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Author Topic: Qualcomm finally has a new chip for the next generation of Android smartwatches  (Read 278 times)

Offline ukbenstar

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A low-power processor adds battery life and improves ambient displays

It’s been two and a half years since Qualcomm last released a major new smartwatch chip, and in the time since, Android smartwatches have languished. But in the coming months, they could finally start seeing some meaningful improvements: Qualcomm is releasing a new processor for watches, called the Snapdragon Wear 3100, that’s meant to extend battery life, enhance always-on displays, and offer more versatility when it comes to sports devices and fitness sensors.

The new chip’s key feature is the addition of a secondary low-power processor, which is supposed to handle most of the work when a smartwatch isn’t in use. This co-processor will power a watch’s sensors and ambient display, doing so while using up to 20 times less energy than the main processor would, according to Qualcomm.

“The 95 percent of the time when you’re not actually interacting with [your watch], you are in ambient mode or always-sensing mode,” says Pankaj Kedia, Qualcomm’s wearables leader. “So the co-processor, that’s where you are 95 percent of the time ... we are doing less and less things in the main [processor].”

THE MAIN PROCESSOR HASN’T CHANGED FROM LAST GENERATION

For this chip generation, that’s about all that’s changing. Both the Wear 3100 and the Wear 2100, its predecessor, share the same main processor — so there’s no reason to expect major speed gains. The co-processor is the main improvement, and that means almost all of the enhancements enabled by Qualcomm’s new chip come from what the co-processor can do.

A lot of those improvements are related to battery. Qualcomm estimates more than a day of battery life for a typical Wear OS smartwatch, or around a five-hour boost over current fashion-style models. Companies could also choose to use a smaller battery and slim down their watch. Sports watches are supposed to get a boost, too. The new chip is designed to do a better job with GPS, helping them run nonstop with around 15 hours of usage — though Qualcomm is assuming these watches will have larger batteries in the first place, meaning thicker devices.

The co-processor is also supposed to allow for a much richer ambient display. Qualcomm says a watch can now show a smoothly moving second hand as well as live-updating complications, like a step counter, and do all of that in up to 16 colors. Most of that does not sound particularly impressive, but one of Wear OS watches’ few advantages over the Apple Watch has been their ability to show a watch face at all times; adding complications to that will make the feature even more valuable.

Smartwatches with a Wear 3100 processor will gain one other handy trick: if their battery gets low, the major functions of the smartwatch can shut off, allowing the battery to last potentially for days longer while powering a simple watch face. Qualcomm says that from 20 percent battery, you’d get a week of additional use in this mode. The downside, though, is that Wear OS shuts down, so you don’t get features like notifications. But it’ll at least continue to tell the time.

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