Apple Watch GPS vs. Cellular Apple Watch

Only spend the extra cash if you absolutely need it

In addition to the different case sizes, materials, colors, and band types, the Apple Watch comes with one of two data systems: GPS and GPS + cellular. We've found all the differences between the Apple Watch's GPS and cellular varieties to help you pick which one is right for you.

Apple Watch GPS vs Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

Overall Findings

GPS
  • Does plenty as-is

  • Some models have less storage

  • Requires an iPhone in range to do everything

GPS + Cellular
  • More expensive

  • More compatibility considerations

  • Some versions have more storage

  • Can do most functions without having a phone nearby

Recent models of the Apple Watch have included a second model that includes LTE cellular data. This feature lets you place calls, stream music, and search the internet from your wrist. It also adds significantly to the cost of the device, but if you make full use of the convenience, it may be worth the extra money.

Price: Cellular Will Cost You

GPS
  • $100 cheaper than Apple Watch with GPS and cellular

GPS + Cellular
  • Cellular functionality costs extra in addition to addition carrier fees

The GPS + Cellular models of the Apple Watch first became available with the Series 3 release in September 2017. Earlier versions only had a GPS option, but every one since then has had two varieties available.

Along with the new choice in connectivity came a split price tag. Regardless of which model you're buying or the base price, the cellular upgrade will cost extra. It adds another $100 to the already premium price of the smartwatch. If you're considering going for the cellular version, just know it comes at a financial cost.

Functions: Cellular Gives You Phone Freedom

GPS
  • Network functions require proximity to iPhone

GPS + Cellular
  • Can make calls, stream Apple Music, use Siri, use Apple Pay, and get directions without being within range of an iPhone

Despite the ubiquity of cell phones and the fact that people tend to have them around every waking hour of the day, some occasions might arise in which you don't have it. You might forget your phone at home, or you might want to do an activity for which it might become cumbersome, like going for a run.

The GPS + Cellular Apple Watch option can help you out if you either choose to leave your phone behind or do so accidentally. The cellular connection lets you do most of the things you can do with your phone without having it in your hand. You can make calls, stream tunes from Apple Music to a set of Bluetooth headphones, search the internet with Apple's digital assistant Siri, and get directions from Maps, all without your phone.

If you're always going to have your iPhone with you, the extra function isn't going to do you much good. But if you'd like the option to leave it behind, the cellular option might be appealing.

Compatibility: Check Your Phone and Wireless Carrier Before You Buy

GPS
  • No carrier compatibility necessary

  • Series 3: iPhone 5S and later

GPS + Cellular
  • Compatible with most major carriers

  • Series 3: iPhone 6 and newer

When you're talking about compatibility and the Apple Watch, you have several elements to examine. First, your iPhone needs to work with the watch's hardware. Unfortunately, the first version that supported cellular data has different demands for the iPhone you use it with. The GPS-only version required an iPhone 5S or newer, while the model with cellular needed a slightly more recent iPhone 6 or later.

Even if your phone works with the hardware, it may not be compatible with the most recent version of watchOS, the Apple Watch's operating system. For example, watchOS 6 requires at least an iPhone 6S running iOS 13. The current software has outpaced the requirements when the Apple Watch first came out, so you'll want to check you have the right setup before you pick up your device.

Finally, you'll need to make sure your cellular network is compatible with the Apple Watch. Apple has a list of carriers by country you can refer to, but most major carriers can support the data. Another consideration is the specific plan you have with your service provider. You'll want to look for a feature like "Number Sharing" or something similar in your plan details.

This level of compatibility isn't an issue on the GPS-only model, but if you're looking at the cellular one, it's a good idea to keep informed.

Battery: GPS Only is the Way to Go

GPS
  • Total battery life of roughly 18 hours when paired to iPhone via Bluetooth.

  • 10 hours audio playback when using internal storage.

  • 6 hour outdoor workout.

GPS + Cellular
  • 18 hour battery life.

  • 7 hours of audio streaming over LTE.

  • 5 hour outdoor workout using LTE.

  • Talk time of up to 1.5 hours over LTE.

Apple's own tests revealed the GPS only model will go 18 hours while connected to an iPhone via Bluetooth, while the GPS + Cellular model can do 4 hours with LTE and another 14 when paired via Bluetooth.

The much more concerning comparisons arise when it comes to audio playback and working out, with the GPS model fairing better with 10 hours of playback using internal storage and Cellular coming it at only 7 hours with LTE; if working out, be prepared to face a 10 hour indoor workout, a 6 hour outdoor workout with GPS, or a 5 hour outdoor workout with GPS and LTE.

Of course, these numbers are not set in stone. Total battery life will vary by person, how they use their Apple Watch, and many other factors.

Storage: Some GPS Models Hold Less Data

GPS
  • Series 3: 8 GB

  • Other versions have identical storage

GPS + Cellular
  • Series 3: 16 GB

  • No difference on other models

The Series 3 Apple Watch did more than just split the cost of the wearable device. It also split the storage options. If you pick up a GPS-only model, it comes with 8 gigabytes of storage for apps and other data built in. The one that also has cellular, however, includes double that amount.

Later models don't have this disparity, so if you're looking at a Series 4 or later, both versions have identical capacities.

Final Verdict

Whether you go with the GPS-only version of the Apple Watch or the one with cellular data all comes down to how often you expect to be without your iPhone.

As long as your iPhone is in range, the two versions of the Apple Watch have identical functionality because they share the data connection with the iPhone via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The practicality of the GPS + cellular model depends on either choosing to leave your iPhone at home or habitually doing so accidentally.

If you expect to have your iPhone around all the time, you should save your money and get the more basic version. If you'd like the option to leave your phone behind and still get directions, listen to music, make card-free payments, and place calls, however, and you expect to use it all the time, the cellular version will be useful for you.

In either case, you'll want to make sure your phone and firmware are compatible with the Apple Watch you want to buy. If you go for the independent version, you'll also want to check your carrier and wireless plan to make sure you can get full use out of it.