Jawbone UP: Worth the money — a review

| Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The Jawbone UP is a slick little piece of sexy. It’s a wristband that pairs up with an iPhone app to track your daily activities and help you to live a healthier life. Regularly $100, for Black Friday they were $78 at the Apple Store, a deal I just couldn’t pass up. A little self-checkout magic while waiting for the Genius Bar, and boom, time to start playing.

First Impressions

The packaging is rather inventive. I asked an Apple Store employee if they had a sizing band for it, and he pointed out to me that they’re built right into the box, which is both handy, and very accurate. The UP is currently available in three sizes: small, medium and large, with an extra large forthcoming. The size guide for the large was a little snug, but I was told that as long as the plastic doesn’t have to bend on the size guide, you should be fine. This proved accurate — my wristband is perfectly snug and doesn’t bounce around or slide.

Downloading the app was quick, and setup was intuitive, guiding me through a quick setup process for a Jawbone.com account and registering my wristband. After a quick walkthrough of the settings, I walked out sporting my flashy new bracelet.

Counting My Steps

The feature that I thought would be the most useful was the pedometer, and the activity reminder, making sure I get up and move around every so often during my day, since I work at a desk — a boring, sitting down desk.

The app sets a goal for you of 5,000 steps per day, a modest goal that is easily achievable. It tracks the percentage you’ve done through the day, and allows you to set an “Activity Reminder,” which, as I mentioned, causes the pretty little rubber bracelet to vibrate a certain time after I’ve become a little… stagnant. Its initial setting is disabled, and has the option of 1-4 hours + 0, 15, 30 and 45 minute intervals. I have mine set for one hour, enough to bug me to get off my butt, but not so annoying that I want to break the little guy in half.

Watching Me Sleep

I must admit, I was the most excited about the sleep tracking feature and the silent alarm. I didn’t think it would be terribly useful, considering that I’m a ridiculously heavy sleeper. I’d also tried a couple of apps in the App Store that say they can track your sleep based on accelerometer readings in the iPhone, but I wasn’t too happy with the results, and I figured UP wouldn’t do much better.

How wrong I was.

The silent alarm is genius. It picks the perfect moment in a half-hour time window where you’re at your lightest sleep and lulls you right out of it with a gentle vibration pattern. The brilliant part is that when I follow its advice and plan to get about 7 hours of sleep, it wakes me right up. If my mother knew the best alarm clock I’d ever use was silent, I’m sure her hearing would be a little better today.

The sleep tracking is also really insightful. Last night I was in bed for almost 8 hours, but apparently I only slept for about 5.5 of those hours, which would explain why I’m so dog-tired today.

Stalking The Foodstuffs

I’ve never been the calorie counting type, so limited as the UP’s food tracking capabilities may be, I love the simplicity that comes hand-in-hand with it, even if there are few caveats.

Sitting down for lunch? All Jawbone asks is that you snap a picture of it, give it a name and tag it with a place. Two hours later, you’ll get a notification asking for “feedback on a meal.” These simple statistics are surprisingly insightful. By asking “how you feel” after you eat, and creating a sort of health journal, it’s helped me connect the dots between my diet one day, and how I feel the next morning. Suddenly it’s much easier to see the hangover I get from a midnight snack — read: a full platter of SUPER NACHOS from Gual Berto’s.

What’s Macgasmic

Well, as I said before, the hardware is DANG SEXY. The simple interface with the wristband’s single button and headphone jack connector is really cool. It’s just obtrusive enough to get the occasional, “wait, what’s that thing?” All the while it remains minimalist and stays out of the way, even under a jacket’s sleeve or a long-sleeved shirt. The button, used to toggle the tracking mode between workout, sleep and normal, is super easy to use, and the single indicator light is only visible when you need it. Sleek, smooth and decently fashionable.

The app tracks food through photos, but it keeps those photos out of your Camera Roll, and thereby out of your Photo Stream, a huge plus, but it’s probably the only thing I really like a lot about the app. It has really neat visualizations of the data it’s collected, but, to be honest, it seems like that that’s all they spent a lot of time on, leading us to…

What’s Not

The APP! Okay, I’m being a little harsh. The app does what it says it does, but that’s pretty much it. It logs steps and food and sleep, but if you don’t fit that into their usage pattern, it doesn’t work. There’s no way to add a meal without a photo. There’s also no way to log a workout that didn’t cover any distance on the GPS or steps on the wristband. This is particularly suckish for me, because most of my workouts consist of free weights and stationary bike.

There’s no way to repeat a meal in the app, with or without a photo, so you can’t reuse the photos that don’t get put in your Camera Roll. Since my breakfast is almost always a chocolate protein shake from Costco, this really gets on my nerves. There’s also no external sharing, but I can’t decide if the ability to clog my friends’ news feeds on Facebook with all the pictures of my new healthy lifestyle would actually be a useful feature, so I’m remaining neutral on that ground.

There’s no obvious way to change the settings on the wristband or check on it. The battery level is only displayed immediately after sync, and if you want to change the alarm time or activity monitor settings, you have to tap the + sign and use the same interface used to add meals and other activities. If unintuitive were an Olympic sport, that right there would be a medal contender.

So, Jawbone, if someone over there ends up reading this, here’s my wishlist.

 

  1. Re-post or re-use a previous photos of a meal
  2. Let me log biking/weightlifting time as a workout so I don’t look like such a lazy bum in the workout section
  3. Some (very limited) external sharing is merited, at least.
  4. Make the alarm a little more flexible (a weekend setting)
  5. Give me a blasted “Wristband Settings” type tab or screen
  6. Make goals more prevalent and easier to set

All in all, I really like the Jawbone UP, both in concept and in practice. The app needs some work, but it’s nothing they can’t fix, as long as they don’t consider it “done.” In my opinion, it was well worth the $78 I paid for it, and worth the $99 it’s going for now. With continued updates to the app, and social integration with more than just Jawbone’s own graph, the UP has the potential to live up to its motto, and help you find the “Healthier You.”

It’s too bad it can’t vibrate the next time I feel tempted to get extra jalepeños on my nachos…

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