(Pocket-lint) - Huawei is digging deep into wearables, having announced three devices at Mobile World Congress in March 2015. Ranging from smartwatch to activity tracker, it's the TalkBand B2's mixture of tracker meets Bluetooth earpiece headset that stands out as something different.
The original TalkBand B1, which the B2 succeeds, wasn't up to much in terms of design. The core idea was there but it was executed with a plastic and rubber build, which made it look cheap and undesirable.
The TalkBand B2 steps things up a notch, but can it right all the wrongs of its predecessor? We've been living with one strapped to a wrist for just over a month to see whether the Chinese company has the power to bring back the 90s Bluetooth headset en force.
The TalkBand B2 is in an entirely different league to its predecessor. Finished in brushed aluminium with leather or rubber strap options (both included), it's a good looking device that trounces many of its budget rubber-band competitors.
It's made-up of two parts: the removable Bluetooth earpiece which also acts as the tracker; and the wristband-meets-cradle this slots into. Both feature a slight curve and they are each finished in the same aluminium material - which looks great, despite attracting scratches.
Problem is these two parts make the TalkBand B2 a little chunky, protruding around 13mm from the wrist. It ought to be slimmer.
The removable earpiece section is released by simultaneously pushing the two buttons that sit just below it on the cradle. It can be a little fiddly when on the wrist but it's something you get the knack of after a couple of attempts. Once separated, any phone calls will be transferred directly to the earpiece.
On its own, this earpiece element is slim and we found it sat in our ear without any issues. Huawei includes several different rubber earpieces in the box so you can pick the one that suits your ear canal best. But be warned: they are not easy to change.
Getting the earpiece back into the cradle is easy though, as long as you slide the protruding rubber end in first. It then clips in securely and at no point during activities were we worried we would lose it. There is a Micro-USB charging port beneath the rubber earpiece which makes for easy charging too.
On one side of the earpiece is a small button, which is finished in the same brushed aluminium material as the rest of the product to keep the design seamless. This button is used to wake-up the display, as well as answer and end calls. It isn't used for flicking through the various screens on the display however, like the Withings Pulse Ox and Fitbit Charge HR's buttons are, which is instead achieved with the swipe of a finger.
As we mentioned, the TalkBand B2 comes with both a leather and rubber strap. We didn't bother changing the straps over much and found ourselves sticking with the leather option mainly, but both are comfortable and secure. The leather isn't quite as luxurious as the Withings Activité's band, but it is preferable to the standard rubber straps most activity trackers offer.
It's also worth mentioning that the leather strap reduces the water/dust-proofing rating of the TalkBand B2 (known as IP rating; it dips from IP55 with the leather, down from IP57 with the rubber band).
The leather strap has 10 holes for the securing pin to slot into, fastened by bending it backwards and clipping into place, much like the Sony Smartwatch 3. The rubber strap is fastened with a singular pin and while it isn't as secure as the leather, it gave us no issues.
Responsive display but useless in bright conditions
The Huawei TalkBand B2 comes with a 0.73-inch PMOLED touch display. It's not too bright, which can be a good thing when indoors as it's far more subtle than the over-bright displays on some trackers, such as the Samsung Gear Fit.
But there's a major issue when outside: it's almost impossible to see any information in bright conditions. Which is a problem.
The initial main screen when the display is awoken presents the time and the number of steps achieved that day. Another swipe up will display the day's steps alone (complete with animated feet), followed by calories (animated fire), sleep duration (animated moon), with the last screen used to tag an activity (cue animated running man).
Yes, Huawei likes its animated symbols. But these are great and offer something a little different to competitors' products. However, not being able to see the information all these screens display when the sun is shining is a real pain.
Activity tracking on the Huawei TalkBand B2 is pretty standard. Tracking is as we mentioned above: steps, calories and sleep are all monitored, alongside distance travelled which is displayed in the accompanying app.
The B2 automatically recognises walking, running and cycling and this seemed to work well. We did a few runs to test this feature and it recorded the exact time we were running for and walking for without any issues. However there is no altimeter on board so the it can't measure elevation, which cyclists might want to have available.
We climbed Snowdon with several activity trackers strapped to our wrist (or arm, really) and our GPS-tracked route was 12.84km, with the TalkBand B2 recording 14.61km. So it seems slightly generous in terms of steps and distance, although it's not completely off the mark.
