Who remembers back when wearables were gonna explode and create the craziest new market and everyone was going to have sensors in their pants, shirts, watches, eyeballs, and everywhere else? Well, back in the end days of 2013 Qualcomm announced its Snapdragon 400 platform to power all these amazing new devices. Initially it had up to four 32-bit A7 cores, LTE support, Bluetooth 4.0, an Adreno 306 GPU and some single channel LPDDR2/3, all built on 28nm tech. It failed to set the market on fire, and many complaints followed about battery life and performance. I had a device with the 400, and I found the performance underwhelming to say the least. The SOC wasn’t built to necessarily be a wearable platform, and so in 2016 they announced the Wear 2100 platform. Still largely unchanged, it was slightly faster, but still a 28nm platform rocking A7 cores, though it now had a BIG.little setup. It also added SOC support for GPS, NFC, and a few other connectivity options. However, in 2016 it did not hold up to the Apple Silicon in the Apple Watch in pretty much any metric. I’ve got a 2100 watch on my wrist right now, running the mostly abandoned WearOS and it is, unsurprisingly, not a noticeably better experience than the 400. It’s often a frustrating device to use and many features simply don’t work reliably, such as Google Now.
To address its lagging position, Qualcomm announced the 3100 series, but as you can guess, it also was an A7 platform on 28nm, largely unchanged from the others, excepting a new co-processor they brought on board to help reduce battery drain. Qualcomm claimed it would “fundamentally… …reimagine smartwatch experiences.” Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
Today, however, Qualcomm has finally brought new major improvements to the platform, announcing the 4100 and 4100+. They’re finally on a newer process, 12nm, and sporting the 64 bit Cortex-A53. Graphics are powered by the Adreno A504 and Qualcomm is claiming almost double the performance in graphics and processing. The older devices using Snapdragon Wear always felt like they were memory limited, and that’s still up to the device manufacturer. Bluetooth 5.0 also makes the cut.
For the 4100+ Qualcomm claims a >25% improvement in battery life, thanks to the AON co-processor. It helps reduce power draw for a number of features, such as sensors, when the screen is off, timers, and generally whenever the watch is functioning as a more traditional watch. The 4100 has no battery improvement claims. Since I usually finish my day with roughly 20% battery life, this still wouldn’t get me a full two days on my Ticwatch. Double the performance would make it a non-frustrating device, however.
Whether there is finally an OS to take advantage of the new platform is unclear. WearOS has struggled for years. Samsung’s Tizen watches are often on its Exynos platform. Fitbit is now a Google company and what software they’ll be running hasn’t been announced. Nor has Google been terribly successful in hardware manufacturing.
WearOS with finally decent performance would still be a significant improvement, though I’ve heard that the 3100 isn’t too bad when paired with oodles of memory. Look for Snapdragon 4100 devices coming to market later this year.