Apple Watch, the very popular wearable from Apple, comes in many different colors, sizes, materials, and band types. However, one of the biggest considerations when purchasing an Apple Watch is choosing between the two connectivity options: GPS-only and GPS+cellular Apple Watch.
In this article, we will discuss the key differences between the two Apple Watch versions and help you decide which one is right for you.
Overview: Apple Watch Cellular VS GPS
The Apple Watch Cellular first became available with the Apple Watch Series 3 release back in late 2017. Earlier Apple Watches are only available in the GPS-only option, but since Series 3, we can now choose between the two connectivity versions.
To summarize, here are the key differences between the two versions:
|Apple Watch GPS-Only||Apple Watch GPS+Cellular|
|More affordable (roughly $100 cheaper than Apple Watch cellular)||More expensive version|
|Requires an iPhone nearby to connect to the internet and regain full functionality||Don’t need an iPhone nearby to do most functions (can place voice calls, stream music, perform Google search)|
|Typically offers less storage space (depending on the model)||Typically offers more storage than a comparable GPS-only model|
|Better battery life (10 hours for Series 5)||Worse battery life (7 hours without streaming for Series 5)|
|Need to consider carrier compatibility and other compatibility issues|
|Monthly data plan costs|
For Apple Watch Series 5, here is a table listing all the differences for the two versions:
|GPS||GPS + Cellular|
|Battery life (voice call)||N/A||1.5 hours|
|Battery life (audio only)||10 hours||7 hours 5 hours with Apple Music streaming|
|Battery life (workout)||10 hours indoor 6 hours outdoor with GPS||5 hours outdoor with GPS & LTE|
|Apple Music support||no||yes|
|Minimum requirements||iPhone 6s with iOS 13 for Series 3 and Series 5||iPhone 6s with iOS 13 for Series 3 and Series 5|
|Monthly cost||$0||From $10 per month, depending on the carrier|
|Storage size||8GB for Series 3 32GB for Series 5||32GB for Series 5|
Below, we will have a more in-depth discussion of these differences.
Price: Apple Watch Cellular VS GPS
Regardless of which models you are buying, the cellular connectivity is considered an ‘upgrade’ worth $100. So, whether you are willing to spend the extra $100 might be your main consideration when choosing between the cellular or GPS+cellular model.
Another important consideration is that you’d need to subscribe to a data plan that supports Apple eSIM. Although a lot of options nowadays, like Truphone’s eSIM cellular plan for Apple Watch is pretty affordable, it would still translate to an additional monthly cost on top of your existing cellular plan.
Functionality: Cellular Connectivity VS GPS-Only
Besides price, the main difference between the two versions is cellular connectivity:
- You can connect the Apple Watch to the internet even if your iPhone is out of Bluetooth range. This is useful, for example, if you don’t want to bring your iPhone when running outdoors.
- The Apple Watch will switch automatically to cellular data when your companion iPhone is not in range (and can switch back to your iPhone’s data plan when it is)
- You can check emails, iMessages, answer voice calls, check Maps, check the Weather app, and other online functionalities when your iPhone is not nearby.
- Can stream songs through Apple Music on its own (we will discuss more about this below)
- You can direct voice calls to your watch instead of your phone (the phone number will be the same)
In short, you get more freedom with the Apple Watch cellular, and you can get (almost) full functionalities of your Apple Watch even when you leave your phone behind. You can make calls (with the same number as your iPhone if you desire), stream from Apple Music, search the internet (with Siri), and so on, without your iPhone.
Apple Music Support
A key consideration to get a cellular Apple Watch is if you like having access to Apple Music at all times, even when you are away from your iPhone. Starting from Apple Watch Series 3 (also 4 and Series 5), you can stream Apple Music directly from your Apple Watch with GPS+Cellular connectivity.
You can technically listen to music on your GPS-only Apple Watch without your iPhone by downloading songs directly to the device (which will use storage space).
Carrier Compatibility and Restrictions
Since you’d need an LTE connectivity (and later, 5G) with your GPS+Cellular Apple watch, you will need to choose the right carrier that supports Apple Watch. Here is a list from Apple listing all carriers (by country) that support Apple Watch cellular. If you want to use the same number for both your Apple Watch and iPhone, you’d also need to look for a carrier that supports “number sharing” or similar features.
According to Apple’s claims, the GPS+Cellular model can last only 5 hours outdoors when using its own GPS and cellular (not connected to an iPhone). On the other hand, Apple Watch GPS can last 10 hours when not using the GPS functionality (and 6 hours with GPS).
The GPS-only model also fares better during audio playback (10 hours) compared to the cellular model (7 hours only, less with Apple Music streaming).
So, if battery power is your main concern and you are planning to have your iPhone with you at all times, the GPS-only Apple Watch is the way to go.
After we’ve discussed all the key differences between the two Apple Watch versions, there are two main considerations when choosing between the two:
- Whether you are willing to spend the $100 extra+monthly data plan fees.
- How often you expect to be without your iPhone during your daily activities
If you are going to have your iPhone with you at all times, you might as well get the GPS-only version since the two versions will have almost identical functionality when paired with the iPhone over Bluetooth (so you’ll save money). However, if you’d like the option of leaving your phone behind and still get Maps direction and other online activities, then you should get the Apple Watch cellular.