Back in January when I looked at the Talkband B1 from Huawei, I likened it to chicken and peppermint – two flavors that just don’t belong together.
After a few weeks with Huawei’s latest iteration, the much improved B2, I’ve changed my tune. We aren’t into chocolate and peanut-butter territory yet, but this new smart watch has moved at least to chocolate and tomatoes – a surprising yet satisfying combination of features for what should be well under $200 when it ships in the US later this year.
Many of the things I hated about the B1 have been updated, changed or tossed. It’s still an odd mashup of a Bluetooth headset and fitness tracker, but if that combination appeals to you, this version fills the bill.
So what’s new? And what makes it so much better than the first one? Let’s start with the look and feel. The old B1 was all plastic and rubber. If you tend towards wearing Livestrong bracelets and that skanky wristband from last night’s kegger, you probably found the B1 attractive. But for everyone else it was tacky, dull and ugly.
The B2 is a breath of fresh air. First, the band on this unit itself is leather not plastic. And the watch is an attractive brushed copper/gold (made out of aluminum alloy metal, according to Huawei) very similar to Apple’s gold iphone. The design is relatively similar to the prior version, but the use of warm leather and elegant gold make it look far better – and classier – on your wrist. The B2 also comes in a white/silver package and a black version, but I think the gold/leather combination is the best. The three color options almost perfectly match Apple’s iPhone colors. Coincidence? I think not.
The insides are much improved as well. The gold face of the TalkBand – which is also the outward face of the Bluetooth headset, is now a touch sensitive .73” PMOLED screen, rather than the static LED of the older version. That makes it easy to swipe through the basic functions of the watch, including date/time, steps walked, time spent biking or hiking, calories burned, and a neat timer feature that lets you time yourself exercising. Unfortunately the screen is not that bright. It looks just fine indoors, but outside it washes away into oblivion. Don’t expect to tell time or monitor your activity under the mid-day sun.
The sensors seem much improved from the prior version. I tested the step counter against a Samsung Gear S across the same terrain and both ended up within a hundred steps of each other – unlike my experience with the B1, which undercounted repeatedly by about 10%. It’s still not perfect – the talkband routinely accuses me of biking for 5 or more minutes every day, when I haven’t been on my two-wheeler for at least 3 months. And even though I spend a fair bit of time hiking, it never seems to discern that from the standard walking.
The sleep monitor, unfortunately, isn’t perfect. It wildly undercounted sleep one night, accusing me of getting just five hours when I know I was asleep for at least 7. Another time I managed just five hours – including a sleepless hour in the middle, yet it claimed I had well over 6 and a half. But sleep monitoring is less than perfect anyway, so you should consider it directional, not absolute.
Even with the PMOLED screen I found battery life to be pretty solid. The Talkband S2 lasted about 6 days on a single charge when used just as a fitness monitor. Even when I used the Bluetooth headset regularly, it still lasted three days or more. Battery life should not be a drawback to adopting this device into your life. Charging is also super-easy, as it uses the standard micro-USB port, so you can share cables with your phone and other devices. It took about an hour and a half to charge it back up after it ran dry.
The Talkband B2 claims a variety of other features, some of which I was unable to get working. When you pair it with Huawei’s svelte new P8 phone, it promises to let you use it as a shutter button for the camera – but I couldn’t find the controls to make that happen. I did use it to unlock my phone, which is a neat feature (it uses Bluetooth proximity), and it also regularly alerted me when my phone was out of Bluetooth range, which is a nice security blanket.
It also includes an activity nag. If it finds out you’ve been sitting for more than a half hour it starts vibrating and a little animated guy implores you to get up off your butt. You can set that time interval in 15 minute increments from 30 minutes up to two hours – and only for certain parts of each day. It’s a nice feature, and luckily you can turn it off if it gets to annoying.
The Huawei Wear app, available for iOS and Android, gives you a quick snapshot of your data, and tracks your progress towards daily goals. It’s simple, but effective.
That basically sums up the entire Talkband B2. It’s a simple device that works reasonably well. The combination of a Bluetooth headset is a unique mash-up that should appeal to at least a subset of smart-watch buyers. And this new version fixes many of the problems with the B1. I had trouble recommending the last version for anyone. But now, if you like the idea of a headset/wearable fitness tracker combination, and you don’t need lots of features, the B2 is worth a closer look.