Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago I received a surprising email. It was a press release from TAG Heuer, announcing an 18-carat rose gold version of their Connected Watch. I was surprised because this came just weeks after all mention of the much-hyped solid gold Apple Watch Edition silently disappeared from Apple’s site, replaced by the much more attainable ceramic version. It begs the question, can TAG Heuer succeed where the mighty Apple didn’t? And what does success look like here? Then again, I suspect TAG aren’t doing this for sales per se, but simply because they can. Either way, we felt it was a good reason to take another look at the Connected, which, according to Jean-Claude Biver, is the most successful single reference they’ve ever made.
The story in a second:
TAG Heuer’s Swiss-designed smartwatch has been touted as the ‘traditional’ watch industry’s much-hyped answer to the Apple Watch – but what’s it like in real life, on the wrist? And not just for a minute, a week…
I’ve been reviewing watches for going on eight years now, and I’ll confess – the TAG Heuer Connected is the first watch I’ve worn that has stumped me. Not because of any concerns with comfort or quality, but a more fundamental question. Do I review the Connected as a wristwatch, as a tech object, or a hybrid of both? In the end, Time+Tide is a watch site, not a tech site, so I held the Connected up to the same standards as any other traditional Swiss watch. So, with that said, let’s begin.
From a distance, the Connected looks remarkably like a conventional TAG Heuer. It gets its big, sporty looks from its mechanical cousin, the Carrera Heuer 01, with angular lugs, a large signed ‘crown’ and fixed black tungsten carbide bezel. But once you hold the Connected in your hand, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a different proposition entirely. For a start, it’s lightweight, weighing in at 81g, which is nothing for a 46mm case. A similarly sized steel watch on rubber would typically weigh more than twice as much.
This is chiefly down to the use of grade two titanium, though the fact the electronics inside weigh a lot less than the movement of a traditional mechanical watch helps too. It’s smart (pardon the pun) of TAG Heuer to turn the Connected’s lack of heft – often associated with a lack of quality – into a positive. After all, this is geared towards a younger, active audience, and in this arena, an ultra-light sporty smartwatch makes a lot of sense. The only element of the case design and construction that lets the team down is the plastic caseback, which looks like a traditional solid back, but just doesn’t feel like one. Perhaps the choice of caseback has to do with the technical requirements of the charger? Whatever the reason, it diminishes the otherwise quality feel.
Normally this section would be called ‘the dial’ but that doesn’t really work for the Connected. The screen is a 1.5inch, fully circular, transflective LTPS LCD display, protected with sapphire crystal. It’s readable under a wide range of lighting conditions and manages to avoid the ‘flat tyre’ display that plagues many Android smartwatches that dedicate a small section of screen real estate to light sensors, creating a lopsided dial that resembles a deflated tyre (hence the nickname). The screen supports multiple finger gestures and has a resolution of 360×360, 240ppi. Most of the time it looks fine, although not as pixel-dense as the Apple Watch, with the lower resolution especially apparent on the lighter dial options. I assume a decision was made to compromise on screen quality in favour of battery life – understandable but still a compromise.
Speaking of dials, one of the most instantly appealing features of the Connected is the flexibility to change the look of your watch, as it comes as standard with three-hand, chronograph and GMT dial configurations, all available in black, blue or white (I preferred the blue chronograph option). These are reassuringly traditional (though of course you activate the chronograph via a touch of the screen rather than a pusher), but the possibilities are endless, and we’re already seeing extra dials in honour of ambassadors or brand partners.
As you’d expect, the screen is also how you access most of the functionality. Apps, notifications and alerts are all navigated with the usual array of taps, jabs and swipes, while the crown acts as a kind of ‘home’ button.
One of the best aspects of the Connected, and something TAG Heuer should be commended for, is that the watch always tells the time. You need never have a dead screen while the watch is on. When you’re not otherwise using it, the dial defaults to a monochrome time-only dial. You can control the brightness, but even at the lowest setting it’s quite legible.
