As an amateur athlete, I have always looked for ways to get some personal work done during my workout sessions. At first, this was not an easy task to pull off considering I had to carry my iPhone around with me wherever I went. But when Apple launched the Cellular variant of the Apple Watch I found it to be the most convenient device to own.
Related: Check out our guide on Which Apple Watch to Buy!
Have you ever wondered if it was possible to leave your iPhone at home and still remain connected to everyone around you? With the Apple Watch Cellular, all that is possible.
Yes.. feeling like James Bond when I talk into my watch or while it’s connected to my AirPods is what life is all about. But did you know how it works? The features or the functionality?
This article will cover just that and i will break down how Apple Watch Cellular works.
Related: Best Apple Watch Bands on Amazon
- How Apple Watch Cellular Works
- Apple Watch Cellular vs GPS
- How Apple Watch Cellular Works – Set Up
- How Apple Watch Cellular Works – Capabilities
- Battery Life
- Apple Watch Cellular Variants
How Apple Watch Cellular Works
Apple Watch cellular is a name given to the Apple Watch with a built-in eSim apart from its regular GPS and WiFi. This began with the Apple Watch Series 3 back in 2017 and has been included in the Watch Series 4 and 5 so far. But how does Apple Watch Cellular work?.
With the cellular variant of the Apple Watch, you have access to the network even when your iPhone is not nearby and you’re not connected to any WiFi network, this happens automatically within the Apple Watch.. This is possible thanks to the additional parts Apple included in the Watch Series variants;
- the UMTS radio (Universal Telecommunications Systems)
- An eSim
- A built-in antenna.
Apple Watch Cellular primarily works due to the eSim, in this case, is a virtual Sim card, a copy of the Sim card which is currently sitting in your iPhone. This eSim can store the IMSO (International Mobile Subscriber identity) and the relevant authentication keys generated by your network provider.
It does everything a traditional Sim card does, the only major difference is that the eSim is extremely small and does not change the way the Apple Watch looks.
Apple cellular can be switched on or off through the Apple Watch and it’s relatively easy to set up your cellular network on the Apple Watch with the help of the Watch App on your iPhone. With a load of capabilities and advantages, the Apple Watch Cellular variants are sure to fly right off the shelves.
Apple Watch Cellular vs GPS
There are some significant differences between how the Apple Watch cellular works and the Apple Watch GPS; and this is mainly to do with their connectivity.
- The GPS only variant requires you to stay near your iPhone or connected to a strong WiFi connection to use the internet based functions on the Apple Watch. However, the Cellular variant lets you connect directly to your cellular network letting it act as a standalone device.
- Since you do not require your iPhone at all times, the cellular variant let’s you stream Apple Music, listen to Podcasts, access radio shows and check your weather.
- Another great feature of the cellular variant is that as an Apple Watch user you can share messages and make calls with members of your family who do not have an iPhone but use the Apple Watch. This feature is called Family Setup and can only be accessed on the Apple Watch Cellular version and not the GPS version.
- Another main difference between both versions is the battery life. With the Apple Watch cellular variant you can’t expect a longer lifetime of the Watches battery because it has to connect to the internet via LTE and does require quite a bit of power to do so. The GPS variant on the other hand boasts a longer battery life simply because it uses Bluetooth and does not come with a cellular chip.
|Apple Watch Cellular + GPS||Apple Watch GPS|
|Minimum Requirement||iOS 14 on the iPhone 6s and later for Watch Series 4 onward.||iOS 14 on the iPhone 6s and later for Watch Series 3 onward.|
|Battery Life – Audio||Up to 7 hours; 5 hours if live streaming on Apple Music||Up to 10 hours|
|Battery Life – Talk Time||Up to 90 minutes||N/A|
|Family Setup Support||Yes||No|
|Storage Variants||32GB (Series 4, 5, 6)||8GB (Series 3); 32 GB (Series 4, 5, 6)|
|Monthly Expenses||Approx $10 each month, depends on individual network providers||$0.00|
Apple Watch Cellular vs. GPS: Case, screen material and Bands
Apple Watches generally come in two different sizes with the Cellular variant being much larger than the GPS version. So, while the GPS version does have its advantages in terms of price, it has considerable limitations when it comes to the cases, screen guards and even watches bands.
