Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
The wearable market is quickly becoming flooded with devices, and every company is trying to make a product that can stand out. Some activity trackers have heart-rate sensors; some offer extralong battery life; others can make mobile payments.
But what if I told you there was a device that both tracked your fitness and let you answer phone calls? Would you believe me?
Meet the Huawei TalkBand B2, a unique device that's part activity tracker and part Bluetooth headset. But that's not even what makes the tracker stand out. The TalkBand B2 is also the first third-party tracker that can sync with Jawbone's powerful Up software, which opens the door to smart coaching features and daily health insights. It's also one of our favorite apps here at CNET.
Despite all these extras, however, the TalkBand has some serious flaws, beginning with the price.There are two models available for purchase. We reviewed the $180 model with a plastic strap (also available for £180 in the UK), but there's also a premium version in gold with a leather strap that can be had for $200 (£170). This is significantly more than both the Jawbone Up2 , which retails for $100, and the $150 Fitbit Charge HR -- though, to be fair, neither of them can double as a wireless headset.
The TalkBand B2 is like so many of the other activity trackers on the market. The wrist-worn device is capable of measuring the steps you take each day, your calories burned and your sleep at night. There's vibration on board that can be used to wake you up in the morning, a favorite feature of mine, or to remind you to get up and move. To time and track individual workouts, there's also a special stopwatch mode.
What helps the band stand out is the detachable Bluetooth headset that can be used to answer phone calls. It's an interesting feature that we'll dive deeper into later. While there's no heart-rate sensor or any sort of notifications from your smartphone (aside from caller ID), there are some other bells and whistles, although most of them felt more gimmicky than practical.
The screen on the TalkBand will turn on when you twist your wrist. This is similar to the gesture used on the Apple Watch, however it's incredibly unreliable on the TalkBand. The screen will sometimes light up when it isn't meant to, and other times it won't light up at all. Alternatively, you can press the single button on the device to wake it up.
The first thing you will see when the device is turned on is a screen with the Bluetooth status, a battery icon, and the time and date. A swipe down reveals the amount of steps you have taken, another swipe shows the calories you've burned from activities, followed by the amount of sleep you achieved last night, and finally, the option to enable the stopwatch.
Holding the side button will reveal a submenu. From here, you can enable Bluetooth pairing mode, activate a "find my phone" feature (as long as you are in range and connected to your smartphone), and an option to remotely control the shutter on your smartphone's camera. But that final feature was a mixed bag: it failed to work on an iPhone, while with an Android device, it will only work if the camera app is already open. Otherwise, the button launches Google search if the camera app isn't open.
The TalkBand also doesn't include GPS, which means all of your activity data is recorded through wrist movements measured by the six-axis accelerometer and gyroscope. This means the tracker isn't ideal for runners or cyclists.
The first thing I noticed after putting the TalkBand on my wrist was just how bulky it was. The strap isn't very comfortable to wear, and it's not as flexible as trackers from Jawbone and Fitbit. I appreciate having a screen to quickly glance at my activity stats, but the display on the TalkBand is nearly impossible to see in while outside in direct sunlight.
Trackers such as the Fitbit Charge and Garmin Vivofit use two pegs that push through holes in the band to keep the tracker on your wrist. Even with these two pegs, many people find that these devices are susceptible to falling off. Huawei decided to go with only one peg for the TalkBand, and I can't tell you how many times it has fallen off my wrist. It's fortunate that I didn't lose the device on the streets of New York City.
On either side of the band sit two small buttons, which when pressed simultaneously will detach the entire tracker from the strap and allow it to function as a wireless Bluetooth headset. The TalkBand comes with three different size ear plugs to ensure the earpiece will fit, but even then, it never really felt secure. The look and feel of the headset is uninspiring, and it's especially bulky compared to the Jawbone Era and Plantronics Voyager Edge .
The headset also appears to be the reason why Huawei recommends you don't shower or swim with the TalkBand, which carries a dust and water resistance rating of IP57 (partial protection from contact with harmful dust; protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter/3.2 feet for up to 30 minutes). You can learn more about water resistance in activity trackers here.
