We have been inundated with smartwatch products since 2012 and in 2014, smartwatch fervour reached fever pitch peaking at 4 million sold and since then have been on gradual decline. The problem? Most smartwatch products over-promised and under-delivered. The new TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 aims to be thoroughly different.
When the first major (in terms of accruing market share) connected watch (you will see why I refuse to call it a smartwatch anymore) was launched, the Apple Watch followed in the same frustrating footsteps of its predecessors. It was good-looking but that’s all it had going for it. Apple Watch focused on advertising the device as a fashion accessory with a 12-page advertising spread in an issue of Vogue focused on the different combinations of body and band styles available while ironically downplaying the technological aspects of it. The brand itself communicated health and fitness-oriented features while ironically refusing to comment officially on water resistance, choosing only to state that it could withstand splashes but not submersion; much to the chagrin of fitness aficionados. Battery life? Non-existent, forget to charge it at night and wake up to a dead device in the morning. More importantly, it wasn’t “smart”, smart would imply some sort of independence away from a “mothership”, it required to stay connected to the owner’s iPhone (and only iPhone, the Connected Modular 45 can be connected to both operating systems) if it was to be anything but a hunk of metal on the wrist. Most importantly, for a connected watch to be taken seriously as a “watch” as defined in the dictionary – it should fulfil basic time display requirements – the Apple’s Wrist Raise Activation feature was abysmal, requiring exaggerated wrist movements just to display time (there’s a freedom and civility of being able to take glances at time discretely, a key function which the Apple Watch denies) and after 3 days, I had grown frustrated enough to consign it to the “lesson learnt” mental pile and “white elephant” literal pile.
Swiss, Smart, Swappable: TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45
I have dismissed digi/mech attempts at smartwatches before. The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 isn’t much unlike (conceptually speaking) the Halda smartwatch I recently reviewed but where the Connected Modular 45 really differs and shines, is its execution (And with 50 metres water resistance, a fitness buff could go full on with true peace of mind).
What makes the Connected Modular 45 Swiss and importantly, Smart
While the Connected Modular 45 looks similar to the original TAG Heuer Connected but it’s been significantly updated in terms of case design and internal hardware. First, nearly all the external parts of the case are customisable, with a total of 56 different looks thanks to varying combinations of bezel, lugs, strap and case in a varied range of materials like titanium to rose gold-plated steel to ceramic, and even diamond-set steel. Second, the new updated operating system, Android Wear 2.0, allows for greater independence and autonomy away from your smartphone, making it the first real smartwatch as depicted in fictional shows like Knight Rider and Dick Tracey.
According to a comment made by Jerry Bautista, vice president of New Technology Group at Intel to The Verge, the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 is more than just an Android Wear module in a Swiss made case, Intel worked with TAG Heuer to build the smartwatch much in the same way a mechanical watch is truly made – to high horology standards. Indeed, because more than 60% of the manufacturing costs of the watch (determined by TAG Heuer) are incurred in Switzerland, the Connected Modular 45 can be truly called the first “Swiss Made” smartwatch.
Powered by an energy efficient Intel Atom processor Z34XX, the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 is truly autonomous with a slightly more than a day’s worth of power supply (25 hours vs. 20 hours found on other smartwatches) but where it excels is its ability to run apps without tether to its smartphone, connected to the internet via WiFi and mobile networks and also contactless payments.
Beyond the standard fitness tracker and phone notifications found on regular smartwatches, Android Wear 2.0 makes Google’s electronic personal assistant available as well. Interestingly, it can sync with both Apple and Android smartphones and own those devices, a TAG Heuer connected app allows you to program your watch and design the watch faces you wish to accompany your new smartwatch.
What makes it swappable
Out of the box, the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 already has 30 watch faces pre-programmed but the TAG Heuer Studio app is where new owners can explore a little free-play and design their own preferred face, mimicking some of the classic Heuer designs. That said, what will interest mechanical gear heads the most is that instead of a smartwatch, one can swap out the digital watch head and replace it with a either an automatic 3-hand Calibre 5 or a thoroughly high horology Carrera Heuer 02-T Chronograph Tourbillon.
With a choice of five materials: aluminium, ceramic, rose gold, diamonds, and steel, your TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 implies that it would take some serious serendipity for your Connected Modular Calibre 5 or Connected Carrera Heuer 02-T Chronograph Tourbillon to look like another guy’s. Add customisable buckles in black PVD or titanium, ceramic, titanium, leather and/or rubber bracelets and a choice of diamond, titanium, gold and ceramic watch lugs and there comes a certain freedom in the idea (more so than the practice – how often do you change your watch straps?) that your watch can embody more than one look for the rest of its long mechanical life.
While past performance is not indicative of future performance, TAG Heuer’s original Connected Watch sold 56,000 units, doubling original estimates of 20,000 and by all accounts, a great success.
Now available in TAG Heuer boutiques and select retailers, prices for the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 starts from S$2400 for just the Connected digital smart module, add another S$2400 and you get the Calibre 5 automatic date-time mechanical module as well. Alternatively, you can go all out with the deluxe set which includes both connected watch in titanium as well as a kick-ass Heuer 02-T Chronograph Tourbillon for S$28,800.
While Google’s Android Wear 2.0 is going to be sent out as a software update to many smartwatch companies in the months to come, the issue isn’t that there are many US$500 connected watches out there that are cheaper than the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, it’s that they are either too bulky (to solve the battery life issue) or in staying wearable, has abysmal battery life. On paper, the Connected Modular 45 is the best Android Wear 2.0 which currently exists, it’s up to you to decide if that alone is worth the premium.
Also published on Medium.