Wear OS is getting a multi-generational leap in power thanks to Samsung

Samsung's 5 nm Exynos W920.
Enlarge / Samsung’s 5 nm Exynos W920.

Tomorrow is Samsung’s big event for the back half of 2021, and in addition to launching some foldable smartphones, the company is expected to reveal the Galaxy Watch 4 and the big Wear OS revamp it is working on with Google. Google is cooking up the first major Wear OS release since 2018, and Samsung is abandoning Tizen for smartwatches and going all-in on Wear OS with the Galaxy Watch 4. Last night, Samsung took the wraps off the main SoC for the Galaxy Watch 4, and compared to what Wear OS usually gets, Samsung is shipping a beast of an SoC.

The “Samsung Exynos W920” will be a multi-generational leap in performance for Wear OS. Samsung says this is a 5 nm chip with two ARM Cortex A55 cores and an ARM Mali-G68 GPU. For the always-on display mode, there’s an additional Cortex M55 CPU, which can keep the watch face ticking along while using minimal power. There’s also an integrated LTE modem for on-the-go connectivity.

Compared to Samsung’s previous smartwatch chip, the Tizen-only Exynos 9110 (10 nm, 2x Cortex A53), the company is promising “around 20 percent” better CPU performance and “ten times better graphics performance.” Remember that the Exynos 9110 is from 2018, so those comparative numbers are inflated, but at 5 nm, this is a more modern chip than Wear OS has ever seen.

Wear OS has suffered for years at the hands of Qualcomm, which has been starving the ecosystem of quality SoCs for wearables. Most people’s last experience with Wear OS is the Snapdragon Wear 2100 or 3100 SoCs, both of which were ancient Cortex A7 CPUs built on a 28 nm process. Qualcomm introduced a slightly more modern chip, the Wear 4100 in 2020 (a Cortex A53-based, 12 nm chip), but almost no manufacturers actually shipped that chip a year later, and we’re still getting Wear 3100 launches today. Qualcomm’s answer to Samsung’s chip will be the Wear 5100, which isn’t due until 2022.

So now we know that Samsung’s chip looks great on paper. Wear OS is getting a real hardware company back on board instead of the hordes of fashion brands it was surviving on previously, and the Galaxy Watch 4 is shaping up to be a quality piece of hardware. What is Google doing with the software, though? The company has said next to nothing about Wear OS 3.0. We’ll hopefully hear a lot more about the operating system tomorrow. Expecting to hear more about Google’s OS at a Samsung event feels a little questionable, but that’s how this collaboration works now, apparently.

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