Qualcomm launches Snapdragon Wear 5 Plus

While Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear chips power most current Wear OS watches, the platform has never really furnished. Thus far, Snapdragon Wear chips have been mobile processor configurations made on outdated tech and are a significant reason why Wear OS watches have been so lackluster.

Qualcomm is pitching an overhauled wearables platform called Snapdragon W5 Plus and W5. And this time, it appears like Qualcomm means business.

For beginners, the company is ditching the Snapdragon Wear branding. That might seem unrelated, but it’s more like a metaphorical fresh slate. Instead, the new W5 and W5 Plus chips will be tucked under the central Snapdragon umbrella.

The W5 Plus is anticipated for premium smartwatches, while the W5 is meant for simpler devices such as fitness trackers, smartwatches for kids, and enterprise devices. Qualcomm’s global chief of intelligent wearables, Pankaj Kedia, said both chips are built explicitly for wearable devices. As in, they’ve not repurposed smartphone chips.

Spec-wise, the platform supports the hybrid architecture featured in the Snapdragon Wear 3100 and 4100 chips. The central processor for interactive tasks and an always-on coprocessor to help conserve battery. For the W5 Plus, Qualcomm will get a giant leap from 12nm to 4nm on the powerful chip and from 28nm to 22nm on the coprocessor. For context, Samsung’s Exynos W920, which energizes the Galaxy Watch 4, utilizes 5nm approach tech. Apple’s S7 chip for the Apple Series 7 Watch employs a 7nm process. It isn’t to say the W5 Plus is automatically better because it’s on 4nm — it’s better than Qualcomm is finally using current approach tech like its peers.

The always-on coprocessor powers feature the main SoC previously handled with the W5 Plus platform. In addition, they include audio, keyword detection for digital assistants, and notifications via low-power Bluetooth 5.3. Meanwhile, the coprocessor handles health tracking features like monitoring sleep and heart rate. Kedia says the coprocessor can also sustain onboard machine learning, though we’ll have to notice if and how companies make use of that.

The central processor only uses interactive features like calling, 3D watch faces and animation, or GPS navigation. Qualcomm’s press release says the outcome is 50 percent extended battery life, double the performance, and a 30% reduction in size compared to the 4100 platforms. In addition, the W5 Plus platform should deliver multi-day battery life in some cases, which a Wear OS watch has yet to achieve.

Bluetooth watches with an always-on display modeling a 300mAh battery will see roughly 15 hours of additional battery. However, because these numbers are based on Qualcomm’s internal research, it’s impossible to say how that’ll translate to an actual Fossil smartwatch.

The greater power efficiency and diminutive chip size will enable manufacturers to complete smaller, sleeker watches. If authentic, that’s big news for folks with smaller wrists. Institutions with more advanced features manage to add bigger batteries to compensate for the additional power drain. Sure enough, smartwatch measures have slowly but steadily increased over the years. Case in point, a more extensive Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is all but confirmed.

But perhaps the most significant change is there’ll barely be a wait before the first Snapdragon W5-powered watches hit stands. Oppo states it’ll be the first to launch a look on the W5 platform with the Oppo Watch 3 in August. Likewise, Mobvoi expresses its next TicWatch will establish with the W5 Plus chip this fall.

That’s a significant shift from the past. For example, the Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform was declared in 2018, but we didn’t notice most wearable makers adopt the SoC until fall 2019. The wait was even more, alarming with the Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform. That was announced in the summer of 2020, but only two smartwatches featured it a year after launch. Even now, only a handful of 4100-powered smartwatches are on the market.

Wear OS 3 hasn’t had the silkiest start, and we still don’t know how it’ll run on a non-Samsung smartwatch. The top non-Samsung smartwatch to run Wear OS 3 is the prohibitively expensive Montblanc Summit 3, which just launched and ran on a last-gen 4100 chip. Meanwhile, it’s rumored an older Samsung chip will power the forthcoming Google Pixel Watch. So, we won’t know how a Wear OS 3 watch powered by a recent Qualcomm chip can serve until Mobvoi’s W5 Plus-powered TicWatch docks this fall.

The transition to Wear OS 3 was always rocky, but it also looks like the pieces may start falling into place. Last year, Samsung and Google began to embarking the software flank of the equation by creating a unified software platform. Now, Qualcomm seems to be following up with next-gen hardware. Then again, Qualcomm has failed to deliver before. Still, between the massive leap in process tech, the rebrand, and trimmed wait time to market — maybe this time Qualcomm will finally get it right.