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Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular: Is the extra cost worth it?

When deciding between Apple watches, you’re not only picking between different watch lineups, like the Series 7 or SE. You also need to determine whether you want to get a GPS watch or a watch with both GPS + Cellular capabilities. The latter variant is more expensive and offers some advantages over the GPS version. 

Still, how do you determine if the differences are worth the price and buy the more expensive GPS + Cellular option? Moreover, how do you ensure that the GPS version has all that you’re looking for in a smartwatch? If you’re thinking of getting a new Apple Watch, read this Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular comparison article to determine which version is better for you.

Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular

Apple Watch GPS

The GPS-only Apple watch is the least expensive model in Apple’s smartwatch lineup. Still, it offers the same premium Apple quality as all other products that this company manufactures. It’s gorgeously designed, lightweight, and offers plenty of storage room. Considering this, here’s a closer view of the most significant advantages and disadvantages of GPS-only Apple Watch models:

Pros:

  • More affordable
  • Lightweight and beautiful design
  • Great battery life
  • Sleek design with many color and band options

Cons:

  • You still need your iPhone for many tasks
  • Doesn’t support the Family Setup feature

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

At first glance, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a GPS-only model and a watch that comes with GPS + Cellular. That said, when you take a closer look at the phone’s features, the Cellular version undoubtedly packs a more powerful punch. It allows you greater freedom, as you can enjoy a long list of smartwatch features without carrying your phone everywhere you go. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest pros and cons of Apple Watch Cellular models:

Pros:

  • Untethered use
  • Great battery life
  • More case material options
  • Family Setup feature

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Additional monthly cost

Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular: Design

Design-wise, GPS and Cellular Apple Watch models are sleek and beautiful. After all, this is what we’ve grown to expect from all Apple products, not just from their gorgeous portable timepieces.

The design between GPS and Cellular models is very similar, if not identical, in many aspects. Moreover, this design hasn’t changed much through the years, as newer Apple Watch models still closely resemble the series from a few years ago. 

Both GPS and Cellular watches come in all sorts of colors. Additionally, these watches have the recognizable premium Apple Watch design and are very well manufactured. They are also very light (especially the 44mm edition), so you’ll sometimes even forget you’re wearing a watch.

Band Options

As usual, if you don’t want the generic band with your Apple Watch, you have tremendous freedom in customizing the watch with different bands and colors. You can choose from several options that won’t cost you any extra money. Of course, there are also bands that you can buy separately from the watch, which can cost you several hundred dollars. 

Additionally, both GPS and Cellular watches support bands from third-party manufacturers thanks to their universal design. This provides you with nearly endless personalization possibilities, often at more affordable prices than you would get if you purchase an official Apple Watch band.

Materials – Case and Screen

When it comes to picking the materials you want your Apple Watch to be made of, you don’t have many options if you decide to go with a GPS Apple Watch. This is because you can only get this model in aluminum. 

The Cellular version is available in aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel. Keep in mind that not all Cellular models offer you the option of choosing between all three materials. For example, Series 7 models come in all three materials mentioned above, while Apple Watch SE models are exclusively made from aluminum. 

Looking at the screen material, the material used for the display will depend on the case’s material. More specifically, aluminum versions of both GPS and Cellular watches are limited to the Ion-X display, while titanium and stainless steel models use the Sapphire Crystal display.

For reference, the Ion-X display is softer and more impact-resistant than the Crystal Sapphire display. One major downside of this screen type is that it’s more prone to scratches. Conversely, while the Crystal Sapphire watch display is more resistant to scratches, it will crack easier if you drop it or accidentally hit it.

Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular: Features

Moving on from the design aspect to the features section, there are a lot of characteristics to review, as both GPS and Cellular Apple watches come with tons of fantastic qualities. With that in mind, let’s go over each essential feature, starting with one of the most important ones – battery life.

Battery Life

As Cellular Apple watches use both GPS and Cellular, they have a slightly shorter battery life than GPS-only models. That said, while the GPS-only models generally last a bit longer, neither type is the “long-distance” kind, as there certainly are many other premium smartwatches that offer a significantly longer battery life. 

