Snapdragon Wear 4100 is still a full step behind what Apple and Samsung are doing with wearable silicon

Galaxy Watch Active 2 Hero
Galaxy Watch Active 2 Hero (Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Wear OS smartwatches haven't caught on the way Google or any company making them would like. A big part of the reason why is simply poor performance. Qualcomm, the company that makes the processor inside the watches, just announced its latest chip that will try to fix this, the Snapdragon Wear 4100 series.

Qualcomm is quick to tout the improvement over the past generation of wearable chips and tells us it will be 85% faster and have 25% longer battery life. But that apples-to-apples comparison falls apart when you notice the oranges in the room: wearable chips from Samsung and Apple.

Wear OS has come a long way and companies making watches for the platform offer some really enticing products. Watches from Fossil or Montblanc can add a little style to your life and gear from Puma or Suunto bring serious focus on fitness; there is literally a Wear OS watch for everyone. The problem is they are all held back by weak chips from Qualcomm.

More: Wear OS could be amazing if Google and Qualcomm took it seriously

Qualcomm's new chips, which are an improvement over the current 3100 platform, aren't going to address the actual problem: being better than the previous poor experience isn't good enough when you can get a good, or better, experience from something else. And Qualcomm can address this better than any other company. Look at what has been done with the smartphone Snapdragon line of chips in recent years as proof.

Fossil Sport smartwatches

Source: Fossil (Image credit: Source: Fossil)

There is no Android phone that taxes the latest Snapdragon 865 flagship chip to its fullest capabilities. Even Qualcomm's midrange 600- and 700-series offerings for phones are pretty damn great. You couldn't say this just a few years ago, and it's a testament to Qualcomm's capabilities. Releasing a new 4100 wearables platform on a 12nm process with four power-hungry A53 cores — which is effectively just a Snapdragon 429 smartphone chip — doesn't show the same level of engineering magnificence.

The Snapdragon 4100 series is literally a generation behind the competition and it's going to show.

It seems like Qualcomm is doing the bare minimum while Samsung and Apple — the only companies selling wearables in numbers big enough to count — are recognizing that watches are different than phones and we use them differently. Most people with an Apple Watch Series 3 or newer or a Galaxy Watch will tell you that they are satisfied with the features, speed, and battery life — and that's what really counts with a smartwatch. And those benefits come from dedicated smartwatch chipsets — the Apple S5 and Exynos 9110 — that are built on much smaller processes and with wearable-specific designs.

Qualcomm doesn't need to reinvent the wheel here, but it does need to think outside of the box a bit. That's where a bit of good news comes in with the new and improved AON (always-on) coprocessor on the Wear 4100+. It's one space where Qualcomm is trying to take some load away from the actual CPU in the chipset for specific features. That will boost performance and lengthen the time away from the charger.

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Maybe I'll be happily surprised when the new batch of Snapdragon 4100 watches arrive. I'd love to see performance and battery life comparable to the Apple Watch from the next generation TicWatch Pro (opens in new tab). But I'm certainly not holding my breath and really think that Qualcomm is going to have to move away from the 12nm process to get there.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I am "satisfied with the [Galaxy Watch] features, speed, and battery life" but I occasionally pine for my old ticwatch pro because Samsung's software continuously grates on my nerves. I don't need wear OS devices to have the best specs, I just need the silicon to be good enough to support the clean, intuitive, reliable software.
  • If it weren't for Samsung, there is no way that anyone on the iphone\AW pairing could switch to Android. Once you've had an AW, you expect something to happen when you click on an icon. With WearOS you are left to wonder if you actually clicked on anything. I am still in disbelief that suunuto and polar made a Wear OS watch. They are crap.
  • The harsh reality for the fanboys is that Apple makes the best smartwatch. Nothing comes close.
  • I do agree with you that the Apple watch is best, but it's not a deal breaker and the difference is not that great. I have a cheap Ticwatch E, my son has an Apple watch, and we both have features the other likes. It's just a watch and not a thing you should call people names over.
  • I'm just stating what most of the people on this site are (except you of course), the truth is that the Apple Watch has been ahead of it's rivals for a while and I'd say that Qualcomm's new Wear OS chip is 2-3 generations behind Apple and to be honest, Google is to blame for the situation with Wear OS.
  • Aren't you near blind? (you've mentioned your vision impairment numerous times) You don't own a smartwatch... So why mouth off? My Galaxy Watch looks good and does the job. I never liked the rectanglular Apple watch, but I'm certain it's best for reading text messages and notifications.
  • The iWatch is just an ipod nano with a strap and a microphone. The Galaxy Watch looks like a proper watch.
  • I haven't had a smartwatch because there simply isn't anything that's good enoughb good enough on Android and have no interest in Samsung's Apple Watch clone because i plan on getting M Apple Watch which is better than your Galaxy Watch, and has accessability features that will help me with me Visaully impaired which Samsung and the rest don't because Apple focus heavily on accessability features for those that have disabilities and it's a known fact that most people with disabilities don't use Android or Samsung, it's Apple they use because Apple canters to their needs while Samsung and the rest of Android doesn't.
  • Meh it's a watch. Who cares. I like my Galaxy Watch but smartwatches aren't essential whoever makes it. The harsh reality is most don't care.
  • Not everyone wants apples ugly looking watch. I prefer my galaxy watch and even my iPhone friends prefer my Samsung watch over the apple one.
  • You forgot Garmin.
  • Why do people buy androids wear crap when you can buy a Samsung watch. My active watch 2 is amazing and don't really care about android wear anymore.
  • Why would you buy Samsung's garbage? When Apple Watch is far superior. Of course you Android fanboys aren't open minded enough to consider anything outside your Android or Samsung bubble.
  • Because he has a Android device? An Apple watch on it's own wouldn't be very good.
  • Beno,
    I respect your opinion but I am happy with my Tizen powered Active watch. I still have a pebble color that works just fine. I don't need all the extras. Just text and phone notifications is why I went with smartwatch in the first place years ago. My kids switched from Android to IOS because of how well apple's ecosystem is with school issued Ipads, etc., but one still uses his active watch on ios. Being different doesn't mean being wrong or inferior.
  • Are you dumb? It's called android central? Why would I buy an apple watch if it doesn't work with my android phone?
  • Here lately, it's been Anything Central...
  • I'm not satisfied with Galaxy Watch features. They're too limited. It's only useful for Notifications and Media control. There's still no WhatsApp app. Speed and Battery are good though.
  • My Android Wear watches are collecting dust.
  • Isn't a bit premature to say it's bad without even using it? Having smaller circuits does not guarantee faster speeds or better battery life. Neither do benchmarks. Remember how the iPhone X got embarrassed?
  • The iPhone X got embarrassed? By a losing by a measly few seconds to most Android phones? Still which Android phones from 2017 are still supported outside of the Pixel which the 2 and 2 XL will stop being supported in October while the iPhone X will get a least another 3 years of software support thanks to Apple's superior integration with their software and hardware because they make both.
  • LG G series, LG V series, Samsungs S series, Samsung Note series, probably others. The pixel 2 will get android 11 this year and all of its updates for at least another year. The idea that android phones are only supported for 2 years is a thing of the past for the major manufacturers.
  • I liked how Wear OS operated when it was operating on my Fossil. The interface for me was better than the Samsung, but that's a personal choice. I would give a Fossil another try with the 4100 and a 1GB of Ram.
  • Love my Fossil Sport, but does need to be charged almost daily
  • Samsung watch + google assistant = best watch ever