Many high-tech fitness products have hit the market recently, all aiming to be better ways to help you get in shape. The newly redesigned $129.99 Jawbone Up, however, stands out by pushing the personal activity tracker into new territory. Unlike traditional pedometer-style devices, such as the Nike FuelBand and Fitbit One, the Up is designed to be worn 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all to paint a detailed picture of your health and prod you to move more. While the Up band is small, durable, and comfortable enough to wear on your wrist around the clock, the gadget has big drawbacks. For instance, it lacks a screen, Bluetooth, or even a way to check your status other than via its iPhone and Android apps. That said, after a bumpy initial launch last year, the revamped Jawbone Up is indeed an innovative, though not perfect, personal fitness tool.
Editors' note, May 9, 2013: This review has been updated to reflect the addition of Android support.
Much of the Jawbone Up's appeal lies in its groundbreaking design. The Up is essentially a complex bundle of electronics, a battery, a motion sensor, and flexible circuit boards, all stuffed into a twistable rubber skin.
To save space and cut down on weight, Jawbone kept controls and indicators on the Up to a bare minimum. The circular bracelet-shaped device has just one silver square button on one end. The Up band's opposite side is tipped with a nylon cap that covers its 3.5mm headphone plug. You use the plug to both sync data with your phone and charge the Up's battery via an included USB adapter.
Right below the button sit two status lights, one drawn in the shape of a starburst and the other a half moon. These lights steadily glow or blink green or red, depending on which mode the Up is in or which function it's performing. If you're looking for a gadget with fancy OLED eye candy such as the Nike FuelBand or Fitbit One, you'll be disappointed. Since the device lacks a true alphanumerical display, the Up also can't function as a high-tech watch like the Motorola MotoActv can.
At 0.8 ounce, though, the Jawbone Up is very light, especially compared with other wrist-style fitness products (the FuelBand is 0.95 to 1.13 ounces, depending on how many spacers are used; the MotoActv is 1.2 ounces). In fact, I found the Up band very comfortable to wear, to the point where I forgot it was on my wrist entirely.
According to Jawbone, that's the entire point of the Up: to be a device that effortlessly integrates into your daily life. To make it even more likely the Up will stay strapped to you, Jawbone also designed the Up to be water-resistant; you can even shower with it on. Just don't take the Up band swimming, since it can't handle being submerged in liquid.
For a mobile device that lacks a screen and has just one button, the Jawbone Up certainly does quite a bit. At its core, the Up band is a fancy pedometer that measures your movements and overall activity level by the steps you take. It also can calculate the number of calories burned (based on your age, height, and gender), plus it breaks down your daily activity in terms of total active time, longest time you were most active, and, my favorite, longest time idle.
All this data is displayed through your iPhone or Android handset using the Up's companion app. I'm glad that Jawbone made good on its promise to offer support for Android, but be advised that only some devices are officially supported. Check here for the full list.
The Up band goes well beyond the capabilities of a typical pedometer. The device tracks your sleep and reports the quality of your snoozing by time slept and deep versus light sleep, plus the total time you spent in bed. You can also see how long it took you to fall asleep and how many times you woke up during the night.
This is all well and good, but what do you do with this data once you have it? The real power of the Jawbone Up system lies not merely in logging personal stats but in the fact that you can use it to set goals you strive to accomplish. For instance, the default number of daily steps the Up recommends you take is 10,000. You can increase that all the way to 18,000, though, if you choose.
Similarly, the Up application recommends you get 8 hours of sleep each night, though you can raise this to a slothlike 10 hours within the Sleep Goal section of the app. Your progress toward your sleep and activity goals is displayed on the app's home screen. They're represented by two easily discernible color-coded bars (blue for sleep, orange for steps), which also show raw performance numbers and their percentage value in relation to your current goal.
For further motivation, below your performance stats the Up app provides daily inspirational factoids with health advice trivia. For example I was mortified to learn that lack of sleep increases cravings for high-calorie/high-fat foods. Yikes!