Powered by 1.6 GHz Intel dual core processor, the Connected runs the Android Wear platform and is compatible with both Android and iOS devices. Running off a 410mAh battery that promises 25 hours of normal use, it would take more than a week of wear to get an accurate sense of the battery’s life, but whatever way you slice it, you have to get used to charging another device. Unfortunately, the charging unit and a USB cord are a very utilitarian package, and one that detracts from the claims that the Connected is the first luxury smartwatch.
This was my first extended wear of a smartwatch, and though the Connected didn’t convert me – as the editor of a site about luxury mechanical watches it’d be nigh-on impossible to persuade me to swap mainsprings and escapements for apps and batteries. Having said that I found the user interface was fairly intuitive, and I quickly got the hang of it. The ability to quickly check emails et cetera was useful, but for me not essential. I appreciated the discreet notification indicator on the dial – the small number in a circle didn’t look out of place at all.
That said, the main appeal of TAG Heuer’s smartwatch isn’t the functionality – there are lots of Android Wear devices on the market, all of which work in roughly the same way. The Connected’s great strength is the build quality, highlighted by the ‘Swiss Engineering’ inscription on the case, and the TAG Heuer brand itself.
On the wrist
Even though the Connected is a bulky watch, its extreme lightness makes it very comfortable to wear. It’s fun to fiddle with the screen, and I can see a few circumstances where a computer on your wrist would be genuinely useful. As a traditional watch wearer I was irritated by the lag in the screen turning ‘on’ when I moved my wrist to look at the time, but let’s be honest, I’m not the target audience. But I can say that in terms of construction, the Connected sits alongside the Apple Watch as the best-finished smartwatch I’ve handled, and it holds up well against TAG Heuer’s more traditional offerings.
I have no doubt TAG Heuer’s foray into smartwatches will be successful, and certainly in the short term this is the case. Initial sales reports and feedback indicate it’s a massive hit already. On his recent trip to Australia TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver stated that around 80,000 units had been sold in a few short months. Making it, according to Mr Biver, the most successful single model in terms of year one sales not only for TAG Heuer, but the whole LVMH group. The line extensions we’ll surely see at Baselworld are likely to build on this initial growth. It’s a trend that Mr Biver is banking on, as he’s set aggressive sales targets of 200,000 units for 2017, which would make the Connected account for around 30% of total sales for TAG Heuer.
TAG Heuer have also been very smart by acknowledging the inherent obsolescence of the Connected by inviting owners to trade in their smartwatch for a visually similar automatic Carrera after two years for an additional $2,000. Whether or not users take up this offer of, in the brand’s words, “eternity” for an entry level Carrera remains to be seen. But as a way of introducing traditional watchmaking to a new audience it’s a clever move.
All told, the major appeal of this watch over its equally smart competitors is the prestige of the brand, and I think TAG Heuer may have missed an opportunity here, because the overall presentation of the Connected didn’t quite live up to the brand’s pedigree. The plastic caseback and glorified phone charger are the sort of thing you’d find on an entry-level smartwatch, not the top of the line luxury offering. It’s almost there, but it feels like some of the finer details have been rushed in an effort to get the watch on the market so quickly. In terms of presentation TAG Heuer could take a leaf out of Apple’s book – as Apple invest a lot of energy getting the small details right.
Having said that, it’s important to remember that the Connected is a first generation product, and viewed in that context it’s an impressive watch, and one that has great potential for growth and development.
“OK Google – who’s got the coolest watch in the room?”
Who’s it for?
Someone who wants the smartwatch experience, but still holds onto the values of traditional watchmaking.
What would we change?
It would be good to see a higher resolution screen, but only if it could be managed without sacrificing battery life. I also think they could come up with a more elegant charging solution – perhaps integrated into a stand?
TAG Heuer Connected Australian pricing
The Connected has an Australian retail price of $2000.
Images by Jason Reekie.