe unexpected inconveniences or benefits.

I don’t expect this experiment to go smoothly at all, so I’ve set some ground rules that will keep me honest and give me at least a small chance to keep my life together.

  1. I will leave my phone at home whenever possible, unless I need it for safety or when I may be unable to charge the watch for over 24 hours.
  2. Even if my phone is with me, I will not use it, no matter how frustrated I get with the experience on the watch.
  3. So that I don’t ignore any important messages for a whole month, I will give myself one hour each evening to use my phone to reply to people I couldn’t during the day.

To truly assess this, the choice of smartwatch really matters. It must be a cellular-enabled watch capable of connecting to an LTE network without being tethered to a phone. This will also require a separate data subscription, because annoyingly, my operator doesn’t allow data to be shared between phone plans and watch plans. The only cellular-enabled watch I own is the relatively new Google Pixel Watch, so this will be my companion and connection to the world at large throughout January.

I don’t expect this to be easy. There are some obvious challenges I expect to encounter, although I’m sure there will be some surprises along the way too.

To start with the challenges, the biggest of all is losing access to my phone camera. The camera is usually the deciding feature when choosing a new device, so a whole month without it will be tough, especially as January is filled with birthdays, including my own.

I’m also not looking forward to how often I will have to charge my watch. The Pixel Watch has a notoriously short battery life already and I’ll be putting it under a workload that it wasn’t designed for. On top of what it usually does — sending notifications and tracking my activity and health metrics — it will now also be my only way of contacting people and getting around.

That said, I don’t think it will be an entirely negative experience. There are some aspects of constantly having my phone with me that I find tiresome, and I’m excited to disconnect from certain apps like YouTube and Instagram until the evening. I’m also keen to see what losing permanent access to the Internet for looking up cafes or lunch spots will uncover by exploring on foot. Often, it’s easier to select an option from Google Maps than taking the time to explore and find local gems.

No doubt it will be a challenging month, but I’m willing to persevere in the name of research. I’ll be reporting back in February on my experience using the Pixel Watch, and more broadly on how a smartwatch performs as a replacement for a smartphone. For now, if you need me — you might be waiting until the evening to hear back!