Apple Watch comes in two models; GPS-only and GPS + cellular. They come with almost the same features but have one major difference.
The cellular model can be used as a standalone device. It does not need to be connected to an iPhone and uses an e-SIM to connect to a cellular network.
The GPS-only model needs to be connected to an iPhone through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can only access the internet via an iPhone.
Read on to have more details about the two Apple Watch models, what their differences are, and the pros and cons of each.
- Can you use an Apple Watch without cellular?
- Can you use your Apple Watch without your iPhone nearby?
- Does Apple Watch cellular need its own plan?
- Pros & cons of an Apple Watch cellular
- Key differences between Apple Watch Cellular and GPS
- Should I get an Apple Watch if I don’t have an iPhone?
- Does the Apple Watch Series 4 have a SIM card?
Can you use an Apple Watch without cellular?
The Apple Watch GPS-only model comes without cellular service and can be used without having a cellular plan. Cellular service is optional and you can use the watch as a GPS-only model.
To use an Apple Watch without cellular, you need to pair it to your iPhone and keep the two devices close to ensure that the connection is maintained.
When your Apple Watch has the iPhone nearby, it can receive calls and notifications that you would receive on your iPhone.
See the “Does Apple Watch GPS work without cellular?” section to find out how to connect your iPhone to your Apple Watch.
Can I use Cellular Apple Watch 5 or 6 without activating cellular?
You can use Cellular Apple Watch 5 or 6 without activating cellular. As mentioned in the previous section, the cellular service is optional. If you do not activate it, your Apple Watch will work as a GPS-only watch.
If you do not activate cellular service on your Apple Watch, you need to keep your iPhone close to your Apple Watch in order to receive calls and notifications on your watch.
See next section for how to connect your iPhone to your Apple Watch.
Apple Watch GPS without cellular
The GPS-only model of the Apple Watch does not have the cellular feature and works fine without it.
However, you need to pair your Apple Watch GPS-only with your iPhone using Bluetooth 4.0 to get access to the internet. You also need to make sure both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network as the Apple Watch will need Wi-Fi to stay connected to your iPhone.
Here is a step-by-step guide for connect your Apple Watch to your iPhone:
- First, activate “Bluetooth” on your iPhone from the “Control Center”
- Keep your Apple Watch nearby to ensure that it is within the Bluetooth’s range
- Switch on your Apple Watch and you will receive a prompt on your iPhone
- Alternatively, you can do this by launching the “Watch App” on your iPhone
- Tap “Start Pairing” and it will open the camera module on your iPhone
- Tap “Start Pairing” on your Apple Watch and it will display a QR code on your watch’s screen
- Scan the QR code from your iPhone
- Once your Apple Watch and iPhone are connected, your Apple Watch will display two options, “Restore from Backup” or “Set up as New Apple Watch”. Choose the option that suits you best:
Can you use your Apple Watch without your iPhone nearby?
If you have an Apple Watch GPS + cellular model with an active cellular plan, you can use it without your iPhone nearby. You will be able to use functions such as:
- Get Directions
- Send and receive messages
- Make and receive calls
- Listen to music, radio, podcasts, etc.
- Check weather
- Use Siri
If your Apple Watch is a GPS-only model (or a GPS + cellular model without an active cellular plan), you will be able to use functions that do not require internet, without your iPhone nearby, such as:
- Check the time
- Use the alarm, timer, and stopwatch apps
- Track workouts
- View synced photos
- Record audios
- Track sleep
- Listen to synced music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc
When using your cellular Apple Watch without your iPhone nearby, keep in mind that:
- To receive messages or notifications from third-party apps, the iPhone you have paired with your watch needs to be powered on and have internet or a cellular connection, and has to be signed in to the iMessage app.
- The Wi-Fi calling service for your Apple Watch must be enabled to make calls using Wi-Fi on your Apple Watch.
- Not all features are available on every Apple Watch model and in every region. For example, you can stream music, podcasts, etc., only on Apple Watch Series 3 and later models while the Compass app comes only with Apple Watch Series 5 and later models.
Does Apple Watch cellular need its own plan?
If you want to activate the cellular service of your Apple Watch, it needs to have a cellular plan of its own because this model acts independently from your iPhone.
Your Apple Watch will use the same number linked to your iPhone and you will be charged an additional monthly fee for utilizing cellular services for your Apple Watch.
