Smart watches

Qualcomm’s new W5 chips could bring better battery life to smartwatches and glasses

Qualcomm’s next new next-generation wearable chip platform, called Snapdragon W5promises battery gains for the next few Google Wear operating system watches. On paper, the chips promise more powerful processing speed and better battery life, and they could allow smartwatches to do more things in low-power, always-on mode.

The 4nm system chipset, which is smaller than before, could also lead to smaller watch designs. But it could also hint at the evolution of a new wave of smart glasses and other wearables. The new chips appear to have better battery life, higher performance, global LTE support, and can work with multiple cameras for more advanced image recognition processing and video chat support. This could be a clear arrow to where future device tracking such as Meta Ray-Ban Stories the glasses aim for the next one.

A look inside a watch using Qualcomm's new chips, with the layers separating

Qualcomm’s new watch chipset is expected to boost battery life. It also adds more low-power, always-on features.


Watches: finally longer battery life?

Qualcomm has already made these promises: the Snapdragon 3100 The chip seemed to fix battery life issues, but Google Wear OS compatible watches still tended to average a day or two of battery life at best.

This time, however, the chip could mean watches that last 43 hours instead of 28 on a 300mAh battery, or up to 72 hours on a 600mAh battery. Those numbers suggest two to three days of use, which might not seem like a big change. But if it’s a true two-to-three day wear, that could mean skipping a day’s worth of charge without any hassle, which most popular smartwatches don’t do well.

A day without charging would mean a night when the watch could be worn to track sleep. Sleep tracking features have become more prominent on watches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and the apple watchand Fitbit’s sleep-tracking metrics could play a big role on the next Google Pixel Watch. We still don’t know what chips Samsung’s next watch, or the Pixel Watch, will have. Qualcomm’s new chipset has already been confirmed on a few upcoming watches: one from Oppo and the upcoming TicWatch from Mobvoi. It certainly looks like Qualcomm’s new chips are worth the wait on an Android Watch if the battery gains are as good as advertised.

Apple could follow a similar path. The company expects to have a running watch model this fall, which could be reinforced and have better autonomy. WatchOS 9 adds more in-depth sleep-tracking features, perhaps indicating that future watches might skip a night’s charge more easily.

Longer battery life means the watches can do more in a low-power “ambient” state, which could be used to limit certain watch functions. W5-powered watches could receive notifications, use Bluetooth, stream audio, and track health metrics, including heart rate, in low-power mode. The audio and health features in particular could end up being utilized by products that aren’t even watches at all.

wristwatch camera wristwatch

Wristcam, an Apple Watch accessory equipped with a camera. Could other Wear OS watches come with built-in cameras?

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Watches with cameras: for video calls or scanning QR codes and tickets

Qualcomm’s new chips will improve camera-enabled features, supporting 16MP camera ISPs as well as video calling. Previous Qualcomm watch chips had a version of this feature as well. Qualcomm’s early reference design models of its W5 smartwatches, and models coming this year, aren’t yet expected to have onboard cameras, but cameras would make sense for a variety of reasons. Beyond taking photos or having video chats on the wrist (which I’ve found isn’t very useful), the cameras could potentially be used to help scan tickets or codes. QR, adding to NFC and mobile payments to push how watches could verify events or interact with the world.

Qualcomm is pushing the idea of ​​more advanced machine learning for image recognition on these watches, perhaps in the same way that phones increasingly recognize text or objects with cameras. Could there be future use support for features like this? Very probably. For example, where delivery people could use watches to scan packages or take photos of delivered items in the same way tablets and phones are currently used.

Could that also mean smaller children’s watches?

Battery life isn’t the only benefit of these new chips: Qualcomm sees the smaller chip design as a doorway to smaller-sized, thinner watches, particularly those 38mm and possibly be even smaller. That could mean a wave of new watch designs, but it could also mean watches that choose a slimmer design over battery life gains, with smaller batteries on board.

Qualcomm head of wearables Pankaj Kedia told CNET that interest in watches connected to kids’ phones and cameras is trending. These new chips could also aim to incorporate more of these connected features into designs that might be suitable for kids (or anyone else).

Ray-Ban Facebook Stories 2021

Last year’s Ray-Ban Stories glasses were equipped with a camera. Could progress happen?

Scott Stein/CNET

Connected glasses: A hint of a new wave?

The first generation of Meta Ray-Ban Stories the glasses use Qualcomm’s 4100 line of watch chips, Qualcomm’s Kedia confirmed to CNET. For wearables that are smaller on the eyes or anywhere on the body, these W5-series chips might end up being a better fit than Qualcomm’s older, larger XR1 and XR2 AR-VR chips.

That’s the part that intrigues me the most: could the W5 be the harbinger of a wave of wearables that live between the wrist and the head, or some combination of the two? Meta has already spoken bangles being the next wave of VR/AR headset interaction. Could chips like the W5 power watches and headphones, and more advanced glasses, to start interacting and fitting together? And could Meta’s next pair of glasses also use these chips?

Kedia confirms that there are many possibilities, saying of Meta’s Ray-Ban glasses, “the reason they use them is because size and battery life matter.” Kedia hints that the trend is continuing. “Now with this platform, we have greatly improved the camera experience, modem experience, reduced power, reduced size. Expect more customers, different types of customers, different factors of form, to take advantage of this platform.”