TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45: Hands on with the swankiest Wear watch of all

The Modular 45 is endlessly customizable, but prices for this Android Wear 2.0 watch range from $1,650 to "if you have to ask..."

Somewhere on the grand continuum of gadget nerdlery, there’s a consumer who will buy a very expensive—almost recklessly expensive—Android Wear watch. TAG Heuer had a surprise hit with its original TAG Heuer Connected, and now it’s embracing Android Wear 2.0 with the Connected Modular 45, an incredibly swank, finely machined, lusciously tactile smartwatch.

No, make that a family. It’s a smartwatch family. No, scratch that. It’s a smartwatch system. Officially described as a Carrera model, the Connected Modular 45 comes in 11 essential designs, with 45 more looks available for special order. But because its lugs, straps and buckles are all user-interchangeable, the Modular 45 is, well, whatever you want it to be—if you have the money to spend. Pricing starts at $1,650 and reaches all the way to “If you have to ask...”

tag heuer connected modular 45 display 2 Jon Phillips

TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45: Yes, these are all basically the same watch.

I’m a mechanical watch guy, and (disclosure) my first big watch splurge was a TAG Heuer Formula 1 in 2006. So I absolutely get the appeal of the Modular 45’s chiseled, brushed titanium case, and all the TAG Heuer flourishes and design cues. The 45mm case (ergo the name) definitely rises off the wrist with an aggressive posture, but the watches themselves are surprisingly light. The cases will visually overpower smaller anatomy, so small-boned buyers beware.

It took me about 10 minutes to master TAG Heuer’s parts swapping system. Basically, you have three elements in play: The central module itself, then the lugs and straps.

tag heuer connected modular 45 lugs Matt Strauss

Here we see the lug’s finely machined connecting points.

You first connect the lugs to the straps, which click right in, and secure with preciously fine pins. Next you connect the lugs to the case. It can be a fiddly procedure the first five or six times you try, and removing all the pieces is even a bit harder: To separate a lug from the case, you push a button, and then disengage the two pieces with jusssst the right angle of departure.

But, hey, it’s a fine Swiss watch. If you buy the Modular 45, you’ll probably spend half a day manhandling it. You know, just getting to know it—obsessing over your purchase. So that’s plenty of time to master the parts-swapping system.

tag heuer connected modular 45 womens wrist Jon Phillips

The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 really begins to show its size on a woman’s wrist.

Endless customization

Once everything was clicked in and secure, I gave my floor model watch a few purposeful tugs and wrist shakes. The watch withstood the abuse, but I was still left with sneaking concerns: Did I really lock all the parts together, and is this watch really as buckled down and secure as my TAG Heuer at home? Only time—and customer feedback—will tell. But nonetheless, I was eventually able to disassemble and reassemble a watch in under 15 seconds, so the TAG Heuer system is nothing if not expedient.

tag heuer connected modular 45 display 3 Jon Phillips

The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 bezels—dig the rose gold—are yet another customization point. But the bezels are fixed on the case, do not rotate, and are not user-interchangable.

I really can’t see more than a handful of people buying multiple parts so that they can frequently change the look of their Modular 45. But you will be able to buy lugs, straps and buckles separately, so if you’re TAG Heuer-obsessed, have at it. The much more relevant point is that there are so many complete looks available for purchase.

tag heuer connected modular 45 tag logo Jon Phillips

I would never wear a watch with diamond accents. Ditto rose gold, however stunning it looks in TAG Heuer’s execution. But the basic brushed titanium models exude Swiss craftsmanship, and the black ceramic model looks even more interesting. I also love the TAG Heuer branding on the bezel, but unfortunately the bezel doesn’t rotate.

TAG Heuer even has options for mechanical watch aficionados, and this, perhaps, is the coolest step of all. The three-hand Calibre 5 and the grande complication Tourbillon Heuer 02-T are traditional timepieces that employ the same hardware customization system as the Android Wear 2.0 versions.

tag heuer connected modular 45 mechanical Jon Phillips

The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 family also features two mechanical models that pair with all the same interchangable lugs, straps and buckles. Here we see the Calibre 5.

While I wouldn’t expect a tech geek to get multiple iteration of the Wear module, I can see a watch geek buying a smartwatch version and the Calibre 5 to swap out looks from day to night. It’s a compelling feature, and something only a mechanical watch company can offer.

A bit of Intel engineering

Unlike so many Android Wear watches running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip, the Modular 45 runs on Intel’s Atom Z34XX, a smartphone processor. Intel worked with TAG Heuer and Google to imbue the watch with a bit of extra artificial intelligence, and Intel also worked on special antenna technology to help WiFi cut through the all-metal case. In effect, the watch’s antenna signal peeks through a seam between the bezel and the case itself.

The watches are water-resistant to 50 meters, and the microphone hole can remain open when the Modular 45 is submerged in water. In other words, it doesn’t need a port “door” like the Nixon Mission.

tag heuer connected modular 45 water to 50 meters Jon Phillips

The TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 has a big, chunky case made entirely of brushed titanium. Intel helped engineer a crafty antenna to so that WiFi could cut through the metal case.

In addition to WiFi and GPS, the Modular 45 includes NFC for secure Android Pay purchases. There’s a proximity sensor on the bottom of the case that recognizes when the watch is on your wrist, and denies payments if you’re not actually wearing the watch. Unfortunately, there’s no heart rate monitor, so untick that feature box quickly.

The 1.4-inch AMOLED display looks pretty enough, but I never got a chance to test its performance in sunlight. It’s covered by a sapphire crystal, so you’ll have some nice impact- and scratch-protection—plus a traditional Swiss watch bragging point.

Do I want the Modular 45? Well, it’s by far the best-looking Android Wear watch I’ve ever seen, and among today’s field of absurdly large and chunky Wear 2.0 models, it’s not even that large. But, frankly, I’m a bit more taken by the mechanical Calibre 5. TAG Heuer’s customization system is a great innovation, and it’s a nice addition to the traditional Swiss repertoire.

Plus, the Calibre 5 will just keep on ticking and ticking, while the Modular 45 needs a recharge by the end of the day. That’s my biggest complaint with smartwatches, Android Wear inclusive. But, hey, if you’re going to suffer the daily indignity of recharging, you might as well do it in style.

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