Hands-On Review – Hublot’s $5200 Smart Watch

The Skinny

  • 42mm
  • Wear OS digital module
  • $5200 (titanium) $5800 (ceramic)
Advertisement

It’s a Computer

Existentially speaking, whether a computer-watch is a watch at all is a divisive question. My personal take: computer-watches are watches only in that they tell the time and fit on your wrist. Otherwise, I consider these devices computers. When Hodinkee put Jony Ive (designer of the Apple Watch) on the cover of their print magazine, I rolled my eyes.

The Apple Watch dominates the field with the fastest and most sophisticated computer-watch. Apple’s contenders rely on Google’s Wear-OS, which never catches up to Apple’s swift, proprietary OS. The Wear-OS contenders are outdoorsy options from Casio, Garmin, Suunto, or fashion-oriented options from Fossil, Frederique-Constant, Tag, Montblanc, and of course Hublot. While the Apple Watch dominates, there’s still millions of us out there who don’t drink the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. Wear-OS is highly relevant technology, despite Apple’s dominance.

It’s a shame, then, that Google’s Wear OS isn’t quite as awesome as Apple’s OS. Wear OS is slower, lacks some key features, is a bit clunky in terms of buying and downloading apps, and Wear OS can struggle with third-party batteries while Apple’s OS is seamlessly integrated with their proprietary battery. On the other hand, Wear OS is an incredibly stable platform that links to your Google accounts and devices seamlessly and without hassle. I’ve now had a few Wear OS computer-watches linked to my main Google account and working perfectly in under a minute. A few relative shortcomings notwithstanding, it’s an impressive system.

If you don’t agree that these computer-watches are more computer than watch, consider this specs list for the Hublot Big Bang e:

  • 42mm OLED high-definition touchscreen
  • Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 8GB of storage
  • 300mAh battery

If that’s not a modern digital computer, I don’t know what is.

It’s expensive, but…

Most of the other computer-watches out there cost (literally) about 1/10th of the Big Bang e, which retails for $5800 in ceramic and $5200 in titanium. Given that these computer-watches are likely never going to become heirlooms – not to mention that all digital devices typically represent a measure of planned obsolescence – that’s a very high price. So, what exactly sets the Hublot Big Bang e apart from the rest enough to warrant this price point?

Initially, I thought that nothing really set the Big Bang e apart and that it was just over-priced. However, there are a couple of arguments to be made for the Big Bang e.

First of all, the case and strap of this watch far outperform that of any other computer-watch I’ve ever seen (with the possible exception of the Montblanc Summit computer-watches). I have the titanium model in hand, and it feels and looks like a proper mechanical Hublot. If Hublot is your jam, then the Big Bang e might appeal. At 42mm, it’s pretty comfortable, and it certainly looks cool. In fact, I’d argue that Hublot’s cutting-edge aesthetic and materials are well suited to a computer-watch.

Secondly, if you have over $5k to spend on a watch that’s likely going to be old-hat in a few years time (because that’s the nature of all digital computing devices), then there really aren’t many options out there that will scratch that rather expensive itch. The more I consider the Big Bang e, the more I realize that it stands alone in a very small niche as the only true high-luxury computer-watch. This, I’ve recently concluded, is the real appeal of the Big Bang e.

Hublot & The Future of Anti-Homogeneity

In Star Trek, everyone dresses the same, all vehicles look the same, and even Earth’s high-tech solar cities lack texture and individuality. Apparently, in the not-so-distant future we will all own and wear the same stuff. Given how modern tech design is going, Star Trek’s portrait of the future may be spot on (it often is). Apple seems to support the homogenization of tech with their one-product-for-all-mankind approach. Sure, there’s a couple of sizes and a lot of straps available for the Apple Watch, but – if I’m really frank – one of the reasons I don’t like the Apple watch is that those who wear them seem like conformists to me. Steve Jobs’ attitude toward customers was that they didn’t know what they needed until he put it in front of them; that attitude got a lot of praise from those who worship entrepreneurs, but Job’s attitude also reduces customers to sheep.

As the only true high-craft computer-watch, the Big Bang e is not for sheep. You’re very unlikely to find another person wearing one, and if individuality is important to you, then the Big Bang e has almost no competition. Add in proprietary watch faces, including artwork that provides a rather avante garde timetelling experience, and you’re going to be able to sweep up a bit of recognition for your computer-watch. Hermes leather Apple Watch straps have nothing on the Big Bang e when it comes to pulling off high-tech sophistication.

Perhaps some of you find my focusing on external social validation a bit shallow, but in the world of high-end wrist watches none of this seems at all out of place to me. In fact, the Big Bang e sits right at the price threshold (~$5k) that most folks believe separates luxury watches from the rest. Attend a RedBar or Hodinkee meet-up in NYC, and the Big Bang e is going to be one of the least expensive watches in the room. Indeed, Hublot isn’t a company that’s out for the “new luxury” sector with its down-to-earth focus on value and sustainability. Indeed not. 

Hublot is all about extravagant, glistening displays of the avant garde. Hublot is all about pushing boundaries, breaking norms, and discovering alternatives. As such, the Hublot Big Bang e is a compelling antidote to Apple’s homogenization of wrists globally, and for the right person it’s a compelling alternative to the other relatively ho-hum computer-watches that use Google’s Wear OS.

And Finally…

Some may complain that the Big Bang e doesn’t have GPS. This is perhaps a bummer, but is independent GPS tracking really necessary for what is ultimately a luxury watch? If one is seeking the same features in the Big Bang e as are found in, say, a Casio Pro-Trek with GPS, then I’d say that person has lost their marbles. The Big Bang e isn’t designed to travel with you over mountain peaks, so stuff like GPS, solar charging, bang-it-hard-and-give-no-shits durability, and so on aren’t important here because the Big Bang e is ultimately an urban watch. That is: you’ll have your phone on you, and you’ll find a place to charge it.

In the final analysis, I’d argue that the Big Bang e is probably the only computer-watch that can give the Apple Watch a run for its money in terms of cache and elegance. I can only hope that one day Apple will open up their OS to third-party watchmakers, because then we can possibly avoid the extreme homogenization of tech, which is so unappealing to me. For that alone, the Big Bang e at least points to other possibilities – and that’s nothing to scoff at.