Samsung' phone-free Gear S smartwatch gets U.S. launch details, requires a service plan

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Credit: Florence Ion

Samsung's standalone Gear S smartwatch will launch in the United States starting November 7, but the service won't come cheap.

Unlike Samsung's other smartwatches, the Gear S can make calls, send text messages and access the Internet without a paired smartphone. As such, wireless carriers are treating it like any other connected device, with its own service plan.

AT&T and Sprint are both charging $10 monthly access fees for Gear S service, though Sprint says it will waive the charge through December 2015 if you have a shared data plan with at least 20 GB. Those plans will tap into users' existing shared data pools, and will include unlimited talk and text. T-Mobile is creating a new wearable service plan for $5 per month, with unlimited talk, unlimited text and 500 MB of data. Verizon hasn't announced pricing details.

The price of the watch itself will also depend on the carrier. T-Mobile is charging $349, with the option to pay $14.48 per month over two years. Sprint will charge $384, with a two-year option of $16 per month. AT&T is charging $199 outright with a two-year contract. Again, Verizon hasn't announced its pricing.

Why this matters: This is the first smartwatch from a major brand that has full connectivity without relying on a phone, so it's a test case for wireless carriers. Until now, Samsung and its carrier partners have been cagey about the details, but apparently they believe smartwatch connectivity commands about the same price as a tablet data plan. We'll see if customers agree next month.

New device, new number

Keep in mind that the Gear S has its own SIM card and its own phone number, as Sprint points out. That could make things a bit tricky if you're looking to send and receive calls and texts from the same number as your phone.

While users can set up their phones to forward incoming calls to the watch, it's unclear whether users can send outgoing calls and messages from their existing numbers. It's also unclear whether users will be able to receive forwarded text messages from their phones. We've reached out to Samsung for clarification on this matter, as having to use a separate number would be a major drawback. (Of course, users can still handle calls and text messages from their existing number when the Gear S is paired to a smartphone via Bluetooth.)

As for details on the watch itself, the Gear S has a two-inch curved display and a little home button, so it almost looks like a miniature smartphone wrapped around your wrist. The smartwatch software is based on Tizen, and includes pre-loaded apps such Samsung's S Health, Nike+ Running and Samsung's Milk Music app. Users can also download more smartwatch apps through their phones, and some big names such as Facebook, Foursquare, Financial Times, Opera and Expedia have pledged support.

For more on the Gear S, check out our hands-on from early September.

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