Cellular vs GPS
At a glance, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the GPS-only and GPS + Cellular models of Apple Watch. 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 5. 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 13 for Series 3 and Series 5||iPhone 6s with iOS 13 for Series 3 and Series 5|
|Storage size||8GB for Series 3
32GB for Series 5
|32GB for Series 5|
|Monthly cost||$0||From $10 per month, depending on carrier|
Minimum iPhone requirements
Though Apple Watch GPS + Cellular doesn't need an iPhone to be nearby to work, it does require an iPhone for setup, feature organization, and OS updates. Both models of Apple Watch require at least an iPhone 6s running iOS 13. Last year, the Apple Watch Series 3 required an iPhone 5s or 6 running iOS 11 or later, but Apple has updated its minimum requirements for all Apple Watches, Series 3, and Series 5. There is no requirement difference now.
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.
Apple Watch 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 iPhone 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
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. Your storage capacity only limits you.
The Apple Watch Series 5 GPS and GPS + Cellular both come with 32GB of storage, which is twice the capacity of last year's model. The Series 3 GPS + Cellular also comes with 16GB of storage, but the Series 3 GPS-only comes with 8GB of storage.
Case and screen material
The GPS-only Series 3 and 5 are limited to aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases (silver, gold, or space gray). In contrast, the GPS + Cellular Watch retains the stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic options, in addition to the aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases.
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 both watches 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.
Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS) usage includes connection to iPhone via Bluetooth during the entire 18-hour test. Apple Watch Series 5 (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.
Testing conducted by Apple in August 2019 using preproduction Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS) and Apple Watch Series 5 (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.
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 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
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.
The final metric that separates these two devices is the price: The GPS-only Series 3 starts at $199 for a 38mm aluminum case, while the GPS + Cellular Series 3 starts at $299, a $100 increase. The GPS-only Series 5 starts at $399 for a 40mm aluminum case, and the GPS + Cellular Series 4 with the same case starts at $499, also a $100 increase. If you want cellular service, the nicer case material, more storage, and Apple Music, that price might well be worth it.
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
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, don't waste the extra $100 on the cellular model.
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