Apple offers a GPS and a GPS plus Cellular model for both its Series 3 and 4 watches. Which smartwatch model is the best for you? It comes down to how you plan on using it and whether you’re yearning to break free from the tether of your iPhone.
Apple Watch Cellular vs GPS: What’s the difference?
Both versions of the watches operate similarly and require you to have an Apple iPhone to get set up. The ability to ditch your phone that the Cellular model provides is the significant distinction in the two but not the only one. Price is a distinction as the Apple Watch Cellular costs you $100 more for either the Apple Series 3 or Apple Series 4.
Apple Watch models make for useful fitness trackers and the Apple Watch Series 4 model has upgraded its heart rate monitoring with a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG). Not only will this provide more accurate heart rates but has some medical benefits as well. The upgraded ECG is available in the non-cellular and GPS plus Cellular models of the Apple Series 4.
You’re going to get a bigger case and a display screen with the Cellular options for both the Apple Series 3 and the Apple Series 4. Both series of watches include an OLED Retina display, but the Series 4 models feature an LTPO OLED display that requires less power and allows the watch to be thinner than its Series 3 counterpart.
The digital crown on the Series 3 Cellular model has a distinct red dot, but it is otherwise the same as the GPS only version. Both the GPS and Cellular options of the Series 4 offers a digital crown with haptic feedback.
The GPS and GPS plus Cellular Series 3 limits you to an aluminum build in Silver and Space Gray while the Series 4 GPS gives you more choice. You can get both models in Silver, Space Gray, or Gold. The GPS plus Cellular also comes in a stainless steel model with color options of either Silver, Space Black, or Gold.
Both series of the Apple Watches with Cellular connect you via LTE and UMTS around the globe.
Benefits of going with the Cellular option is that you can make calls, stream music, listen to podcasts, and send text messages without having to lug your phone with you.
So, if you’re the type of person who likes to talk on the phone while jogging, the Cellular version of the Apple Watch is right up your alley.
There is an additional cost, of course.Most iPhone carriers allow you to add the watch to your bill, with charges starting at $10 a month. Apple has put together an extensive list of carriers that they work with, broken down by country on its web page. The Apple Series 3 Cellular carriers are listed here while the Apple Series 4 carriers can be found here.
Apple Music support
If you like having access to music and your Apple Music account at all times, then the Cellular option is the one you want. For both the Series 3 and Series 4, you can stream Apple Music without your iPhone in your pocket or Wifi. So, update your playlist, leave your phone behind, and hit the road.
To listen to music without your phone on the GPS only Apple Watch you need to download songs directly on to it, which eats up your storage. If you are listening through your phone, you can still skip past songs, or replay the songs, with your GPS only watch so that the iPhone could stay in your pocket, but it needs to be with you..
You need to make sure that your iPhone is using an updated OS to use either the GPS or Cellular Apple Watches. For the Apple Series 3 GPS, you need an iPhone 5s or newer with iOS 11 or better. The Apple Series 3 Cellular requires an iPhone 6 and the same iOS 11.
If you’re getting an Apple Series 4 GPS, you need to make sure that your iPhone is a 5s or newer with iOS 12 or later. The Cellular option requires an iPhone 6 to go with the iOS 12.
Both the Series 3 and Series 4 watches are using Apple WatchOS 5 which contains features like automatic workout detection and, with the Series 4, fall detection that sense a severe fall and contact emergency services for you.
Apple is said to release its WatchOS 6 this fall which offers updated watch faces to choose from, enhanced Siri options, the ability to access the App Store, and upgraded fitness and health functions.
Apple suggests that the battery life for both watches, regardless of GPS or Cellular, is up to 18 hours. While that may be the top number, the actual life of your battery depends on how you use the watch.
Streaming music or video, sending text messages, sending emails, or speaking on the phone drains the battery on your Apple Watch with Cellular faster, and Apple breaks down the time allotted to the battery for various activities on its WatchOS 6 this fall.
When looking at memory and storage, there is no difference in the GPS versus the Cellular options for the Series 4. The Apple Series 4 offers 16GB of memory to go with a 64-bit dual-core S4 Processor which operates faster than the Series 3.
The Apple Series Watch 3 with Cellular does provide for more storage than the GPS-only version. The cellular model gets you 16GB while the GPS Series 3 watch only comes with 8GB of memory.
The main thing to consider when trying to decide on the Apple Series GPS versus Cellular watch is how you plan on using it. The Cellular version cost you about $100 more upfront, plus a monthly fee from your service provider, so make sure it’s worth it for you.
For runners, bikers, or anyone who is on the go and doesn’t want to worry about where your iPhone is, the Cellular option is attractive. It doesn’t rely on the phone, as the GPS versions do, so you can access all the features you have come to love from your phone – texting, email, phone calls – without having your phone.
If you are the type who always has to have your mobile phone with you wherever you go, then the Apple Watches with GPS might be a better deal for you. You’ll get most of the same functions as the Apple Watch Cellular but at less cost.
Andy is a long-time writer covering sports, tech, and the local arts scene in Seattle, Washington. He is an avid hockey fan, weight lifter, and fitness tracker fanatic. His work has appeared on ESPN Seattle, Sportsnet in Canada and most recently NHL.com.