Jawbone Up Rev B vs. Nike+ FuelBand (Verdict: Up for the sleep tracking)

Wearable computers continue to gain in popularity and the revised Jawbone Up Rev. B beats the Nike+ FuelBand squarely in the wristband fitness monitor category.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

I picked up a Jawbone Up Rev B today ($129.99) and am impressed by it in my first 24 hours of use. For the purposes of this post, I'm looking at it from the perspective of an iPhone user who's been using the Nike+ FuelBand ($149) since I reviewed it in April 2012.

Image: Jason D O'Grady/ZDNet

While I've been wearing my FuelBand faithfully for a year, I've more features (like the ability to track sleep in addition to movement). While the Up doesn't include everything I want in a wearable fitness computer (like heart rate monitoring and GPS), it does a couple of things that the FuelBand doesn't.

Some background on the "Rev B" moniker is probably in order. Jawbone first released Up in December 2011, but it was plagued by hardware problems that forced Jawbone to issue refunds and go back to the drawing board. Jawbone took its time and released the Rev B Up in December 2012.

Up is different from FuelBand in a couple of ways. First, Up uses a wraparound, clasp-less design, which makes it slightly more flexible when it comes to size than FuelBand. Although you still have to choose between three sizes (S, M, and L) for the best fit.

The Up band only syncs to the iPhone manually, not over Bluetooth like FuelBand. You sync it by removing the stealthy silver cap (which could be easily lost) and inserting it into your iPhone's headphone jack. This is surprising because of the pervasiveness of Bluetooth in Jawbone's headsets and speakers. This means that syncing Up requires a manual step to sync your data, where FuelBand can sync wirelessly. Plus it's tough to fit Up's 3.5mm headphone jack into the iPhone port when using cases that don't provide enough clearance.

Up claims a battery life of up to 10 days, whereas FuelBand's battery is rated at one to four days (although I could easily get a week plus on mine). The problem is that Up requires a 3.5mm to USB dongle to charge its battery (below) whereas FuelBand unclips to expose a native USB port which can charge from any computer or USB charger. A dongle — like the removable cap — is just another part to lose. Advantage FuelBand.

Jawbone UP cap - Jason O'Grady
Image: Jason D O'Grady/ZDNet

The other major difference over FuelBand is that Up requires user interaction to switch between its active and sleep modes. You press and hold the silver button on the end of the Up band to switch modes. Also the Up band has a Stopwatch mode that lets you "tag" the start and end of your activity. After you've synced your band, you can enter the details of your workout, if you so desire. FuelBand doesn't have a sleep mode or any way to differentiate between working out and say, tipping back a few pints at the bar. This is where the Up band starts to pull away.

Jawbone UP and USB dongle - Jason O'Grady
Image: Jason D O'Grady/ZDNet

To me, sleep monitoring is just as critical as activity monitoring. While you take FuelBand off at night and leave in on your nightstand, you wear the Up band to bed. Up uses Actigraphy to track your sleep, monitoring your micro movements to determine whether you are awake, in light sleep, or in deep sleep. In addition to sleep monitoring, the Up band had an innovative smart alarm feature that analyzes your sleep cycle to wake you with a gentle vibration, at the most ideal time within a 10-minute, 20-minute, or 30-minute window.

The Up band also uses the vibrating motor (not found in the FuelBand) as an optional idle alert. You set an idle alert within the app for between 15 minutes and 2 hours (within a defined window of time) and the Up band will vibrate if you've been inactive for a period of time. Great for people who work seated at a desk in front of a monitor for extended periods of time.

They had me at sleep analysis. But then there's also nutrition monitoring. If you're looking to fully capture your entire fitness/health profile you also log your food in the Up by Jawbone app (free, App Store). While it doesn't automatically log what you eat by using OFR (optical food recognition) or anything cool like that, Up allows you to log your food by picture, keyword and/or barcode scanning of labels. From the FAQ:

This can be as simple as using a photo, or as detailed as capturing all the information in a nutrition label. You can select a picture from the Up gallery of food items, or snap your own; scan a barcode or type in to search our food database; or create your own items, entering how many calories, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates you ate. Rather than focusing only on calories, Up encourages you to eat a healthy and balanced diet by mapping the foods you log to daily percentages based on USDA recommendations.

At the end of the day, the Up band is still a pedometer, who's primary function is to count steps, but the addition of features like sleep monitoring, smart alarms, and idle alerts (courtesy of the vibration motor) are major additions. The nutrition tracking is just gravy for me. I'm using it now (in the honeymoon phase) but I haven't had luck sticking with food logging in the past.

The Up band isn't perfect, though. For one, it lacks a visual display to show steps and calories. The only visual feedback is a tiny flower and moon icon to display its mode, but to me this is more than made up for by the vibrating motor which doubles as a smart alarm and idle alert. The biggest omission is the lack of Bluetooth, which is truly a bummer. Luckily Up can store nine months of data locally, so you don't have to plug it into your iPhone twice a day as the user guide suggests. The lack of wireless means that syncing the Up band requires physically connecting to your iPhone. Oddly, some setting (like smart alarms and idle alerts) require a physical connection and can't be created locally and synced later. I'm also not a fan of proprietary charging dongles and detachable port covers because they invariably get lost; luckily, Jawbone sells replacements in its store.

All that being said, Jawbone Up is a great alternative to the Nike+ FuelBand for the sleep tracking alone. The nutrition logging, vibration motors and alarms are bonus features in my book. I'll post a follow-up after a month or two of regular use. It'll be interesting to see how Jawbone Up compares to the Fitbit Flex, which has Bluetooth, more LEDs, and a removable tracker. It's due in the northern hemisphere's "spring".

Jawbone Up is available on Jawbone.com and is in stock at Apple retail stores.

  • Pros: Support for activity, exercise, sleep, eating, smart alarm, idle alert, ten-day battery, vibrating motor.

  • Cons: No display, no bluetooth/wireless sync, no Android app (yet), difficult to plug into an iPhone with a case, requires a dongle to charge, removable cap is likely to get lost.

  • Requests: Weight tracking, and support for wi-fi scales like the Fitbit Aria ($129) Withings WS-50 ($149, due in May).

Here's the promotional video from YouTube.

What fitness tracker do you use? What features would make you get into the wearable game?

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