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Hot Watch Hands-on: Pebble Challenger Makes Calls

The Pebble isn’t the only smartwatch making its claim to crowdfunded fame. While industry big shots such as Apple and Samsung are taking their time when it comes to the smartwatch craze, the newly announced Hot Watch has already raised nearly $500,000 on Kickstarter. The device, which is slated to ship this December, brings nearly full smartphone functionality to a tiny e-ink display and really showcases the potential for smartwatches.

The Hot Watch is still in its prototype phase, but one of the first things we noticed was its slim and attractive design. At just 8mm thin, the Hot Watch is noticeably sleeker than the 22mm Pebble watch. The Hot Watch’s smooth wristband stays curled even when it’s not on your wrist-- similar to snap bracelets. The prototype we saw used velcro to stay secured to our wrist, but we’re told that the final version will ship with a standard buckle.

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The Hot Watch will be available in a variety of configurations when it launches later this year, with the most expensive model falling in the $249 price range and cheaper versions costing around $109. These pricier models will feature more premium build materials such as titanium or leather, while the less expensive versions will use plastic.

Like most smartwatches, the Cortex M3-powered Hot Watch syncs up with your Android or iOS device to display notifications and messages. Where this watch differs from the rest is its ability to support various types of input, including touch, voice and gestures The Hot Watch comes with a speaker and microphone built into its strap for answering and making phone calls-- a feature you won’t find on the Pebble.

PHTL, the makers behind the watch, tell us that the Hot Watch uses audio technology that bounces sound waves off of your palm directly into your ear. This is meant to keep the conversation private rather than creating a speakerphone affect when participating in phone calls. When using the Hot Watch to call a PHTL representative in another room, we heard our caller loud and clear despite the boisterous crowd.


Keeping our palm open while holding the watch to our face felt slightly awkward, but the audio quality was pretty good. The Hot Watch also takes advantage of its built-in accelerometer and gyroscope to detect your movements. For example, we simply waved our hand as if we were saying goodbye to hang up a phone call. To dismiss an incoming call, simply clench your fist and twist your wrist.

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PHTL says that a “find my phone capability” and fall detection feature are in the works. The “find my phone” function would alert you when you phone has suddenly moved out of range, and the fall detection feature would send a message to a predetermined contact if it thinks you have fallen down and need assistance. Like many other wearable gadgets, the Hot Watch will also include a built-in pedometer to track your steps. For exercise junkies, the device is also water resistant and capable of managing the music stored on your smartphone.

Based on our demo, the primary method of interaction with the Hot Watch is through its 1.26-inch LCD touch screen. The watch responds to certain gestures that correspond with its designated task. Tracing the letter A on the home screen will launch its app menu, while making a D motion (for dial) will pull up the call menu. Other gestures include swiping across the screen diagonally to return to the home screen and swiping from right to left to navigate backwards within apps.

While we love the idea of gestures, we didn’t find them to be very intuitive during our demo. We found ourselves mixing up some of these shortcuts and accidentally launching different apps in certain instances. However, the Hot Watch is still in development and PHTL tells us there will be a home button on the final version.

The Hot Watch is expected to last for seven days on a charge when its call functionality is disabled and three days when it's turned on. Hot Watch owners will be able to download watch faces and apps for the device, and PHTL says that an emulator will be available for those who want to create their own watch faces.

PHTL is clearly seeking to push the limits of existing smartwatches with its Hot Watch, and we look forward seeing how it fares against the competition when it launches later this year. The company was recently granted numerous patents covering the technology built into its watch. Stay tuned for a full review of the Hot Watch’s final build later this year.