Jawbone UP Review – Two months wearing a fitness tracker

For the last two months I’ve been wearing the Jawbone UP, a fitness tracker. Let’s see what this experience can tell us about using the Apple Watch.

The dawn of the Apple Watch is upon us. It remains to be seen if Apple’s latest new product will redefine the industry like the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad did. That said, I’m looking forward to trying out the Apple Watch for myself and will be part of the dedicated (and/or crazy) crowd of people that stay up late and pre-order the watch on April 10th. It will be interesting to see how a smart device that is worn rather than carried affects my day to day life.

One of the areas I’m most interested in when it comes to the Apple Watch is its fitness tracking capabilities. I enjoy staying in shape and living a healthy, active lifestyle. I like exercising, eating right, and sleeping well. I just feel better when I do. A couple of months ago, I saw a killer deal on the UP, a fitness tracker made by Jawbone. I decided to pick one up in order to get a preview of what tracking my fitness with the Apple Watch could be like. Was having an in-depth overview of my health and fitness something that would even make a difference in my life?

Let’s break down my experience with the UP and see what it can tell us about using the Apple Watch.

The Jawbone UP: a brief review

Fitness Tracking – First, what dos the Jawbone UP actually do? The device itself tracks two main fitness metrics – sleep (both quality and quantity) and steps. There is also a calorie tracking mechanism in the UP’s smartphone app, but (full disclosure) I simply haven’t used this feature because it requires you to manually enter information about every food and drink item you consume. Because I haven’t used it, I won’t include that feature in this review.

Sleep – This has actually been one of the most enlightening things that I’ve gleaned from using the UP. It’s one of my favorite features. When going to sleep, you simply switch the UP into sleep mode by holding its button down briefly. A moon indicator light will light up and the UP will begin tracking your sleep. It tracks the total amount of time you’ve slept – and is smart enough to tell when you were in deep sleep versus light sleep or if you woke up in the middle of the night. You can set a smart alarm to awaken you up to 30 minutes before your regular alarm if you happen to be in a light sleep – the idea being that you’ll be more alert when woken out of light sleep than deep sleep. The fitness band will buzz to wake you up. I’ve enjoyed seeing a detailed breakdown of my sleep over time and some of the UP’s features like the smart alarm. I feel like using the UP in this way has given me a better understanding of my sleep patterns and has allowed me to adjust and optimize them.

Steps – Saying that the UP tracks steps is accurate, but it’s actually more complex than that. It does take a total count of your steps during the day (with an editable default goal of 10,000 steps), but you can also have it track specific workouts. I’ve found the workout tracking feature very helpful. When beginning a workout, you double tap and hold the UP’s button and the sun icon (that indicate’s you’re in awake mode) will flash quickly, letting you know that the UP has started tracking your workout. It estimates total calories burned, the time of the workout, and allows you to record its intensity. Seeing your workouts over time gives you a good idea of your consistency and lets you see how your fitness is progressing. The UP app also gives you personalized feedback about your fitness, though after receiving this feedback for a few months it feels a bit “canned.”

Viewing Your Fitness Data: The App – Jawbone gives you several ways to view your fitness data in the Jawbone app – but you can also link the app up with several other fitness and data applications to get a clearer picture of your health. For instance, I connected the app to my Google Drive via IFTTT and each day my steps and sleep data is transmitted to a spreadsheet so that I can view my progress easily over time. While the UP app is pretty basic, it’s nice that you’re not fenced in and can export your data in a variety of ways.

 

Design – In terms of design, the Jawbone UP reminds a bit of those Lance Armstrong LIVESTRONG bracelets that were popular years back – it’s a rubberized bracelet of sorts that looks fairly nondescript, yet attractive. This is one of the things I like about the UP – it doesn’t scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m a fitness tracker!” It’s very simple. It sports one button and a few indicator lights. It doesn’t have a screen that allows you to track your progress live. The only way to do so is when you manually sync the band (typically at the end of the day).

Features – It should also be mentioned that in terms of the wearable fitness tracking market, the UP is a bit of a dinosaur. It was originally released in 2011. At that stage in the wearable game, it was likely cutting edge. However, technologically it’s begun to show its age. Whereas many modern fitness trackers use bluetooth to transfer data, the UP needs to be plugged in to your iPhone via the headphone jack in order to sync. I’ve typically done this twice a day – once when I wake up in the morning and once before going to bed at night.