Aside from looking like I just arrived via time machine from the year 2005, my overall experience with calls on the TalkBand was OK. Call quality sounded clear on my end, but there were some complaints on the other end. Friends and family members said I sounded "far away," like I was in "an area with bad service," or asked if I was "talking on speaker phone."
I did like that when you receive a call, the band will vibrate and display the name of the contact or the number. But I initially thought that when I pressed the TalkBand's button that it was ignoring the call. This wasn't the case -- it was simply muting the vibration on the band. To actually ignore the call, I still had to pull out my smartphone and press the volume key.
I also had an odd issue with the headset randomly turning on. There were a few times when I answered a call on my phone and the person on the other end couldn't hear me. This was because the call was going through the headset (which was still in the band). The tracker is supposed to only enable the earpiece when it's actually in your ear, but on more than one occasion it randomly turned on while still mounted in the wrist caddy.
Huawei claims the battery should last you five to six days with normal usage. Battery life will decrease the more you use the TalkBand for calls. My experience was quite different. The TalkBand lasted roughly three and a half days with minimal calls. I thought at first the poor battery life was due to my use of the stopwatch each morning while at the gym. Further testing, however, revealed this to be untrue. Without using the stopwatch or making phone calls, I still only reached four days of battery life, well below the company's claims.
While many other activity trackers and smartwatches requires a proprietary dongle or charging cable, the TalkBand can be charged using a standard microUSB plug.
To view more detailed information on the amount of steps you've taken, calories you've burned, and your sleep patterns, there's the Huawei Wear app for Android and iOS. From here, you can also configure activity reminders and set a wake up alarm or an event alarm to reminder you of upcoming tasks.
The TalkBand attempts to measure the amount of sleep you achieve and the quality of that sleep automatically. The app will then break down the hours you were awake, in a deep sleep, and in a light sleep. While automatic sleep tracking is convenient, I found it wasn't as accurate as the Jawbone Up2 , which must be manually put into sleep mode each night.
I tested the TalkBand on an iPhone 6 Plus running iOS 8, an Asus ZenPhone 2 running Android 5.0 and an HTC Desire Eye running Android 4.4. Regardless of the model, I ran into a similar disconnection problem with all three of these phones.
The band and my phone would randomly disconnect, which I was frequently notified about through an annoying vibration on my wrist. There were even times I had to reconnect the band, which uses the older Bluetooth 3.0 protocol, through the Bluetooth menu in my phone's settings.
The Huawei Wear app is bare-bones compared to those of the competition. Fitbit, Jawbone and Garmin allow you to add and compete with friends each day. There's no such feature available for the TalkBand, but it is capable of receiving smart coaching and insights through the Jawbone Up app, which is arguably one of the best health and fitness apps available. It is through the Jawbone app that you can also sync the TalkBand with other services, such as MyFitnessPal for calorie tracking.
The integration is far from perfect, though. You are still required to use the Huawei Wear app to pull the data off of the TalkBand. That data is then shared with the Jawbone Up app, which is where you will find smart coaching, insights and the option to connect to other services. But if you would like to set an alarm, you must go back and use the Huawei app.
Rather than being forced to use two apps, it would have been better if the TalkBand could simply sync with the Up app without the need for the Huawei Wear app. Unfortunately the problems didn't stop there. Even after your data has been synced, there was always a chance it wouldn't immediately appear on the Up app. When it finally did show up, there were a lot of occasions when the data was vastly different from the data on the Huawei app.
The idea of having a Bluetooth headset and activity tracker in one would have been appealing a few years ago, but in the days when almost all Bluetooth and wired headphones contain a microphone, it's far less useful. The end result is a device that is bulky, uncomfortable to wear and expensive.
Even the promise of Jawbone compatibility couldn't live up to the hype. While the Up app provides a boost to the TalkBand, it's far from perfect, and we are instead left using two apps with a broken syncing solution.
I took the TalkBand off for a wedding I attended this past weekend and haven't put it back on. If you're interested in an activity tracker, this isn't the one I would recommend. You're just better off saving yourself some money and buying the cheaper, and in my opinion better, Jawbone Up2 , Fitbit Charge HR or Garmin Vivofit 2 .