Huawei TalkBand B2 review: Weird or wonderful?

During MWC 2015 in March, Huawei unveiled a new version of its TalkBand, a wrist-worn fitness tracker that also doubles as a Bluetooth headset. We've been using the wearable for a few weeks now to bring you our Huawei TalkBand B2 review.

Huawei TalkBand B2 review: Design & build

The first thing I noticed about the TalkBand B2 is that the design has been significantly improved since the original TalkBand B1, both in terms of the way it looks and the practicality. The original TalkBand was plasticky and cheap-looking, but the new model looks much more stylish and sophisticated, from the strap and the device itself, right through to its packaging.

There are three different designs to choose from: a black version with a plastic strap, a silver version with a white plastic strap, and a gold version with a leather brown strap. We'd be happy to wear any of the three designs on a day-to-day basis, which is unlike how we felt when we tried the B1. You can also choose from different strap sizes, which is handy for those with particularly dainty or large wrists.

Our review unit was the gold model with the leather brown strap, which I felt comfortable wearing with most outfits, unlike some other fitness trackers we've tried. The strap is easy to adjust, easy to put on and take off quickly, and comfortable to wear.

The tech is all housed in the removable portion of the device, which pops out easily when you squeeze the two buttons on the strap and is easy to pop back into place. Again, I'm happy to see that Huawei has improved the design to make it easier to remove and replace the earpiece, something we found frustrating with the B1.

Also nice is that the screen becomes completely invisible when not in use, making the TalkBand B2 look more like a bracelet-type accessory than a piece of tech. Twisting or raising your wrist will cause the screen to illuminate.

It's been slimmed down a bit compared with the previous model, now measuring 11.8mm compared with 15mm, but I still found it to be a bit chunky for my liking. Most smartwatches are a little on the thick side compared with regular watches, but the TalkBand looks significantly thicker, which many people will find off-putting.

Best smartwatches 2015 | Best activity trackers 2015

Huawei TalkBand B2 review: Features

In terms of fitness tracking, the TalkBand B2 has everything you'd expect from a smart band. It'll track your steps, distance and estimated calorie burn using the built-in 6-axis sensor that detects what type of exercise you're doing, and can also be used to monitor your sleep. All of that information can be accessed from the 0.73in touchscreen, which I found to be pleasantly clear and responsive.

Accuracy of the TalkBand B2 seems to be on par with the likes of other fitness trackers we've tried. I'd like the option of an overall calorie burn estimate that includes the calories I burn naturally during the day in addition to the calories I've burned from exercise, to give me a better idea of whether my calorie intake is matching up with my calorie burn. Right now, you'll only see the calories you've burned through exercise.

You can set a goal, and if you reach it you'll get a cheerful buzz on the smartwatch complete with a firework animation and a little trophy. The first time I saw that I couldn't help but feel like I'd achieved something great – it certainly helped motivate me to try and reach my goal daily.

You can take a look back at your activity any time by opening the dedicated iOS or Android app, and can look at a day view or a month view if you'd prefer. The TalkBand can automatically monitor walking, running and cycling, and will present you with a separate summary for each of those activities.

It can also measure your sleep, letting you know how long you slept for, and whether that sleep was deep sleep, light sleep or falling asleep. It'll measure this automatically too. I didn't use the TalkBand to measure my sleep during testing, though. I tried, but it became too uncomfortable as it's not the smallest of devices, so I had to take it off.

I liked the TalkBand B2's optional activity reminder feature – you can have the device prompt you to get up and walk around if you've been sitting still at your desk or on the sofa too long.

Then there's the Bluetooth earpiece for hands-free calling, which has divided opinion here in the office. It actually makes a lot of sense – certainly more so than talking to your wrist like you're required to do with some other smartbands and smartwatches on the market.

But using a Bluetooth headset almost feels like taking a step back in time, when everyone simply uses headphones with a built-in microphone these days. Huawei seems to know this – it's launched the TalkBand N1 too, which are in-ear headphones that offer pretty much the same functionality as the TalkBand B2 aside from the touchscreen.