That said, to see just how these watches perform, we’ll compare them using Apple’s testing criteria based on the All-Day Battery Life Metric. To get the most precise overview possible, we will also divide the comparison into three separate categories:

Talk 

The GPS Apple Watch variant doesn’t support a talk feature, so there’s no way to compare the two products in this regard. That said, looking at Cellular’s features in this regard, both Series 7 and SE Apple Watch models support up to one and a half hours of talk time. 

Audio

GPS and Cellular models have identical battery length times for playing audio files. More precisely, both GPS and Cellular Apple Watch models allow you to take advantage of up to eleven hours of audio playback from your Apple Watch storage. Additionally, you can enjoy up to eight hours of streaming with LTE without your iPhone.

Workout

To get the most precise overview of the expected supported workout times, we should consider not only the cellular features and the specific Apple Watch model but also whether the user is working out indoors or outdoors. With that in mind, the table below provides a clear rundown of all of these parameters:

Workout Conditions / Watch ModelApple Watch GPSApple Watch GPS + Cellular
Apple Series 7 Indoor Workout11 Hours11 Hours
Apple Series 7 Outdoor Workout7 Hours6 Hours
Apple Watch SE Indoor Workout10 Hours10 Hours
Apple Watch SE Outdoor Workout6 Hours5 Hours

As you can see from the numbers above, the GPS and Cellular watches are very similar across the board. However, the GPS variant offers a bit more juice for outdoor workouts

Audio Playback

If you like using iOS audio playback features, you’ll be glad to hear that both GPS and Cellular watches offer excellent audio playback support. You can utilize it through the Now Playing app to control music, podcasts, or audiobooks directly on your Apple Watch without any other devices required.

Charge Times

Although the charge times vary between different models, Apple Watch GPS and Cellular watches are very similar in this regard. For reference, a Series 7 GPS watch takes around 45 minutes to get up to 80% and about 75 minutes to charge fully. In comparison, a GPS + Cellular Series 7 watch needs the exact same amount of time.

Furthermore, GPS and Cellular Apple Watch SE models record very similar times. An SE GPS watch needs around one and a half hours to get to 80% battery and about two and a half hours to charge fully. Again, this is precisely how much an SE GPS + Cellular watch needs.

Monthly Cost

Apart from purchasing the watch itself, you also have to consider the monthly costs that come with it. In the case of the GPS models, the monthly cost is non-existent, as these watches don’t support cellular capabilities. On the other hand, Cellular Apple watches do include monthly costs. Depending on the carrier, these can range from just around $10 a month up to significantly higher amounts.

Storage,

The amount of storage primarily depends on the watch version and not on the specific GPS/Cellular variant. With that in mind, all Apple Watch SE models include 32GB of storage space. This is twice as much as previous versions. In the same breath, Series 7 watches also come with a storage capacity of 32GB. 

That said, there may be some differences in older models. But, if you opt for one of the newer Apple watches, you can expect identical storage properties, regardless of whether you pick a GPS-only or GPS + Cellular watch.

CPU Performance

As is the case with storage capacity, CPU performance primarily depends on the specific Apple Watch model and isn’t influenced by whether or not the watch offers Cellular capabilities. 

In view of this, Apple Watch GPS/Cellular models from Series 7 offer the best CPU performance. On average, Series 7 watches deliver about 20% more processing power than SE models. What’s more, SE’s processor is up to two times faster than the one that comes with the S3 Apple Watch models.

Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular: Other Considerations

Apple Music logo

Apart from the two main considerations, the design and performance features, there are a few other aspects worth paying attention to. These mostly play to the strong sides of Apple Watch Cellular models, as GPS-only watches don’t really have any standout features compared to their more expensive counterparts. With that said, here are a few more key considerations we want to highlight in this Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular comparison article:

Carrier Connectivity

As GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models support LTE connectivity, they allow you to add to your current carrier plan and get Internet and phone connectivity even when your iPhone isn’t nearby. This carrier connectivity feature enables you to place calls and receive messages, use third-party apps, access the Maps app, use Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, and much more. 

