A hands on look at the Jawbone UP – A Fit Tech wristband which tracks your activity

Following a failed US start in late 2011 because of severe defects and limitations, Jawbone have released their Up wristband a 2nd time. The Jawbone Up is an excellent inspirational instrument and has a couple of nice extra attributes, however it definitely could be argued that its overpriced and the dearth of wireless syncronising is a genuine negative.
The Jawbone Up fitness technology consists of two components. The Up wristband itself is clearly the chief part and tracks your movement, sleeping patterns and includes a vibrating alarm function. The second component, which is equally important, is an iOS or Android application that infers the data collected by the Jawbone UP, including all of your rest, movements and food data, enabling you to interact with additional Up users, establish objectives and adjust system settings. The inclusion of the app and its features transforms this wearable fitness technology into a form of social fitness. Over the past few years we have obviously seen a huge boom in social media usage, with networks like Facebook hitting and no doubt now surpassing, the 800m unique users mark. The subsequent growth of networks like Twitter, followed by Instagram and Pinterest, has seen whole new sectors grow out of social. I suppose therefore, it was only a matter of time before social began to really impact the fitness world, and in fairness I can see some real benefits to this. It may sound a little gimmicky, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of everyday folk require a little push and pull here and there to get themselves into a proper fitness routine. Often this comes from training with friends, but with busy schedules and hectic lifestyles, not to mention different preferences (time of the day to train, volume of training, days to train/rest to name but a few) this can often be difficult. I see the opportunity for devices like the Jawbone UP to bring the benefits of some gentle friend to friend competition without the challenges of synchronising schedules and even training goals. I expect this will be an area of fitness tech which will really boom over the coming years, but i threaten to digress, so back to the Jawbone UP.

Below is a quick video review of the Jawbone, which i have included to give you the benefit of seeing the device in action.

The Jawbone is a relatively unobrusive device, which is lightweights and suitable for both men and women. I guess one of the larger challenges for the fitness braclet industry in its entirity will lie in the desirability of wearing plastic wristbands 24/7. Theres something about the plastic wristband which screems back to the days of Livestrong yellow bands, and i doubt I’m alone in seeing the passing of that particular trend as a good thing.The band itself feels like rubbery plastic, which is exactly how you wuld expect it to look going by the images. My first impressions weren’t of a device built with long term hard use in mind in all honesty, as the plastic didn;t feel overly durable, however Jawbone are adament that the Up has been made to be twisted and flexed, so it should manage being dropped or bumped (hopefully…). I trialed the device whilst bathing, washing the car, playing soccer and washing the laundry – with no issues to report. I didn’t find the Jawbone to be particularly offputting, especially once i was used to wearing it. I’m not a braclet kind of guy, so there was a novelty value in wearing such a device at first, but i soon got used to it. I was a little concerned for it whilst washing the car, but it passed without any drama. Jawbone claim the Up is fully water resistant but not completely waterproof, roughly translating to you can shower in it but don;t go swimming with it on. I thought this was a slightly strange oversight for a device which aims to track all of your daily movements – if i was to go for a swim, its definitely something that i would want tracking, especially as i have never been comvinced by standard heart rate monitors in the pool.

The Up clips to your wrist with a simple to use mechanism. It comes in three sizes (small, medium and large), with three colour choices (silver black, mint green and blue). A further five colors including light grey, navy blue, hunter green, orange and reddish, are pipeline releases, and i could definitely impagine a trend emerging based around a lot of different colours, however much this repulses me! The Jawbone Up  a 3.5mm headset port connection, which isn’t something that I would use. The headset port is protected with a detachable cover, which you remove when you want to charge or synchronise the Up.

Unlike the Nike Fuelband, the Jawbone doesn’t have a display. The use of the device is therefore heavily relaint on the user understanding the button pressing sequences needed to activate features, such as the  pressing and holding the button triggers a power nap attribute. Other options include pressing and holding down the button to activate and repeating to then end the slumber tracking. Jawbone says the Up has a built-in battery that will last for 10 days when charged for 80 minutes. During my time testing the device, the Up lasted ~8 days before needing a refresh, which in the scheme of tech products in this day and age, isn’t a bad result. The device comes with a USB cable and of course, the companion apps are a critical element to this.

I believe the thinking behind the Jawbone’s lack of a display was to allow the Up app to act as the display unit, which is valid considering the ability to display considerably more data on an app compared to a braclet. It is available for iPhone and Android devices, though Jawbone claims it will ultimately aim to help all mobile systems, perhaps through a mobi site. The Up wristband does not offer wireless syncronising, so you need to plug it into your smartphones’s earphone jack every time you wish to add your data, which is slightly old school. Jawbone claims the lack of wireless syncronising is aimed at improving the devices battery life, but it’s unquestionably the biggest weakness of the Up method. The Up app syncs without any issues with the iOS app for iPhone, but it only works with selected Android phones, a full list that are available on the company’s web site. I have an iPhone 4S, which i used for the test, and i found it worked well. I have read that the Android app doesn;t work quite so well, with sync times sometimes taking 2x as long. The app is easy to navigate and attractive enough, with three colour coded posts on the primary screen showing sleep, movements and eating logs each day. Delving deeper will take you in to a more detailed summary overview of every aspect. The movement summary, for example, shows precisely how long you have been lively/lazy, aswell as how many calories you have burnt (the accuracy, as always with calorie features, is somewhat sketchy and should be used for analysing trends rather than absoloutes), how many measures you have taken and how many KM you have moved. You can, for example, evaluate your awake time with your active time, with the opportunity to map this over time. The application also allows you to set objectives, with eight hours and 10,000 steps the recommended goals for sleeping time and activity, respectively. You can also manually log any activities you do including running, weights, cross training or playing different sports.

So in conclusion, i found the Jawbone UP to be an interesting device. I don’t think it is without its flaws, and i think this is only really the first step in the Fit Tech Worlds movement into this space. I think it is fair to say that there is a big enough market of active, health concious people who will buy into the idea of tracking everything they do, 24/7. I think over time we may see a movement towards the peer to peer competition element, with social fitness having obvious potential IMO. This is an affordable first foray into the market for many, and at this price point, i think its generally worth a go. Just expect to upgrade soon 🙂