For those who have just decided to buy a Apple Watch or replace an existing model with a newer one, the question may arise – what is the difference between GPS and GPS + Cellular. In this article, we will define what GPS means, review the main characteristics of the module in iWatch and find out what benefits each version provides.

What is GPS in Apple Watch? How it works?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System and is used to determine the coordinates and location of each individual device. Simply put, it is thanks to GPS Google Maps can determine your position in the city and build a route to the nearest Starbucks. 

The principle of operation, without going into technical details, is simple. There are many special satellites orbiting the Earth, which constantly transmit a signal to the surface. Apple Watch has a special module in its structure, which receives this signal and calculates the geographical coordinates based on the received values. Any mapping application or activity tracker can then take this data and correctly position the marker, allowing it to create a route and calculate the time of arrival.

GPS Satellites around the Earth

All of the latest models iWatch have a GPS module and when you do sports or jogging, they can automatically build the entire track of the runner, as well as the time it took to complete it.

Difference between GPS and GPS + Cellular

Apple Watch comes in two variations – these are models with GPS and models where there is both GPS plus Cellular module.

Cellular is an add-on in the watch’s chip that allows you to use a regular mobile network, just like you would do on an iPhone or any other smartphone. The only difference is that you can’t plug your usual SIM card into your iWatch. They use an eSIM hardware addition to make it work.

The eSIM or embedded sim – is an emulation (copying, imitation) of a standard, physical sim card module. One of Apple Watch’s chips includes a small section that allows it to connect to cellular networks of mobile operators.

Do I need a model with Cellular?

The answer to this question is simple enough. Is your phone with you all the time? Then you don’t need one. You might forget your phone, or you want to go for a run without it, or you’re trying to detox from it? Then Cellular will come in handy and allow you to keep track of all your physical activity.

You will have to pay extra for the eSIM module and get freedom from your smartphone, but you will still need an iPhone for the initial setup. After that you can safely put it aside and forget about it.

Apple Watch GPS range, accuracy of readings

As far as the range of the GPS itself is concerned, you are limited only by the satellites and your surroundings. There are now 32 GPS satellites in earth orbit, and they cover virtually the entire globe. For a good signal reception you can be hindered by objects that limit your view of the sky or by certain signal-absorbing materials indoors. Trees, buildings, mountains, anything that rises above you can reduce signal quality and the GPS range.

Materials that decrease the quality of GPS and Wi-Fi signals
Concrete, metal, water, wood – this is a small list of materials that reduce the range of GPS and Wi-Fi signals

Working radius from iPhone

The model with GPS is capable of working via two channels – Wi-Fi and bluetooth. The declared range of bluetooth depends on its version. Below we present a table with the description of the watch series in terms of their bluetooth versions:

NameBluetooth versionIndoor rangeOutdoor range
Series 14.210 meters50 meters
Series 24.010 meters50 meters
Series 34.210 meters50 meters
Series 45.040 meters60 meters
Series 55.040 meters60 meters
Series 65.040 meters60 meters
Series 75.040 meters60 meters
SE5.040 meters60 meters

10 meters = 33 feet = 11 yards

40 meters = 131 feet = 44 yards

50 meters = 164 feet = 55 yards

60 meters = 197 feet = 66 yards

If the bluetooth signal is lost, the iPhone can switch to the Wi-Fi network previously known to the iPhone. In this case, the range of operation will depend on the coverage area of the wireless network. Take into account the fact that the Apple Watch up to 6 series can only work in the 2.4 GHz band, 6 and above can additionally work in the 5 GHz networks. Below we present a table of operating ranges:

NameWi-Fi versionBandsIndoor radius
Series 1802.11b/g/n2,4 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 2802.11b/g/n2,4 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 3802.11b/g/n2,4 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 4802.11b/g/n2,4 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 5802.11b/g/n2,4 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 6802.11b/g/n2,4, 5 GHzUp to 100 meters
Series 7802.11b/g/n2,4, 5 GHzUp to 100 meters
SE802.11b/g/n2,4, 5 GHzUp to 100 meters

100 meters = 330 feet = 110 yards

It is worth noting that the quality of signal transmission both bluetooth and wi-fi indoors is affected by the material of the walls, their number and other obstacles. The more barriers – the worse the signal level.

Battery life with GPS enabled

As with any smart device, the more features it has on, the faster the chance of faster battery drainage. Apple provides the following data regarding battery life with GPS and sports activities enabled:

  • Series 7 – up to 7 hours
  • SE – up to 6 hours
  • Series 3 – up to 5 hours

The operating time is influenced by a number of factors, including the nature of use, certain configuration parameters, the quality of the cellular network operator’s communication.

Using GPS to check distance from iPhone

If you can’t find your phone or want to determine the distance to it, the already mentioned GPS and the “Find devices” application will help you.

Enabling location detection

Before you can use location detection, you need to make sure that all of your devices are registered to the same Apple ID. Also check that you have geolocation services activated on your phone (some people turn them off because they want privacy or to save battery power).  

Next, perform the following steps on the iPhone you want to locate:

iPhone Settings Find My
IOS Find My Settings
  1. Go to settings
  2. Click on your name (account name), next select “Find My”.
  3. Move the slider next to Find My iPhone (should turn green)
  4. If you want your phone to be discoverable by your family and friends as well, move the Share my location slider separately.
  5. If you want to enable device detection even if the device is not on the network, move the Find My network slider
  6. To enable location detection, in cases where the battery is low and there is a risk of your smartphone turning off, tap Send Last Location.

Now, to locate devices, on Apple Watch, go to the Find Devices app. A list of devices with their location and distance will appear in a list.

Find Devices app in Apple Watch


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