Snapdragon-based Wear OS smartwatches haven't typically kept pace with rivals from Apple and Samsung. The Wear 4100+ was built using relatively old manufacturing processes, and the performance was rarely noteworthy. Qualcomm appears to have taken some of those criticisms to heart, though, as it's introducing Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and W5+ Gen 1 chips (so long, Wear branding) that not only promise much-needed speed and battery life improvements, but might expand the range of wearables that use the company's technology.
The star of the show, the Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1, makes the leap from a 12-nanometer system-on-chip in the 4100+ (already somewhat outdated by 2020) to a cutting-edge 4nm design with much newer Adreno 702 graphics and support for 2,133MHz memory, albeit with the familiar quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 architecture. The new W1 AON co-processor, meanwhile, has moved from 28nm to 22nm, uses the newer Cortex-M55 architecture and includes the Bluetooth functionality previously reserved for the more demanding main SoC. There are also low-power "islands" in the main chip that let audio, navigation and WiFi run without waking other components, while new Deep Sleep and Hibernate states lean almost exclusively on the co-processor when tasks only require the bare minimum of computing power.
The result, according to Qualcomm, is twice the performance with 50 percent greater battery life in typical use. You can expect more uses of 3D on your watch (such as maps and Memoji-style watch faces), and you might not have to worry about your wristwear dying before the day is over. AI-based tasks like real-time image recognition and voice assistants should get a boost, too. And when the W5 line has up to a 35 percent smaller footprint, it should allow for slimmer, smaller watches.
The regular Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 is basically a W5+ without the co-processor — it's up to third-party chips to fill in the gaps. While the W5+ is aimed mainly at Wear OS smartwatches, the W5 is geared more toward kids' watches, medical devices and other worn devices that might not be as demanding. In a chat with Engadget, Qualcomm's Smart Wearables head Pankaj Kedia said he saw the W5 line opening a "series of new opportunities" to reach brands and device categories that were previously off-limits.
You won't have to wait long for the first products based on the platform. Oppo will release a Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 watch within the next 30 days, while Mobvoi is preparing a W5+ Gen 1 smartwatch for the fall. There are 25 more designs already on the way, Qualcomm said. While the company didn't name any of these other customers, it won't be surprising if some of the better-known Wear OS watchmakers adopt the technology in the months ahead.