When the Apple Watch was first introduced in 2015, Apple only offered the GPS-only model. The reason is actually pretty understandable: most of us now bring our phone everywhere, and so sharing the internet connection with a smartwatch (that we wear) is an obvious choice.
However, with the launch of Apple Watch Series 3 back in late 2017, Apple has since introduced Apple Watches that are capable of cellular connectivity. Meaning, the Apple Watch can now connect to the internet even when you don’t bring your iPhone.
Obviously, the GPS+Cellular model is more expensive, and you’ll also need to pay extra costs in monthly fees. So, the question is, are the extra costs justified? Do I really need cellular on my Apple Watch?
The Benefits of Apple Watch Cellular
Leaving Your iPhone at Home
The main advantage of having a GPS+Cellular Apple Watch is that you get the full functionality of the Watch even when you don’t have your iPhone around. This can be really handy for people who don’t like to bring their iPhones during their outdoor runs or workouts, and you can also leave your iPhone at home when you go out for grocery shopping or other activities.
This can also be a pretty handy benefit for people who often forgot/lose their phones. You’ll get internet connectivity on your Apple Watch, and you can even use the Find My iPhone functionality on your Watch.
This one is pretty obvious: with cellular connectivity, you can perform voice calls and voicemail on your Apple Watch even when it’s not paired with your iPhone over Bluetooth. If you need to be available at all times, this feature can allow you to take important calls wherever you are. You also get the same benefit regarding SMS messages, emails, and iMessages. Also, this would mean you can use your Apple Watch to call for help during emergencies.
Also, an important consideration is, if you can get an Apple Watch cellular plan that allows “number sharing” (or similar feature), you can use the same phone number on both your iPhone and Apple Watch for more convenience.
While you can listen to music and podcasts with a GPS-only Apple Watch, you’ll need to download the songs/files directly to the Watch which might be a waste of storage space. With the Apple Watch Cellular, you’ll have access to the Apple Music account at all times even when it’s not paired with your iPhone.
Keep in mind, however, that audio streaming on your Apple Watch with cellular data will eat a lot of battery. You’ll still get around 7 hours of audio streaming over LTE connection, however, so it might not be a major issue for most people.
Reminders and Notifications
You’ll get full Siri functionalities with an Apple Watch cellular, so you can easily hold the Digital Crown and speak your reminder, anytime. This can be very useful for people who tend to get their ideas often, so you can quickly make reminders even when you don’t have your iPhone. The Watch will then send this new reminder to iCloud and sync it with all your iDevices.
Maps and Directions
Maps on Apple Watch can be a very useful feature when you are working out outdoors or driving. You get full Maps functionality on an Apple Watch cellular, so again, this can be a handy feature for people who don’t like bringing their phones during their runs.
Design Differences: Apple Watch GPS VS Apple Watch Cellular
In most cases, a GPS-only Apple Watch is identical to the Apple Watch cellular counterpart, and the main difference is on the Digital Crown.
You’ll easily spot whether an Apple Watch has cellular connectivity by looking at the Digital Crown. On Series 3 models, you can see a fully red Digital Crown, but on Series 4 and Series 5 Apple Watch models, you’ll see a red outline of a circle on the Crown. If you see a plain Digital Crown, then it is a GPS-only Apple Watch.
For those that are worried about the inconvenient SIM card tray, the cellular Apple Watch utilizes embedded SIM (eSIM) technology, which is a small chip that is integrated into the Watch’s body, so you won’t see any difference.
Battery Life: GPS-Only Is The Winner
If there’s one thing (besides price) where the GPS-only Apple Watch wins over the cellular model, its battery life. It’s no secret that cellular data connectivity eats up a lot of power, so this is to be expected.
Based on Apple claims, both the GPS-only and cellular Apple Watch can last for 18 hours when tethered to an iPhone over Bluetooth. However, if you plan to use voice calls with your Apple Watch without pairing to an iPhone, you will only get 1.5 hours of talk time.
If you plan to take your Apple Watch outdoors and use Maps for directions without iPhone tethering, you’ll get around 5 hours of battery life, which is not bad. If you only plan to stream music with Apple Music, then you’ll get 7 hours.
All in all, while battery life on the GPS-only model is better, it might not be a dealbreaker if you are planning to get a cellular Apple Watch.
Summary: What You Can and Can’t Do with Apple Watch Cellular
Here’s what you can do when the Apple Watch has cellular internet connection but isn’t tethered to the iPhone:
- Siri functionalities
- Voice calls and VoIP calls
- iMessage functionality
- Audio streaming apps (Apple Music)
- Any third-party apps that need an internet connection (Maps, email apps, etc.)
As a comparison, here are the things you can do on your Watch without any internet at all (not paired to an iPhone and no cellular connectivity):
- Playing downloaded audio content (stored on the Apple Watch’s storage)
- View photos and other content
- Use Apple Pay
- Basic clock functionalities (alarms, stopwatch, etc.)
- Health tracking apps (health rate tracking, activity/fitness tracking)
So, keep in mind that even without the cellular connection, a GPS-only Apple Watch can still be a decent fitness tracker, if you are only looking for a fitness tracking wearable.