The people behind Hot Watch were careful to emphasize this was a pre-pre- (pre!) production unit I was handling, and that the fit and finish is likely to be more polished once the final version starts shipping. So, I'll pass that disclaimer onto you, dear readers, and ask you to use your imaginations. All that said, the watch is impressively thin and light. Unfortunately, it didn't have a buckle -- just a velcro strap -- so it didn't wrap around my wrist the way I would have liked, but I'm sure that won't be an issue in the final build. Inside, there's a battery rated for seven days of runtime if you don't make any calls, and three days of standby with calling.
Given this watch's telephonic capabilities, you'll also find a module around back, near where the band fastens. This contains both the mic, as well as a bi-directional speaker allowing you to hear your callers over traffic, airport pages and other sorts of ambient noise. What's interesting is that the Hot Watch rep on site warned me that the module would eventually be made of soft rubber instead of plastic, as if to suggest the current version wouldn't be comfortable. But even as is, it didn't bother me.
Continuing our tour (which I promise I'll keep brief), the 1.26-inch e-paper display lacks the minimal styling of the Pebble -- you'll see small icons and Hot Watch branding up top -- but it's easy to read outdoors and at slightly off-kilter angles, too. (If you don't believe me, let me tell you that I nailed all of my hands-on shots on my first go, which doesn't usually happen when we Engadget editors photograph things with screens.) The top-end model (the one with the titanium trim) will also have a flashlight, but again, I didn't get to see that today.
The screen is responsive too, and it's at this point that I should probably tell you how this thing actually works. Kind of like the Gesture2Launch app for Windows 8, the screen allows you to draw letters onscreen, each of which stands for something obvious. Think: 'A' for apps, 'D' for dialing. Those apps, by the way, include an alarm, stopwatch, timer, world clock (for a second time zone), calendar, basic music playback controls, pedometer, calculator and a messaging hub (SMS, Facebook, email and Twitter are all covered). Developers will also have the opportunity to write apps, thanks to an open SDK.
Anyway, once you're in an app, you can swipe down diagonally from the upper left corner to the lower right to navigate backward, though a company rep said there will also be a back button in the final version. If you're just looking at the watch face, you can swipe down for a different one (see our gallery for a few samples -- you'll see a faux-analog timepiece, among others). As you'd expect, the watch is powered by Bluetooth, allowing it to work with both Android and iOS devices.
With me so far? Good: you're not missing anything. It really is that simple. The problem is, in its current version the touchscreen itself isn't always that responsive. I had no problem with the diagonal-swipe gesture, for instance, but I never got that "A for apps" gesture on the first try. In fact, even the company reps on site struggled with it. Again, though, that's the sort of thing the company can surely work on before it ships a final product.
The calling feature is promising too, though I had some issues in my early tests, mostly owing to the fact that there's not currently a firm buckle in place. After you make that 'D' gesture to dial out, you can select from recent phone numbers and then just hit an obvious dial button to place a call. Still got those imagination caps on? You'll need it here. To successfully hear the other person on the line, you'll need to hold your hand up to your ear, as if you've got a phone in your hand. The placement is tricky, especially right now when the loose velcro allows the band to slide down your wrist, away from your face. Assuming the watch gets a proper fastener, it should be easier to nail that mic placement without having to make lots of adjustments.
Once you get the hang of the mic placement, though, the sound quality is surprisingly clear. To give you an idea of what the watch was up against, I was on a penthouse terrace in Manhattan, with people having conversations around me. There were all the usual New York City sounds in the background, with a cocktail party going on just inside the apartment, behind the terrace door. I was still able to hear my caller, and he was able to hear me. It wasn't great call quality by phone standards, of course -- if this were a run-of-the-mill Bluetooth headset I'd be giving it a weak review. But considering most of us don't expect to be able to carry on a call from a wristwatch, it was pretty darn capable. If you're worried about the speaker being too loud, the watch's creators say it's designed to amplify sound off your palm, and into your ear, to allow for better privacy. An interesting claim, that, but one I wasn't able to sufficiently test today.
Hopefully this isn't the last we'll see of the Hot Watch -- it would be great to test out a final version a few months from now. For now, though, enjoy the hands-on photos.