Months after declaring its intentions to join the smartwatch party, Tag Heuer finally pulled the covers off of its Android Wear debutant at an exclusive New York event.
Since then, the first Google smartwatch powered by Intel silicone has gone on sale, albeit in limited numbers, and is proving to be quite the commercial success – gold and diamond models (link to the story) are already being touted for next year.
Lord only knows how much those models will end up costing – the non-encrusted Tag Heuer Connected, on review here, retails at $1,500; which is around five times what the new Moto 360 costs and double what the next most expensive Android Wear model – the gold Huawei Watch – will set you back.
Then again, good luck finding a Tag Heuer for less than the Connected’s asking price. It’s not a brand that comes cheap. However, after two years, you can have your Tag Heuer Connected exchanged for a mechanical watch.
You’ll have to cough up the same price again for the replacement mechanical model, although Tag assures us it would have a retail price of the total outlay.
But is it worth the hefty original price tag? Read on to find out…
Tag Heuer Connected: Design and build
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Tag Heuer Connected is a ridiculously good-looking smartwatch. From afar it genuinely looks like a regular Tag Heuer watch – it’s only when you get up close that you notice it’s quite a bulky beast. 12.8mm is this smart Tag’s waistline measurement, which is a fair bit chunkier than its round Android Wear rivals – the Huawei Watch is 11.3mm and the new Moto 360 is 11.4mm.
And it shows. It raises a fair bit off the wrist and is anything but female friendly. But that’s not really an issue as far as I’m concerned. I like chunky, luxury watches and the Tag Heuer certainly fits that description.
It’s so comfortable. So, so comfortable. Especially given I’d been wearing anAsus ZenWatch 2 (easily the most uncomfortable smartwatch so far) for a few weeks before getting my mitts on the Tag. The Connected is a million miles from that.
It’s mega light, for a start – surprisingly so when you first slip it on. At 52g (for the case), it’s 10% lighter than its lookalike the LG G Watch R. That’s the result of the grade 2 titanium, which looks awesome by the way on the fine-brushed lugs; although the back plate is disappointingly constructed from plastic (although the swish logo engraving almost makes up for that).
The clasp is easily the best constructed we’ve seen on Android Wear so far although, like the top end, it does protrude from the wrist a fair bit.
I’ve been wearing the black variant but, at the launch event last month, I did see all the other colours in the flesh. The white one is particularly swanky. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that the only strap options were vulcanised rubber ones. I’d have loved a stainless steel, or titanium band option.
Back to the plus points though and the black, carbide-coated titanium bezel (boasting anti-finger print tech) and raised numerals look awesome. The LG G Watch R did a decent job of adding this sort of style to the Android Wear line-up but closely comparing the Korean company’s effort to the Tag reveals a huge leap in quality. The Tag Heuer Connected lettering on the bezel is engraved with silver lacquer. It just looks so slick.
The design is finished off with a crystal sapphire glass face. It’s easily the first Android Wear watch that I’ve been most annoyed by fingerprints with. Not because it suffers in this area worse than its stablemates. Because it’s the only smartwatch that I wanted to keep looking its best.
Tag Heuer Connected: Display
That was all a bit gushing right? However, it’s not all brilliant from Tag. I could moan about the lack of GPS but I won’t.
What I will quibble about though is the display. Sure, it’s fine. It’s more than fine actually – its transflective, so it holds up really well under bright lights; even when in the black screen low power state. And the 1.5-inch LCD display, with a 360 x 360 resolution is crisp enough at 240ppi.
But, if you’re paying well over a thousand of your hard earned dollars or pounds, you’d want the best of the best. The Huawei Watch has a 400 x 400 display with a ppi count of 286; the highest on any Android Wear device to date. The cancelled LG Watch Urbane Second Edition proved that more was possible; it was on sale, albeit briefly, with a 480 x 480 panel at 348ppi.
I’ve been told repeatedly by Tag, Intel and Google that the screen is amazing, and that the trade-off for battery life was an important factor. But the fact remains: if you’re buying the Tag Heuer Connected, you are not buying the best Android Wear display. Fact. And that’s a damn shame.
Tag Heuer clearly didn’t want a bright screen blaring out alerts from people’s wrists. And it has got just that. Telling the time is a major focus for Tag’s smartwatch, unsurprisingly, but we’re definitely left hankering for a few more pixels.
Tag Heuer Connected: Time telling
Tag’s custom watch faces are by far the best we’ve seen – with an incredible attention to detail that Tag fans, in particular, will love. There’s shadows under the hands. Smooth skimming second hands. An ubiquitous array of dials. Traditional Tag colours. All present and correct and with more than a nod or two to existing popular Tag mechanical models (I particularly love the Chronograph face complete with face tapping stopwatch timer).
