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Wearable Tech

What Watch: A smartwatch that attempts to freeze a moment in time (hands-on)

A startup out of Switzerland is preparing to launch a line of attractive and sporty watches with a unique feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's the birth of your first child. You look down at those adorable eyes and you begin to melt. What if there was a way to stop time at this very moment? That's the idea behind a line of watches from What Watch, a new startup out of Switzerland.

You can't track your daily activity and you won't see any notifications on your wrist, but the What Watch does have one special feature. A simple tap of the red side button will stop and record the time. That moment will be transmitted to your Android or iOS device through a Bluetooth 4.0 connection. You can then use the What Watch mobile app to add a picture to the moment and share it with others or keep it for yourself.

I wouldn't call the What Watch a smartwatch, but rather a hybrid watch. If you want to get technical, it's a monofunctional wristwatch. I was able to meet the founders of What Watch and spend some time with each of the company's unique timepieces. They even disclosed some details about their upcoming store, which will be located in Williamsburg, New York -- fitting for such a hipsterish product.

The Classic

While founded in Switzerland, the What Watch team and technology comes from around the globe; from Tokyo, Helsinki, Zurich and New York. The traditional What Watch, known as the Classic, has Swiss mechanical movements in a 42mm body that is protected with hardened mineral glass. The body features polished stainless steel and an Italian leather strap to keep it secure on your wrist.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Behind the mechanical watch arms resides an e-paper display. Along with the normal numeric hash marks, the display includes the 12 months of the year around the outer edge. Under each month are five slots that can be filled with a gray dot, which is meant to remind you of a special moment.

The Classic felt like a premium product and looked great on my wrist. If I was heading to a wedding or a date, this is the watch I would want to wear -- not my Moto 360 or Apple Watch . The What Watch Classic will be offered with a variety of leather straps and in either a white or black e-paper model. It will be available this summer in the US for $299, which converts to around £200 or AU$395, although UK and Australian details are yet to be announced.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Radar

Next up is the What Watch Radar. This one features a more contemporary design with a slightly larger 43.5mm body and a polyurethane strap, which is designed to hold up better than silicone. Rather than Swiss mechanics, the Radar features quartz movements and the body is matte stainless steel, rather than polished. Under the hardened mineral glass and mechanical arms sits an e-paper display that has a more modern layout than the Classic model.

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I wasn't as fond of the Radar as I was the classic. It didn't feel as nice or look as smart on my wrist, but that's just based on my personal style -- I'm more of a traditional watch kind of guy. The What Watch Radar will be offered in brass, black or steel for $249 this summer in the US (that converts to around £165 or AU$325).

The Modern

The What Watch Modern is the company's sporty model. The Modern features a 42mm polycarbonate body, hardened mineral glass, quartz movements, an e-paper display and a polyurethane strap.

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My feelings towards the Modern were the same as the Radar: it's just not for me and wouldn't fit my personal style. If I was going to be wearing a so-called sporty watch, it would be one that includes GPS and activity tracking. It also felt a little too cheap for my liking.

The What Watch Modern will be available in black or white this summer in the US for $169 (roughly £110 or AU$220).

The Pocket

My favorite was the What Watch Pocket, a beautiful pocket watch with a 55mm polished stainless steel body. It also features the same e-paper display as the Classic, hardened mineral glass protecting it, and Swiss mechanical movements.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The watch had a nice weight to it and felt sturdy in my hand. Overall it was stunning to look at and I was quite impressed, which was a bit of a shock considering I've never had a real interest in a pocket watch before experiencing this one.

The What Watch Pocket will be available this summer in the US for $349 (around £230 or AU$460).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life and water resistance

Two small coin batteries are used to power all of the watches. The first one is for the mechanical portions of the watch and will last up to 5 years, while the second powers the e-paper display and will last up to 1 year.

As for water resistance, the Classic, Radar and Pocket are tested for up to 1 ATM (about 10 meters) of water exposure. The company has said these watches can be worn in the shower, but not while swimming. For obvious reasons, the leather straps should not be exposed to water. Because of a design choice with the Modern model (the band goes through the casing), the watch is only splash-resistant: fine for washing hands and wearing in the rain, but not the shower.

You can learn more about water-resistant ratings in watches here.

Android and iOS support

The What Watch app is a photo-sharing social network, but it's more than an Instagram wannabe. Once you press the red button on the watch, the time from that very moment is transferred to the app, which will then use your smartphone's GPS (plus Foursquare's location API) to figure out where you are. Once this information has been uploaded, you can snap a picture or upload one from your phone that will be used to represent this moment.

The app's privacy settings let you keep photos private or share them with customized circles of friends. You can also create folders to organize memories from specific trips and make mini flip movies with the memories. Photos and videos can then be export photos to social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

What Watch

Here's how it works: Let's say I take a trip to the Grand Canyon. Once I arrive, I tap the red button on the watch. My smartphone's GPS will then notice that I am at the aforementioned big hole in the ground and add that information to the app. I can then snap a picture to remember the moment and share it with myself, friends, my family or anyone else.

I can then return to that moment whenever I want and see a continuous timer for how long it has been since it occurred. Now say I wanted to remember this moment whenever I glanced down at my wrist. The small dot that can be added the e-paper display on a specific month is supposed to represent this.

What Watch

The What Watch app will be available later this summer as a free download in the Google Play store and Apple's App Store. The app can even be used if you don't own one of the company's watches.

Brooklyn, NY

So what's the catch? Unlike many other startups, What Watch won't be relying on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. Financially, its appears to be sound, and will actually be opening a flagship store called "What?" in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.

The store is currently under construction and not many details were shared, but company executives noted that it will be more than just a location to sell What Watch products. It will also include a curated selection of other design-focused items, ranging from audio speakers to accessories.

The What? store opens in the fall of this year and will be located at 106 North 6th Street, Williamsburg. More information on the What? store and What Watch products are available on the company's website.

Last updated Monday, June 1, at 4:05 pm ET: A What Watch representative reached out to us to confirm that the Pocket model does include Swiss mechanical movements. The article has been updated to include these changes.