Lock and load: Blocks is the Project Ara of smartwatches

Modular devices pose unique problems to the companies that make them, but Blocks, the modular smartwatch due to launch in the next few months, has come up with an ingenious solution to two of the problems it faced when designing its unusual device. The first is how to address the issue of battery life, and the other is how modules will connect together.

While modules will eventually offer us the chance to customize the device in many different ways, they also put extra strain on the battery in order to operate. The Blocks smartwatch will house a relatively standard 450mAh capacity battery, that will provide a standby time of about two days — just like most smartwatches. The trouble is, modules with heart rate sensors, GPS, and wireless payment tech could halve the battery life if used often.

The idea is not to wake up the sleeping Snapdragon until its absolutely necessary

The Snapdragon 400 processor is forced to drive the features, but such power is usually not necessary for these relatively basic functions. To get around this, the Blocks team has developed a dedicated circuit board for use in each module. The circuit board comes with its own tiny ARM Cortex M0 processor, that’s ready to take care of these basic tasks. The idea is to not wake up the sleeping Snapdragon until it’s absolutely necessary, thus keeping power consumption to the minimum.

What will this mean for battery life? According to Blocks co-founders Omer El Fakir and Serge Didenko, it’ll mean the watch retains that two-day battery life, even when using the extra functionality provided by the modules. It’s a similar concept to the way many octa-core processors hand-off easier tasks to the slower chips, to give the same result.

While we may hope for an extra two-days on top, the battery can only give what it’s got, and to extend functionality without impacting battery life is a big deal, particular in wearables. Except that’s not quite all. Because Blocks is modular, extra battery modules can be added, and they really do increase the standby time, although they won’t be absolutely essential to making the watch work on an acceptable level.

Captive pin locks inspired by gunmakers

Each Blocks module will use a flexible circuit to link them together. While Google is using an electromagnetic connection to secure its modules to the Project Ara smartphone, Blocks is going in another direction, and it’s one that was influenced by an unusual source. Apparently, one of the designers is fascinated by guns (not in a scary way, I was assured), and Blocks will adopt a captive pin system to keep the individual strap modules held together.

On the final product, pressing a soft-touch button on each module will cause a pin to slide out, unlocking the component. The pin is safely held inside the module by a spring system, which not only keeps it from falling out and getting lost, but also makes sure the module can’t accidentally disconnect. Gun manufacturers use a very similar system to help soldiers dismantle and clean weapons in the field, ensuring a fast action, and that key components won’t get lost.

The Blocks smartwatch has been talked about for a while, and while the team initially worked with Intel and based the first designs on the Edison system, it has since parted ways and joined forces with Qualcomm. Now, having solved its power and connection challenges, Blocks is almost ready for sale, and we should look out for it on a crowdfunding website in the very near future.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

At $180, you won’t care about the TicWatch S2’s utilitarian looks

The Mobvoi TicWatch S2 is not the best-looking smartwatch you’ll strap on your wrist, but it may be the toughest, and it’ll almost certainly be the cheapest. We’ve been wearing it to see what it’s like.
Product Review

It may be basic, but the TicWatch E2 is all the smartwatch you need

Want a smartwatch that can track heart rate, has GPS, and interact with notifications — for cheap? Mobvoi’s Google Wear OS-based TicWatch E2 can do it all, for just $160.
Computing

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.
Wearables

Omron HeartGuide brings blood pressure monitoring to your wrist

High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, strokes, and many other health problems, so it's important to keep an eye on. Omron's HeartGuide is a fitness tracking watch that can also monitor your blood pressure from your wrist.
Deals

REI slashes prices on Suunto, Garmin, and Fitbit Versa smartwatches

Though fitness trackers and smartwatches can get pretty pricey, REI is offering some sweet discounts on top brands. Right now, you can get a new smartwatch from Fitbit, Suunto, and Garmin for up to 35 percent off its normal price.
Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Wearables

Check out the four cool Swatch watches you can use for mobile payments

Swatch has announced its Swatchpay technology is now available in Switzerland, enabling mobile payments from your Swatch watch. It works in a similar way to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Here's everything about it.
Business

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Wearables

Alphabet’s health watch monitors your heart health, is approved by the FDA

A health monitoring watch being developed by Alphabet, Google's parent company, has received clearance from the FDA as a medical device. This means that the device has been found to be safe and can legally be sold in the U.S.
Wearables

The best Apple Watch bands and straps to stylize your timepiece

If you have an Apple Watch, you know how easy it is to take off the strap it came with, so why not buy yourself another one? Here, we've gathered the best Apple Watch bands we've seen so far. There's something for everyone.
Mobile

Tizen 4 arriving on Samsung’s Gear S3 and Gear Sport smartwatches

Samsung is updating the Gear S3 Classic, Gear S3 Frontier, and the Gear Sport to the newest version of Tizen 4. Along with of some little tweaks to usability and quality-of-life, Samsung has added some new features.
Mobile

Mobvoi’s TicWatch E2 and S2 are the most affordable Wear OS smartwatches yet

Quality smartwatches don't have to be expensive, and Mobvoi's TicWatch is the proud paladin of that philosophy. Mobvoi's new TicWatch S2 and are both available for low prices from Amazon and Mobvoi's website.