Deciding between a GPS or GPS+Cellular Apple Watch? Let us help!

Deciding between a GPS or GPS+Cellular Apple Watch? Let us help!

Tethered

Apple Watch GPS

From $279 at Apple

Pros

Less expensive
Lightest weight of all models
Slightly longer battery life
Multiple color choices

Cons

Must keep iPhone nearby for some tasks
Only comes in aluminum
Does not support Family Setup

The Apple Watch GPS (Wi-Fi only) model is the least expensive and lightest weight of all models in the line. You get a longer battery life, but that’s because it doesn’t have a cellular chip.

Free bird

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

From $329 at Apple

Pros

Apple Music streaming support
Aluminum, Stainless Steel, and Titanium models
Leave your iPhone at home
Works with Family Setup

Cons

More expensive model
Monthly fee

The GPS + Cellular model allows Apple Music and the Podcasts app streaming, regardless of your location. It’s available on the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE.

The GPS-only and the GPS + Cellular versions of the Apple Watch can make and receive calls, send and receive texts, get notifications, listen to music directly, and perform actions for various supported third-party apps. The big difference is that the Cellular model allows you to continually use your Apple Watch, even if your iPhone is nowhere near you. And, if you plan on buying or handing down an Apple Watch to a family member that doesn’t own an iPhone, Family Setup only works with the cellular model.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: An at-a-glance breakdown

You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS from a single glance. There is a red ring around the Digital Crown on the Cellular model, but they’re otherwise identical-looking on the outside. It’s what’s inside that makes all the difference.

The table below is primarily based on the specifications of the Apple Watch Series 7.

GPS
GPS + Cellular

Battery life (total)
Up to 18 hours
Up to 18 hours

Battery talk
n/a
Up to 1.5 hours

Audio playback
Up to 11 hours playback from Apple Watch storage
Up to 11 hours playback from Apple Watch storage
Up to 8 hours streaming playlist with LTE

Workout battery life
Up to 11 hours indoor workout
Up to 7 hours outdoor workout with GPS
Up to 11 hours indoor workout
Up to 6 hours outdoor workout with GPS + Cellular

Family Setup battery life
n/a
Up to 14 hours

Charge times
About 45 minutes to 80% (Series 7)
About 75 minutes to 100% (Series 7)
About 1.5 hours to 80% (SE)
About 2.5 hours to 100% (SE)
About 45 minutes to 80% (Series 7)
About 75 minutes to 100% (Series 7)
About 1.5 hours to 80% (SE)
About 2.5 hours to 100% (SE)

Monthly cost
$0
From $10 per month, depending on the carrier

Apple Watch Series 3

As of September 2020, Apple no longer sells the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3. Therefore, we no longer include its specifications in this comparison guide.

Also, if you do pick up a Series 3, please be aware that there may be some difficulty when it comes to updating to the latest version of watchOS, at least with the Wi-Fi GPS only model. The Series 3 only has 8GB of storage, which is not enough for firmware updates. In addition, the process for updating watchOS on a Series 3 now involves completely restoring it, making it a massive headache for many. However, this limitation does not affect the Series 3 GPS + Cellular version since it has more storage.

Because of this, we cannot recommend purchasing an Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only if you can avoid it. However, there is a change coming in iOS 15 and watchOS 8 that allows updates to be installed on devices with less than 500MB of free storage space, so keep that in mind.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Band options

Apple Watch has A LOT of different case materials and band styles. However, if you want an aluminum Apple Watch with a Milanese loop, you’re going to need to buy the band separately, on top of your Apple Watch purchase. In addition to Apple’s official bands, there are several third-party options we think are some of the best bands for Apple Watch — these could help you get the look you want while saving some money.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Carrier restrictions

The GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models come with LTE connectivity, allowing you to piggyback off your current carrier plan (for an additional monthly fee, usually around $10) and get internet and phone connectivity even when your iPhone is far away. To make sure you get a great deal, make sure to check out the best cell plans for Apple Watch.

An Apple Watch with LTE coverage lets you do anything solo on the Apple Watch that you can do when tied to your iPhone’s data. That includes placing calls, receiving messages, using Siri, navigating via the Maps app, playing with third-party apps, and just about anything else.

You can’t sign up for a separate Apple Watch cellular plan from your iPhone. If you’re on AT&T, your Apple Watch has to be, too. You’ll have a separately assigned number for your Apple Watch, but it’s not your usable phone number. It’s just the account assignment number.

NOTE: If you buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for international travel, consider leaving your Apple Watch at home because it will incur international charges if you use it while abroad (there’s no SIM card in the Apple Watch).

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Apple Music and Podcasts streaming support

If you’re connected to Wi-Fi or Cellular, you can stream Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and audiobooks, even when you’re away from your iPhone.

