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Jawbone Up review (2012)

Big data gets some fashion sense

Jawbone Up hero (1024px)

Anyone who bought one of Jawbone's much-hyped Up fitness bands last year found themselves an unwitting participant in a beta test. The brand-new platform promised to get you up and exercising, help you sleep and eat better, and make you more stylish to boot — and we liked it. But there were some missing features, and some overly simple software for the device.

And then the Up started breaking. Weeks and months after being purchased, our review unit and many others simply stopped taking charges or turning on. Jawbone acknowledged the fault, offered its buyers a no-questions-asked refund (even if you just didn't like the thing, you could return it), and went back to the drawing board.

What came off that drawing board is the new Up, which on the outside is much the same as last year's model. But inside, it's been completely redesigned to be more flexible, more powerful, and more impenetrable. Jawbone also used the intervening time to add lots of new features to its software, making the Up a considerably more powerful life-tracking device.

I've been wearing the Up everywhere for a while now, and it hasn't failed me yet. But how are my sleeping, eating, and exercise habits? Has Up made me a better person? Read on.


Video Review

Video Review

The bracelet

The bracelet

You'd never know there's a computer inside

Jawbone VP Travis Bogard called the Up "functional jewelry," and that's actually a pretty good description. Unlike the boring, gadget-y Nike FuelBand or the Fitbit clips, the Up looks like something you might wear anyway — oh, and it just happens to collect data too. The look hasn't changed since last year's model, wth the same Jambox-like ridged rubber coating and silver ends. There's no clasp on the bracelet — the two ends overlap slightly on the underside of your wrist, and the rigid build is what keeps it in place — so it's really easy to get on and off, but it's never once fallen off or even felt loose on my wrist.

Unlike my much lauded colleague Thomas Ricker, I do wear a watch — I feel odd not wearing one. I'm used to having things on my wrist, which meant that the Up's penchant for catching in my jacket sleeve or for occasionally tugging at the hair on my arm didn't feel out of the ordinary. The Up's rubbery texture sticking to my arm was a little uncomfortable, though, especially when I was sweaty from exercising.

I wear my watch almost everywhere, but I take it off when I sit at my laptop. It's just uncomfortable having the band scratching and scraping around the palmrest, and it forces me to perch my arms awkwardly above the keyboard. That's not a problem for my watch, which doesn't need to be worn all the time, but I had to take off the Up as well because it caused the same problems. I'd always put it back on when I got up to go outside or go home, but the Up didn't measure my quick walks to the kitchen or around the office. A thinner bracelet might do the trick, but I found it really hard to wear the Up all the time — and to some extent that defeats the purpose. That's one thing I like about Fitbit: whenever you're wearing pants, you can be wearing the Fitbit, and I'm pretty much always wearing pants except when I'm sleeping.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure a thinner bracelet is in the Up's future, or the FuelBand's. There's a lot of tech inside the thing: a rechargeable battery that lasts about 10 days on a charge, a vibration motor, and a motion sensing accelerometer. There's a single button on one end of the bracelet, which you use to change its settings, and a 3.5mm plug on the other side for connecting the Up to your phone. The plug has a cap that matches the color of your band, and somehow I haven't lost it yet – though I'm confident that's going to happen.

The parts are the same as always, but they've been completely reconfigured — the parts are better shielded and more flexible now. Bogard told me that the Up's previous problems were primarily from liquid seeping into the bracelet as it was flexed and moved in ways Jawbone hadn't predicted, and he said the company's now tested every conceivable way to move the Up and made it possible. I've tried moving it every way I could think of while running it under water, and it's still ticking. It survived showers, sweat, and all the times I "accidentally" dropped it to see if it would break.

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You're not supposed to take it off, but I did... a lot
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Tracking

Tracking your life

You can do a lot just tracking steps
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The Up tracks three things: activity, sleeping, and eating. The first is simple, requiring only that you wear the bracelet. Its engine turns the motion of your wrist into calories burned, steps walked, and active versus inactive time (you can set the Up to warn you when you've been sitting at your computer for too long, for instance). It's remarkably consistent: my 10-minute walk to the subway every morning measured almost exactly the same number of steps and calories each time.

It's great for finding out how much you move around under normal everyday conditions, but it falls apart when you actually work out. It's competent enough as a running companion, but it doesn't understand if you're playing basketball, biking, or lifting weights. You have to add those activities manually, which is easy enough — just pick what you were doing, how intense it was, and how long you did it — but it doesn't offer nearly the accuracy or simplicity of data it should.

Tracking sleep is easily the most useful thing the Up did for me. The device uses actigraphy to measure tiny movements in your wrist, and figures out when you're in light sleep, deep sleep, no sleep, or something in between. It's impressively accurate — actigraphy is a fairly mature practice — though it did get confused when I spent one Saturday morning working in bed, and the Up thought I got 15 hours of sleep. Knowing how much I slept, whether or not I woke up during the night, and how that compared to previous nights is actually really useful, and quickly led to me being smarter about when I went to sleep and what I did just before sleeping.

You have to manually place the Up in sleep mode, which is a little frustrating — I forgot to do it a few times, and the band just decided I didn't sleep that night. You can add sleep manually later, but you don't get any of the rich detail. Sleep mode does at least automatically disengage in the morning (unlike the Fitbit) once it detects that you're up and walking around.

