• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Photo/Getty Images

The new Apple Watch is liberating, if you can pay the cost of convenience

Apple’s new smartwatch represents a sea change in the mobile sector.

How often do you leave home without your smartphone? For most of us, it’s an essential appendage: brain, navigator, entertainer, camera, wallet and communicator.

For the past few weeks, however, I’ve been leaving the phone at home. It’s not some new year digital detox regime, as I love my phone. But now I’m using a smartwatch that lets me do virtually everything the phone can do and, crucially, has a mobile connection to keep me plugged in.

The Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS + cellular) isn’t the first smartwatch to connect to the internet without relying on a smartphone or WiFi network. But it’s the first that lets you add a smartwatch data plan to your phone plan, with no need to mess around with a second SIM card for the watch.

Spark is offering its One Number Wearable Plan as a $13 a month add-on. It shares the calls and texts on your primary plan, but gives you an unlimited data plan for your smartwatch.

Read more: Best smartwatch: What to look for before you buy

Here’s what happens. If I get a call while I’m out, I feel a buzzing on my wrist and swipe the screen to answer. I can talk into the watch or put on a set of AirPods to have a conversation. I can use Siri to dictate text messages to people, instead of trying to tap on the small screen.

I can pull up Apple Maps to get directions. If I go for a run, I can stream Apple Music from the watch to my earbuds or download a podcast while on the move. Apple last year built a dedicated app store for the Apple Watch, which means I don’t need to have my iPhone present to download a new app to the watch, untethering the two for good.

None of that is revolutionary, but for the fact that you can take the phone out of the equation, freeing yourself of the dead weight in your pocket. It’s liberating. I spend less time scrolling through my phone while out and about and more time listening to music and podcasts. The watch is also waterproof, so boaties and swimmers will love having smartphone functionality on tap. Cellular uses more battery power, but with moderate use, I still find the Apple Watch gets through a day’s usage before needing a recharge.

The Apple Watch Series 5: liberating. Photo/Supplied

The one big downside is that it doesn’t have a camera.

Staying connected without your phone also comes at a price. The cellular edition of the Apple Watch Series 5 (from $929) sells at a $200 premium to the version that relies on your iPhone for mobile connectivity. Then there’s the $156 annual cost of connecting the watch, on top of your smartphone plan. That’s the cost of convenience.

Still, the new Apple Watch represents a sea change in the mobile sector. It’s thanks to the rise of the eSIM – a replacement of the SIM card in newer phones with an embedded chip that stores your mobile phone account details.

Spark is already supporting it for newer iPhones (which have a regular SIM, too) and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4G. Vodafone will have eSIM support “from mid-2020 onwards”. The big benefit is that you won’t have to mess around with changing SIM cards to use a different account.

That has huge implications when you go overseas. Receive incoming calls and messages on your existing account and activate an account on your eSIM when you get to your destination to avoid roaming charges.

At home, you could have a Vodafone work account and a Spark plan for private use, all managed online. It also means a host of devices, from a video camera monitoring your bach to the entertainment system in your car, will be internet-connected via one mobile account.

In the eSIM world, wearables like the Apple Watch are just the start.

Price: from $929

This article was first published in the February 1, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

For more on the political, cultural and literary life of the country, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up to our weekly newsletter.