Hold up, hold up. Smartwatches have a place in our industry. I’m not going to tell you you need to shelve your mechanical babies in favor of a modern, super-duper, all-singing, all-dancing, endlessly connected contraption. No. I’m not that guy. But I am a guy who is becoming a little more comfortable with keeping one of these luxury gizmos in his stable. I haven’t always felt this way, but the latest TAG Heuer Connected has started to change my mind.

When I think about my former opinion on luxury smartwatches, it didn’t really make much sense. I was quite comfortable dismissing them out of hand. Sure, I knew they were highly functional. Sure, I knew they could, in theory, make my life easier. But, try as I might, I could not bring myself to feel anything for them. And I think that is still the biggest problem facing most smartwatches — their ability (or lack thereof) to elicit an emotional reaction upon sight.

But then I asked myself why. It certainly had nothing to do with the module within the case. While many smartwatch haters will point to the sterility of a non-mechanical movement, I am an open advocate for the Breitling Aerospace (a quartz watch). I own several “luxury” quartz watches and I never really looked at them any differently from my basic mechanicals.

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Looking at things differently

So what’s the difference? It must come down to the display, right? I mean, hands have soul; a screen is sterile, right? Well, tell that to my Casio G Shocks. Sure, they are hardly “luxury” items but they don’t come in for the same kind of stick as the smartwatch cartel. And what about the Speedmaster X-33 that half of Team Fratello adores? And certainly don’t think of mentioning the “digital” A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk… No, there must be something more… There must be something building a barrier between the watch community and the acceptance of smartwatches en masse.

TAG Heuer was one of the first established luxury brands to dip its toe in these new waters in 2015.

In my opinion, it all comes down to quality. When smartwatch, or “wearable” tech, first started to take off the best part of 10 years ago (Apple entered the fray in 2014 for anyone that was wondering), the ideas outstripped the early models’ ability. They were not particularly cheap and they were not particularly good. That’s a bad combination. TAG Heuer was one of the first established luxury brands to dip its toe in these new waters in 2015. Perhaps, however, it dipped too soon…

The first generation of the TAG Heuer Connected was not very good. They certainly looked better than anything else out there at the time, and there was no danger of missing them (thanks to an enormous 46mm diameter and brightly colored strap options), but the technology inside this luxury item had already been surpassed by tech used in the cheaper, more throwaway brands. In comparison to competitors, the screen resolution was poor and the functionality limited. And yet, despite all of that, it was still a TAG Heuer and quite a strong statement at that.

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Creative marketing

TAG Heuer believed in the connected project from the get-go. A clever trade-in option that gave customers the chance to buy and try a Connected before trading “up” to a mechanical Carrera watch at a later date was a pretty neat move (I certainly thought it was the “good kind of interesting”, as I termed it at the time). The brand doubled down on this with the 2017 release of the modular series that literally allowed customers to switch between the watch heads.

It was clear then that TAG Heuer was convinced it was onto a good thing. Pushing ahead with the refinement of the technology, an improved wearing experience, and, above all, a screen that does the Heuer heritage justice, the brand hoped to find a champion for a new age. The new TAG Heuer Connected for 2020 is just that.

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A better size

The previous generation of Modular Connected watches thankfully had a smaller diameter than those of the inaugural run. There was a 45mm option and, amazingly, a 41mm option too. The 45mm Modular Connected was 13.75mm thick and the 41mm version was 13.2mm thick. The newest Connected for 2020 is 45mm wide and a manageable 13.5mm thick (which makes is wear a little smaller than you might think).

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Wearability is a big plus although this is still a large watch. Given it is mostly (sapphire) screen, the display and its quality is the most central thing to the project’s success. And, I must say, TAG Heuer has absolutely crushed it this time around. With plenty of options, I am not sure which style of display I would go for (I love the multi-colored Carrera skeleton option, but think the hyper-futuristic pure digital display in orange suits the watch the best).

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A beautiful face

The design of the watch faces is helped by the 1.39-inch, 454×454 pixel (326ppi) OLED display. This watches OS is powered by a Snapdragon 3100 chip made by Qualcomm. The watch boasts 8GB of storage and 1GB RAM. This generation has a built-in GPS, a gyroscope, a heart rate monitor (awesome), and an accelerometer (apparently essential).

What that means in practical terms is that the Connected 2020 is absolutely loaded when it comes to sports and fitness Tracking capacity. There is still a massive bias towards golfers (with over 39,000 courses saved on the device — a holdover from the golf-focused special from last year), but if you like running or cycling you should be particularly impressed.

You can hook your new connected up to an existing rival workout tracker if you prefer, but the TAG-built platform is pretty juicy and a lot more expansive than previous versions were able to offer. In fact, all of the software is really good and clearly required a huge effort from TAG Heuer HQ in Switzerland.

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A different path

This is a watch that has walked a different path to get here. It is clear TAG Heuer has prioritized the luxury experience. Perhaps the brand was right to jump into the smartwatch scene early if only to establish a pedigree of progress that has led to this impressive entry in the Connected canon. The watch looks more like a luxury product than ever. The finish is good. The fit is better. I love the screen and think that TAG should offer even more customer customization options (like being able to build your own backgrounds and change even more colors in detail).

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I would take this model in black. Normally, I tend towards steel, but I love the futurism of the black model on the black strap with the “neo-Pulsar” display. A forerunner to this watch made it onto the wrist of Eggsy and Co. in the second Kingsman movie, but I really do think this new piece warrants a bigger profile franchise. Perhaps a new chapter in the Bond universe could handle a villain sporting the moody black Connected that’s piqued my interest.

With options starting at $1,800 and running all the way to $2,300, this latest Connected is not cheap. But it is the best of what is becoming an increasingly long lineage of experimental electronic watches from TAG Heuer. Learn more about the Connected family here.