For horologists and smartwatch followers, Tag Heuer made history when it announced the Connected. The Connected isn’t the first smartwatch. It’s also not the first wrist-worn gadget to pair with a modern smartphone, but at $1,500, it’s the first technology-inspired design from a luxury Swiss watchmaker.
Clad with a scratch-resistant sapphire glass screen and a handsome titanium casing, the Connected has all the hallmarks of a more expensive mechanical watch, but don’t let that fool you. The gears inside have been swapped with Silicon Valley’s latest processors, and the face can easily be changed and customized, depending on your mood or personality, with the accompanying Android Wear and Tag Heuer apps on your phone.
Because the Connected runs Android Wear as its operating system, Tag Heuer didn’t have much much room to differentiate itself from other circular smartwatches running Google’s operating system, like the LG Watch Urbane, Motorola Moto 360 and the Huawei Watch. Google imposes strict requirements on Android Wear to keep the experience as native as possible, meaning differentiation could only happen at the hardware level and in the design of the watch face.
In a lot of ways, Tag was successful at differentiating the Connected’s design. But at the end of the day, the real question is if Tag’s foray into Silicon Valley territory with the Connected is worth the cost of entry.
The Connected borrows its inspiration from Tag Heuer’s Carrera, a sporty watch with a round face. Whereas most tech companies creating smartwatches attempt for an understated, polished design, the Connected immediately makes an imposing statement on your wrist.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Connected is a handsome watch. Even on my smaller wrist, it didn’t feel overly large and I got a fair amount of compliments on the design when wearing it out.
The larger body means that Tag was able to fit a large 1.5-inch circular screen on the watch, framed by a non-rotating bezel with Tag’s logos and a concealed “Swiss Engineered” engraved at the bottom. The Connected’s screen is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I didn’t realize how a small bump from the 1.38-inch face of my LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition or from the 1.4-inch circular screen of the Huawei Watch would make such a big difference. The larger display on the Connected made interacting with the watch easier, but the downside is that the larger display magnified the screen’s deficiencies.
It’s curious that Tag Heuer didn’t go with a higher resolution display, given the device’s higher cost. With a 360 × 360 resolution, the pixel density on the Connected is just 240ppi, making graphics, and even the watch face, look like the pixelated experience of 1980s Tetris. The LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition’s 480 × 480 screen, on the other hand, gives that watch a crisp 348ppi display.
Not all is bad with the screen. Where the Connected excels is under direct sunlight with its TFT display panel. The screen was bright and easy to read when it was on. When the display dims to a power-saving ambient mode, the screen was still clear whereas watch faces on competing smartwatches would look washed out or undecipherable. In a way, with ambient mode on and the basic elements of the watch face displayed, you can barely tell this is a smartwatch, a nod to the Carrera’s classic design.Tag’s century and a half experience in watchmaking really shows when you strap the Connected to your wrist. The watch feels extremely comfortable, and the deployment clasp makes it easier to put on and take off when compared to a standard watch buckle. Even after a day and a half of continuous wear, my wrist didn’t sweat under the bright orange rubber strap, and the titanium construction made the watch feel a lot lighter than its imposing looks may have you believe.
The orange rubber strap with perforations on my Connected can be swapped out for different color straps. Even though the orange hue felt more sporty and whimsical, the gunmetal case and black bezel made the watch still good enough to wear to business meetings.
The choice of titanium for the body gave the Connected a premium feel, but the metal’s finish was extremely susceptible to surface scratches. After a week of wear, I’ve noticed scratching on the buckle and on the watch lugs. The sapphire crystal screen, however, was an excellent choice and kept the screen pristine.
Unlike other ARM-powered smartwatches in the Android Wear space, the Connected is powered by an Intel’s processor. Performance with Intel is marginally faster than the ARM architecture that LG used on the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition, but it wasn’t enough of a performance gap to be noticeable in day-to-day use. Where the Intel chip shines is Bluetooth connectivity. The Connected remained paired to my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, even in situations where the competing LG smartwatch would drop off.
Despite everything that the Connected has going for it, I can’t help but feel that Tag Heuer cut short a few corners, especially at the price that the Connected commands. The rear plastic back looks out of place next to the rest of the metal and sapphire construction, and the Tag Heuer lacks a heartrate monitor, a sensor that’s basically standard today on $300 smartwatches. Compared to the elegant charging docks that the Apple Watch and Huawei Watch ship with, the Connected’s charging base also feels cheap. It’s essentially a plastic dongle attached to what looks like an off-the-shelf micro USB charger. Luxury shoppers in the space may expect Tag Heuer to pay a little bit more attention to details. As a watch, however, Tag Heuer’s homage to the mechanical era shows. With the Tag Heuer chronograph watch face selected, it’s extremely easy to start, stop and reset the chronograph with a simple tap on the screen. This gives purpose to the circular windows inside the chronograph face, whereas the Watch Urbane 2nd Edition’s round windows are made for complications to display the date, even though the latter looks more like a chronograph with its three-button hardware design.
Tag Heuer includes a number of customizable watch faces that turns the Connected’s screen into a Carrera. There’s a three-hand face, a chronograph, GMT and a themed face. You can further customize these faces by choosing the background colors, and the themed face will give you options to add complications. For a fashion-forward design, the free Tag Heuer app includes additional watch faces created by brand ambassadors, like Tom Brady, David Guetta, Jeremy Lin, Kai Lenny and others.
The Connected is an interesting experiment for Tag Heuer, and at the end of the day, it may be just that: an experiment. For some, the Connected will feel like a $300 Android Wear smartwatch cloaked in a more premium body for a lot more money. There isn’t anything wrong with this pricing strategy. The Connected is an aspirational piece befitting of Tag Heuer’s luxury heritage.
Where things get interesting is Tag Heuer’s strategy for the Connected. Rather than go all in with the smartwatch trend, the Connected seems like a down payment and an easy entry into Tag Heuer’s even pricier mechanical watch collection. Essentially, the Connected has a two-year lifespan, according to Tag Heuer’s planned obsolescence strategy. After this period, you can trade in the Connected and pay an additional $1,500 to get a beautiful mechanical Carrera.
Even though Tag wants to be a trendsetter in the connected smartwatch space, it clearly isn’t putting all of its eggs in Silicon Valley’s basket. The $1,500 is an alluring price to own the Tag name, and it’s also a down payment for a real Tag Heuer Watch down the road.
Many consumers will probably be better off buying an LG, Motorola or Huawei smartwatch today, but watch nerds will likely see the Connected as an investment to go back in time and own a mechanical watch. Ironically, for Tag Heuer, the future is a portal into the rich past of gears, springs and wheels.