For example, the Apple Watch GPS variant is only limited to the Aluminum Sport and Nike + cases, in addition, to various third party cases. However, with the GPS + Cellular Watch, you can get Stainless Steel and Titanium cases in addition to the Aluminum Sport and Nike + cases.
Of course, from the price perspective a GPS + Cellular watch will sap a lot of money in the long run. For example, not only do you have to pay a hefty amount for the Apple watch itself but you’ll also have to pay the carrier charges every month.
In addition to this, the Apple Watch Cellular + GPS accessories, such as the cases, screen guards and bands tend to be more expensive. Especially due to size. The bands especially are extremely limited, making them more expensive.
The screen guards for the Apple Watch GPS+ Cellular are limited to the Ion-X glass display and the Sapphire crystal. You should go for the Saphhire Crystal if you tend not to be extremely physically active. This is because the Saphhire Crystal can easily protect your watch from scratches.
However, if you’re extremely active and if you’re worried that you might band your watch against something, then the Ion-X glass display is your friend. This display is soft and can protect the watch, unlike the sapphire crystal display that’s extremely easy to crack. However, it’s important to note that the Ion-X glass display is more susceptible to scratches than the Sapphire Crystal display.
How Apple Watch Cellular Works – Set Up
Though your Apple Watch does have an eSim embedded inside, the device does not come pre-activated right from the get go. You will have to follow a few steps in order to activate this feature, these are relatively easy to understand but here are a few prerequisites that have to be checked before setting up Cellular on your Apple Watch.
- The iPhone and Apple Watch should be running on the latest software version.
- Make sure the latest carrier settings are downloaded on the iPhone from Settings > General > About.
- Your iPhone should be connected to a working and active Sim card. If there is no Sim card or if the service has been cancelled, you will not be able to set up cellular services on your Apple Watch.
If these three requirements are met you can proceed to activate cellular service on your Apple Watch. This can be enabled on the Watch App found within the iPhone;
- Open the “Watch App” and tap on the “My Watch “tab.
- Tap on “Cellular” and proceed to set up the service on your Apple Watch.
- Make sure the instructions listed by the carrier are followed.
If there are issues or doubts pertaining to the instructions listed by your carrier it’ll be wise to contact your carrier directly for any queries.
Connecting to a Cellular Network
Once the Apple Watch has been configured, you are able to toggle between GPS and the cellular network automatically depending on whether your Apple Watch is in close proximity to your iPhone and WiFi connections or if you’re outside, far from both.
Once connected to the cellular network, you’re able to check the signal strength from the Control Center. In order to open the control center, tap and hold on the bottom of the display and swipe up.
Changing the network carrier on your Apple Watch
The rule of the thumb is that both your iPhone and Apple Watch must run on the same network carrier. The only exception to this rule is while setting up the Watch for a family member. Here, if you’re planning on changing the carrier on your iPhone, you will have to deactivate the current service plan and sign up for a new plan for the Apple Watch.
- Begin by opening the Apple Watch App on your iPhone.
- Proceed to tap on My Watch and select Cellular from the list provided.
- If it is a new plan you’re trying to activate, complete the setup and follow the onscreen instructions.
There may be instances where the previous carriers plan will appear on the Apple Watch application. This can be removed from within the Apple Watch App
- Tap on the ‘i’ information button located next to the name of the cellular plan.
- Click on “Remove” and tap on “Confirm”
Once done you may have to reach out to your service provider to cancel the subscription for your Apple Watch.
Since there is no sim card slot in the Apple watch it is impossible for it to have its own network carrier. Meaning it uses the carrier network and data from your iPhone. So, you won’t be able to sign up for different sim card or even a different Carrier.
