Some things are just fated to go together, like chocolate and peanut butter. Others– like peppermint and chicken – just don’t work. I just spent a week with Huawei’s new wearable Talkband B1, which fits squarely into the latter category.
The $170 Talkband combines a watch, sleep and step counter into a Bluetooth headset, which snaps into a wristband, and competes with the Fitbit, Nike Fuel and zillions of other wearable computers. It’s a nifty kludge – it tracks steps and sleep continuously, and when someone calls, you simply pop out the electronic guts and pop it into your ear. Want to track progress towards your goals, or check on your snoozing? The Talkband quickly syncs up with either an iOS or Android phone, using a downloadable app.
During my testing I found that the device mostly does what it is supposed to do, with one significant shortcoming. At least for me, it wasn’t very accurate in tracking my steps. For instance, one morning I got up, but after puttering around my house for an hour the Talkband only registered 12 steps. I don’t live in a mansion, but it’s at least 30 steps from my bedroom to the kitchen – and making coffee, finding my tablet, and those trips to the bathroom added even more. Now perhaps the device is trying to say something about the prior evening’s wine consumption, but if so it needs to be a bit less subtle.
I found a similar problem when walking with the Talkband. I hiked for two miles with two friends – one using a Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 watch, and the other with a Misfit Shine – and the Huawei undercounted my steps, compared to my friends, by about 10%. But that’s probably within the realm of noise – I’ve seen much bigger variations. My old Nike Fuelband, for instance, came in at about 40% of those steps, while an old GCC Pulse Acceleromater delivered nearly 50% more steps than the Talkband.
I did enjoy the Talkband’s monitoring of my sleep, especially when it told me how much “deep sleep” vs. “light sleep” I’d experienced, although that’s just because it tracks movement. However, I had had to cross my own personal barrier to actually wear the Talkband to bed. At first, the whole concept of having a Bluetooth headset on my wrist all night was a bit off-putting. Did I really want to be awakened at four in the morning by some random drunk-dialer? I solved the problem by storing my phone out of Bluetooth range, but that’s an imperfect solution at best. I’d rather be able to turn Bluetooth off on the Talkband from time to time – or via a set schedule.
I had a related problem with the Talkband’s that’s more a problem with Bluetooth than the device itself. I love having my car auto-connect with my phone via Bluetooth, so I can hands-free chat while driving. But since the Talkband was always connected to my Nexus 5, I couldn’t find a way to set Bluetooth device priority (I tried), so my car would overrule the Talkband. I often found myself getting calls in the car that routed to my wrist. And the last thing I wanted to do while driving was attempt to pop the headset out of the band, and stuff it into my ear. My solution was to turn the Talkband off before I got into the car, but I would often forget to turn it back on when I got out. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of the device.
I also had problems knowing who was calling. Often the OLED screen would only display the phone number, even when the caller was in my phone’s address book. Other times the caller’s name would pop up. It’s really hard to read 10 numbers at an angle quickly when you’re deciding whether or not to answer the call, so foolproof address book connectivity would have been nice. The display itself also fades considerably outdoors, only adding to my woes. Finally time isn’t displayed persistently, which means fumbling for the button when you need a chronological fix. I found it weird to wear a “watch” that didn’t always tell the time.
On the plus side, the battery life is pretty darn good – I got nearly a week on a single charge. The Bluetooth headset sounded great, and fit my ear pretty well too. I also really like the USB charging port, which is cunningly concealed in a flap of the band. And for such a bulky device, the Talkband is pretty comfortable to wear – far better than some of the more rigid devices on the market. It also claims to be waterproof (up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water), but I didn’t put that one to the test. It did survive my showers with aplomb – although again, I dreaded the thought that I might actually answer the phone while lathering up.
This is clearly not the device for me. But apparently there are some that enjoy poultry and peppermint. A few folks I showed it to loved the concept, and thought a combo Bluetooth headset and wearable fitness monitor would be perfect for them. If that’s you, then the Talkband is a decent alternative to a standard fitness band and headset, although you should expect it to undercount your steps by about 10%.