The Up's vibrating motor is used for two different alarm features, both of which I've come to love. When you're sleeping at night, you can set your alarm, and the Up will rouse you up to 30 minutes before that time based on when you're in lighter sleep and will wake up feeling better. It may cost me up to 30 minutes of sleep a night, but every night I've used the Up I've woken up feeling fantastic. That said, there are some nights I want the extra sleep, and not being able to set the Up for an exact time is unfortunate.

The second alarm is for power naps – you double-tap the band's button and then press and hold until it flashes the moon symbol that means you're in sleep mode, and the Up knows you're taking a quick nap. The band then vibrates to wake you up 25-45 minutes later, based on when you fell asleep and where you are in your sleep cycle. I love napping, but hate how groggy I often feel when I wake up, and using the Up completely alleviated that. For many people (including me), an alarm clock that good is worth $129 by itself.

If you're so inclined, you can also use the Up's app to track your eating habits, but it has nothing to do with the bracelet itself. It's all in the software.

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It's the best alarm clock I've ever used
Software

Software

Jawbone

You need two things to make the Up work: an Up bracelet, and a recent iOS device (iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad). There's an Android version of the Up software in the works, but reps couldn't tell me when the app might be available. For now, the only way to see your Up data is to plug it into your iOS device's headphone jack, and then open the Up app – the two automatically start syncing when the app is open.

The headphone jack syncing is easy enough, but a wireless option like Fitbit's would be great — I plugged the Up in a few times a day, and every time had to take it off my wrist, remove the cap, plug it in, wait, hit Done, unplug, re-cap, and put it back on. A Bluetooth syncing option would be much simpler, even if you had to manually engage it every time.

The Up app has been totally revamped since the last bracelet came out, and it's pretty great now. The first thing you see is how much sleep you got last night and how many steps you've walked today, measured against your goals (8 hours and 10,000 steps by default, but you can change them). Below the chart is a timeline of your life. You can scroll through to see your activity, your food, your sleep patterns, and more – you can also have friends in the app, see how they're doing, and comment on their data. Fortunately, there's no Facebook or Twitter integration with the Up community, which means that you won't see any of those horrid "I just ran 3.5 miles with Nike+" tweets from Up users.

The app can be a little confusing at times — Jawbone clearly tried to make the interface as spartan as possible, but that leads to a lot of menu-digging and a lot of buried functions. I figured it out pretty quickly, though, and at least the basic features are easily accessible.

Much of the data comes in automatically when you plug in the band, but tracking your eating requires a lot more work on your part. There are three ways to input something you ate, and the general rule is that the easier it is to input, the more useful it is. The app hooks into your camera, and you can scan basically anything with a barcode on its packaging. That's the best way to go, since the Up's database will immediately grab nutrition information for whatever you're eating, specific to that brand and item.

You can also pick what you ate from the app's beautiful gallery of foods — jump into "Breakfast, " then "Sweet Cereal," and it adds that to your timeline. If you want to get even more specific, you can search for "Cap'n Crunch" and get exact nutritional information.

If you don't go all the way and specify exactly what you ate and how much, basically all you're doing is keeping a food diary — that has its own benefits, for sure, but in a pure "know how healthy you're being" sense it's a bit lacking. The Up's database almost always had the food I was looking for, or at least a very close approximation, but it took a lot of work to keep an accurate log. The best thing about the Up is how easy it is to just put it on and forget about it, but that doesn't really work with eating.

There's a lot you can do, but it's all a little complex to find
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Wrap-Up

Are you dealing in calories and carbohydrates, or points and badges?

The Up is an impressively powerful tool for your $129. I spent a week diligently entering everything I ate and tracking every step I took and movement I made (and wondering why Jawbone hasn't used The Police in its ads), and I really did get a lot out of it. When I drank coffee at night, I didn't sleep as well. (Shocking.) When I walked around a lot in the morning — walking to the second-closest subway stop instead of the closest, for instance — I felt better and more awake all day. When I read before sleeping, I sleep better than when I watch TV in bed. When I eat dinner late, I sleep poorly. These, and a thousand other little observations, did legitimately give me a way to be healthier, and sleep and feel better.

But it's a lot of work to get the Up's full benefit, and honestly I don't know if I can sustain it. That's why the FuelBand is so appealing: all it does is incent doing better than you did yesterday, by whatever means you find. It's not nearly as robust a tool as the Up, or the Fitbit One, but you also never feel like missing a little bit of exercise or one cup of coffee is throwing off all your data. For most people looking to just get a little healthier and be a little more active, the $149 Fuelband is probably a better option for only $20 more than the Up.

If you're willing to devote the time and attention (and when it comes to your health, there's a good reason to do so), the Up and Fitbit One are probably your best options (there's also the $49 Fitbit Zip, which offers a more basic version of the platform). The Fitbit One has some features that Jawbone is missing – wireless syncing is great, and it's a much more social and cross-platform system — but I like that the Up is good-looking, love that it's a bracelet and not a clip, and much prefer its app to Fitbit's. Jawbone's improved upon the idea that made the Up its fastest-selling device ever, while apparently fixing what ailed the first model, and for the data-hungry it makes for a great device. But just know, you'll get out of it only what you put in.

GOOD STUFF

  • Good-looking bracelet
  • Robust, powerful software
  • Alarm clock feature is fantastic
  • Long-lasting battery

BAD STUFF

  • Requires a lot of upkeep
  • Band is a little thick and clunky
  • Syncing is cumbersome
  • Still iOS-only for the moment

THE BREAKDOWN

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  • Design 8
  • Software 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
The Verge
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