Intel and Tag Heuer Team Up for a Fancy New Modular Smartwatch

Tag Heuer has new mechanical watches, too.

Android Wear 2.0 has finally arrived, and with it, we’re starting to see a slow trickle of updated smartwatches. With smartwatches maybe not doing so hot, the lack of enthusiasm might not be too surprising. But, Intel’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and neither has Tag Heuer’s — the latter is updating their Tag Heuer Connected watch with a new modular build and a few nice new features.

Tag Heuer and Intel revealed the new watches at an event last night in San Francisco. The two companies have been collaborating on Android Wear smartwatches since 2015, when we first saw the Tag Heuer Connected — at over $1,000, it was one of the most expensive smartwatches on the market. It had all the design mastery of the Swiss-based watchmaker, but with features like GPS missing, it underwhelmed. It certainly didn’t help that the first version of Android Wear simply wasn’t very good, either (fortunately, owners of the original will be getting the 2.0 update).

The new Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 will run Android Wear 2.0 on an Intel processor, and will be more well connected than its predecessor. The watch has Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth, and GPS, despite the watch case being made of titanium — the team solved the problem of metal blocking radio frequencies by putting the antennas under the display. But, it won’t truly be a standalone watch — no LTE. It can handle fitness tracking, but the lack of a heart rate monitor is also disappointing. The watch is also water resistant up to 50 meters (5 ATM).

While it’s still tough to make a display look classy on a watch, Tag Heuer has made a decent attempt. They’ve used top-notch components — a high-contrast AMOLED display protected by sapphire crystalline. When the watch isn’t in use, it can display one of many watch faces Tag Heuer has designed. They’ve also set up the Tag Heuer Studio, which you can use to make your own watch face. In Android Wear 2.0, it’s possible for app developers to create dials for their apps, which Tag Heuer includes in the studio to help you build the most useful watch face for you.

Turns out, this year’s model is about customization inside and out. Not only does Tag Heuer have dozens of interchangeable bands (made of titanium, rubber, or ceramic), the lugs attached to the watch case can be swapped out, too. The lugs are available in a few basic colors, with titanium, rose gold, and ceramic options. The lugs and bands (which can be purchased separately) all slide out and lock in using special pins, so all the accessories for the watch will be coming from Tag Heuer themselves. Replacing the lugs and bands can be a little tricky at first, but with a little practice, it’s easy. Better yet, no tools are needed and there are no small pieces that could get lost.

Here’s something that hasn’t changed — like all Android Wear watches, the Connected Modular 45 is enormous, although it’s not as heavy as it looks. It’s not going to be a good look on smaller wrists, but for the right person, it does look very nice — considering the materials, the price, and the company behind it, that’s to be expected.

The watch will come with a magnetic charging puck, which can charge the Connected Modular 45 in an hour and fifteen minutes. Tag Heuer and Intel are putting battery life at 24 hours, but I’m not sure if it’ll get there with frequent use of GPS or Wi-Fi.

Tag Heuer also announced the Calibre 5 and the 02T Tourbillon, two mechanical watches. These two are straight analog watches with no connected features, but they do work with the modular bands and lugs that Tag Heuer has created. The 02T Tourbillon is the crown jewel — a tourbillon is the apex of mechanical watchmaking. Tag Heuer didn’t have any sort of hybrid smartwatch, like the many we’ve seen from companies like Fossil — I was told at the event that they’re working on it, but are trying to balance connected features with battery life.

The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 will start at $1,700, which is for the all-ceramic model. It’ll go way up from there. We don’t have pricing for all the options, but I did see a version of the Connected Modular 45 with diamonds lining the bezel — that one’s sitting at $6,750.

Android Wear 2.0 is a big improvement, but I’m still not totally convinced that smartwatches can be good investments in the same way high-quality mechanical timepieces are. The electronics and the battery life will inevitably degrade over time, which isn’t the case for a well-made mechanical watch — that’s why they retain their value. Fortunately, Tag Heuer recognized this problem a while ago, and it just might betray what they really think about smartwatches — when they announced the Tag Heuer Connected in 2015, they also rolled out a trade-in program allowing Connected owners to trade the watch in after two years to get access to a similar mechanical watch for $1,500 (far cheaper than what it would retail for). Tag Heuer plans to continue that program with the Connected Modular 45.