For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been tracking my fitness with Jawbone’s UP bracelet. Those who know me well will appreciate what a ludicrous concept that is. But would I recommend others buy one?
I should get more exercise. I really, really should get more exercise, but journalism isn’t the most active of careers, which makes work-time exercise hard to come by. I’m hardly a candidate for The Biggest Loser (and I actively dislike its voyeuristic tone, for what that’s worth), but equally I’m unlikely to be inducted into the bodybuilding hall of fame, and I’m not as young as I used to be. So when Jawbone’s UP, which tracks your motion as well as your sleep patterns turned up for review, I was intrigued to see if it could actually get me moving.
On the plus side
Jawbone’s hardly alone in the fitness tracking market; there’s a slew of bracelet competitors, from Nike’s Fuelbands to Fitbit’s various bands to contend with. I’ll state upfront that I’ve not had the chance to test those, although I’m aware that the Fuelband especially is a darling of the fitness crowd.
The setup for the UP is pleasantly simple; it charges and syncs from a 3.5mm plug hidden under a cap on one end. Charging is via a custom, supplied USB to 3.5mm plug. Charge it up and it synchronises to a specific UP app for iOS or Android devices, which walks you through the setup process. You then sync the UP to the App as often as you like, and it’ll track how many steps it’s registered, as well as your sleeping pattern, with the single button on the bracelet switching between sleep and step modes.
It is, I’ve got to say, surprisingly compelling seeing your step totals stack up, especially if you’ve got both targets to hit and others to compete with. The UP uses an online connection to store your step totals in the cloud, which means you can access it from multiple devices, but also share your results with other members in your team. I was relatively late to the UP party, but there’s a number of other Australian tech journalists in my team, and a few in particular who provide me with equal parts inspiration and annoyance when I see their step totals.
What surprised me is how much attention I’ve started paying to my sleep totals. I’m not a great sleeper, and I’m quite busy, so often I just go without sleep. Having a number — and especially a number tracked over time — to look at gives me a good perspective on getting enough sleep, and a motive to stop, relax and rest. That’s a good thing.
Battery life is good, or at least it has been on my review unit. I’m a little on the cautious side when it comes to charging, but it can easily power through five days and still retain a decent charge. Charging time from a standard USB port is around an hour, and it’s easy enough to schedule a time when I’m working and not stepping to charge it up.
The band is waterproof, and Jawbone’s claim is that you should only ever need to take it off to sync and charge. It’s certainly comfortable to wear, but I can’t bring myself to wear it in the shower, or when I’m doing dishes. That just feels… weird. Maybe that’s just me.
The inbuilt alarm, which vibrates when it detects you’re in light sleep just before your set alarm time, works pretty well too, although I’ve discovered it’s also quite good at freaking out one of my cats, who sleeps on the bed just near me. If it starts buzzing when my left arm is near her, she’s instantly on the hunt for it. Jawbone doesn’t mention that on the box, mind you.
On the minus side
The synchronisation method via 3.5mm jack is both a blessing and a curse. It undoubtedly aids in extending the battery life, but it’s also a minor chore, and, as I’ve found, something that doesn’t work equally across all devices. The iOS UP app is slightly slicker than its Android counterpart, but more problematic than that, I’ve found on some handsets that the plug doesn’t always register without some force applied. Testing with a Galaxy S4 hit this issue. If I pushed down hard it would sync, but I’d hate to do that every single time I wanted to sync. Switching to an HTC One resolved that issue entirely, but it’s still a problem for the UP.
It’s annoying too, that there’s no computer integration. It’d be nice to be able to sync with a laptop or desktop, both of which have had 3.5mm jacks for longer than mobiles have existed in the wider marketplace.
Jawbone sells the UP in three sizes and a variety of colours (Onyx, Mint Green, Light Grey, Blue, Navy Blue, Red, Orange, Hunter Green) but no matter which one you pick, it’ll cost you $149.95.
Has the UP made me markedly fitter in the couple of weeks I’ve been testing it?
Not yet. But data is a useful resource, and data of this type provides a strong impetus to do something about my general levels of fitness. I’ve taken to doing laps of an oval while my son has soccer practice, and getting up from my desk to walk around every once in a while when working. I’ve done a little light exer-gaming (that is, walking on the spot while playing video games), although finding games that I can happily play while stomping is an interesting task in itself.
There’s a huge emerging market in fitness tracking, from the inbuilt S-Health on the Galaxy S4 to apps like Runkeeper and even fun stuff like Zombies, Run!. The UP sits nicely in that market, and it’s worth considering — although I’m now personally keen to give the Fuelband and Fitbit a run. Does this mean I’m turning into a fitness junkie?