When you buy an Apple Watch, you’re presented with a choice: GPS or cellular. The GPS version is £100 cheaper, and you may find yourself wondering exactly what you’re missing out on by not buying it. There must be a reason people drop extra money on it, right?
I’m here to set your mind at ease. You’re really not missing out on much except a tiny bit of convenience in a couple of rare scenarios.
What’s the difference between the cellular and GPS versions?
It really is as simple as it sounds. The cellular version of the Apple Watch is exactly the same as the GPS one, except it comes with added 4G connectivity.
So yes, that means your watch can send and receive messages and answer phone calls. It can even stream Apple Music and podcasts without needing to download them to the built-in storage. The thing is, though, you can do all those things with the regular GPS Apple Watch: you just need to be connected to your phone to do so.
Reasons not to buy the Apple Watch cellular version
So it’s not so much gaining functionality as expanding the places you can do it. The big selling point of the cellular Apple Watch is that you can do all these things without your iPhone in range, but at that point I’d question how often this would be something you’d choose to do. Have you ever tried sending text messages on a smartwatch? It’s okay in an emergency, but not something you’d ever do out of choice (although see the counterpoint from the owner of an Apple Watch Cellular, below).
How often are you actively out of range of your phone? People who regularly run are about the only exception to this rule, but even here it’s a tough sell to my mind. You can sync Apple Music or Apple Podcasts to your Watch before setting off, so there’s no need to stream, and do you really want to answer calls when you’re struggling to hit a PB?
Apple Pay works on the GPS model of the Watch, so you’re fine even if you want to buy a drink or take a bus to a nearby parkrun. And personally I just carry my phone in a specially designed pocket on my running shorts – buying three pairs was far cheaper than upgrading to a cellular Apple Watch, I can tell you…
Finally, consider the fact that you’ll need to pay a monthly fee to the likes of O2 or Vodafone for the eSIM inside the Apple Watch. Even if this adds as little as £5 to your monthly bill, that will add up over time.
Reasons to buy the cellular version of the Apple Watch
I’ve written all this from the point of view of someone who hasn’t gone ahead and bought the watch. But “friend of Big Tech Question” and PC Pro columnist Jon Honeyball has. So what does he think?
“I do most of my texting on my watch,” said Jon. “I just dictate it.” He adds: “I like the cellular Apple Watch because it means it still works even if I leave my phone in the car. Or go out without my phone. And I like the second phone functionality in case of battery fail on the main phone.”
He also makes the point that if you have a big iPhone – and he uses an Apple iPhone 11 Max Pro with a battery pack, so it definitely qualifies – then he doesn’t always want to carry the phone with him. For example, if he’s on his motorbike.
But even Jon has caveats. “The only real downside (apart from the cost) is that it is 4G only – it doesn’t work on 3G. And it requires a Watch-compatible eSIM, so a Vodafone business SIM won’t work, for example. It can also be a hassle to set up, only because telcos have made such a screw- up of it.”
Talking of which: “You can’t roam with an eSIM in the watch, because dual physical device on one number doesn’t roam internationally.”
Finally, he adds that it’s true that it’s rare that he needs the Apple Watch’s phone capabilities: “98% of the time it’s working as a phone but back through the iPhone”.
Summing up: cellular Apple Watch or not?
Hopefully that gives you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Personally, I say save your money. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to stream directly from your watch, and have peace of mind that you’re always contactable no matter where your phone is. But for almost everyone, I’d say that you can put a price on convenience… and it’s nowhere near £100 up-front and then a fiver each month.