Price & Value – Like I mentioned earlier, I got my UP while it was on a big sale. Currently, it’s available on Amazon for $47.99, down from an original price of more than $250. The price difference is likely due to the product’s age. For the features that my original UP provides versus its technological limitations, I’ve enjoyed the overview it’s given me of my health and fitness. I would say it’s worth its current asking price of $47.99 if you’re willing to put up with having to connect it manually to your phone a few times a day. The UP 24, Jawbone’s current replacement for the original UP retails for $120.

So, what about the Apple Watch? – So, what does my experience with the Jawbone UP have to say about using the upcoming Apple Watch? Am I still looking forward to using the watch to track my fitness? Is the Apple Watch really worth the extra cost over other wearable fitness trackers? Let’s compare some areas that are relevant to both devices and see.

Features – Obviously, with a scope much broader than simply tracking your health and fitness, the Apple Watch blows away the Jawbone UP when it comes to sheer quantity of features. Simply zeroing in on fitness tracking, though, I can say that the UP whetted my appetite for what is to come with the Apple Watch. Some of the UP’s limitations that have been frustrating – its lack of wireless syncing over bluetooth, its lack of a screen with which to view realtime progress, its lack of systemwide integration with iOS – will simply disappear with the advent of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch should be a much more frictionless device to use, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve become accustomed to having an in-depth knowledge of my health and fitness with the Jawbone UP and I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple can take this experience and refine it on the Apple Watch. The one feature that I’m still curious to see if Apple can match with its watch, though, is the UP’s sleep tracking, which I’ll get in to in the next section.

Battery Life – This is the one area where the UP is a clear winner. With the UP advertising – and, in my experience, delivering – nearly 10 days of battery life on a full charge, the Apple Watch’s advertised 18 hours can’t hold a candle. Now, given, this discrepancy in in large part due to the Apple Watch’s dramatically expanded capabilities and backlit AMOLED screen. That said, if you’re looking for a fitness tracker whose battery can truly go the distance you may want to steer away from the Apple Watch and toward something like the UP.

As I mentioned above, the Apple Watch’s 18 hour battery life will likely impact its ability to track your sleep, which is a shame. Most people will likely charge it at night which means it will be off their wrists and unable to track their sleep. I’ve really enjoyed the overview the UP has given me of my sleep each night – it’s one of my favorite features. If I can’t find a way to use the Apple Watch to track my sleep, I’ll be pretty disappointed and I think it’s the one feature from the UP that I’ll really miss.

Quality & Design – Obviously, with its higher price tag and Apple’s attention to detail, the Apple Watch wins the quality and design contest hands down. However, I included this section for an important reason – I haven’t been impressed with the quality of the Jawbone UP. The original UP that I bought actually died after a couple weeks, something that I found many other people complaining about online. The company sent me a replacement UP free of charge which has been working fine for the last several weeks, but I always have a nagging worry that my UP may simply stop functioning under normal use. As a user of Apple products, I’ve come to expect a high level of quality. The UP doesn’t feel cheap necessarily, but its build quality and reliability is another difference between it an the Apple Watch that is worth mentioning (assuming Apple lives up to its normal standard of quality).

Price & Value – I paid $40 for my Jawbone UP. The Apple Watch starts at $349. Clearly, these devices are in different categories when it comes to price. For the $40 I paid, I’ve been happy with my experience with the UP. It’s given me new insights into my lifestyle, health, and fitness. As a result, I’ve made changes that have enhanced the quality of my day to day life. If anything, the UP has raised the bar of my expectations when it comes to Apple Watch – for the $349 I’m going to pay I’m expecting that the Apple Watch will be able to enhance my life in an even more profound way than the UP has.

Verdict – I’m certainly glad that I gave the Jawbone UP a try. It will be interesting to see how using the Apple Watch to track my health and fitness compares. If you’re someone who doesn’t feel like paying the price to get an Apple Watch but you’re still interested in tracking your health, consider a device like the Jawbone UP. You will make some tradeoffs in a lot of areas, but if you don’t need all the extra features something like the UP might be perfect for you.

Are you getting an Apple Watch? What are you looking forward to about it? Have you been using a fitness tracker for a while now? What’s your experience been like? Tell us in the comments section below!

 

 

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