As mentioned earlier, if your iPhone is one Sprint then your Apple Watch should also be on sprint. Based on the type of plan, your network carrier may allot a separate account number for your Apple watch. However, this does not mean you get a different phone number.
If you get the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch then you can access LTE connectivity. This will let you call, use Siri, navigate and use the internet on your Apple watch using the iPhone’s carrier plan. Even if you don’t have the phone with you. This primarily due to the eSIM. However, availing this option requires you to get in touch with a carrier and pay them a bit more.
How Apple Watch Cellular Works – Capabilities
The cellular variant of the Apple Watch series will provide you with access to everything internet based on your Apple Watch. When your Apple Watch and iPhone are not in close proximity to be connected via Bluetooth or there is no WiFi connection nearby, the Apple Watch will automatically switch to cellular mode giving you access to all the internet based applications on the Apple Watch. Your Apple Watch will be able to do the following
- With Cellular network, you will be able to use Siri to send or read messages, get directions to places, and answer questions about a certain topic.
- You can send and receive iMessages on the Apple Watch.
- You’re able to make and receive phone calls, if the Apple Watch is paired with AirPods then the whole process becomes easier and more convenient.
- You can check the weather on the Apple Watch with cellular by locating your position and displaying the details on the screen.
- You can control your Home devices via the Apple Watch.
- Locate and find your friends nearby.
- You’re able to set reminders on a daily basis.
- You can access and listen to podcasts, stream music and listen to the radio while on cellular networks with the Apple Watch Series.
The battery life of the cellular version of the Apple Watch 6 is fairly decent and it, unfortunately, is lower than the regular GPS version. This is naturally due to the influence of the carrier on the watch. Out of the overall 18 hour battery life, 4 hours are sapped by the carrier network. The other 14 is split between the time checks, notifications, app use, workouts and the Bluetooth connection to the phone.
The Regular GPS variant on the other hand can allocate a lot more juice to the above tasks. So, you actually use the other features of the watch for longer period of time. While 4 hours is a considerably huge difference, I personally value the fact you can make call more. However, this is only if you actually do have to get on call all the time.
If not, you seriously better off with the regular version of the Apple Watch. Especially, if fitness is your primary concern. Unlike their predecessors, the Apple Watch 6 and the Apple Watch 7 Cellular comes with a better CPU that allocates power more efficiently. So, It’s better to get the latest Apple Watches even though the price is a bit higher.
One more thing to note is that the battery life is dependent on a lot of factors like use, cellular network, configuration and even signal strength. So, the 4 hours is more of an average estimate.
The storage size is an extremely important factor when it comes to an Apple Watch. Especially, since your pretty much going to be storing music, various apps and other forms of media. And you definitely need to give it some thought as it can’t be expanded with an external SD card.
Of course, the Apple Cellular variants also have a huge range when it comes to storage space. For example, Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch Series 5 cellular variant comes with a 32GB storage space. However, the Apple Watch Series 4 only cones with a 16GB variant.
But then again, Apple doesn’t sell the Apple Watch Series 4 in an official capacity anymore. You can find it through a third party vendor or through Apple’s Renewed/Refurbished platform.
Anyway, we recommend you go for the 32 GB variant as it’s not only affordable but it comes with enough space for the majority of your playlist and apps. It also gives you that little leeway to have games and even store some photos and videos.
Price is extremely vital. Now, you are going to be paying slightly more for the cellular variant. However, it’s definitely worth the price when you consider all the features. However, if you don’t need to make calls or if you can connect to Wi-Fi constantly, even without your Hotspot, then you really aren’t missing out on much.
So, please do go through all the features of the cellular variant and take your decision if you think it’s absolutely worth it.
As for the Price, the GPS-only Apple Watch Series 6 started at $399 and it comes with a 40mm aluminium case. The Cellular variant of the Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $499, which is $100 more. The GPS-only Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, is $279 and its cellular variant is $329, which is $50 more. Which is surprisingly the better deal. However, we do recommend the Apple Watch 6 series.