You can also sync music, podcasts, or audiobooks from your iPhone to your Watch. Then you can play the content on your Watch without your iPhone nearby, even if your Watch is not connected to Wi-Fi or Cellular.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Family Setup

If you plan to buy or hand down an Apple Watch to a family member who doesn’t already own an iPhone, you don’t have to invest in both devices. Instead, you can use Family Setup to initially set up the Apple Watch, and then they can use it untethered. The Apple Watch Cellular + GPS is the only Apple Watch model that supports Family Setup, an essential factor to consider when purchasing. You may not need Cellular right now, but you may want to pass along your old Apple Watch to a friend or family someday in the future.

Family Setup works with the following current Apple Watch versions:

Apple Watch Series 7 GPS + Cellular
Apple Watch SE GPS + Cellular

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Case and screen material

You can get a GPS-only Apple Watch Series 7, Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch 3 in aluminum only. The Cellular version is available in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium on the Apple Watch Series 7 and aluminum only on the Apple Watch SE.

The aluminum versions are limited to the Ion-X glass display, while the Sapphire Crystal display is only on the stainless steel and titanium cases. The Ion-X glass is softer and can withstand more impact than Sapphire Crystal but is more prone to scratches. On the other hand, Sapphire Crystal won’t be as susceptible to scratching, but it would be easier to crack if you drop the Watch.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Battery Life

Does the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch have worse battery life than the GPS-only Apple Watch?

The answer is yes, but only while you’re using GPS + Cellular. Apple’s own battery tests peg all of the current Apple Watches at a 18-hour average between charges, with specifics highlighted below:

All-day battery life is based on 18 hours with the following use: 90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use, and a 60-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth, over 18 hours. Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS) usage includes connection to iPhone via Bluetooth during the entire 18-hour test. Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular) usage includes 4 hours of LTE connection and 14 hours of connection to iPhone via Bluetooth over 18 hours. Testing conducted by Apple in August 2021 using preproduction Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS) and Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular), each paired with an iPhone; all devices tested with prerelease software. Battery life varies by use, configuration, cellular network, signal strength, and many other factors; actual results will vary.

Family Setup battery life is based on 14 hours with the following use: 70 time checks, 45 notifications, 20 minutes of app use, a 5-minute phone call, and a 30-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth, over the course of 14 hours with LTE connection and Find My location sharing enabled. Testing conducted by Apple in August 2021 using preproduction Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular); all devices tested with prerelease software. Battery life varies by use, configuration, cellular network, signal strength, and many other factors; actual results will vary.

Apple Watch All-Day Battery Life testing was conducted by Apple in August 2021 using preproduction Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS) and Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular), each paired with an iPhone; all devices were tested with prerelease software. Battery life varies by use, cellular coverage, configuration, and many other factors; actual results will vary.

Apple Watch SE (GPS) usage includes connection to iPhone via Bluetooth during the entire 18-hour test. Apple Watch SE (GPS + Cellular) usage includes a total of 4 hours of LTE connection and 14 hours of connection to iPhone via Bluetooth over 18 hours.

While Apple doesn’t note which Watch configuration is used for these tests, it did peg the Cellular Watch at 18-hours with 4-hours of LTE and 14-hours of iPhone connectivity — about what the average person might use in a given day.

Specific battery tests, however, are far less forgiving. Here’s how the Series 7 fared in Apple’s single-task tests:

Talk: 1.5 hour w/ Cellular
Audio: Up to 11 hours playback from Apple Watch storage, up to 8 hours streaming playlist with LTE
Workout: 11 hours indoor workout, 7 hours outdoor workout with GPS, 6 hours outdoor workout with GPS and LTE

The Apple Watch SE has a remarkably good battery life for being of the low-cost variety. That’s probably because the Apple Watch SE is supposedly an Apple Watch Series 5 without the ECG monitor.

Talk: 1.5 hours w/cellular
Audio: 10 hours from onboard storage, 7 hours streaming playlist with LTE
Workout: 10 hours indoor workout, 6 hours outdoor workout with GPS, 5 hours outdoor workout with GPS and LTE

While the GPS-only Apple Watch has better battery performance against the GPS + Cellular model when using LTE, neither performs well for long-distance runners.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Price

The final metric that separates these two devices is the price: The GPS-only Apple Watch SE starts at $279 for a 40mm aluminum case, while the GPS + Cellular SE starts at $329.

The GPS-only Apple Watch Series 7 starts at $399 for a 41mm aluminum case, and the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 7 with the same case starts at $499. If you want cellular service, the nicer case material, more storage, Family Setup support, and Apple Music, that price might well be worth it.

Untethered

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

From $329 at Apple
From $329 at Amazon

If the thought of going for a walk or jog without having to take your iPhone with you is crucial, you’re going to love the freedom that comes with the cellular version of the Apple Watch. And if you plan on using Family Setup, even someday in the future, this is the Watch you want.

Cheaper

Apple Watch GPS

From $279 at Apple
From $279 at Amazon

Not everyone needs to use their Apple Watch without their iPhone. If you never leave home without your iPhone, and you like it that way, or if you don’t plan to use Family Setup in the future, don’t waste the extra $50 – $100 on the cellular model.

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