The biggest limitation for any mobile gadget is battery life. It's often not a matter of whether your phone or watch can do something, but what the cost of that something is in battery life. And much like your phone, it's really important for your watch to last you the entire day no matter what you do with it. Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor is in basically every watch that doesn't have an Apple logo on it right now, and when you consider it's been a couple of years since we've seen a new processor, that's kind of a problem for adding new features onto watches.
With the launch of its new Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, Qualcomm is promising a smaller, faster chip with better power management. While that naturally means we can expect new features from manufacturers coming soon, the bigger news, in my opinion, is the dramatic impact on battery life. Here's what you can expect from this new chip, according to Qualcomm.
Battery sipping, not gulping
If you look at an existing Snapdragon Wear 2100 watch, there are a few things you'll find universally true. With "average" use, the watch will get you one full day (18-24 hours) of use and not much more. If your watch has a low power mode, you can stretch that by 6-12 hours depending on the manufacturer and battery capacity. Ultra Low Power modes, like the one on the TicWatch Pro, will extend the battery for considerably longer but dramatically reduce features.
Excessive GPS usage, like for fitness tracking, will drain the battery fairly quickly. Heavy voice translation or calls through the watch will drain the battery fairly quickly, and of course playing music from the watch via Bluetooth headphones will drain the battery fairly quickly. These are universal constants with these watches, not really something one Snapdragon Wear 2100 watch does better than another.
The good news is Qualcomm's latest chip tackles all of these things, and boasts some fairly promising improvements. According to Qualcomm, the Snapdragon wear 3100 processor offers:
- 49% lower power use for GPS activities
- 34% lower power use for MP3 playback
- 67% lower power use for Low Power modes
- 13% lower power use for Voice Queries
Some of these reductions are going to have huge, immediate benefits to users. The GPS reduction means apps like Strava, which usually consume 35% of the battery on my watch in a 4 hour ride, will now consume nearly half that. Low Power modes will be better, music playback will be more useful, and all of those actions add up fast. All of this paints a fairly clear picture of a future watch generation that will last more than one full day even when using the watch to its fullest, and the ability to extend into possibly multiple days if you really need it.
New features are coming
Reduced power consumption means developers and manufacturers have more room to play with new features. One of the biggest drops in battery consumption with this new processor is hotword detection, which will consume on average 43% less battery when active. This means OK Google will not only be a standard feature people will want to keep enabled, but also that more hotword-style features will be considered standard.
This flexibility also means more features will likely become available when you're trying to save battery. Qualcomm estimates a Snapdragon Wear 3100 watch will get you through an entire day no matter what you do, but in low power modes, that same watch is expected to get the user through an entire week of use. That's a fun figure to brag about in a presentation, but in practice, that only works if the watch is able to be more than just a watch in these low power modes. If watch manufacturers are able to offer a watch with a week's worth of battery and still offer basic fitness tracking or even simple notifications, that's going to be a much bigger deal.
It's clear we're going to be seeing and hearing a lot more about watches packing this new processor in the coming weeks, but the picture painted with the battery life claims in particular is enticing. It's exciting to think about smartwatches lasting a week being the new normal, but it's even more exciting to think about what apps are going to look like on these wrist computers when that flexibility becomes available.