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Circuit Breaker

Samsung's new chip could allow for smaller LTE smartwatches

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Smartwatches are tethered devices. Take away the connected smartphone, and most watches become nothing more than a fitness tracker with a clock and less battery life. And while a few watches — notably, the Samsung Gear S3, the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE, and the Samsung Gear S — have had LTE or 3G chips that let them actually function independently, it almost always came at the cost of an increase in size and decrease in battery life to compensate. In fact, power-consumption issues were the reported reason that Apple left LTE out of the Apple Watch Series 2.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS, and LTE in a 100-square-millimeter chip

Samsung is trying to improve on LTE smartwatches however with its new Exynos 7 Dual 7270 processor for wearables. The chip is the first smartwatch processor built on the 14nm processor scale (instead of last generation’s 28nm scale) and manages to include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FM radio, GPS, and most importantly, LTE, in a 100-square-millimeter chip that Samsung claims is also 20 percent more efficient than the previous generation chip.

At the end of the day, smartwatches have always been a balancing act of hardware. Manufacturers have to squeeze an seemingly impossible amount of technology into a form factor that makes a smartphone look roomy by comparison. And all that technology needs power, which needs a bigger battery, which leaves less room for things like speakers or processors, which in turn makes your watch less useful on its own and more dependent on a connected phone. Is a 20 percent efficiency gain enough to tip the balance in favor of LTE smartwatches? Well, it's a start.

Correction: The Samsung Gear S watch utilized a 3G connection, not LTE. The article has been updated to reflect this fact.