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Gadget reviews

Huawei TalkBand B5 full review: activity tracker with colour display that doubles as Bluetooth headset for calls

Its look and features are similar to the Fitbit Charge 2, but colour display is a step up. Activity tracking is accurate, but workout monitoring is not automatic. And while it doubles as a Bluetooth headset for calls, who needs that any more?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 10:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 8:21pm

Huawei's wearable line hasn’t made much of a splash outside China, but the tech giant is hoping it will be third time lucky for its new fitness tracker, the TalkBand B5, which features improved heart rate tracking and a brighter, bigger display. It also doubles as a Bluetooth headset.

Design and hardware

As a fitness band, the TalkBand B5 looks and behaves much like the Fitbit Charge 2, featuring plastic watch straps and a rectangular screen and capable of tracking steps, heart rate, and sleep, among other activities. The B5’s 1.1-inch colour OLED display is significantly more vibrant than the Fitbit Charge 2 ’s monochrome screen.

Press two small buttons near the base of the display slot, and the B5’s “face” pops out to become one of those tiny Bluetooth headsets people wear to make hands-free phone calls.

The fit is comfortable whether as a fitness wristband or in-ear headset. In its full band form, the B5 weighs around 30 grams – lighter than the Fitbit Charge 2 – and the earpiece by itself barely registers on the scale at 10 grams. The B5 is rated IP67 for water resistance. This isn’t as full-on waterproof as the IP68 found in flagship phones, so you can’t take the B5 swimming, but using it in the rain or even under the shower will be of no concern.

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Software and features

Like any fitness tracker, the B5 needs to be synced to Huawei’s health app (available for both Android and iOS) in order to function. The app is not the most aesthetically pleasing, but it syncs with the B5 a lot faster than the Fitbit app syncs with the Charge 2.

The B5 can receive notifications from chat apps, but you can only read them, not respond. Phone call quality is good for both caller and recipient. While you can take all incoming calls, you can only make calls to people whose contact details you have added to Huawei’s health app.

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Performance and battery life

Huawei worked with researchers at Harvard University to build its health tracking algorithms. The band’s heart rate monitor seems about as accurate as wrist-based tracking can be (ultimately, a chest strap is still more accurate) – I measured my heart rate with the B5, Apple Watch and Fitbit Charge 2 and all the numbers came out similar. Sleep tracking, too, seems on point. Like Fitbit, Huawei offers in-depth sleep analysis, breaking down my sleep cycle into “light”, “deep”, and “REM”. Even the Apple Watch can’t do that.

It’s ironic that Huawei got the complicated parts of a fitness tracker right but not the basics. The B5 cannot automatically detect a workout, unlike the Fitbit, Apple Watch and Samsung trackers. Having said that, it takes just a couple of taps to start workout tracking.

Battery life on the B5 is good. It lasted a bit more than three days on a single charge for me, with continuous heart tracking on. If you turn that off, I’d suspect it can go four days. The Fitbit Charge 2, however, can go almost six days.

Conclusion

The TalkBand B5 is one of those rare two-in-one devices that both looks good and works well. But it’s worth asking how useful the call function is. Young people rarely make phone calls these days – texting is their preferred communication method – and for people who do make calls, the emergence of true wireless earbuds like the Apple AirPods, through which you can make calls and listen to music, renders Bluetooth headsets redundant.

Even Huawei seems to acknowledge this: it has patented a smartwatch design with wireless earbuds hidden inside. Now that’s a device truly worth getting excited about.

Price: 999 yuan (US$145.99)