Jawbone UP improves activity awareness and motivation (review)

Summary:The Jawbone UP is a new entry to the health and fitness market and uses an unobtrusive band to track our sleeping, eating, and movements 24/7.

When you hear the name Jawbone you likely think of their Bluetooth headsets and maybe even the Jambox speaker, but they also just made their debut into the health and fitness market. The Jawbone UP band works with iOS devices to help you monitor your physical life while also helping to motivate you to move. I bought one the day they were released and have been wearing it for over a week. Check out my image gallery and experiences below to see if I think it is worth the $99 price.


Image Gallery: Check out several photos and screenshots of the Jawbone UP and iOS software.
Image Gallery: UP and my watch
Image Gallery: Timeline of data

In the box and first impressions

The Jawbone UP comes in a sleek retail package where the top is all clear plastic so you can see the color of the band. There is a handy plastic flap that serves as a wrist sizing mechanism. I placed my wrist inside and the large size just fit, but since the XL sizes are not yet available I went ahead and purchased a large. Jawbone launched with the UP in black, blue, red, and silver with white, dark red, and dark brown coming soon. I chose a black one because I plan on wearing it all the time and didn't want one with a bright color on my wrist while working at my day job as a professional engineer.

Inside the box you will find a small Getting Started Guide and the USB to 3.5 mm female dongle for charging.

The UP band feels great on your wrist with the soft touch covering. I saw the announcement pictures and though it formed around your wrist a bit, but it isn't that kind of material. You can easily spread open the ends and place it on your wrist, but it has a set size so make sure you purchase the one that fits your wrist.

One major detail to keep in mind with the UP is that you NEED a supported iOS device to use it. An iOS device is needed to use the application and the UP band won't work without the application. Jawbone stated they will be releasing an Android application and I hope that someday we will see more apps for more platforms too.

Specifications

There are a few key specifications that may be of interest to you, including:
  • Integrated rechargeable battery for up to 10 days of usage
  • Vibration motor that powers the alarm
  • Precision motion sensor that tracks movement and sleep activity
  • 3.5mm plug used to connect to your iOS device and charge up the UP band

I found the battery life to be pretty accurate and saw about a 10% drop in battery charge each day. I was wondering how the unit charged up and as you can see in my image gallery Jawbone includes a small USB to 3.5mm female cable/dongle. You simply remove the cap and insert the UP band's 3.5mm male headset plug into the charging dongle.

Walk around the hardware

In addition to the length of the UP band changing with the size, the diameter of the unit also changes to better fit the wrist size of the user. The band is sweat proof and water resistant up to 1 meter. They state you can wear it 24/7, including in the shower, but I don't march in place in my shower and found no need to even risk using it in the shower. It is quite easy to get on and off.

On one end of the band you will find a removable cap that covers the 3.5mm plug. As I suspected when removing the cap for a week it is something that is easy to misplace. I ended up losing my cap on Saturday as I was playing soccer with my team at the end of season party and didn't realize it had popped off until I was in my car heading home. They sell replacement caps, three for $9.99, and I already placed my order. I would like to have seen at least one spare cap in the retail package. I'm really not sure anything else could be done to cover the 3.5mm plug and maintain the design.

On the other end you will find a small silver button with indicator lights integrated into the rubber strap on the bottom. The button is used to change modes between active, workout, and sleep. You press and hold to switch to sleep mode and press once then press and hold to put it into workout mode. There is no off switch so your band is always on even if you are not wearing it.

The indicator light flashes when charging and turns solid when fully charged. The five point star indicator light appears in green when you switch to active or workout mode. A blue moon light will also appear when you put the UP band into sleep mode. A single press of the button will show you what mode you are in without switching modes.

I wear my UP band on my left wrist above my watch after trying it out on my right wrist for a couple days. I am right handed and found I do too much with my right hand to have the band on it. It does well above my watch and doesn't bother me at all.

What data is captured and how is the software? »

What kind of data is captured?

There are three areas of your life that are monitored and measured by the UP band; sleep, meals and snacks, and moving activity. Sleep data appears in blue and purple tones, eating in green, and movement in orange and red.

