The Jawbone UP has become an all but constant fixture on my wrist over the past couple of months that I’ve had it for review. In case you’ve forgotten what the Jawbone UP does, it is a wristband that tracks your activity and sleep around the clock and synchronizes the data it collects to the cloud via your iPhone or Android phone (sorry, Windows Phone users). In my initial unboxing, I promised to report back on whether the UP actually manages to improve one’s well-being and whether the UP is a gadget worth buying, given that some might consider its list price rather high for what they perceive as a glorified pedometer.
Here’s what you should bear in mind if you’re considering picking up an UP: it isn’t going to improve your lifestyle if you don’t already have a plan as to how you want to go about doing it. Being able to view statistical data about one’s daily activity isn’t really useful or helpful if one doesn’t know what he or she wants to do with it.
In terms of form-factor and design, I think the UP hits a sweet spot between being unique and distinctive, especially in its more offbeat colour variants, and being elegant and discreet at the same time. It has certainly attracted a fair share of attention from people in the real world who were interested in what it does and how it works. Generally, wearing the UP is by no means an uncomfortable experience; there are three sizes available to choose from and the medium size fits snugly on my wrist with little to no movement. The grippy rubber body of the wristband is smooth to the touch and does not irritate the skin even over long periods. The wristband is rated as being water-resistant; you should be able to take a shower without having to remove it although Jawbone advises against taking it for a swim.
There are a few flaws with the UP’s design, however. The single square button on one end of the UP, used for checking the status of the band and switching between its various modes, has corners that are somewhat sharp to the touch and can scratch one’s wrist when one is trying to put on the UP. The cap on the other end of the UP that shields the 3.5mm jack (which takes care of syncing and charging) is small, hard to remove and might easily get lost since it isn’t attached to the band at all. While it may be a novel idea for the UP to use a 3.5mm jack similar to that used on headphones and other audio equipment as its only method of connectivity, having to remove the wristband, pull off the cover and physically plug it into my phone is something that gets tedious pretty quickly. I found myself wishing that the UP was capable of syncing wirelessly to my phone, and I hope that this is planned for the next iteration of this product.
The UP is just as much about its companion app as it is about the hardware itself. The UP app has a rather strong social focus, allowing you to follow other Jawbone UP users and see their activity in a scrolling feed. While I see this being useful if you have a group of friends who own UP bands and whom you train with, I’m not so sure how being able to see how many steps others have taken in a day and how long they have slept really helps me personally, given that I’m not trying to compete with anybody. The app can also be used to track your food intake as well as your mood, both of which I did not find very useful. I just do not see why I should log my mood, and I never managed to remember to do it. The food logging function forces you to input your food intake in terms of the number of “cups” you’ve had of a certain food (such as butter chicken and naan) in order to generate the number of calories you have gained, which I don’t quite understand.
The companion app is also used for configuring the wristband’s settings for the smart alarm, power nap and idle alert features. I found the smart alarm pretty compelling if your sleeping and waking hours follow a set routine; once configured for a certain timing on a certain day, it involves the wristband tracking your sleep cycle at night and wakes you in the morning by vibrating up to 30 minutes before or after the set time when it detects that you’re in light sleep. If turned on, the wristband’s idle alert works by vibrating on your wrist if it detects that you have not moved in a set period of time. However, you’ll have to plug the band into your phone each time you want to change these settings which I found to be a bit of a hassle.
Arguably, the most important aspect of the UP app is the data that it presents you and how it presents it. In terms of pure aesthetics, everything is beautifully laid out with bright and appealing graphics; upon opening the app, you’re greeted with a large bar graph illustrating how far you have met your sleep and activity goals for the day. Yours and your friends’ sleep and activity is presented as cards in a scrolling feed, and tapping on an activity card takes you to a separate screen with a graph and figures for the number of steps taken, distance covered, active time, longest active and longest idle times, total calorie burn and active and resting calorie burn. Tapping on a sleep card brings up a sleep cycle graph and figures for the duration of sleep, time spent in light and deep sleep, how long it took for one to fall asleep, how much time was spent in bed, the number of times one woke up and how long one was awake in the entire duration of sleep tracking.
I found the sleep tracking features the most interesting aspect of the UP band; the data it provided me was generally consistent with how I felt about my sleep upon waking up in the morning. As someone who suffers from insomnia, being able to track my sleeping habits and view trends over time has helped me manage it better to some extent. The companion app illustrates trends in a scrolling bar graph that represents your sleep and activity for each month, each week and each day, as well as in a “Lifeline” format that takes the same data and presents it as a scrolling line graph. It is worth noting that the app is likely to improve over time as Jawbone releases additional updates bringing new features such as integration with other fitness apps such as Runkeeper.
In conclusion, the Jawbone UP is an undeniably cool gadget that you should only purchase if you know why you’d need it; while the data it collects and presents can help you become fitter and adopt a better lifestyle, you would need to have already planned on doing that for the UP to be of any real use. The market for fitness gadgets is relatively crowded and new, and we are bound to see significant improvements to the products and services that exist today. In the meantime, the UP definitely holds its own.