Few watches have grabbed as many headlines in recent times as TAG Heuer’s Connected smartwatch. Touted as the first genuine smartwatch to come from one of the Swiss luxury brands, the Connected offers the look and feel of a traditional Carrera, but with insides developed in Silicon, rather than the Jura, Valley. The Connected is the first of what will be a range of TAG Heuer smartwatches, with more models, including a ladies watch, expected to be unveiled at Baselworld 2016. Given that other Swiss brands have only dipped a tentative toe into the smartwatch waters, there is a real opportunity for TAG Heuer to steal a march on the competition.
But perhaps that statement raises the first question about the Connected: what is the competition? Do we review the Connected against the low-cost Samsung, Huawei and Apple rivals, or do we review the Connected as an alternative to Swiss-made quartz watch? This is probably one of the key questions for us, because it order to be a successful TAG Heuer, as against a successful product, the Connected must work as a watch. A genuine watch, not just a device worn on the wrist. This is why we took an extended test of the Connected over two weeks, not just to play with the set-up, but to have the time to understand how the Connected stacks up once the initial novelty has worn off.
What’s in the Box?
As soon as you see the box you’ll realise that this is not your standard TAG Heuer- the Connected’s packaging is quite different to that offered on other models. In place of the standard white sleeve and plain black outer box is a bright blue sleeve and a patterned grey and black box.
Inside that cardboard box is an electric-blue translucent plastic box. Lifting off the blue tray reveals the cords, charger and wall-plug, while the watch itself is held in place by what looks like a large Squash ball with the words “release the pressure” written on the side, a play on the brand’s “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” tag line.
At this point it’s probably worth pointing out that while the Connected was designed in Switzerland, the watch itself is assembled in China by Intel. Yes, the finish of the packaging is less than you’d see on a “normal” TAG Heuer watch, but it doesn’t feel overtly cheap- simply a standard befitting a US$1500 watch as against its more expensive mechanical siblings.
Watch opened and charged and we’re ready to go. While the Connected will naturally work better when paired with a phone running Google’s Android platform, we tested it only with an Apple iPhone (iOS 9.2). It’s important to note that while the Connected is compatible with the iPhone, you do not get the full functionality as you would if you were using an Android phone.
For example, Apps from Google Play (the equivalent of Apple’s App Store) can’t be downloaded. You do get notifications from your iPhone, including texts, alerts and reminders, but you won’t be able to interact with these notifications, for example responding to a text message.
As you can see from the shot above, you can access the various watch faces through the iPhone Android app.
Setting up the Connected is straightforward. The first step is to download the Android Wear app from the Apple App store. You then simply open the app and follow the instructions. The watch pairs through Bluetooth and you will need to register your watch by navigating to http://tagheuerconnected.com on your phone and entering the registration code generated by the watch. Your iPhone can now be used to update the settings on your watch, including the choice of dials.
The first thing you notice about the Connected is that it’s designed to look like a traditional watch rather than a miniaturised iPad. The Connected’s case is derived from the Carrera Heuer-01, hitting the tape 1mm larger (46mm diameter vs. 45mm). Despite the similarities, the two watches feel very different on the wrist, as the Connected’s case is made from lightweight Grade 2 titanium, something we’ll come back to shortly. Overall it’s a great looking watch- modern, bold and most certainly a TAG Heuer. Sure, it’s large, but the trade-off for the size is that you get a large, legible sapphire crystal screen.
The fixed bezel is sandblasted titanium coated with black titanium-carbide. While the top edge of the bezel is circular, the bottom edge extends into a squared-off plate that doubles as an end-piece covering most of the lug on the bottom of the case. One aspect that we really like is the way that the rubber strap meets the case- the ends of the strap each have an angled design that match the angles of the sharp lugs. A clever piece of design and one that works better than the end-pieces on the Carrera Heuer-01.
The watch crown is functional- you press the crown to control specific functions, although unlike the Apple Watch, the crown doesn’t turn like a scrolling wheel. All of the watch’s features are controlled either by pressing and swiping the screen, or by pressing the crown.
