Smartwatch design and features have been stagnant in recent years, and that’s mostly due to the mediocre mobile processors we’ve had available. The Snapdragon Wear 2100 was running on old technology when it launched in 2016, and Qualcomm has been slow to launch a newer wearable chip. The updated Wear 3100 is finally official today with a new system architecture designed for improved battery life and better sensor management. Don’t expect a quantum leap in wearable technology, though.
According to Qualcomm, the Wear 3100 was designed from the ground up for wearable devices, whereas the Wear 2100 was a repurposed smartphone chip that the company optimized for watches. The new Wear 3100 consists of three parts: a quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU (28nm) cluster, a DSP (digital signal processor), and an ultra-low-power co-processor.
The Wear 2100 also used a quad-core A7 CPU cluster, but most watches only used one or two of the cores. In addition, those A7 cores were always online. Even when the watch was asleep, the A7 CPUs would be wasting power. The new coprocessor, known as the QCC1100, uses 20 times less power than an A7 CPU. If your smartwatch is asleep (Wear OS would call this Ambient Mode), the CPU cores are completely offline so the co-processor can run the show.
Meanwhile, the DSP handles all the sensor data from the watch, taking the strain off the other components. So, if your watch is counting steps or tracking your heart rate, the DSP processes all that data in real time. The A7 CPU cluster only flips on when you wake up the watch and use it. Qualcomm says new optimizations ensure the A7 cores can run faster during these so you can finish what you’re doing and let the watch go back to sleep.
Qualcomm says that devices running the Wear 3100 can get 4-12 hours of additional battery life compared with devices with the Wear 2100. This estimate is based on a 400mAh battery, and the specific savings depend on how often you wake the watch up from sleep.
With the aid of that coprocessor, Google’s Wear OS will have an improved ambient mode with a second hand, more colors, and live sensor data. In the past, Ambient mode only supported updates once per minute to save power. Now, there’s a custom display controller specifically for the QCC1100. In fact, Wear OS watches with the Wear 3100 will support a traditional watch mode where only the coprocessor is active. Without any smartwatch functionality, the device can run for a month on a charge.
The first smartwatches with Wear 3100 will launch in the coming weeks, and all new smartwatches should be on Wear 3100 next year.
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