Image source: Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s new chip gives Android watches a battery boost

Qualcomm has unveiled its next generation smartwatch chip. The Snapdragon Wear 3100 will appear in Android watches later this year, the company said at an event in San Francisco earlier today. It brings new low-power modes, sports watch-focused tweaks and improved always-on watch faces.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

Qualcomm currently holds more than 80% of the WearOS space. A major problem with these watches, though, is short battery life. The new chipset replaces the Snapdragon 2100 which is now some two and a half years old. It adds a secondary low-power processor (the QC1110), which handles most of the work when a smartwatch isn’t in use.

“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].”

What this means is that Snapdragon 3100 combines old and new technology. The co-processor helps to reduce battery consumption while the watch is in standby. Qualcomm says it uses 20x less power compared to the standard chipset, which translates into big battery life gains.

qualcomm s new chip gives android watches a battery boost 1 - Qualcomm's new chip gives Android watches a battery boost
Image source: Qualcomm

The chipset will come in three variants. One for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi tethered smartwatches, one for GPS-based tethered smartwatches, and the final one for 4G LTE connected smartwatches.

Traditional Watch Mode

In regular smartwatch mode WearOS devices will have battery life that lasts up to 2 and a half days on a single charge. This improves on smartwatches running the 2100 platform by between 4 and 12 hours (depending on the device).

There is now a new Traditional Watch Mode which operates on the new ultra-low power co-processor. It keeps the watch going for about a week with basic smartwatch functions. A useful feature if you forget to charge your device or are off traveling.

Sports Performance Mode

The chipset also brings a low-power mode for tracking fitness. For a watch operation on a typical 450 mAh battery, battery life will be extended to 15 hours when using GPS and heart rate tracking at the same time. In this mode other smartwatch features will be inactive.

Enhanced Ambient Mode

A major advantage of WearOS watches over the Apple Watch is their always-on watch face. Snapdragon Wear 3100 brings a third mode. This one comes with a much richer ambient display designed for use on fashion watches.

Watches will have the ability to show smooth-moving second hands, live up-to-date information via complications, up to 16 colors and adaptive brightness. The live complications, in particular, sound useful. This could be info such as remaining battery life, steps taken that day or calories. Qualcomm has not specified the battery life in this mode.

qualcomm s new chip gives android watches a battery boost - Qualcomm's new chip gives Android watches a battery boost

We’ve already had a few Wear OS next generation launches in the past month. Unfortunately the offerings from Casio, Diesel and Skagen will not feature the new chip. Montblanc Summit 2 which is set to land in October, a yet-to-be named Fossil watch, a “major sports brand” and the Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon will be the first to sport the Qualcomm 3100. More partners will be announced soon.

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