Usually we breeze through the digital watch face section in an Android Wear review, mentioning how many exclusive options are on offer and whether they are any good. After all, there are hundreds of options to choose from Google Play if you can’t find one you like. It’s not really an essential part of the Android Wear offering.
That’s different on the Tag Heuer Connected though. The Swiss watchmaker clearly wanted its first digital dive to respect its traditional timepiece roots.
The live notification count, a small number that appears on the face when there’s an update for you to read, is unobtrusive and helps to keep Android Wear in the background. Your smartwatch notifications are there if you want them but they won’t jump in and ruin the traditional watch ambience.
Tag Heuer Connected: Android Wear
That’s not to say that Android Wear on the Tag is different to any other device powered by Google’s mobile OS. All of the features that you’d find in the Sony SmartWatch 3, the Asus ZenWatch 2, the Moto 360 and all the others, are all present and correct. They just feel a bit less in you face.
Like Motorola, Tag has done a decent job of adding widgets to its watch faces. However, the ‘Themes’ face option – which offers three unique dials on a set theme – needs some work. There’s only three to choose from; the weather one didn’t load any live data; and there’s an annoying registration process you have to go through before you can even start to play around with them.
I should write more about the features, about how you can get the same OS and, therefore, the same apps and so on for a tenth of the cost elsewhere. But I feel that’s missing the point. You shouldn’t be buying the Tag Heuer Connected with Android Wear as your primary concern.
Tag Heuer Connected: Hardware & battery
As mentioned, Intel is on board, powering the Tag Heuer Connected with a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z34XX CPU. It was the first Android Wear watch to arrive with Intel power (the Fossil Q Founder has followed it recently) and, after months of using Android Wear watches predominantly with Qualcomm processors, we just hoped we wouldn’t see our first signs of smartwatch lag.
We needn’t have worried though – Intel’s hardware is more than up to the job. It’s a seamless experience on the OS and app front and touchscreen responsiveness, gesture controls and voice directions all performed as they should.
Tag promised all-day battery life from the 410mAh battery and we can’t argue with that. 26 hours was the longest stretch we had, with heavy-ish usage. Charging is quick, using a dock and there’s a nice watch face animation giving a countdown of the charging time remaining when plugged into the mains.
Elsewhere, there’s 4GB of storage on-board – standard for Android Wear devices – and the Tag Heuer Connected is IP67 rated.
Tag Heuer Connected: How it compares
It’s difficult to compare the Tag Heuer Connected to any of the other Android Wear smartwatches. It’s just a different beast entirely. Sure, it runs the same regular Android Wear that its more tech-minded rivals offer up but the feel of the device is just so different. We’re not just talking build quality either. It just feels more ‘watch’ than ‘smartwatch’. The notifications and so on are there, but they’ll only really bother you if you decide to bypass the carefully designed watch faces. It’s up to you to decide how deep you want to dive on the smartwatch side.
That also makes it difficult to compare it to the Apple Watch Edition – the luxury range from Cupertino. Because, while the materials and the construction of the top-end watchOS models are, without doubt, top quality, Apple’s smartwatch is very much that: a smartwatch. Even with a 24-karat gold case and bezel, the luxury Apple Watches still very much allude to being a ‘digital-assistant’. The Tag Heuer Connected, for some reason, doesn’t.
I found myself comparing the Connected to my own mechanical Tag much more than I did to the likes of the Huawei Watch or the LG Watch Urbane. It’s a lovely Tag watch first and foremost; the smartwatch features are a bonus. And this is from someone who has lived with, and very much come to rely on, the notifications an Android Wear watch offers over the last 18 months.
We don’t expect Asus, LG and Lenovo to start suddenly using titanium in their devices – not everyone has got $1,500 to blow on a smartwatch. But we do expect them to pull their fingers out a bit when it comes to aesthetics, hardware and software.
Brands like Tag Heuer and Fossil are now gate-crashing the wearable tech party and it’s no longer acceptable for a smartwatch to be a slimmed down smartphone in watch form. Wearables have to be wearable… it’s simple. Traditional tech brands are going to have to deal with the fact they are now competing with companies that have fashion in their DNA.
That’s not to say that there’s not some nice looking smartwatches out there – LG and Motorola, in particular, are doing great things incorporating style into its wearables – but the arrival of the Tag Heuer Connected definitely signals a new dawn.
The smartwatch features are actually the weakest part of the whole Connected package and the main reason we aren’t marking Tag’s debut smartwatch higher. That’s not really Tag Heuer’s fault. Android Wear, and I’m very much a fan, is still a work in progress and is far from the polished, complete article. So while we’d definitely give the design top marks (quibbles about the display and lack of metal strap aside), we can’t go any higher with the limitations of Android Wear dragging the Connected down somewhat.