The Apple Watch gained the option for cellular functionality back in 2018 when the Apple Watch 3 launched. Before the arrival of the cellular Apple Watch, the feature had been held up as a missing piece of functionality by those competitors that did include LTE support in their own smartwatches, but is the cellular capability really that necessary? When you consider that the cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 8 costs an extra $100/£110, and then you also have to pay for a plan, you may well be wondering if it’s even worth getting a cellular Apple Watch. We’re here to help answer that question.
Why you need an Apple Watch with cellular
The benefits of cellular connectivity on an Apple Watch are pretty clear-cut. Rather than having to carry both your Watch and your iPhone around with you, you could leave the house with simply your Apple Watch. There’s some functionality that works without requiring cellular, or your phone being present—Apple Pay, for example, or fitness tracking—but this expands that roster even further.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
There’s a particular benefit to fitness users: runners can, for example, stream music from Apple Music or another service, rather than fussing with syncing music to the Watch’s local storage. They can also continue to get notifications while they work out, including iMessages and emails—though whether that’s a benefit or a distraction will probably differ from person to person.
A cellular Apple Watch will also be able to make and accept phone calls without requiring your iPhone.
Another reason why you might need cellular is if you plan on setting up an Apple Watch using Apple’s Family Setup feature. Family Setup allows you to set up an Apple Watch for a family member who doesn’t have their own iPhone. Apple says that “A cellular plan isn’t required to set up an Apple Watch for a family member, but is necessary for some features.” To get the full functionality you will need an Apple Watch Series 4 or later with cellular.
Apple Watch Series 8
Why you don’t need an Apple Watch with cellular
However, there is plenty that your Apple Watch can do without cellular or an iPhone present. For many features, all you need is to be able to connect to a Wi-Fi network, which may well be available. We discuss All the things an Apple Watch can do without an iPhone in a separate article.
Whether or not you need cellular will depend a lot on what you intend to use your Apple Watch for. Ask most current owners of an Apple Watch how much they really use it for, and I guarantee that the answers are far more limited than the full capabilities of the Watch. But little of that has to do with the lack of cellular connectivity on the Apple Watch—we don’t think most Apple Watch users are annoyed that they can’t get their notifications when their phone isn’t nearby, because most of the time their phone is nearby.
Another reason to avoid an Apple Watch with cellular is that the capability may be a drain on battery life. The device’s battery performance will be impacted by the extent that you use cellular, so you might not want all those notifications, and you might not want to stream Apple Music at the highest quality, for example. Look at ways to maximize battery life on the Apple Watch and ways to save data on the Apple Watch.
Finally, there’s also the financial question. The cellular-enabled model is more expensive than the non-cellular offerings, plus, on top of that cost, no cellular provider is going to give away data for free, so there will either be an additional monthly data cost, or you will be sharing data with your iPhone, either way, it’s likely to cost you more.
We don’t think that those tradeoffs are worth the seemingly meager bonus of adding cellular connectivity to the Apple Watch.
Apple Watch SE (2022)
How much does a cellular Apple Watch cost?
Some networks will charge you extra to get data on your Apple Watch, while others allow you to add it to an existing iPhone contract and share the data you use.
In the U.S. you can get a cellular Apple Watch plan with AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Xfinity Mobile, and many more. See Apple’s exhaustive list of providers. Most plans cost $10 a month for unlimited data in conjunction with an existing wireless phone plan.
- AT&T and Verizon the 41mm Apple Watch Series 8 for $13.89 a month for 36 months, though you can get it for less with a trade-in.
- T-Mobile will sell you an Apple Watch SE, 40mm, for $99, when you activate a new line on a qualifying Apple DIGITS or Apple Watch Standalone line. This will allow you to activate your existing T-Mobile plan on your Apple Watch.
- Xfinity Mobile includes unlimited talk and text with a $10 smartwatch fee.
In the U.K., you can get a cellular Apple Watch contract with 3, EE, O2, and Vodafone. (Only 3 and EE support Family Setup though).
- Three (3) offers the 41mm Apple Watch Series 8 with cellular for £529. The cheapest option is the Apple Watch SE 2020 cellular model for £299. To connect your watch to your iPhone on 3’s network you’ll need to sign up for 3’s Smartwatch Pairing Plan, this requires you to already be on an iPhone Pay Monthly or SIM-only plan with 3. The Smartwatch Pairing Plan allows you to share your monthly data plan between your iPhone and Watch, so there is no additional cost.
- EE’s Apple Watch offers include an Apple Watch Series 8, 41mm, with 4GB data for £28 a month and zero upfront cost.
For more advice on buying an Apple Watch see our round-up of the best Apple Watch deals and take a look at our Apple Watch buying guide.