Sleep

I was very interested in see how the data for my sleep looked since I tend to only get 4-5 hours each night with all of my life obligations at this time. I suspected I was a fairly heavy sleeper (that's what my wife tells me) and the data seemed to confirm this. The UP band uses the motion sensor to detect micro movements and algorithms to generate sleep phase graphs, which is why you need to put it into sleep mode with the button before you hit the rack. One night the band fell off so no data was captured and another night I forgot to put the band back on after taking a shower. I let my wife wear the band one night to see if it captured her light sleeping and it seemed to work well until the smart alarm I forgot to turn off woke her in the week hours and she threw the band off onto the floor.

The Jawbone UP lets you setup a smart alarm where the band will vibrate and attempt to wake you up within a block of time 30 minutes before your alarm time. The UP band attempts to figure out when you switch into light sleep to wake you up a bit more subtly than your normal alarm clock. I found it to work all week for me, but again if someone else tries out your UP band make sure to turn this off first.

The UP band has made me realize I really should try to get more sleep and I am honestly trying to get things done earlier and get to sleep so I can get 5+ hours so that is a benefit of the UP band so far.

Eat

The Eat module of the UP band is the weakest, in my opinion. It is really just a food log that you can use to see what kind of food your are eating, but requires lots of user interaction and doesn't give any hard and fast measurable data. I also do not like that you need to take a photo or select a photo to enter a food item. With iCloud syncing my photos on my iPhone 4S I don't need to have a ton of food pictures appearing on all my Apple devices. Also, if you take a photo within the app then you cannot reuse it for the same item (such as for that glass of water). You should take photos first and then go to the UP app and select those photos to reuse them. Here are the steps to create a single food entry:
  1. Tap the + sign
  2. Choose to take a photo or select one from your library
  3. Select or take the photo
  4. Move and scale the photo
  5. Name the meal, snack, or drink
  6. Select the location where you consumed the item
  7. Select any challenges the items applies to (glass of water for hydration challenge)
  8. Tap the Save icon to save the entry

As you can see, that is just too many steps to enter a glass of water into the application and I likely won't be using this module much anymore except for more substantial meals.

After the meal, you will get a reminder notification after about 30 minutes that lets you choose how you feel from the meal, including energized, OK, stuffed, hungry, and sleepy. Most of the ones I used were OK, with a couple energized ones. Goals for meals include the number of energized meals you eat per day. I don't like all the reminders for food feedback and have turned that off on my iPhone.

Move

The UP band is optimized for movement and I find it does a pretty good job with step counts and movement tracking. It seems to overestimate the number of steps, but I was able to walk all week to and from the train station (just over a mile each way) during my commute and saw fairly consistent counting. I also tried it on my arm that was in my pocket (it was cold last week) and the UP band seemed to still do a fair job tracking my steps.

You do not enter any kind of stride length so I assume Jawbone is using the height data you enter to calculate a distance with the steps you take. I would like to see a stride entry though for more accurate data capture.

I also word the UP band during the couple days I went for runs and it underestimated the distance when compared to the Sports Tracker GPS application I was using at the time. I need to try out the GPS tracking part of the UP band to see how that compares to Sports Tracker or Runkeeper too, but had a heel issue that kept me off the road the last few days. I tried it on the elliptical and it performed pretty well at tracking the distance, although the calories were WAY off compared to the elliptical data.

You can setup an activity reminder to go off every 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one hour, up to four hours and 45 minutes. You select a start and end time for this reminder. I currently have mine set to every hour from 6 am to 8 pm and find this to be one of the most useful functions since it reminds me to get up and walk around a bit while sitting in front of the computer at work all day long.

Let's check out the iOS app and my experiences »

Walk through the UP iOS application

When you first launch the app you are taken to the current day page for your own data. There are icons along the bottom for Me, Team, Feed, Challenge, and Profile. Let's take a closer look at these screens within the application.

Me screen

From the Me screen you can add these activities:
  • Take a photo of your meal
  • Choose a meal photo from the library
  • Workout with the band
  • Workout with GPS
  • Set activity reminder
  • Track your sleep
  • Set the smart alarm

There is also a sync button in the upper left corner so after plugging in your UP band to your iOS device you tap this to sync the band with the application. After I first purchased the app I had some trouble conducting the initial sync because it required my iPhone to be at full volume level in headphone mode and that is just not how I listen to my music. The problem was if I turned it up with the UP band attached it did not keep the volume level up. There was an UP application update issued a few days ago and I haven't seen a sync issue since then.

