Besides a cellular antenna and a $100 upcharge, how do Apple’s two watches differ?
If you’re trying to decide on the new Apple Watch with GPS only or the GPS + Cellular model, there are a few things you’ll want to know before deciding if that extra $100 is worth it.
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, you can go back even further with your iPhone model. Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 12 or later. You still need the latest software upgrade, though.
If you’re going with the older model iPhone, you don’t have to be on the latest software, but make sure your iPhone isn’t too old. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) requires an iPhone 6 or later with iOS 11 or later. Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) requires an iPhone 5s or later with iOS 11 or later.
This is the big one: 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.
If you want to enable LTE, you will need to be on the same carrier as your iPhone (so as to use the same phone number).
The 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.
If the freedom of moving about with your watch without an iPhone appeals to you, the Cellular option is a huge benefit.
Apple Music streaming
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 Apple Watch Series 4 GPS and GPS + Cellular both come with 16GB of storage to help keep it running fast. The Series 3 GPS + Cellular also comes with 16GB of storage, but the Series 3 GPS-only comes with 8GB of storage.
Front Casings and Style
The GPS-only Series 3 and 4 are limited to just aluminum Sport and Nike+ casings (silver, gold, or space grey) with their Ion-X glass screen. In contrast, the GPS + Cellular Watch retains the stainless steel option in addition to the aluminum Sport and Nike+ casings.
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
And herein lies the downside of a GPS + Cellular-enabled watch: In choosing to pursue connectivity over battery life, Apple still doesn’t quite have the battery numbers to make long-distance runners (like ultra-marathoners) happy if they’re using GPS, let alone GPS + Cellular.
We’ll be doing extensive battery testing for our Series 4 review to try and confirm and expound on these numbers, so stay tuned.
Both Series 4 watches will be available for pre-order on the 14th and shipping on the 21st. The GPS + Cellular model is available in the following countries:
- United States: AT&T, C Spire, Sprint Wireless, T-Mobile USA, US Cellular, Verizon Wireless
- Australia: Optus, Telstra, VHA
- Brazil (Series 3 only): Claro
- Canada: Bell (excluding Saskatchewan), Telus, Rogers
- China: China Unicom, China Telecom (later in 2018), China Mobile (later in 2018)
- Denmark: 3
- France: Orange
- Germany: Telekom, Vodafone
- Hong Kong: 1010, 3, China Mobile Hong Kong, SmarTone
- India (Series 3 only): Airtel, Jio
- Italy: Vodafone
- Japan: au, NTT DOCOMO, SoftBank
- Korea: SK Telecom, LG U+
- Mexico (Series 3 only): AT&T, Telcel
- Puerto Rico: AT&T, Sprint Wireless, T-Mobile USA
- Singapore: Singtel
- Spain: Orange, Vodafone
- Sweden: Tre
- Switzerland: Sunrise , Swisscom
- Thailand (Series 3 only): AIS, dtac, TrueMove H
- Taiwan (Series 3 only): APT, Chunghwa Telecom, FarEasTone, Taiwan Mobile
- United Arab Emirates: Etisalat
- United Kingdom: EE, Vodafone
The final metric that separates these two devices is price: The GPS-only Series 3 starts at $279 for a 38mm aluminum casing, while the GPS + Cellular Series 3 starts at $379, a $100 upcharge. The GPS-only Series 4 starts at $399 for a 40mm aluminum casing and the GPS + Cellular Series 4 with the same casing starts at $499, also a $100 upcharge. If you want cellular service, the nicer casings, storage, and Apple Music, that price might well be worth it.
Which Watch will you wear?
Are you planning on getting the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch? Will you start with Series 3 or jump right in with Series 4?
Updated November 2018: Updated with additional information for Apple Watch Series 4.
Originally published September 2017. Serenity Caldwell contributed to an earlier version of this post.