In this instance it also seemed a little on the low side when counting calories, suggesting a total of 687 compared to the Fitbit Charge HR's measurement of 1,341 for the same period. This can be put down to the sensors on board: the lack of altimeter and heart-rate monitor (the latter which the Charge HR has) not conveying the hard work of climbing a mountain.
In terms of sleep duration, the TalkBand B2 overestimated our sleep by around an hour compared to competitor trackers we wore the same night. It displays light and deep sleep like the Withings trackers and this seemed on par with those. We will always be sceptical of sleep tracking data, however, so while we appreciate the feature, it's never something we would take as gospel.
Brilliant Bluetooth calling
Where the Huawei TalkBand B2 stands out isn't with its activity and sleep tracking abilities, but with its Bluetooth earpiece feature. If you're into that kind of thing. Bluetooth earpieces haven't been cool for a long time. In fact, scratch that, they've never been cool. That said, we were surprised by how much we used this feature - it's quite brilliant.
Firstly, the quality of the calls is great. Everything is crystal clear and we've had no problems hearing the person on the other end of the line, nor them hearing us. Not bad when half way up a mountain in Wales, eh?
Secondly, it comes in handy for a variety of situations when you need to be hands-free. Whether typing on a keyboard or getting your nails done, there can be benefit to being plugged in.
The only real problem we have with Bluetooth is the more calls you take and the longer you talk for, the worse the resulting battery life. We answered around five calls a day and we got two days from the TalkBand B2 before it needed charging. That's significantly less than the proclaimed six-day battery life - although the official spec does state "depending on wireless call usage time" - yet better than plenty of its one-day competitors. That's the cost of Bluetooth calls though: use the feature and you won't maintain maximum battery longevity.
The Huawei TalkBand B2 links to the Huawei Wear app (for Android and iOS), but this is where it can't compete with its competitors. The interface is simple and easy to navigate but the information is displayed in a thrown-together format. It's nowhere near as visually appealing as the Withings and Fitbit platforms.
All the data seems a little too squashed-in for our liking. There is no way of seeing more information than that presented, such as detailed graphs, either. Instead Huawei just provides a screen of figures separated by faint grey lines. It's a shame because the device itself has potential but the software lets it down.
There are two tabs at the top of the display: a fitness tab and a sleeping tab. Within the fitness tab you can flick between dates, with each day displaying a graph ranging between 08:00 and 24:00 - but you can't break that down further. Flick between steps and calories displays and the app will show you how much of your exercise was achieved by walking, running or cycling.
It's also possible to see a monthly graph, share activity to various platforms and see what your activity equates to in bowls of rice, which is, um, entirely random. This sharing display is actually far more appealing than the rest of the app so it's odd that Huawei didn't follow this throughout the app.
That said, the sleep tracking data is displayed slightly better than the activity, providing light sleep and deep sleep duration, total duration and number of times you fell asleep. It also tells you the sleep quality and this data is easier to read and far less cramped than the activity data.
Overall the TalkBand B2 has far fewer visualisation options than its competitors, but you can set a step goal (which, until recently, you weren't able to do on the Withings Activité, for example). The step goal is set within the profile section of the app, found in the top right hand corner, and will show you how to achieve your goal in terms of walking, running or cycling duration.
Within the profile section, you can also turn on messaging notifications - which we had on but it never worked - change your user information, and turn on HealthKit sharing (if using an Apple device).
There are a few more settings to the top left-hand corner of the app, including the ability to set an alarm, an activity reminder and a Bluetooth disconnection alert. The alarm was better than the likes of the Withings Activité as when it vibrates on your wrist, you can turn it off by pressing the button on the side of the display, rather than wait for it to stop on its own.
The idea of the Huawei TalkBand B2 is one you'll either love or hate. It all boils down to whether you want a Bluetooth earpiece or not - because if you're looking for an activity tracker that allows you to answer calls without talking to your wrist then the TalkBand B2 is without competition.
The design of the device itself is far more premium than its predecessor, albeit a little chunky. But it still achieves the job it sets out to do: providing effective activity tracking with a Bluetooth earpiece rolled into one design. Shame the two-day battery life from the 95mAh battery isn't better - but talk less and you'll achieve greater longevity.
However, as an activity tracker the TalkBand B2 isn't as good as competitors within its field. It feels distant from its full potential: the design could be slimmer, the software could be much better and Huawei has missed a trick by not adding the option to see other notifications.
Overall, therefore, unless you're keen for a Bluetooth earpiece then the TalkBand B2 doesn't hit the highs it could have. There's so much more potential.