Qualcomm’s long-awaited update to its smartwatch SoC line is official. These chips have typically been called “Snapdragon Wear,” but it sounds like that brand is dead, so it’s time to meet the “Qualcomm Snapdragon W5+ Gen1” and “Snapdragon W5 Gen1.” Qualcomm promises that the chips provide the company’s “most advanced leap yet,” which is not saying much for a company that previously went six years between major smartwatch chip releases.
The W5+ does seem like a major update, though. Compared to 2020’s Wear 4100, Qualcomm is promising “2X performance across CPU, GPU, camera, memory, and video/audio,” “50 percent longer battery life” providing “days of use,” and a “30 percent smaller” chip for sleeker designs.
Unlike the Wear 4100 at its time of release, the W5 is built on a state-of-the-art 4 nm manufacturing process. Qualcomm outfitted the chip with four ARM Cortex A53 CPUs running at up to 1.7 GHz and an Adreno A702 GPU. The “plus” version includes a second 22 nm SOC based on the Cortex M55 for screen-off background processes, like keeping the watch face updated, staying on top of notifications, and tracking fitness stats. Qualcomm promises low-power islands for Wi-Fi, GPS, and audio so that those features can be used without lighting up the whole chip. The SoC has support for an LTE modem, Wi-Fi 802.11n (aka Wi-Fi 4), and Bluetooth 5.3
Enlarge / Only the “plus” version gets that co-processor.
It’s hard to know where the W5+ will sit in the Android smartwatch chip hierarchy. Its competition, the Samsung Exynos W920, has two A55 cores built on a 5 nm process. Qualcomm has the process node advantage, but Samsung is using newer cores, and Qualcomm is using four cores compared to Samsung’s two. We need someone to run Geekbench on both watches, but it sounds like the two chips will split single-thread and multi-thread victories. At the very least, the Qualcomm chip is competitive, hopefully marking a new era of the company taking the smartwatch market more seriously.
Qualcomm says it already has round and square watch reference designs from ODMs Compal and Pegatron ready to go for partners. That will be helpful for the majority of Wear OS manufacturers, who are mostly just fashion brands that need a lot of third-party help. If you don’t make your own chips or have Google’s seemingly exclusive deal with Samsung, Qualcomm is the only game in town for smartwatch chips, so the company says partners have 25 designs in the pipeline already. Oppo and Mobvoi (the makers of TicWatch) are the first out of the gate and should have new watches with the chips out this fall.
Listing image by Qualcomm