Of the myriad reasons why Google’s Wear OS platform has struggled over the years, Qualcomm’s sluggish smartwatch chips are largely to blame. The chipmaker’s current Snapdragon Wear 4100+ platform is over a year old, running outdated process tech, and likely won’t run the upcoming Wear OS 3 nearly as well as Samsung’s newest watch chip. When Qualcomm announced a renewed interest in wearables, the company seemed to have gotten the memo. But new reports indicate that its next-gen smartwatch chip, the 5100, may be not be any faster than the current one.
To be fair, Qualcomm is in the early stages of developing a new Snapdragon Wear platform and things might change. However, German tech site WinFuture (via Android Authority) says that initial Snapdragon Wear 5100 samples use quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPUs—not the significantly beefier A73s as initially reported by XDA Developers. The A53s are also used in the current 4100 platform, which again, may not offer the best Wear OS 3 experience based on the smartwatches Google says will be eligible for upgrades in 2022.
It does, however, appear that Qualcomm is futzing with 1 or 2GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 8 or 16GB of flash storage. That would be a bump up from the current 4100 platform. WinFuture also notes that, once again, Qualcomm is sticking with a low-power co-processor—which was introduced with the 3100 chip—and should theoretically offer better battery life. So far, this sounds very Qualcomm. The odd thing is WinFuture also says some sample variants experiment with two cameras with 5MP and 16MP sensors, potentially hinting at a smartwatch with dual cameras.
The only smartwatch that’s been rumored to have dual cameras is whatever monstrosity Facebook’s building over in Menlo Park. And this Facebook smartwatch doesn’t even exist yet. The most advanced smartwatches on the market, like the Apple Watch, Fitbit Sense, and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, don’t even bother with cameras right now. Samsung had a camera on its Galaxy Gear smartwatches ages ago, and well, is it any wonder that feature disappeared? Meanwhile, Wear OS users have been begging for watches that don’t stutter and lag for ages.
Reader, tell me: Who is asking for one smartwatch camera, let alone two? It’s not that it’s impossible. I recently tried out the Wristcam for the Apple Watch, a watch band with a camera built in for video messaging and taking pictures on the fly. (You can see it in the photo above.) It works as advertised. But it’s also bulky, expensive, and charging the thing is a hassle. Perhaps one day we might want to add Face ID to our watches, but right now it would come at the expense of battery life—and most people think the current battery life on flagship smartwatches is already too short. Bumping up the RAM and flash storage is nice, but it’s unlikely the 5100 will offer a huge improvement in battery life over the 4100 based on the leaked specs we’ve seen. Fossil just announced its Gen 6 Wear OS watch, which is powered by the 4100 chip. It has an estimated battery life of 24 hours. Please, I don’t even want to think what that would dwindle down to if you added dual cameras.
Qualcomm can’t afford to continue dropping the ball. Google just confirmed it’s ditched Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips in favor of its own in-house silicon for the Pixel 6. It’s also rumored that Google’s working on its own chips for Chromebooks and tablets. Samsung is Google’s Wear OS buddy now. It’s not a stretch to think Google might also give up waiting on a decent Snapdragon Wear chip in favor of building its own for whatever premium Fitbit smartwatch is on the way. (Or perhaps, a Pixel watch?)
Again, it’s early days. Qualcomm could very well just be shooting the shit and tinkering around to see what’s possible. But seriously, Qualcomm, the dicking around can come later. Apple iterates on its wearable SoC every year. Samsung is already out here with a 5nm wearable chip that runs the new unified Wear OS quite well. It’s enabled Android users to finally have a full-featured smartwatch option that can rival the Apple Watch. All anyone out here wants is a good Snapdragon Wear chip so that literally any company other than Fossil and Samsung can make a good Android smartwatch. Qualcomm, can you keep your eye on the prize here? Is that really so much to ask for?