Apple Watch Cellular Variants
Since the launch of the first Apple Watch 3 with Cellular service, Apple has released variants of all their smartwatches in the series. Let’s take a look at what each variant has in store for us.
Apple Watch Series 4
The Apple Watch Series 4 was the successor to the Series 3 with a larger display and louder speaker. The Watch Series 4 comes with
- A proactive health monitor (ECG) that tracks your heart rate and rhythm and a comprehensive activity tracker with personalized coaching allowing you to achieve rewards from your activity everyday.
- An updated fall detection system notifying your emergency contacts if you’re unresponsive after a fall.
- The Watch Series 4 is cellular enabled and can let you use the device as a Walkie-Talkie, respond to messages, pick-up calls and ask Siri for anything when you’re away from your iPhone.
Apple Watch Series 5
Available in 40mm and 44mm, the Apple Watch Series 5 is an extremely sought after device that is capable of switching from GPS to cellular for a seamless network connection. The Series 5 came with
- The Always-On display that never sleeps, an updated ECG application to track your heart rhythm and comes with a built in compass.
- The Apple Watch Series 5 can be taken on your daily or weekly swim to track your strokes and swim styles.
- Features the same build as the Series 4 but the most notable upgrade here is the Retina display.
- With the Apple Watch Series 5 you’re able to connect to your network carrier and access all your internet based applications on it. This is a handy feature that lets you find your way home or can be used to contact the last person you were with in case you think that you lost or misplaced your iPhone.
Apple Watch Series 6
The latest in the series, the Apple Watch Series 6 is a monster in terms of performance. The device was launched with
- An SPO2 tracker apart from the ECG and Health tracker. This gives a whole new meaning to what’s the max a smartwatch can do.
- With a new sleep tracker, Apple wants to make sure that their users benefit from the sleep they get by tracking sleep data and setting up sleep goals.
- The Watch Series 6 runs on the Always-On Retina display and is water resistant for up to 50 meters.
- Available in two new colour schemes, the Series 6 is the most innovative Apple Watch in the series and can be used standalone without an iPhone present nearby by connecting to the registered cellular carrier that is running on your iPhone. This lets you handle your work calls and will remind you of your important meetings so you’re never late again.
The Apple Watch Cellular Series is one of the best in its segment. With the features Apple is slowly embedding in their devices, we’re sure to reach the stage where we will never use a smartphone again and stick only to our watches.
Having a cellular option to the Apple Watch Series is a god-send as it’s better to always stay connected even though your iPhone is not close by. Though the only things you can’t do on the Apple Watch is browse the internet, to ask Siri to complete a task for you or simply reply to an email.
This being said, the article How Apple Watch Cellular works covers everything about the functionality and connectivity of the Apple Watch. Hope this was able to help you understand just how the cellular mode works in the Apple Watch.
Is Cellular worth it on Apple Watch?
At a premium of about $100 more than the GPS variant, with features like family support, access to Apple Music, a nice case, larger storage in the device and cellular service for when you’re away from your phone. Yes… it is worth the price.
Can I add cellular to my Apple Watch later?
Yes. With the Apple Watch you can either choose to set up the cellular function at the time of purchasing the watch or if you have had the watch for some time now and have decided to utilize this feature, you can by accessing the Watch App on your iPhone and configuring the settings.
Should I get cellular or GPS Apple Watch?
Well that is solely up to you. If you’re looking to use the Apple Watch along with your iPhone at all times then spending that extra $100 on the cellular variant won’t be right. But if you think that there may be instances where you might have to make some calls when you’re not going to be using your iPhone, then the cellular variant would be an ideal choice for you.
Alan Urban is the Editor-in-chief of Stupid Apple Rumours and often proclaims that he’s ” Apple’s number one fan.”
In addition to keeping up with the latest Apple news, he also reviews Apple products and creates user-friendly guides. When not subjecting Apple Devices to crazy stress tests, he’s usually playing games on Apple Arcade