Let’s deal with the elephant in the room straight away – the Jawbone UP has no wireless connectivity. Even though Jawbone is a company that has manufactured some of the best Bluetooth headsets to grace your ear, it decided not to equip its activity tracker with any such functionality.
Despite the Jawbone UP’s antiquated modus operandi, the real surprise is that I still quite like it. On paper that might seem a bit odd, especially when you compare the UP to competitors like the Nike+ FuelBand SE, Fitbit One or Withings Pulse, but when you actually use the UP, you realise that Jawbone has put a lot of thought and effort into it.
It’s worth remembering that the Jawbone UP was the first wrist-based activity tracker to really capture the public eye and interest, and even though the original UP had some reliability issues, this second-generation band is a pretty solid device with a great supporting app.
The Jawbone UP is a little different from most wrist-based activity trackers. There’s no clasp to keep it secured, because it doesn’t need one. You see the up isn’t a closed band, it actually overlaps itself, making it very easy to slip the device on or off.
The UP comes in three sizes – Small, Medium and Large. There’s no way to adjust the size of the UP – there are no expansion links to add or remove, and no interchangeable strap, so you need to get your sizing right from the outset.
The UP is extremely flexible with a rubberised finish, which keeps it in place without it being tight or pinching. Jawbone has designed a very comfortable device, and you really do forget it’s there throughout the day.
There’s no display to speak of on the UP itself, with visual indicators limited to icons that tell you whether it’s in active mode or sleep mode. The single button is used to switch the device between the two modes – press and hold it before you go to sleep, then repeat the process when you wake.
If you’re concerned as much about the fashion statement you’re making, as tracking your activity, you’ll be glad to know that the UP is available in a rainbow of colours. So, if you’ve got deep pockets, you could have an array of UPs to match your outfits and ensembles. Personally, I’m of the opinion that black will always be the new black, so the original Onyx version is fine for me.
Tracking your movement
The Jawbone UP is equipped with a motion sensor that tracks your every move throughout the day, as well as the night. Essentially the UP counts the steps you take and estimates the calories burned and distance travelled. Like all pedometer-based activity trackers, this is a pretty simplistic measurement method, but it still gives you a good indication about how active you have or haven’t been.
What a device like the UP gives you is the ability to measure yourself against yourself. Once you’ve established a baseline for your average day, you’ll be able to tell whether you’re being particularly active, a bit lazy, or right on track.
The sensor and the corresponding algorithms in the UP can also tell the difference between normal movement and aerobic movement, allowing you to see when you’ve been doing some proper exercise rather than wandering around at a gentle stroll.
You can log specific exercise sessions too, but unlike the Sessions feature on the Nike+ FuelBand SE, you can’t do this from the device itself. So, if you go for a run, you’ll have to remember when you started and finished, and then log that data within the Jawbone app later.
If you choose to track your sleep as well as your activity, you’ll need to remember to switch the UP to sleep mode at night, and switch it back in the morning. You’ll then get a breakdown of how long you’ve slept, how much of that time was spent in deep or light sleep, and how often you woke up.
The lack of a built-in display is an annoyance, meaning that you have to check the app on your phone whenever you want an update on your progress. This is compounded by the aforementioned lack of wireless connectivity, since checking the app on your phone wont tell you anything until you’ve pulled the data from the UP itself.
While devices like the Withings Pulse, Fitbit One and Nike+ FuelBand SE will automatically synchronize with the companion app over the air, the UP doesn’t. Instead you have to physically plug the UP into your phone and wait for the data to be transferred.
The physical syncing method is still quite clever though, making use of the phone’s headphone socket to transfer the data. This manual syncing is still a chore though. First you have to remove the protective cap from the end of your UP to reveal a 3.5mm headphone jack, then start the app on your phone, then plug the UP in and wait for the data to flow.
This process presents a few obvious issues. First and foremost is that there’s no such thing as quickly checking your progress with the UP, and as a result I found myself simply not bothering to sync the device more than once a day, sometimes not even that often.
