Huawei TalkBand B2 review – the fitness band you can make calls on
The new world of wearables poses some tricky questions when it comes to classification. While it’s obvious where devices such as the Apple Watch, the Sony SmartWatch 3 and the Pebble fall, other devices such as the Microsoft Band or the Sony SmartBand Talk are trickier to pigeonhole. See also: What’s the best smartwatch of 2015?
Huawei’s TalkBand B2 is a particularly slippery customer. On one hand, it’s a watch and a fitness tracker. It tells the time, counts your steps, tracks your sleep, lets you know how many calories you’ve burned, and straps onto your wrist.
It’s slim and light like a fitness tracker, can survive a fitness-related sweat-soaking, and its design is right out of the lifestyle device playbook. It’s available in black, silver and gold, the latter with a rather natty brown leather strap, and its tiny, 0.73in monochrome passive matrix OLED (PMOLED) touchscreen shines through what looks like a polished metal surface.
It’s your call
But the B2 is like no fitness tracker or smartwatch I’ve encountered. Press a pair of buttons on its side and the body of the watch pops out, revealing that it also doubles as a Bluetooth headset, complete with squishy rubber earpiece.
When someone calls, the B2 alerts you with a buzz, and you pop the headset out of its moorings and shove it in your ear. The B2 automatically answers the call and you can adjust the volume by swiping a finger up or down the screen.
It sounds a bit daft, and I felt silly the first time few times I answered a call like this, but it’s a concept that does work in certain situations. It lets you answer a call quickly, even if your phone’s in your bag or in a coat pocket hung up somewhere out of reach.
It makes even more sense for fans of phablets and call-capable tablets. After all, you don’t want to haul a massive slab of glass out of your satchel, just to answer a call.
It feels more comfortable and slightly less embarrassing than talking into your wrist, Knight Rider-style. For those who aren’t into Bluetooth street fashion, it also means you have access to a hands-free kit without having to leave one plugged into your ear at all times.
And, surprisingly for such a small earpiece, call quality is pretty good. No-one I spoke to on the B2 complained about dropouts or poor audio quality, although the sound quality from the microphone was a touch muffled. I had no complaints about understanding people at the other end either.
Tracking features and interface
Calls aren’t the only thing the B2 is good at. Using an integrated six-axis gyroscope, it tracks your steps, your sleep and exercise, and it does so without the need for user intervention. Specifically, it tracks running, cycling, walking and hiking, and displays calories burned; it picks up all these different types of activity (including sleep and deep sleep), with a decent degree of accuracy.
Battery life is long enough – around two to three days per charge – that sleep tracking actually works on a practical level, and when you do need to charge it via the micro-USB port on the underside of the headset, it takes less than two hours.
And getting at all this fitness data is straightforward. The main display shows the time, the day and date plus Bluetooth and charge status, and illuminates when you lift your wrist, or when you press the button on the B2’s side.
Navigating around the various screens, where your daily totals are shown, is achieved via simple swipes up or down on the touchscreen. It’s also possible to initiate and time exercise sessions manually from the screen, and there’s even a small selection of alternative watch faces to choose from. Meanwhile, you can use the B2 to locate a misplaced phone by holding down the button on the side.
One drawback is that the tracking data you see on the B2’s screen is limited to the current day’s activity and the previous night’s sleep. To keep a track of historic fitness data, you need to install Huawei’s companion Android app. This app also lets you set activity targets and set a “smart alarm” that wakes you, within a set window of up to half an hour, when it detects you’re sleeping lightly.
There’s another, bigger hole in the TalkBand’s capabilities, however: notifications. Although it can transmit and display rudimentary alerts – such as missed calls – it doesn’t show any other notifications.
If you want social network updates, email alerts or text messages on your wrist, you’ll need to buy a proper smartwatch. You’ll also want to look elsewhere if you want to be able to read the screen in bright sunlight. On sunny days I found I had to shield the screen with my hand to make out anything at all on the display.
This is all a bit of a shame, because I’ve come to like the B2 during my time with it. It’s light and comfortable; it provides a useful indication of my activity and sleep patterns; it tells the time; and it lets me answer calls quickly without having to find my phone.
The Huawei TalkBand B2 isn’t yet available in the UK, but when it does go on sale it will cost around £121 for the black and silver editions, and £143 for the gold one (converted from the €169 and €199 prices we have right now). For my money, that’s too much for what is effectively a simple fitness tracker with one extra trick – especially now that Android Wear smartwatches are becoming increasingly affordable.