One element of the design that could drive the OCD-types to the wall is the way that the lugs join the case- as you see below, they don’t sit flush with the titanium middle case, and instead extends up to the bezel. This is to emphasise the “modular” nature of the design, as per the Carrera Heuer-01, but it can looks a little odd once you noticed it.
The caseback is a solid plastic cover- there is no heart-rate monitor on the Connected, nor is the watch water-resistant. The four contact points you see at the top of the caseback connect to the charging sleeve.
Our test watch came with the standard black rally strap, which looks and feels great. It is similar to the strap on the Heuer-01, but not exactly the same- there are some small design differences and the rubber doesn’t have the same high-quality feel as that used on its mechanical brother. The deployant buckle works the same way as every other TAG Heuer.
The rubber strap does suit the design of the watch well, and while we’d guess that there may be other strap options in the future, the challenge will be the cost, given that a stainless steel TAG Heuer bracelet typically costs north of US$500, or 1/3rd the price of the Connected.
The watch comes pre-loaded with three standard dials, each of which have three colour options- classic (black), blue or white. The Chronograph in blue is shown above, so let’s take a closer look at the other two options.
GMT Twin-Time Dial
The GMT dial offers a second time zone that you set by pushing the “Gear” icon on the configuration screen. You get both a GMT hand and the second time zone appearing digitally on the screen- 00h45 as shown above.
3-Hand Watch Dial
Energy Saving Mode
Irrespective of which watch face you have selected, the dial fades after a few second of no use and reverts to the energy-saving screen you see above. While you can turn it off, you have to do this through the option menu. The importance of an “always on” dial was discussed by TAG Heuer at launch. While most smartwatches go completely dark when not in use, the TAG Heuer is primarily a watch…and watches have dials that can always been seen. While this feature comes at the cost of battery life, it’s the right compromise to reinforce the Connected’s “real watch” status.
TAG Heuer Ambassador Dials
As flagged at launch, the Connected will have a variety of other dial options. The first four of these have just been announced and will be available from the Google Play store from 20th January. It’s not yet clear how this will work with the iPhone, but we’d expect them to appear as options on the “Watch Faces” screen of the iOS app.
Cristiano Ronaldo CR7 Dial
Giancarlo Stanton Dial
Jeremy Lin Dial
Tom Brady Dial
One of the most important aspects of any smartwatch is the screen- and here TAG Heuer gets a “good” rather than “excellent” rating. The screen is a 1.5 inch transflective LCD measuring 360×360 with a pixel density of 240 ppi (pixels per inch). While the dial works well in even bright light conditions, we would love to have seen a screen with an even higher resolution. 240 ppi is competitive in the smartwatch space, but is less than the Apple Watch for example. This is one area where TAG Heuer should aim to be the best rather than being simply competitive.
Importantly, the Connected doesn’t have the “flat tyre” screen that blights many Android watches.
This issue of screen resolution is most obvious on the white dial, which to our eyes is the least successful colour. In the real world, the white is more vivid and less pixelated than these photos show, but while you could easily mistake the black face for a traditional watch dial, the white dial is clearly digital and the shading gives the dial a somewhat artificial look.
- OK Google (Siri equivalent)
On the Wrist
On the wrist the Connected looks and feels great- this is a proper Carrera. The Connected has a real presence, yet does not automatically scream “smartwatch” as wearing an Apple Watch would. It’s a larger watch than I would normally wear, but thanks to the use of titanium and its thin profile, the Connected never feels top-heavy. Compared to a 41mm Carrera 1887, the Connected is both thinner (12.8mm thick vs. 15.7mm) and lighter (52g for the Connected watch head vs. 111g for the watch + strap of the 1887).
When you turn your wrist to look at the time, the Connected automatically wakes up from its power-saving mode and comes back to full brightness. There is a half-beat delay in the watch waking up when compared to the near-instantaneous Apple Watch. Not a crucial issue, but one that Android should address over time.
