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Hands on: TAG Heuer Carrera Connected

TAG Heuer's first Android smartwatch is going to be huuuge. Literally.

The Carrera Connected is a cheap collectable for TAG Heuer fans, but it’s far too expensive for an Android Wear smartwatch.

The importance of the TAG Heuer Carrera Connected smartwatch cannot be overstated. It’s not the same as Apple making the Apple Watch — that was a technology company making another piece of technology. This is a Swiss watchmaker making a piece of tech. At launch, TAG Heuer’s CEO called it a meeting of Watch Valley and Silicon Valley, but it’s a partnership formed out of necessity, not desire. If smartwatches are going to steal sales away from watchmakers like TAG Heuer, they’ll all need weapons like the Carrera Connected in their arsenals to properly do battle.

Related: Tag Heuer sees early success for sold out $1,500 smartwatch

What is the Swiss watch industry’s first Android Wear watch like? We tried one on to find out, and the first impression is a big one. Literally, because it’s massive. It’s really, really big. The body is 46mm, much larger than the 42mm Apple Watch, and even large Android Wear devices like the already hefty LG Watch Urbane. It’s also the largest watch TAG Heuer sells.

Look at the size of that thing

The body is made from grade 2 titanium, and is very thick, but also very light. The strap is made from rubber and comes in different colors, but no other materials are available at launch. It’s attached to the body using oversized lugs, and the strap itself is thickened to compensate for the overall size. That way, it doesn’t not look out of place next to the huge watchface. It’s adjusted for a perfect fit, easily sliding through a clever titanium clasp before locking into position.

On the side is a TAG Heuer branded crown, which pushes but doesn’t rotate, much like the LG Watch Urbane. The bezel doesn’t rotate either, but the figures are all raised, making it very tactile, and perfect for attractively catching the light. On the opposite side is a tiny hole for the microphone, while the charging connectors are located underneath, mounted in a plastic baseplate. That’s right, not stainless steel. It doesn’t feel cheap, but it is a surprise from a $1,500 device. That aside, the Carrera Connected is beautifully made, by a company that understands watch making.

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The difference is obvious when you put the Carrera Connected on. It’s extremely light, and very comfortable — way more so than the LG Watch Urbane. It didn’t dig into my wrist bone, despite the size. It’s comparable to the Apple Watch Sport, and belies the device’s size. It can be quite ungainly. My wrists aren’t small, but the Carrera Connected was on the edge of being comically large. The slight-of-wrist will absolutely need to try it on first, unless they’ve no intention of actually wearing it. It fit under the cuff on my shirt, but unlike the Apple Watch, it caught on the opening when I moved around.

Android Wear, and a high price

Functionally, it’s an Android Wear watch. It’ll work with Android or iOS, and performs in exactly the same way as any other, regardless of the price. TAG Heuer has adapted its most iconic watch faces for the Carrera Connected, and they do look fantastic on the bright screen. Resolution and size are still to be confirmed, though, as is the exact model of Intel processor inside. The battery is guaranteed to last 25 hours before needing a recharge, according to TAG Heuer.

The Carrera Connected is beautifully made by a company that understands watch making.

It costs $1,500 in the U.S. and £1,100 in the UK. It’s a lot to ask for an Android Wear watch, but not for a TAG Heuer watch. What else could I get for my money? Browsing the store was fascinating, and a problem for TAG Heuer, because absolutely every other watch was better looking than the Carrera Connected. For comparisons sake, I eventually chose a Formula 1 Calibre 16 in black PVD wth a titanium case. Yes, it cost £2,300, but it’s gorgeous. On my wrist it was smaller, heavier, classier, and if I was in the position to make an impulse buy, would still be strapped to my wrist now. I’d been playing with the Carrera Connected for a good 20 minutes, and felt little — if you’ll forgive the pun — connection; but the Formula 1 Calibre 16 charmed me into wanting to buy it within 60-seconds.

That’s the problem with the Carrera Connected. Just as the cheapest Apple Watch Sport does everything you need, a $200 Moto 360, LG Watch Urbane, or Sony Smartwatch 3 is all the Android Wear watch you need, too. The Carrera Connected isn’t a compelling buy. It’s not jaw-droopingly seductive enough. The plastic rear cover and rubber strap make it feel less luxurious than you’d want for $1,500, and it’s absolutely enormous. It is cool, though, but that’s almost solely because of the TAG Heuer name, and the fact it’s the first real smartwatch from a genuine Swiss firm. It’s just none of those things are reasons to own one.

Demand is there, at the moment

Not that the price or the clunky size has stopped anyone. In the London TAG Heuer boutique where we tried out the Carrera Connected ahead of the December 9 official UK launch, sales had been excellent, with all allocated watches already sold. What’s interesting is none of the buyers had touched the device, and had only seen pictures. Oh, and they were almost all men, or presents for men. This suggests the TAG Heuer devotees have come out in force, laying down their $1,500 without a second thought, because in a TAG Heuer store, it’s just about the cheapest thing available — and therefore the equivalent of an impulse buy. If the TAG boutique was a supermarket, the Carrera Connected would be stacked high by the checkouts like a box of Kit-Kats.

TAG sees this as success, and has ramped up production to deal with demand; but once the faithful have purchased their watch, will anyone else be along to buy one? That’s going to be the real test of the Carrera Connected’s strength as a weapon against the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices like the Huawei Watch. Based on our very early impressions, it’s the plaything for TAG Heuer fans, and not an aspirational smartwatch for tech lovers.

Highs

  • Beautifully made
  • Large, clear circular screen
  • Android Wear convenience
  • TAG Heuer brand cool

Lows

  • Too massive for many wrists
  • Not luxurious enough to justify cost
  • Expensive