With that said, you should also make sure that your carrier supports the Apple Watch before purchasing one. Moreover, you need to use the same carrier you’re using for your iPhone. If your carrier doesn’t support the Apple Watch, there’s no way to get it connected. In that case, the only solution would be to switch to a new carrier completely, both for your iPhone and your new smartwatch.

Luckily, if you’re in the US, the good news is that most major carriers in the country support Apple watches. This includes Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Xfinity. Of course, as we’ve mentioned earlier, to take advantage of the cellular features on your Apple Watch, you’ll also need to pay a monthly fee on top of your regular iPhone plan. 

Apple Streaming

If you’re connected to a nearby Wi-Fi network, you can enjoy unrestricted streaming on your GPS-only Apple watch. This includes streaming Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and other content. Moreover, you can download the content to your watch and enjoy it when you don’t have an Internet connection.

With this in mind, you can do all of this on your Cellular Apple Watch, plus stream the content without going offline, even if you’re away from your iPhone. Even if your iPhone is not nearby, you can still access the Internet thanks to the Apple Watch Cellular’s LTE capabilities. Considering this, models with GPS + Cellular capabilities have a clear edge in this regard.

Family Setup

Currently, the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch is the only model that works with the Family Setup feature. To be more specific, you can use this feature on either Apple Watch Series 7 GPS + Cellular Apple Watch or SE GPS + Cellular models.

Additionally, the Family Setup feature is an excellent option if you plan to buy an Apple Watch for a friend or family member who doesn’t own an iPhone. In other words, you don’t have to buy them an iPhone alongside the watch just because they need to set up and calibrate their new accessory.

Instead, you can use the Family Setup feature to initially set up everything necessary for the new Apple Watch to function. Then, the other person can use the watch untethered without needing any other iOS device. With this in mind, if you want to take advantage of this option, make sure to remember that only GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models support Family Setup.

Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular: Price

With everything above in mind, the only way to get the best perspective on which watch offers objectively better value for money is to consider their price tags. In this regard, the GPS and Cellular models differ significantly. 

Looking into the specific numbers, Apple Watch SE models that offer only GPS support have a starting price tag of $279. In comparison, the same models with Cellular capabilities start at $329. When it comes to Apple Watch Series 7 models, GPS-only watches start at $399. In comparison, GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 7 models start with a $499 price tag. 

So, knowing this, if you still want a premium Apple Watch but don’t need features like cellular service, Family Setup, or Apple Music, it’s smarter to go with the more affordable route and purchase the GPS model. On the other hand, if you want more advanced support and extra features, the only way to obtain them is to pay a bit more for the Cellular version.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between cellular and GPS Apple Watch?

The difference between a GPS Apple Watch and one that has both GPS + Cellular capabilities is that the GPS + Cellular variant enables you to perform many tasks without using your iPhone. In other words, you can stream content, receive messages, and even place calls from anywhere without having your iPhone nearby.

Is Cellular necessary for Apple Watch?

No, Cellular is not required or necessary for an Apple Watch. It’s just an optional feature that brings you more convenience when carrying out everyday tasks. As you don’t have to keep your iPhone nearby, Cellular Apple watches are very useful when you’re performing physical activities or exercising.

Conclusion

Ultimately, what’s our verdict of this Apple Watch GPS vs Cellular comparison? Is the Cellular version worth it, or should you stick with the GPS-only model? After comparing the two models extensively through all of the essential parameters, we can say that the final decision primarily boils down to preference. While both watches are excellent in their own regard, they have some differences worth remembering.

To help you out, we want to finish this thorough article by asking you a few questions. Do you often go out without your phone or want to listen to audio content without your phone nearby? Would you prefer answering calls and texts using your smartwatch?

Lastly, do you want a stainless steel or titanium watch case? If you’ve answered yes to most of these questions, then the Cellular model is the right pick for you. Conversely, if all of these features don’t play any significant role for you, the GPS-only version is a great option.

About Melissa

Hey! I'm Mel, I write the occasional article for Spacehop, amongst other things. I love meeting new people and chatting, so if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask.

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