The advantage of using the Apple Watch with cellular is that you can receive calls, messages, and notifications, even if your iPhone is not nearby. It’s like a mini-iPhone on your wrist.
Alternatively, you can use your Apple Watch cellular without a cellular plan and benefit from its functions, by pairing it to your iPhone through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connection to use it as a GPS-only watch.
Does an Apple Watch need a SIM card?
Your Apple Watch (both models) does not need a separate SIM card to run.
If your watch is a GPS-only model, you simply need to pair it with your iPhone and keep it nearby to use the internet.
If your watch is a GPS + cellular model, it has an e-sim (embedded sim) in it. To use your watch when your iPhone is not nearby, you need to activate the cellular function and have a separate cellular plan for it.
Pros & cons of an Apple Watch cellular
Cellular Apple Watches have their pros and cons.
Cellular watch pro: untethered use
With a cellular watch, you do not need to have your iPhone nearby or connect them via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to use its functions. It offers way more mobility and independence.
Cellular watch pro: better accessories:
The GPS-only watch comes with an aluminum case. The cellular Apple Watch offers more models to choose from, including stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic.
Each of these options has its pros and cons. Check out this post for more about the differences between the available case materials.
Cellular watch con: battery life
The GPS-only Apple Watch needs to be connected to the paired iPhone, via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, to use all its functions.
The cellular watch as mentioned earlier is a mini-iPhone. It runs independently without the need to be connected to your iPhone.
As a result, the battery of a GPS-only Apple watch lasts longer than that of a cellular one.
Cellular watch con: price
A GPS-only watch costs less than a cellular one. The starting price for the GPS-only option is around $279 for a 40 mm aluminum body Apple Watch SE, while the cellular version of the same case costs $329.
Users who prefer having their iPhones on them at all times, won’t be needing a cellular watch. They can go for the cheaper GPS-only model.
Key differences between Apple Watch Cellular and GPS
There are a few things that set apart a cellular Apple watch from a GPS one, with the most significant one being the untethered use the cellular Apple Watch allows.
A cellular Apple Watch does not need to connect to your iPhone through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to make and receive calls, exchange messages, receive notifications, stream music, podcasts, audiobooks, listen to the radio, etc.
Your cellular Apple Watch can be used as a GPS-only Apple Watch if you choose not to get a separate cellular plan for it. You would, however, have to pair it with your iPhone via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The cellular Apple Watch comes with a wider variety of case materials. While GPS Apple Watches are only available with aluminum bodies, the cellular model comes in stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic.
In terms of battery life, the GPS-only Apple Watch simply uses a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connection making its battery life longer than the cellular version as using a cellular plan drains the battery.
The factor that people are most keen about is the price difference between the cellular Apple Watches and the GPS ones.
The starting price for the GPS-only option is around $279 for a 40 mm aluminum body Apple Watch SE, while the cellular version of the same case costs $329.
Depending on the case and band you choose, the prices of cellular watches can reach up to around $800.
A great feature you get with a cellular Apple Watch is Family Setup. You can activate a family member or friend’s Apple Watch using your iPhone.
Once the cellular plan of the Apple Watch is activated, it does not need your iPhone nearby to function.
This is a great option for parents who would like to have control over what their children can access. The GPS-only cellular watch does not provide this option.
Should I get an Apple Watch if I don’t have an iPhone?
In general, you need an iPhone to set up your Apple Watch. The Watch app on your iPhone does most of the work for this.
Apple markets the Apple Watch as an extension to your iPhone which is true for the most part. Without an iPhone, your Apple Watch is of limited use.
There is one exception to this. If you get a cellular Apple Watch, you can use the Family Setup function in a family member’s or a friend’s iPhone to set up your Apple Watch.
You will have your own Apple ID and cellular plan. With the cellular function of the Apple Watch enabled, you would not need to pair your Apple Watch to an iPhone for it to work.
This option has some drawbacks though. The most significant one is the lack of privacy as the iPhone you will use to set up your Apple Watch will have parental control.
If you have an iPhone and want to buy an Apple Watch for a family member, particularly a kid, a cellular Apple Watch is a great option.
Does the Apple Watch Series 4 have a SIM card?
Apple Watch Series 4, or any other series, does not require inserting a SIM card. As a matter of fact, it does not have a SIM card slot.
The cellular Apple Watch comes with an embedded SIM card known as an e-SIM.
You only need to tether your Apple Watch to your iPhone to activate the cellular function.