What’s the difference between a cellular and GPS-only Apple Watch?

You may not completely understand the differences between GPS only and GPS + Cellular Apple Watches, but we do. It’s more than just a red Digital Crown.


Apple Watch GPS

From $279 at Apple


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


  • Must keep iPhone nearby
  • Only comes in aluminum

The Apple Watch GPS (Wi-Fi only) model is the least expensive and lightest weight of all models in the line. With 8 – 16GB of storage, you get a longer battery life, but that’s because it doesn’t have a cellular chip. It requires an iPhone for daily use.

Free bird

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

From $379 at Apple


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


  • Most expensive model

Beside being untethered from your iPhone, the Apple Watch GPS + Cellular offers one major bonus: streaming Apple Music. All models also include 16GB of storage and you can get it in aluminum or stainless steel. Unfortunately, all of this comes at a price of $100 (not including your monthly cellular bill).

Both the GPS-only and the GPS + Cellular versions of Apple Watch can make and receive calls, send and receive texts, get notifications, listen to music directly, and perform actions for various supported third-party apps. Where the big difference lies is that the Cellular model allows you to use your Apple Watch, even if your iPhone is nowhere near you.

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 makes all the difference.

The table below is based on specifications of the Apple Watch Series 4. All battery life info is based on using cellular only (not connected to Wi-Fi).

GPS GPS + Cellular
Battery life (talk) 2 hours 1 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
4 hours outdoor with streaming audio, GPS, and LTE
Apple Music support no yes
Minimum requirements iPhone 5s with iOS 11 for Series 3
iPhone 5s running iOS 12 for Series 4
iPhone 6 with iOS 11 for Series 3
iPhone 6 running iOS 12 for Series 4
Siri support yes yes
Storage size 8GB for Series 3
16GB for Series 4
Screen material Ion-X glass for the aluminum model
Sapphire crystal for the stainless steel model
Ion-X glass for the aluminum model
Sapphire crystal for the stainless steel model
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 in order to work, it does require an iPhone for setup, feature organization, and OS updates. Both models of Apple Watch require at least an iPhone 5s or 6 running iOS 11 (newer model Apple Watches require newer iPhone models).

You may want the latest and greatest Apple Watch, but it’s important to make sure your iPhone passes muster. The Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) requires an iPhone 6 or later with iOS 12 or later. Make sure you’re willing to upgrade your iPhone if you want to get the Series 4.

If you don’t need cellular, your iPhone can be a bit older, but you still need the latest software. Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 12 or later.

If you’re looking at the Apple Watch Series 3, you don’t have to be on the latest software, but your iPhone needs to be a 6 or later running iOS 11 or later. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 11 or later.

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.

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 not SIM card in the Apple Watch).

Apple Music streaming support

The GPS + Cellular Watch supports Apple Music 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’re only limited by your storage capacity.

Storage size

The Apple Watch Series 4 GPS and GPS + Cellular both come with 16GB of storage. 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 4 are limited to aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases (silver, gold, or space grey). In contrast, the GPS + Cellular Watch retains the stainless steel option in addition to the aluminum Sport and Nike+ cases.

The aluminum model Apple Watch in both GPS and GPS + Cellular use Ion X glass while the stainless steel models of both use Sapphire crystal, which is a bit stronger against scratches.

Battery Life

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 the course of 18 hours.

Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) usage includes connection to iPhone via Bluetooth during the entire 18-hour test. Apple Watch Series 4 (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 Series 4 models also provide up to 18 hours of battery life on a Wi-Fi connection.

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 3 fared in Apple’s single-task tests:

  • Talk: 2 hours connected to iPhone, 1 hour w/ Cellular
  • Audio: 10 hours w/ Bluetooth, 7 hours streaming playlist with LTE, 5 hours streaming live radio with LTE
  • Workout: 10 hours indoor workout, 6 hours outdoor workout with GPS, 5 hours outdoor workout with GPS and LTE, 4 hours outdoor workout with streaming audio, GPS, and LTE

While the GPS-only Apple Watch has better battery performance against the GPS + Cellular model when using LTE, neither perform well for long-distance runners.


The final metric that separates these two devices is the price: The GPS-only Series 3 starts at $279 for a 38mm aluminum case, while the GPS + Cellular Series 3 starts at $379, a $100 increase. The GPS-only Series 4 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.


Apple Watch GPS + Cellular

From $379 at Apple

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


Apple Watch GPS

From $279 at Amazon

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.