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Apple Watch Cellular vs GPS: Spot the differences!

Here’s a breakdown, so you make the correct decision.

Cellular vs GPS
Cellular vs GPS

Apple Watch Series 7 GPS

Tethered

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

For

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

Against

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

Apple Watch Series 7 GPS + Cellular

Free bird

The GPS + Cellular model allows for Apple Music and Podcasts app streaming without your phone. It’s available on the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE.

For

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

Against

  • More expensive
  • Monthly fee

The Apple watch is one of the most popular smartwatches, but you still need to consider carefully about the size, color, material finish and a cellular model or GPS model.

So what’s the difference between Cellular and GPS? and which one you should pick? 

In short, the cellular Apple Watch offers more connectivity options than the GPS version. The former can use cellular data provided by your carrier to perform tasks and use data to make calls without your iPhone. Instead, the GPS version relies solely on your phone for all its data needs.

Here’s our in-depth guide that gives you all the information you need to make the right decision.

Apple Watch Cellular vs GPS: Detailed differences

You can’t tell the difference between the Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS just from a single glance. There’s a red ring around the Digital Crown on the Honeycomb model, but they look the same on the outside. What’s really different is what’s on the inside.

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


GPS Cellular
Battery life (total)Up to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours
Battery talkN/AUp to 1.5 hours
Audio playbackUp to 11 hours playback from Apple Watch storageUp to 11 hours playback from Apple Watch storage
Up to 8 hours streaming playlist with LTE
Workout battery lifeUp 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 lifeN/AUp to 14 hours
Charge timesAbout 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$0From $10 per month, depending on the carrier

Apple Watch Series 3 is no longer on sale

since September 2020, Apple has no longer sold the Apple Watch Series 3. So we can include this comparison model. The Apple Watch Series 3 was first introduced in September 2017, and though it supports watchOS 8 and later, we no longer recommend it as a new purchase. If you think other models are expensive, go and get Apple Watch SE instead.

Band Options

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

Carrier Restrictions

Cellular vs GPS
Cellular vs GPS

GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models come with LTE connectivity, allowing you to piggyback on 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 the best deal, check out the best cell phone plans for Apple Watch.

An Apple Watch with LTE coverage lets you do anything you can do on your Apple Watch alone when data-tethered to your iPhone. This includes making calls, receiving messages, using Siri, navigating through the Maps app, playing third-party apps, and just about anything else.

You can’t sign up for a separate Apple Watch cellular plan with your iPhone. If you use an Apple Watch, it must also be on the plan. Your Apple Watch will have a separately assigned number, but it’s not a phone number available to you. This is 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 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.

Family Setup

If you plan to buy or hand down an Apple Watch to somebody who doesn’t own an iPhone, you don’t have to buy another iPhone. Instead, you can use Family Setup to initially set up the Apple Watch, and then they can use it untethered. Family Setup is only available on the Cellular + GPS model, 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.

Family Setup works with the Apple Watch Series 7 GPS + Cellular and Apple Watch SE GPS + Cellular.

Case and Screen Material

Cellular vs GPS
Cellular vs GPS

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

The aluminum version is limited to the Ion-X glass display, while the sapphire crystal display is limited to stainless steel and titanium cases. Compared to sapphire crystal, Ion-X glass is softer and can withstand greater impact, but is more prone to scratches. On the other hand, the sapphire crystal is not easily scratched, but it will break more easily if you drop the watch.

Battery Life

Does the GPS + Cellular model have the same battery life as the GPS-only Apple Watch? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but only when using GPS + cellular. Apple’s Battery Test (opens in a new tab) fixes the average charge interval for all current Apple Watches at 18 hours. You can click the link above for more details, but like all tech devices, battery life depends on how much cellular network or GPS you use, whether you’re making calls or listening to music and what you might be doing with your watch.

While Apple didn’t say which watch configuration was used for these tests, it did peg the Cellular Watch at 18 hours, 4 hours of LTE, and 14 hours of iPhone connectivity — about as much as the average person might use over the course of a 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 eight hours streaming playlist with LTE
  • Workout: 11 hours indoor workout, seven hours outdoor workout with GPS, six hours outdoor workout with GPS and LTE

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

  • Talk: 1.5 hours with cellular
  • Audio: 10 hours from onboard storage, seven hours streaming playlist with LTE
  • Workout: 10 hours indoor workout, six hours outdoor workout with GPS, five hours outdoor workout with GPS and LTE

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

Different Price

Cellular vs GPS
Cellular vs GPS

The final difference between 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.

Should you buy Apple Watch Cellular or GPS?

Cellular vs GPS
Cellular vs GPS

The GPS version is the best option for most potential Apple Watch users because if you’re close to Wi-Fi and your iPhone, you can still use all the great features. However, it’s important to note that the GPS version is aluminum only and doesn’t support home setups. However, they are cheaper than the GPS + cellular version.

If you plan to explore the world without an iPhone, the GPS + Cellular version is an excellent choice. It is available in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. Keep in mind that the GPS + Cellular version requires a monthly fee for cellular service.

GPS: For most folks

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.

GPS + Cellular: Premium option 

If the thought of going for a walk or a 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.

Read More: Apple Watch GPS-Only And GPS + Cellular

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