(Pocket-lint) - Smartwatches are in a funny place. On one hand there's some success from Apple with the Apple Watch. On the other hand there are a wide variety of devices and designs which all, pretty much, offer the same functions and little to stand out.
But when it comes to people who actually like watches - not just adorning their wrists with the latest fad in tech - the thought of wearing the exact same watch as everyone else - i.e., the Apple Watch - is probably the biggest turn off. Wearing a watch is very much about the look, the individuality and, often, not about uniformity.
That's very much the motivation behind the Tag Heuer Connected Modular devices. Pick what you want, change the style, wear something that's properly unique.
It's all about design
- Smaller 41mm size
- Choice of finishes, bezel, lugs and bands
- Can be replaced with Calibre 5 automatic watch
Of course customisation was one of the founding principles of the Apple Watch. Different colours, sizes and easy-to-change straps (and lots of them) dominated the messaging, but there was one inescapable fact: the Apple Watch looks unavoidably designed by Apple. The Mac brigade might love that, watch lovers may not so much.
For Tag Heuer, it's about bringing quality watch design heritage to bear on the modern world. The Modular 41 is the smaller companion to the Modular 45, making things a little more compact - but sticking to the same overall look.
That smaller size will address the concerns of those who think 45mm is too big. We're not included in that list - big watches suit us fine - but there's still some appeal in a more compact model. It's slightly less showy and a little more subtle, without compromising on look or wearability.
There are a number of styles to customise the look of this Tag, from the band to the lugs to the bezel. These will have an impact on the price, but yes, you can buy a range of straps and easily switch things around. There are seven models and nine straps total.
Despite being a system of a number of parts, the Tag Heuer Connected feels solid. Once you've clipped it together, the quality of the finish and solidity of the overall product comes through. That is, after all, what you're paying for here.
It also wears well. That might be a strange thing to say, but we've experienced a number of "techy" smartwatches that simply aren't nice to wear. Some companies escape this - like the Fossil brands, for example - when there's background experience in watch design. Where some of the technology companies fail is in designing a watch you actually want to wear.
This is where the Tag Heuer wins most of its points: regardless of what you think about smartwatches, wearing the Modular 41 feels right. It's a style statement rather than a geeky appendage.
There's also life after the technology. Smartwatches don't last long as the internal battery won't just keep going and technology moves at such a fast pace that it will become redundant. What Tag offers, however, is the ability to swap out the digital face for a Calibre 5 automatic at some point in the future, so you can have a proper mechanical watch later down the line.
Core technology and display
- AMOLED display, 390 x 390 pixels (326ppi), 350nits
- Intel Atom, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage
There's a lot crammed into these smartwatches, but heart-rate monitoring isn't one of those things. While GPS (global positioning satellite) and NFC (near-field communication for Bluetooth with a close-range tap) are on the list, this isn't designed to be a do-it-all wearable. But ask a smartwatch wearer what they use their watch for and most will say notifications. If it's sports you're after, there are many far better devices for a third of the price - and perfectly suited to task.
What's slightly different about the Tag Heuer Connected devices is that they are Intel powered, with an Atom processor. A number of its competitor devices use Qualcomm hardware. Given that you're not really asking your watch to do a lot, there isn't a huge difference in the experience that you'll notice between such processing power - or that we've noticed in day-to-day use anyway.
But the 41mm version of the Tag - announced back in 2018 - does get a little bump up in power from the 2017 45mm version. The more recent model sees more RAM and storage (1GB RAM and 8GB, respectively). That means a little more space for storing things on your watch: you can connect to Bluetooth headphones having transferred music over, but it's a little fiddly and you'd be better off connecting to your phone where possible.
What you do get is a great display. It's AMOLED and is protected by sapphire crystal to try to keep scratches to a minimum, with an ample resolution for nice clean visuals. The brightness is boosted in this model to make it more visible in direct sunlight outdoors too. Which is great - except it's most like this glorious display is what helps kill the battery life.
Battery life tells a familiar story
- 345mAh battery
- Magnetic charging plate
Battery life is the bane of smartwatches. In the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41 you'll just about get a day of battery life.
The battery drain is pretty severe and that sets this watch at a disadvantage. It's the sort of device that - knowing you want to wear it to an evening event - will need you you to charge it up fully before you go, otherwise it's an albatross.
That's what really stings here: for all the good looks, the battery life really isn't up to standard, especially when you compare this watch to rivals. Apple Watch gives you more life (despite all its criticisms), but something like the Garmin Fenix (which can give you an essence of the same kinds of looks) easily spanks both devices thanks to a full week of use (or maybe two if you're being kind).
Charging the Tag Heuer Connected happens via a magnetic plate. It takes about two hours to take it from dead to fully charged, so at least charging doesn't take too long (even if you'll be doing it more often than you'd like).
Watch face customisation and user interface
- Wear OS operating system
- Tag Heuer Studio
- Premier League and other faces available
Much of the battery limitation comes down to the intensity of the connection. The Wear OS operating system found here spends so much time behaving like a smartphone that battery life really struggles, just so that it's ready to give you everything on demand.
This operating system used to be called Android Wear, but Google has slowly been removing the Android name from its properties. The important thing to know about Wear OS is that it works in conjunction with both Android and iPhone devices, so the Tag Heuer can be a companion regardless of what phone you use.
However, Android users get a much better experience; Wear OS's seamless integration and interaction with Android phones make them a perfect pairing, with great things like Google Assistant and quick replies giving you a lot of scope for leaving your phone in your pocket and doing more through your watch. Apple users don't get quite the same experience and Wear OS with an iPhone isn't as seamless or fully featured as it would be with Watch OS on the Apple Watch - which is something to bear in mind.
The number of apps on Wear OS hasn't been expanding and, generally speaking, many people just use this OS for notifications, mapping, controlling messages and rejecting calls. In that sense, we're perfectly happy with the Wear OS experience, but there's no denying that Apple Watch gives you a little more to play with within the Apple ecosystem - even if Siri can't hold a candle to Google's superior Assistant.
Watch face customisation is available in abundance. Not only do you get access to all the faces that Wear OS offers, but you get the Tag Heuer Studio to get the Tag look that you want. Additionally, through Tag's sponsorship of the Premier League, you get access to team faces too. Selecting these will also give you live scores for your team on match days. Glance at your watch and you'll see by how many goals West Ham is losing against, well, any team (sorry Hammers fans).
When it comes to a quality watch that's great to wear, it's hard to beat the Tag Heuer Connected. It's such a spectacularly good-looking watch, it's almost worth wearing with a flat battery - but that battery life is easily the biggest downside to this watch.
Yes, it's an expensive purchase too, but it's a luxury brand and the price fits the quality of the device - even if the experience is available at a quarter of the price. Wear OS watches are basically identical in functionality no matter from which brand you're buying.
Should you buy the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41? It's not the best smartwatch experience out there, but if you want something that's a little more premium and you're not hugely worried about the price, then yes. You could spend less and get much the same experience without the great looks. Isn't that justification enough?
Apple Watch Series 4
The Apple Watch has been making ground in the smartwatches market for some years. For iPhone aficionados it's an easy choice to make. The closeness of the experience between phone and watch - as well as some of the unique functions - sees Apple offer a better experience than Wear OS in many cases.
Garmin Fenix 5 Plus
Garmin has a really solid device in the Fenix. It's a serious outdoors sports watch, but it's available in premium finishes, with sapphire face protection and titanium bodies and bands, bringing it up to muster with luxury brands. In return you get unparalleled sports tracking, stellar battery performance and plenty of connectivity.