The second issue is that it’s all too easy to lose that protective cap. There’s no cord to keep it connected to the band when you remove it, so it can easily be misplaced or forgotten. In fact I lost the cap for the best part of a day when I was charging the device – I eventually found it in the original box where I’d put it for safekeeping.
And therein lies another problem – charging the UP. Because the only connector on the device is that 3.5mm headphone jack, you need a proprietary cable in order to charge the battery. The 3.5mm to USB cable obviously comes in the box, but it does mean that you’ll need to have an accessory with you if you ever need to charge your UP. By contrast, the Nike+ FuelBand SE has a standard USB connected built into its strap, and the Withings Pulse makes do with a standard micro-USB port.
On the plus side, the battery life is very impressive with the UP, no doubt thanks to its lack of wireless radio. Jawbone quotes a battery life of around 10 days, and I wouldn’t argue with that estimate.
While Jawbone may have missed a trick when it comes to connecting the UP to its supporting app, that app itself is very impressive. The UP app is beautifully designed and delivers a treasure trove of data in an easily digestible manner.
The main Today screen shows a graphical representation of your activity in the shape of a bar graph mapping out the hours of the day. Below the graph that data is explored in greater depth, in a more granular fashion – number of steps, distance walked, active time, how long you’ve been active, how long you’ve been idle, how many calories you’ve burned etc.
Not only does the UP app look great, it’s also incredibly easy to navigate – it literally invites you to analyse your data and compare your performance over time. After all, there’s no point capturing loads of data if you’re never going to look at it, and more importantly, learn from it.
As already mentioned, you can add training sessions to your day using the app, and these sessions will be graphically represented on your activity graph for the day.
You can also log all your food for the day directly through the app, allowing you to keep track of the amount of calories going into your body, as well as the amount you’re burning off. The food tracking is made even simpler by the inclusion of a barcode scanner, so you just scan the packet of whatever you’re about to eat, and that food will be automatically logged. You can also log food manually if you can’t find it in the Jawbone database.
Another nice touch is the messages that are presented periodically through the app. These are displayed as sticky notes, and range from reminders that you need a good night’s sleep to a pat on the back for hitting a particular milestone.
You can also use the app to set silent alarms via your UP. This is particularly useful if you share a bed and need to be up early when your partner doesn’t. The UP will vibrate on your wrist when the alarm is triggered, and it’s a surprisingly effective wake up method.
That vibrating alert can also be used to remind you to get up and active. You can configure your UP to vibrate whenever it detects that you’ve been idle for too long – whether you then get up off your backside and do something about it, though, is still your call.
The Jawbone UP costs £99, pitching it midway between the Nike+ FuelBand SE and the Fitbit One or Flex. In some respects it represents good value, especially when you consider the excellent supporting app, class leading battery life and attractive, comfortable design.
But it’s hard to ignore that elephant in the room. An activity tracker that doesn’t sync wirelessly with its supporting smartphone app is something of an anomaly. And in some respects it makes that great app redundant, because the hassle of syncing your data means that you don’t tend to do it more than once a day, if that. All of which diminishes the UP’s appeal.
The Jawbone UP, Nike+ FuelBand SE and Fitbit Flex
It’s clear that Jawbone is well aware that the lack of wireless syncing is an issue, since it has already come up with a solution. The UP24 is already available in the US, and comes with, you guessed it, Bluetooth Smart data synchronisation.
So, while there really is a lot that I like about the Jawbone UP, it really can’t compete with the Nike+ FuelBand SE or Fitbit Flex right now. But when the UP24 launches in the UK, it might turn the tables on its rivals.
- Attractive design
- A plethora of colour options
- Very comfortable to wear
- Class leading battery life
- Supporting app is superb
- Easy to slip on and off
- Tracks sleep
- Can log training sessions
- The app tracks your food intake
- Built-in barcode scanner is a nice touch
- No wireless connectivity
- No built-in display
- Can’t log training sessions from the device
- It’s not waterproof
- That protective cap is just begging to get lost
- Proprietary cable needed for charging
- You’re unlikely to sync your data regularly
- A little expensive considering the manual syncing