You can tap on one of the three specific data blocks, sleep, eat, or move and see more details for that activity. You can also rotate your iOS device into landscape and see a timeline of all of your data that you can then slide left and right to view previous days. You can then tap on an event and see even more details for that event in landscape orientation.

Team

Jawbone encourages you to find others to share your UP experience with since having others view your data is great for both motivation and guilt. I haven't yet found it too motivational, but it is interesting to see data from others and it has made me think about whether my goals are the best for my health (5 hours for sleep). You can view team data for sleep, eat, and move bands too.

In order to find team members, you simply tap the + button in the upper right and then either search for friends you know or scroll through the list of users to find someone to invite to your team. Unlike Facebook, the default setting is for all user data to be private. You can choose to share information with individuals, groups or teams, and/or publicly. If you share a piece of information outside the UP application, that information is subject to the privacy policies of the service upon which it is shared. Your name and profile image are publicly searchable in the UP directory, but that is all people can see by default.

Feed

The Feed screen shows you the specific updates posted by team members and information posted in the challenges you have joined. You can scroll up and down to see what was posted and then tap on the item to see specific details on the event.

There is a pencil icon in the upper right of this screen where you can add a status update to the feed that is posted in addition to the data you shared.

Challenge

The Challenge screen is where you can go to find a ton of various challenges for UP users. Most of these are challenges from 3rd parties and by participating and then completing the challenges you can earn different rewards. Some appear to be rewards for actual products and are managed outside of the UP application or service. You can also create your own challenges by tapping on the + button and filling out the details (invitees, challenge type, goal, and duration).

I signed up for some exercise and hydration challenges, but haven't yet completed anything to be able to figure out how useful they are yet. I can see them being motivational factors that help, along with your team members.

Profile

Your Profile screen has three main tabs for viewing your profile, viewing your latest updates, and viewing the challenges you signed up for and the status of those challenges. Within your profile view you can view your friends on your team and also adjust your goals. Tapping on a friend lets you see their profile details, if they have chosen to share those details with you. You can tap the gear icon in the upper left to manage your privacy and sharing settings, enter your body specifics, manage your smart alarm and activity reminder.

You can also view your inbox from within the app by tapping the envelope icon in the upper right. You may find that challenges send you messages within the app.

Daily usage and experiences

I have now been using my UP for over a week and went back and forth trying to decide if I was going to return it to Best Buy or keep it. I decided to keep it since I personally find the sleep tracking interesting and helpful in motivating me to try to get more sleep and stay healthier. I like the gentle wake feature and the regular movement reminders too. Even though my daily commute walking is fairly consistent I like that the UP combines this walking time with my workouts to give me a more accurate accounting of my daily activity.

I see that my team's experiences with the meal and snack tracking feature is pretty consistent and people have mostly stopped using this part of the experience. I can see where tracking your food can be helpful, but I would like to see a bit more streamlining in the entry of items.

While you do have to manually switch between active and sleep modes, I think that is fine because just leaving the UP band off on the desk shouldn't count towards sleep and this manual switch seems to help gather more accurate data.

I know there are plenty of other fitness/lifestyle tracking devices, but I don't want to clip something on me or wear a band around my arm even if these capture more detailed and accurate data. The UP band has now gotten to be a mainstay on my wrist and I barely even notice it is on there.

The iOS app is decent, but seems more like a beta at this time. I would love to see Jawbone release a web service where you could sync your data online and go to an online account to manage and share this data too.

Pricing and availability

It looks the best chance you have of purchasing a Jawbone UP is to visit your local retail store, including Best Buy, Target, AT&T, and Apple stores. I have only seen the black one in the stores and the Jawbone site shows a 3-4 week backorder even on this color. I couldn't even select another color to purchase from their online store. The UP costs $99.99 and the app in the App Store is free.

As I mentioned above in my experiences I lost a cap already and ordered a 3-pack replacement set for $9.99 from the Jawbone store. You can also get another USB dongle/cable for $9.99 and the cable and a wall charger for $19.99. If you have a Jawbone headset then you can use that same wall charger with your UP band USB dongle/cable.

Other reviews

As always, make sure to check out some other reviews online too, including these:
  • The Verge: The photo in this review are fantastic and Thomas came to about the same conclusion as I did with an 8/10 rating.
  • ShawnWall

Back to the beginning »

Topics: CXO, Apple, IT Employment, Mobile OS

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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