Do you actually need an Apple Watch cellular plan?
When the original Apple Watch was released back in 2015, Apple only released one model capable of GPS connectivity but no cellular connectivity. The original Apple Watch is designed to connect to your iPhone via Bluetooth and uses the iPhone cellular and internet connectivity.
Beginning with the Apple Watch Series 3, the fourth-generation Apple Watch released in 2017, however, Apple also offered another version of Apple Watches capable of cellular connectivity, so you can use most of this Apple Watch's core functionalities without pairing it with an iPhone nearby.
So, do you really need a cellular plan on your Apple Watch? Are the extra costs justified? Here, we will answer these questions.
GPS-Only Apple Watch
The GPS-only Apple Watch is obviously less expensive and also lighter than the cellular counterpart, roughly around $130 to $150 cheaper than a comparable cellular Apple Watch. Since it doesn't continuously search for cellular connectivity, it also has longer battery life.
GPS+Cellular Apple Watch
The GPS+cellular Apple Watches allow you to connect to the internet even when no iPhone is nearby. Meaning, you can use Apple Music streaming and other online-only Apps even without Wi-Fi. Newer models (Series 6) also support emergency calls even if you don't have an active Apple Watch cellular plan.
|GPS-Only Apple Watch||Differences||GPS+Cellular Apple Watch|
|Around $130 cheaper||Affordability||More expensive|
|Only available in the aluminum case||Case Material||Available in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium cases|
|Does not support||Family Setup||Support Family Setup|
|No color around the Digital Crown||Digital Crown||Red ring around the Digital Crown|
Technical Specification Differences
|Battery life (talk)||N/A||1.5 hours|
|Battery life (audio)||10 hours||7 hours, less with Apple Music continuous streaming|
|Apple Music support||No||Yes|
|Family Setup support||No||Yes|
|Storage size||32GB for SE, Series 6||32GB for SE, Series 6|
|Monthly cost||$0||From $10 per month, depending on the Apple Watch cellular plan|
Benefits of Apple Watch Cellular Plan
You don't need your iPhone nearby
Obviously, the biggest advantage of having a GPS+Cellular Apple Watch over the Wi-Fi-only model is the fact that you can get the full functionality of the Apple Watch even when it's not paired with your iPhone.
This can be handy in situations when you don't want to bring your iPhone during your workouts or outdoor activities. Also, there's always the case of forgetting to bring your iPhone or even losing it somewhere. In such cases, you can even use Find My iPhone on your Apple Watch.
In short, more versatility in using your Watch anyhow you see fit.
Calls and messages
You can perform voice calls and listen to your voicemail even when it's not paired with an iPhone. If you'd like to be available at all times, then this can be a very useful feature so you can take important calls, receive iMessages/text messages, and emails wherever you are even without your iPhone around.
Some Apple Watch cellular plans also allow us to use the same phone number on both your Apple Watch and your iPhone.
You can always access Maps and other location services Apps with your Apple Watch cellular. This can be useful when you need some directions but don't have your iPhone around, for example when you are running outdoors without your iPhone.
With a cellular-enabled Apple Watch, you can stream from Apple Music at all times even when it's not paired with your iPhone via Bluetooth.
If you want to listen to music and podcasts with a GPS-only Apple Watch, you'll need to first download the audio files to the Watch's storage before you can consume it. In the long run, this can translate into a waste of storage space in your Watch.
Obviously streaming on your Apple Watch might translate into battery drain, but you'll still get around 7 hours of audio streaming, so it might not be a major issue for most people.
With a simple glance, you might not be able to tell the physical differences between a GPS-only Apple Watch and a cellular-enabled Apple Watch, with the only difference being a red ring outside the Digital Crown on the cellular Apple Watch. On Series 3 Apple Watch, the Digital Crown is fully red, but on Series 4,5, and 6, you'll only see a red outline on the crown.
A GPS-only Apple Watch only has a plain Digital Crown.
Also, GPS-only Watch is only available in aluminum cases, while with the cellular models you'll have the option of choosing between aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium cases.
According to Apple's claims, both the cellular-enabled and GPS-only Apple Watch Series 6 can last for 18 hours when tethered to an iPhone.
However, if you plan to make a continuous phone call with your Apple Watch without pairing to an iPhone, you'll only get around 1.5 hours of battery life.
The battery life of the GPS-only model is, as expected, longer since it doesn't need to look for cellular connectivity. However, you'll still get around 7 hours of battery life if you continuously stream music/audio from Apple Music, and you'll still get around 5 hours of battery life if you use Maps or other GPS apps with your Apple Watch cellular plan connectivity.
To summarize, here are what you can do with your Apple Watch data plan when the Apple Watch is not connected to an iPhone.
- Voice calls
- Siri functionalities
- iMessage functionality
- Audio streaming apps (Apple Music)
- Any third-party apps that need an internet connection (Maps, etc.)