The screen is still legible in power-saving mode, as you can see below. If anything we’d rather the screen stayed “awake” for a few second longer than it does. Yes, another compromise on battery life.
Living with the Connected
Having spent two weeks wearing the Connected as my daily watch I’m very confident that the watch is good enough to work as an everyday watch. Despite wearing the of the very first of these to arrive in Australia/ New Zealand, not a single person noticed that this was a smartwatch, which speaks volumes about the Connected is a real watch and one very different to the gaggle of wrist devices from electronics brands. Overall, TAG Heuer has done an outstanding job with the Connected, and created a watch that is far more wearable than an Apple Watch, even if many prefer Apple’s iOS to Google’s Android.
One aspect that we reckon TAG Heuer would have wrestled with was the decision to use Titanium. The rationale for titanium is that it’s very light, which means you can have a large watch that doesn’t feel too heavy. Yet despite this logic and practical advantage, we would have preferred to see the watch launched in a stainless steel, because the heft and substance of steel would have separated the Connected even more from the Smartwatch pack. Titanium can be confused with plastic at first contact, and while the watch never feels anything less than top quality, steel would have reinforced this feel further. Maybe we’d trade off a little screen size down to a 42mm case to reduce the additional weight penalty of steel.
As highlighted earlier, the graphics on the white dial option need work. A higher resolution screen would help, but the shading used on the white, necessary to give the screen some depth, never quite looked right to our eyes. The black, without the need for shading, was the clear winner and at a glance looked just like the real thing.
Battery life met expectations- it would last at least a full day and part-way through the next without needing a recharge (turned off at night). Until the technology improves, daily charge cycles are a fact of life with all smartwatches.
Trade In Programme
One of the aspects you may have read about the Connected is the offer to trade the watch in after two years and buy a new Calibre 5 watch that you see above right. The cost of the Calibre 5 watch will be the same as the Connected purchase price, so in the US, $3000 will buy you both a Connected today and a Calibre 5 Carrera in 2018. It’s a clever offer that recognises that no matter how good the Connected is, it will be obsolete eventually. TAG Heuer’s should be “connected to eternity”, that is, be able to last forever, which is where the Calibre 5 comes in.
TAG Heuer CEO JC Biver confirmed to us last month that the trade-in offer would only be to swap over to a mechanical Carrera rather than to act as a deposit on a new smartwatch.
The TAG Heuer Connected is on sale now with the following prices:
- AUD2,000 (Australia)
But while the price of the watch may be attainable, the issue is with availability. In December it was announced that TAG Heuer had dramatically increased production to meet demand- from 1,200 per week to 2,000 per week. To put that into context, it’s estimated that TAG Heuer manufactures approx. 750,000 watches annually, so the Connected is well on its way to being one of the top-selling models. Give the high demand, online sales have been suspended to give more stock for retailers.
The first point that we should make here is that TAG Heuer deserves great credit for having a proper crack at making a Smartwatch. Compare this to Breitling’s Exospace B55 “Smartwatch” which simply offers a modified ETA movement giving notifications back to a phone- TAG Heuer has found the right partners and will learn the most about what works and what doesn’t by being brave enough to try. Not all Swiss brands will find that a Smartwatch is for them, but the best solution is to either stay out of the space or to do it properly.
The Connected works very well as a watch and is one that you could very happily use for two years before trading in for a Calibre 5 Carrera. It is a genuine watch and it certainly is a proper TAG Heuer. That doesn’t mean that the Connected is perfect, but from a watch lover’s perspective, it is the most complete smartwatch yet. Others may have superior tech specs, but when looking at the total package, the Connected is the one to choose. We hope that as the range expands there will be other case materials and sizes to extend the appeal.
- Blend of smartwatch smarts and Carrera look and feel
- Ability to change dials offers unlimited flexibility to change designs
- Competitive pricing (relative to other TAG Heuers)
- Trade in programme
- Steel case to enhance the luxury feel
- Higher resolution screen
- Enhanced iPhone compatibility to match Android phone features
- Needs a single “stand out” smartwatch feature that others don’t have- superior battery life? Nano-SIM?
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