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Huawei TalkBand B1 review: Huawei wants to walk the talk with the TalkBand B1 wearable

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Huawei's first foray into the world of wearables is a strange beast indeed when compared to what else is on the market. The TalkBand B1, which we first saw back at MWC 2014 in February, is nominally a wrist-based fitness tracker that connects to your phone. However, rather than just displaying call information, the B1 actually functions as Bluetooth earpiece -- a rather novel concept.

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Huawei TalkBand B1

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The TalkBand works as both a fitness tracker and a Bluetooth earpiece, with solid call quality and a very respectable battery life.

The Bad

While it's competent at both its functions, it masters neither. The companion app might be too simplistic for people who want a little more depth in their quantified self.

The Bottom Line

While the TalkBand B1 is a valiant first try for Huawei, it could actually use a little more focus. While it might find a niche with some users, most people are likely to prefer dedicated individual devices instead.

The TalkBand B1 is on sale in Australia right now for AU$179, for €99 in UK and Europe, and it's $166 in the US.

Design

The B1 bears a solid resemblance to the FitBit family or even the Sony SmartBand . It's essentially a plastic wristband that houses a core unit which is what does the walking and sleep tracking.

Where it differs from the others, is that when core device is popped out of the band, it reveals itself to be a fully-featured Bluetooth earpiece.

Huawei TalkBand B1 (pictures)

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The band itself is made of hypo-allergenic materials and it's both sweat and UV resistant in order to prevent discolouration. The whole of the TalkBand is rated IP57 for dust and water resistance -- which means it can handle being in a metre of water for up to 30 mins. While you could possibly take it swimming if you really wanted to, we'd be more confident in declaring it shower-proof as much as anything else.

There are only two buttons on the B1: one on the side that's the power and interface switch for the device and one on the band that ejects the earpiece when you need to use it.

The earpiece component has a slightly curved 1.4-inch OLED screen. It's non-touch and basic in the extreme but the OLED nature means it's easy to see in daylight. The default is for the screen to be blank. Click the button on the side and you'll get the time and battery gauge. Keep clicking and you'll cycle through steps, calories, and sleep before heading back to time. Of course, it'll display caller data when you've got an incoming call.

The earpiece is a little bigger than most other Bluetooth headsets, but they don't need to include screens. The 95mAh battery has, according to Huawei, a 6-day battery life, although extensive call time is going to eat into that.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

Speaking of battery, the TalkBand gets some serious points for avoiding using a proprietary charging cable or dock. With the earpiece in the band, you simply flip down the end of the strap to reveal a USB charging system - just plug it into any USB port and you're off.

While I can't say I was a fan of the "curacao blue" colour, the B1 was mostly pretty comfortable to wear and certainly felt quite securely attached. However, lefties might want to have a play before purchasing as the button placement and screen orientation on the B1 seems best suited for it to be worn on the right hand.

The TalkBand App

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The TalkBand app. Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET
In terms of the companion app for the TalkBand, Huawei seems to have embarked on a strict policy of KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Initially you'll set up your gender, age, height, and weight, which is how your calorie burn is calculated.

The default interface is about as basic as it gets, showing your steps and sleep for the day. Tap on either of those and you can drill down for an hour-by-hour breakdown over the day. Or, you can compare your sleep and steps across a week or month.

By the standards of, say, the Jawbone, it's a very simplistic rundown, but I found it to be fairly accurate, with a few caveats I'll get to in a moment.

In settings you can tell the TalkBand to give you a buzz if you've been inactive, set the goals for stepping, and you can access the smart alarm. Like most others, this will vibrate to wake you up when your sleep cycle is at its shallowest, within a given time frame. So, you can tell it to wake you up a 7am with a ten minute window -- from 6.50am on it'll wait until you're out of deep sleep before going off.

The TalkBand did have one smart alarm feature I hadn't seen before -- you can set it to wake you up if you're about to fall asleep. Students, gamers, truck drivers, and binge-watchers of TV can rejoice.

Using the TalkBand B1

Obviously, the TalkBand has two separate functions -- tracker and Bluetooth earpiece -- and we'll deal with both separately.

Earpiece: In terms of call quality and voice pickup, the B1 was a solid performer. I tested both indoors and outdoors and found my calls to be clear, with the recipients noting that they could hear me equally clearly, albeit with a slight metallic echo at times. (One person I called said it was a little robotic, but I could have just needed more coffee.)

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The TalkBand felt just a little large to sit comfortably. Dave Cheng/CNET

Answering a call by popping out the B1 from the band felt a bit odd, but worked well even with a slight fumble to get the earpiece in.

Actually in terms of fit, I didn't have a lot of luck with the B1. There are three sizes of silicon ear cover in the pack and I couldn't find one that didn't leave the B1 feeling like it was about to drop out of my ear. To be clear, it never did fall out -- but it always felt quite tenuously secured.

Tracker: I was disappointed that the app wouldn't let me track specific exercises but for people just looking for a solid step tracker, that won't be a big issue.

I found both stepping and sleep to be accurate, but the relatively large size of the B1 meant that it wasn't very comfortable to wear at night. Also, because you can't tell it when you're heading to sleep, it tracks any period of inaction as nap time -- take it off for a bit while working at desk and you'll quickly find yourself recording a sleep period in the middle of the day.

If worn during running or another fairly strenuous bout of exercise, the plastic band quickly became unpleasantly sweaty.

While I'm on that subject, the TalkBand may be water resistant but, like the Sony SmartBand, the band can get water in around the core unit, so I quickly stopped wearing it while showering.

Finally, while the B1 wants to be worn as if it was a watch, having to press a button to see the time removes a lot of the convenience one might hope for from a wrist-based time piece.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

Conclusion

It's not exactly a case of "jack of all trades, master of none" but it's along those lines. By trying to fulfil two different roles, the Huawei TalkBand B1 manages to be competent at both while not excelling at either.

It's certainly a clever concept and could be ideal for some who wants a Bluetooth headset they don't have to wear all the time. But there are better earpieces and better trackers out there, so unless you desperately want a device that does both, you might be better off waiting seeing what the next generation of TalkBand looks like.

huaweitalkbandb1-wrist.jpg
6.0

Huawei TalkBand B1

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Style 7Features 6Ease of use 5