Tethered

Apple Watch GPS

Apple Watch GPS-only

Free bird

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

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. It requires an iPhone for daily use.

From $199 at Apple

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Store music onboard
  • Lightest weight of all models
  • Longer battery life

Cons

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

The GPS + Cellular model allows streaming of Apple Music and the Podcasts app. Series 4 has 16GB of storage, while the SE, Series 5, and 6 include 32GB of storage, and you can get all versions (except SE) in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium. Series 6 supports international emergency calling, even if you don't have an active cellular plan.

From $329 at Apple

Pros

  • Apple Music streaming support
  • Aluminum and Stainless Steel models
  • Leave your iPhone at home
  • All models come with 16GB-32GB of storage
  • Works with Family Setup

Cons

  • More expensive model
  • No version for Series 3

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

Apple Watch Series 6 ReviewSource: Lory Gil / iMore

From a single glance, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS. There is a red ring around the Digital Crown on the Cellular model, but they're otherwise identical-looking on the outside. It's the insides that make all the difference.

The table below is based on the specifications of the Apple Watch Series 6. All battery life info is based on using cellular only (not connected to Wi-Fi).

GPS GPS + Cellular
Battery life (talk) N/A 1.5 hours
Battery life (audio) 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 14 for Series 3 and newer iPhone 6s with iOS 14 for Series 4 and newer
Siri support Yes Yes
Family Setup support No Yes
Storage size 8GB for Series 3
16GB for Series 4
32GB for SE, Series 5, 6
16GB for Series 4
32GB for SE, Series 5, 6
Monthly cost $0 From $10 per month, depending on carrier

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Minimum iPhone requirements

Iphone 12 Pro Pacific Blue Iphone 11 Midnight Green BlueSource: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore

Both the Cellular and GPS versions of Apple Watch Series 4, Apple Watch Series 5, Apple Watch Series 6, and Apple Watch SE require at least an iPhone 6s running iOS 14.

If you use Family Setup with a GPS + Cellular Apple Watch, the iPhone is only required for the initial setup. After that, the person set as a family member does not need an iPhone.

Apple Watch Series 3

As of September 2020, Apple no longer sells the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3. We no longer include its specifications in this comparison guide. However, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular does exist in the world for those considering upgrading from this model.

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. This is because the Series 3 only has 8GB of storage, which is not enough for firmware updates. The process for updating watchOS on a Series 3 now involves completely restoring it, making it a huge headache for many. However, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular version is not affected by this limitation since it has more storage.

Because of this, we cannot recommend purchasing an Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only if you can avoid it.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Band options

Pride 2020 Apple Watch Bands Glasses HeroSource: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore

Apple Watch has so many different variations on case material and band styles that you'll almost definitely find what you're looking for. 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 comes with LTE connectivity, which allows 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.

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 Maps, 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

Audible on Apple WatchSource: iMore

The GPS + Cellular Watch supports Apple Music and Podcasts app streaming. If you have an Apple Music subscription, you can rock your socks off anywhere you want without needing your iPhone or Wi-Fi.

The GPS-only model doesn't support streaming Apple Music, but you can download tunes onto it for direct listening offline. You are only limited by the storage capacity on your Apple Watch — remember, the Series 4 only has 16GB of storage, but the Apple Watch SE, Series 5, and Series 6 all have 32GB of storage.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Family Setup

Apple Watch Family Setup: Everything you need to knowSource: Apple

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 set up the Apple Watch initially, and then they can use it untethered. The Apple Watch Cellular + GPS is the only Apple Watch model that supports Family planning, so this is an important factor when considering your purchase. 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 Apple Watch versions:

  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Storage size

When comparing Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS, the Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 5, and Apple Watch Series 6 come with 32GB of storage. The Series 4 only has 16GB of storage, so it's less than what the current models offer. However, Apple does not currently sell the Series 4, but you may find it cheaper (probably Renewed condition) at other retailers like Amazon.

Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Case and screen material

How to download watchOS 7 public betaSource: iMore

The GPS-only Apple SE, Apple Watch Series 4, Apple Watch Series 5, and Apple Watch Series 6 are limited to aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases. In contrast, the GPS + Cellular Watch retains the stainless steel and titanium materials, in addition to the aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases.

Additionally, the aluminum versions are limited to the Ion-X glass display, while the Sapphire Crystal display is only on the stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic (Series 5) 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

Apple Watch Series 6 ReviewSource: Lory Gil / iMore

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 Apple Watch Series 5, Apple Watch Series 6, and Apple Watch SE at an 18-hour average, 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.

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.

Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS) usage includes connection to iPhone via Bluetooth during the entire 18-hour test. Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS + Cellular) usage includes a total of 4 hours of LTE connection and 14 hours of connection to iPhone via Bluetooth over the course of 18 hours.

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 the course of 18 hours.

Apple Watch All-Day Battery Life testing was conducted by Apple in August 2020 using preproduction Apple Watch SE (GPS) and Apple Watch SE (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.

While Apple doesn't note which Watch configuration it 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 5 and Series 6 fared in Apple's single-task tests:

  • Talk: 1.5 hour w/ Cellular
  • Audio: 10 hours w/ Bluetooth, 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

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

Apple Watch HermesSource: Rene Ritchie/iMore

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, an increase of $50, which is the best deal for the extra feature. The Apple Watch Series 3 no longer has a GPS + Cellular option.

The GPS-only Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 for a 40mm aluminum case, and the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 6 with the same case starts at $499, also a $100 increase. 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

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

If the thought of going for a walk or jog without having to take your iPhone with you is important, 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 Only

Apple Watch GPS

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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