Wear OS smartwatches built on Google’s platform are known for being more style-conscious than the competition. But Wear OS devices have lagged behind the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Tizen OS watches because the majority of them are built on a 2-year-old Qualcomm chip, the Snapdragon Wear 2100.
Credit: QualcommDevices are still shipping with Qualcomm’s last-gen CPU — including a few watches announced this month at IFA — but Qualcomm has been working on a new chip, the Snapdragon Wear 3100, that will finally fix some of the biggest problems we’ve had with Wear OS watches.
The first Wear OS watch built on Snapdragon Wear 3100 will ship in October, with two more launching before the holidays. Here’s what you can expect from smartwatches, including devices coming soon from Fossil, Louis Vuitton and Montblanc, that have Qualcomm’s new chip baked in.
Qualcomm redesigned the 3100 to be more power- and battery-efficient, with an ultra low-power co-processor that runs alongside the main processor. The co-processor can handle many minor tasks that don’t require full-blown power, including basic fitness features such as step-counting and a colorful always-on display for telling the time.
Qualcomm’s new 3100 CPU has a second low-power processor that will handle many basic tasks more efficiently.Asking a Wear OS watch’s main processor to handle those small jobs drains the battery and makes the watch more sluggish, which is a big problem I’ve had with watches running on the 2100 chip.
The new chip makes possible a set of features that weren’t workable on past Wear OS watches, even with the improvements Google is rolling out on the software side. Matthew DeHamer, Qualcomm’s product marketing manager for wearables, said Google was heavily involved in the creation of Snapdragon Wear 3100.
“It’s been a two-year development building this co-processor,” DeHamer said. “A lot of time and engineering went into that, and a lot of work with Google. We haven’t been sitting on our laurels.”
The 3100 will enable Google to build out new features for Wear OS, while also giving smartwatch makers more control over how their devices look and how long they last on a charge.
The 3100 enables a new traditional watch mode will let you squeeze extra life out of your Wear OS device. Some Android watches have a battery saver mode that shuts down all features except for the time. The 3100 will enable two-day battery life in full smartwatch mode, which can be extended up to a week in traditional watch mode with a custom watch face and updating information from the watch’s sensors.
If you activate traditional watch mode on a full charge, you’ll be able to get a month of battery life out of a Wear OS device.
Some Wear OS watchmakers, such as Casio and Mobvoi’s TicWatch, have developed dual-layer displays to enable a similar watch mode feature. Qualcomm’s new co-processor makes that possible without physically separating the OLED display from a more power-efficient one.
Many Wear OS watches are made by luxury fashion brands, such as Montblanc and Louis Vuitton, that want their smartwatches to reflect the label’s aesthetic. That’s tough to do if the watch’s screen goes dark when inactive; a black display doesn’t exactly have personality. So the 3100 enables an enhanced ambient mode, which keeps the display on at all times with support for up to 16 colors, watch face complications that update in real-time and brightness levels that automatically adjust in sunlight.
The new chip will also make it possible to use a Wear OS watch as a full-color touchscreen device in GPS mode for up to 15 hours, which is a major development for makers of sporty smartwatches. On average, you’d be able to get three or four hours in workout mode from a Wear OS watch running on the 2100 chip today. Qualcomm is working with a dedicated sports watch maker to showcase those new fitness features in a watch coming early next year.
Qualcomm is using a new NFC chip in its next-gen wearables processor to support more mobile payment systems.
“Each brand can decide if they want to implement NFC, but we want to make sure it becomes the default,” Qualcomm’s Matthew DeHamer said. “There’s interoperability with different mobile payment systems and transit systems.”
Now that Google has confirmed that it won’t release its own Wear OS smartwatch this year, buyers interested in an Android watch will have to look elsewhere. With Google improving Wear OS on the software side and Qualcomm upgrading the guts to make new features possible, a better selection of devices is on the horizon.
We plan to put these new wearables to the test to see if the 3100 makes Wear OS watches worth buying.
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