The wearables market is more diverse than ever, but if there’s one constant, it’s the battle between richer functionality and preserving battery life; one of several areas that Qualcomm’s newly revealed Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and W5 Plus Gen 1 chipsets hope to address.
The two new chips promise huge gains in terms of performance and functionality, as well as battery life – one of the biggest hurdles even the makers of the best smartwatches constantly struggle to improve.
Qualcomm’s last major wearable chipset launch was just over two years ago – in the form of the Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform – and like its predecessor, the 2022 offering also comes in two flavors: the Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and the W5 Plus. Gen 1 (stylized as ‘W5+ Gen 1’), which have been rebranded to complement the name of the company’s latest smartphone-centric chips; retracting the ‘Wear’ in ‘Snapdragon Wear’ to simply ‘W’ and adding ‘Gen 1’ at the end.
Aside from the name, the two models offer a similar range of benefits, made possible by the switch to a much more refined 4nm process (down from 12nm on the 4100 line). Building on a 30% smaller process offers the biggest improvement, creating a much more efficient chip which in turn means better battery life.
The new chip design also features dedicated low power ‘islands’ for audio, WiFi and GPS, and supports new low power states dubbed ‘Deep Sleep’ and ‘Hibernate’ which help to further increase battery longevity. .
The ‘Plus’ also denotes an additional co-processor that shares the load with the main W5 chip with its own ‘RTOS’ to support the low-power functions of a wearable.
Compared to the Snapdragon Wear 4100+, Qualcomm claims that an equivalent smartwatch with Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1 offers twice the battery life, twice the performance and higher fidelity experiences.
In real-world terms, that means the next wave of smartwatches using these Qualcomm chips will offer smoother, more responsive user experiences than the current crop, with twice the time between charges.
The Oppo Watch 3 is already confirmed to feature a W5 Gen 1 and will arrive in August, while Mobvoi has committed to employing the new top-of-the-line W5+ Gen 1 in its next smartwatch.
Analysis: Should Apple Watch be concerned?
One of the big upgrades Apple added to the current Apple Watch 7 was fast charging, offering 33% faster charging compared to the Apple Watch 6, but the company was already catching up to Qualcomm’s latest wearable silicon in that regard, with offers like Fossil Gen 6, powered by Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus, has its own fast charging that recharges the phone to 80% charge in just 30 minutes.
With the advancements the W5 lineup brings to the table, that gap is only widening unless Apple does something special in the power efficiency department on the Apple Watch 8.
The flip side is that despite Qualcomm’s prominent position in the market and – in the case of the W5 range, a direct effort to optimize Google’s wearable platform Wear OS 3 – its wearable chips often struggle to find a foothold. behind the Apple Watch and Samsung’s popular Galaxy Watch line.