The last time we saw the Hot Watch, the wristband was held together with a temporary strip of Velcro. To be sure, it was in good enough shape for us to test its voice-calling feature, but it was desperately in need of some TLC in the design department. A lot's changed in the past five months, however, and now the startup is ready to ship the watch to early Kickstarter backers. We got a chance to check out a (nearly) final version here at CES where, indeed, there were a few Kickstarter buyers milling around Hot Watch's suite, hoping to get a sneak peek. Read on for a rundown of what's new. And hey, all you backers out there? Don't shoot the messenger if it's not all good news: You backed it, you bought it.
As ever, the watch band has a bulbous module on the end -- that's where the mic and bi-directional speaker live, allowing you to make voice calls. This time, however, the band has a proper strap (hooray!) and is made of silicone. Actually, the model we handled was made of a different material, though company reps assured us the final version will indeed use silicone, and that it will have a softer finish. Also new: a built-in flashlight on the right side, though it's only included on the highest-end model.
The front of the watch, meanwhile, is more or less as we remember it, with a rectangular face and a choice of different materials: a matte black finish ($179), stainless steel ($199) or titanium ($249). At a glance, the stainless steel and titanium are hard to distinguish -- meaning, the titanium doesn't actually look like it should be $50 more expensive than the steel. It is a bit flashier, though: The titanium model has curved, not straight edges, giving it a bolder look.
More importantly, perhaps, the watch's UI has also received a face-lift. Whereas before you traced diagonal lines across the screen to toggle through apps, you now swipe in from the right (yep, just like in Windows 8). Also, those four shortcuts above the screen? They now actually function as shortcuts. Just tap right below each shortcut icon to view the clock, date, calendar and some programmable apps (it was tic-tac toe on the watches we handled, but you can change that). The problem is, the screen is awfully tiny, and the four touch zones for each of the shortcuts are even tinier. So it can be tricky to find the right spot on your first try, especially if you're a new user. In particular, we struggled with shortcut number one, located in the upper-left corner of the display.
Otherwise, the screen was responsive, particularly when I drew shortcuts to open the clock options, app menu and system settings. And I use the word "drew" deliberately: You trace an "A" for apps, a "C" for clock and so on. By the time this ships, you'll also be able to write "F" for flashlight, assuming you get the high-end titanium edition.
Speaking of ship dates, company reps say they expect the first Kickstarter backers to receive their Hot Watches before the Chinese New Year (hint: that's January 31st), with later adopters getting theirs in February. Meanwhile, people who placed pre-orders after the Kickstarter campaign ended should be getting the watch starting in March.