The first time someone called me while I was testing the TalkBand B2, I was notified by the device's vibration alert. I could see who was calling (in this case it was a number I didn't have stored in my phone). But I found myself too embarrassed to whip out the Bluetooth headset to answer the call in public. It's something you'll need to know that you're going to feel comfortable doing before you invest in this gadget. I'm sure I'd get used to it, but I haven't yet.  

When it really did come in handy, though, was when I was at home. I don't have a landline – all of my calls come to my mobile, but I always miss calls because I tend to leave my phone in my bag or coat when I get home from work. However, with the TalkBand B2, I was able to know when someone was calling, even if I didn't know where my phone was at the time, and quickly answer the call by removing the Bluetooth headset from its cradle and popping it into my ear.

I found it a bit fiddly to get it to sit in my ear to begin with, but once you get the hang of the way it fits it's quite easy.

The call quality is great, and those calling me said they hadn't noticed a difference in sound quality from my end – they were under the impression I was using my phone.

When the call was over, I could simply pop it back into the wristband and carry on with whatever I was doing. In fact, I could carry on with most tasks even whilst I was chatting – that's the beauty of hands-free calling, of course.

It's a shame that there aren't notifications for other things. You can turn on notifications for messages but that didn't seem to work for me and the manual didn't help there. A quick check online offered no answers either – Huawei's support documents are lacking (in fact, they're non exisitant). Anything else, such as Facebook notifications or emails, won't show up at all – you'll have to check your phone for those.

You can, however, set an alarm on the TalkBand B2 to wake you up in the morning, and use the device to help find your phone if it's fallen beneath the sofa.

The TalkBand B2 is also water and dust resistant, so don't have to worry about it while you're washing your hands. We wouldn't recommend wearing it while swimming or in the shower, though, particularly if you've got the leather strap.

Charging happens via microUSB, which simply plugs into the port on the back of the removable portion of the device, so it's always hidden while you're wearing it. It only takes about an hour and a half to charge and we found it could last for four or five days before needing to be recharged.

Huawei TalkBand B2 review: Compatibility

The TalkBand B2 is compatible with both Android and iOS, with Android 4.0 or above and iOS 7 or above required. The dedicated Huawei Wear app has a simple, easy to understand interface, presenting data as circles that will fill up as the day goes on, and more in-depth charts if you want a breakdown of the data over the day or month.

Huawei TalkBand B2 hands-on review: Price & availability

We were expecting the TalkBand B2 to go on sale in April, but now it looks like we'll have to wait until later in the year for the device. There's no official UK price yet, but it'll cost 169 Euros for the black and silver models, and 199 Euros for the gold model.

Directly converted, that's about £125 and £150 respectively. That's more expensive than fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR, which is at the top of our activity trackers chart right now, but it does offer more functionality thanks to its ability to allow you to take calls.

It's also a little lower than the £169 Microsoft is charging for its Micorosft Band activity tracker/smartwatch. The Microsoft Band is ugly and you cand use it to answer calls, but it does offer a colour display, a heartrate monitor, and notifications for incoming calls, texts, social media updates, calendar entries and emails.

Huawei TalkBand B2: Specs

  • 22mm wide, 11.8mm thick 32.2g Bluetooth 3.0 Dual-mic reduction 95mAh battery 0.73in display 128x88 Touchscreen Water and dust resistant Compatible with Android 4.0+ iOS 7.0+
  • 22mm wide, 11.8mm thick 32.2g Bluetooth 3.0 Dual-mic reduction 95mAh battery 0.73in display 128x88 Touchscreen Water and dust resistant Compatible with Android 4.0+ iOS 7.0+

OUR VERDICT

The TalkBand B2 is certainly an enormous improvement over the TalkBand B1 in terms of design and practicality, but I'm still not sure I'd buy one. It's an opinion divider, but I think for a (probably small) number of people, this device is going to be really exciting, and exactly what they've been looking for. You'll know if you're confident enough to wear and use the Bluetooth headset in public, and if you are, this smartband could be an excellent investment as it does its job brilliantly and looks good while doing so.

We'd have liked to see notifications, and possibly a bit of a slimmer design, and we're hoping that the price in the UK is indeed £125, because for more than that we'd suggest looking at the competition instead – maybe even at fully-fledged smartwatches like the LG G Watch, available for £159, or the £199 Motorola Moto 360.