The only thing killing Android smartwatches at CES 2023

Disappointment is an emotion familiar to anyone interested in smartwatches not made by Apple or Samsung, and that all-too-common sinking feeling brought on by a missed opportunity was present at CES 2023. It’s not like we did. t welcome a handful of attractive smartwatches; we seem stuck in the time where the envelope remains unshakable. It’s not the most frustrating thing because the technology isn’t out there waiting for us.

For a show that typically delivers more exciting wearables than smartphones, CES 2023 didn’t deliver what we really wanted – true next-gen smartwatches.

Where is the Snapdragon W5+ Gen 1?

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You expected me to complain about Wear OS 3, right? For once, it’s not the biggest disappointment. Instead, that dubious honor goes to Qualcomm and the absolute disappearance of the Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 and W5+ Gen 1 processors. Announced in July 2022, the chips showed massive improvements over the aging Snapdragon Wear 4100 platform chips that promised faster performance, more efficiency, and smaller smartwatch designs.

Good software is only one piece of the smartwatch puzzle, and a next-gen processor is as essential to the Android wearables revival as Google’s Wear OS 3. There are several companies that really know how to design a great smartwatch, like Montblanc has proven it with the beautiful Summit 3 and Tag Heuer with the Connected Caliber E4, but they only get this far without a powerful chip and reliable software. In mid-2022 it seemed, at least for a moment, that all the right ingredients were on the table, ready to use.

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It’s now January 2023 and the ingredients are still on the table and getting a little moldy. The China-only Oppo Watch 3 picked up the Snapdragon W5 Gen 1 paired with proprietary software, and the rumored Mobvoi TicWatch Pro with a W5+ Gen 1 chip is still just that, a rumor, though rumored to be coming in the fall . Instead, manufacturers are still producing watches with 2020 chips, and that just isn’t enticing anymore.

Maybe I’m impatient. Maybe seven months isn’t long enough for a newly announced chip to make it a product I can buy. It’s possible, but I’ve already used a great smartphone with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor, and this chip was announced in November 2022.

Wear OS 3 suffers

Worn the Tag Heuer Connected Calbre E4 45mm on a man's wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If the Snapdragon Wear W5+ Gen 1 isn’t here to power smartwatches running Google’s Wear OS 3, what will it use instead? Citizen brought the most interesting smartwatches to CES 2023: the CZ Smart Sport and CZ Smart Casual. They look good, have Wear OS 3 installed and come with an unusual app that can enhance the wellness experience. However, power is still supplied by a Snapdragon 4100+ chip. Fossil showed off the previously announced Diesel Griffed Gen 6, a Wear OS 3 smartwatch based on Fossil’s Gen 6 platform and featuring the Snapdragon 4100+ chip.

It is ridiculous. The Snapdragon 4100+ was announced in June 2020 and we’re talking brand new products using it in early 2023, although a replacement has been announced by Qualcomm and touted as hugely superior. It makes me not care about the Snapdragon 4100+ and I don’t think I’m wrong. Wear OS 3 has been its own worst enemy since release, but now it’s being held back by legacy processors. Worst of all, we’ve seen it all before.

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The Citizen CZ Smart Sport looks great but costs around $400. Yes, it has the latest software, but the chip is nowhere near the latest version. Spending that much on a smartwatch that still doesn’t represent the best technology and software seems misguided. Is it wrong to expect the latest software and processor? Wear OS 3 is slowly becoming more common, which is welcome, but it’s still only half of what we deserve.

Apple and Samsung laugh all the time

The Apple Watch Series 8 and the Galaxy Watch 5.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

In its CES 2023 announcement, Google claims that since the launch of Wear OS 3 in 2021 (yes, it really has been that long) there have been “three times as many active Wear OS smartwatches around the world”. If it’s all about Wear OS 3 and not Wear OS 2 models that many manufacturers keep releasing, then all these new smartwatches must be from Samsung. It was the only game in town for Wear OS 3 from the start. Even Google’s efforts to hold its own aren’t worth your time.

Samsung isn’t the only smartwatch maker happily watching the rest flounder and try to deliver a true next-gen product. Apple released three Apple Watch models in late 2022, including the absolutely amazing Apple Watch Ultra. Alongside the Galaxy Watch 5, an Apple Watch – any of them – is the default choice for anyone who currently wants a smartwatch, depending on your choice of smartphone. Why bother with another model when it’s crammed full of an old chip when you know there’s another, better processor out there that isn’t being used?

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CES 2023 could have been a winner for wearables, but instead it was another depressing disappointment. If you’ve been waiting for the announcement before buying a new smartwatch, just do what you probably put off at first: go to Apple or Samsung and get what’s still the only smartwatch buy that makes sense.

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