Sleek Hot Watch makes hands-free calls with style (hands-on)

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/ Updated: August 20, 2013 2:48 PM PDT

While we wait for mainstream electronics makers such as Samsung and Apple to enter the fledgling smartwatch market , more-nimble startups are already there pushing the boundaries of this emerging category. For example, the new Hot Watch created by PHTL is an extremely innovative product that boasts exciting new features I've never seen before.

The timepiece sports a directional-mic-and-speaker combo in the strap for chatting hands-free with a virtual handset when your actual phone is out of reach. It also uses wild gesture controls implemented with a hand wave or via its touch screen for a unique human interface. It's something even the vaunted Pebble Watch or contenders like the Sony Smartwatch can't touch. The folks behind this device were kind enough to let me take a working prototype for a brief spin, and I have to say, I was impressed with the experience.

Hot Watch
The Hot Watch is both slim and uniquely capable. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design
Measuring a mere 8mm thick, the Hot Watch is the thinnest high-tech timepiece I've seen personally. Indeed it's much more svelte than the Pebble or even tiny Sony SmartWatch. The prototype I handled, the second generation and close to the final product, lacked any physical buttons. Instead the device relies on its small e-ink LCD touch screen for primary user interaction.

Hot Watch
The Hot Watch is just 8mm thin. Sarah Tew/CNET

PHTL also told me that while the watch body and bezel were very near what the ultimate gadget will look like, it will tweak the strap further. Also, the company expects to add a physical key on the right side in the future. The watch also won't use Velcro as the prototype had, but instead will have a more standard buckle.

Hot Watch
The Hot Watch will come in four models priced from $169 to $249. Sarah Tew/CNET

The band of the Hot Watch is where you'll find many of its innovative features. Among them are a magnetic charging port and a directional speaker with microphone. PHTL also plans to offer four models of the Hot Watch, with the main difference among them being build materials. For example, premium versions will boast pricey leather bands and titanium bezels whereas budget models will use plastic and silicone.

Features
The Hot Watch tackles all the typical smartwatch duties, such as pushing smartphone alerts to its screen for perusal. So if you get texts, e-mails, Facebook, Twitter, or other messages, you'll be able to read them from your wrist. The watch will also vibrate when alerts come through.

Hot Watch
You'll have many watch faces to play with. Sarah Tew/CNET

Where the Hot Watch stands out from similar products, though, is in how you interact with it. You draw virtual letters on the touch-screen display to access key watch features. Swiping a "D" pulls up the dialing menu for viewing recent calls and seeing lists of contacts. Dragging your finger from the left top corner to the bottom right acts as a "back" menu command. Similarly you can flip through different watch faces (four will ship with the device) to find one you'd like.

Hot Watch
Dial right from your wrist. Sarah Tew/CNET

Where things get really wild, though, is when you dive into the Hot Watch's call-handling gestures. When a call comes in, you can answer it simply by raising your arm and cupping your hand over your ear. From there a directional speaker begins to pump audio along the line of your forearm. A microphone on the watch band also picks up any words you say. The idea here is to have a private chat without having to lay a finger on your phone.

Hot Watch
Use your hand as a phone. Sarah Tew/CNET

To end the call, just twist your wrist as if you're waving goodbye. You can also reject incoming calls by twisting the wrist of your clenched fist. The Hot Watch performs other functions, too. A "find my phone" feature warns you when your phone travels away from you or vice versa. A built-in pedometer will track steps, and PHTL says a power-nap setting is in the works. There's even a "fall detection" mode that will send a text automatically to a predetermined contact if the watch thinks you've fallen down and need assistance.

Hot Watch
The Hot Watch will have both iOS and Android apps. Sarah Tew/CNET

Outlook
I have to admit, with all these impressive capabilities, the Hot Watch sounds very enticing, especially at its lowest price of entry (retail prices range from $169 to $249). Execution is everything, though, especially in the technology business. When I tried the hands-free calling, it took me a few attempts to find the sweet spot for my ear. Once I did, it felt like the person on the phone was floating (and speaking) right below and to the left of my head -- a truly unsettling and exciting experience. For that alone I'm fired up to see what the Hot Watch can do in the real world.

The gadget itself seemed to handle smoothly and without any connection issues, something many smartwatches can't boast about. Frankly I'm eager to get my hands on a production model. Unfortunately retail devices won't ship until December, so we'll just have to sit tight and wait.

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Where to Buy

Hot Watch

Part Number: CNETHOTSMARTWATCH

MSRP: $169.00

See manufacturer website for availability.