Additionally, clicking on a smiley face (what Jawbone calls the mood icon) lets you tell the Up system how you're currently feeling. Moods range from Totally Done on the low end to Amazing as the ultimate high. Of course, the app allows you to describe your mood in your own words, too. Jawbone claims that the Up notes how you feel and maps this against actual performance data to provide more personal insights over time.
Another interesting aspect of the Up application is its social component. The software lets you search for friends with Up accounts and then invite them to become a member of your team. Once linked, team member performance is listed in a real-time social feed on the home screen.
Like the Fitbit, the Up offers a way to log your meals. You can select food from a small variety of common items arranged in categories such as drinks, breakfast, and snacks, each with a lovely stock photo, or you can search for an item manually within the Up database. With tight iPhone integration, however, users can also scan bar codes of consumer goods or simply snap their own photos with their handset's camera. Unfortunately the app lacks a way to measure calories consumed directly against calories burned.
Another of the Jawbone Up's notable capabilities is an idle alert feature that you set within the app. The band will vibrate when it detects that you haven't moved after a predetermined interval, 30 minutes or an hour. This haptic feedback can also serve as a silent alarm to buzz you out of bed and not disturb your partner.
Need more sleep? That's not an issue, either, since pressing the Up's button twice and then holding it down activates Power Nap mode. After a time determined by how much sleep the Up thinks you need, the band will vibrate to gently nudge you awake.
Data geeks will find a friend in the Up as well. Under the Lifeline section of the app, a full timeline is displayed with complete stats for activity and sleep, plus markers for when you achieved personal goals. Moods logged are showcased here as well. Additionally, the Trends feature provides a deeper dive into your data. Simply select from a number of data criteria such as total sleep, deep sleep, steps, and calories burned, and plot them against each other over time (in days, weeks, or months).
Out in the field, the Jawbone Up performed pretty much as advertised, though I did have problems with the first test unit I received, which likely suffered from a faulty battery. That said, it was a prerelease model and my replacement operated just fine.
As it's both comfortable and lightweight, I was able to wear the Up band all day long for days on end. I also showered with the gadget many times with no problems.
The Jawbone Up also seemed accurate to me, whether on walks or runs at the gym, recording step-based exercise in line with what I've observed from the Fitbit Ultra and Fitbit One products. I personally appreciated that the Up wasn't thrown off by fatherly activities, too, such as pushing strollers, even though the product remained stationary rather than swinging from my arm. Barflies, coffee nerds, and other beverage fanatics should note that the Up band didn't register fake steps when I raised my arm to drink -- something the FuelBand was prone to.
The fact that I could have the Up strapped to my wrist made a huge difference as well since it was always handy to log sleep intervals. Actually the device was almost too convenient for recording my restful hours, or shall I say painful and chronic lack of them. Well, nobody said parenting twin toddlers was going to be easy.
Both the Power Nap and idle alert functions were simple to activate and set up as well. Logging food was trickier, since many of the items I tried to record were either homemade or not from big chain restaurants. Know how many calories are in the No. 25 sandwich special from my local Vietnamese joint? Yeah, me neither.
The biggest strength of the Up is its long battery life. Jawbone rates its rechargeable battery as being able to power the device for up to 10 days. That said, I managed less than that, getting about seven days from the product. Of course that was during heavy usage during my test period and performing multiple syncs each day.
What the Jawbone Up isn't, however, is a fully loaded fitness device for exercise enthusiasts or professional athletes. For example, while I could log workouts either manually or by kicking the device into stopwatch mode, it won't measure speed or distance traveled. For that you'll have to spring for a GPS-equipped fitness tracker like the Motorola MotoActv.
In a nutshell, the $129.99 Jawbone Up is built to stick to you 24-7 and record your daily activity right down to how well you sleep at night, all for the purpose of kicking you out of a lazy lifestyle. It certainly succeeds at most of its mission. Being lightweight, very comfortable to wear, and extremely durable, it's the easiest fitness tracker to operate that I've ever used. I also found that thanks to its intuitive app, I felt motivated enough to turn in earlier and take that longer walk home. While the Up band is easy to live with and inspiring, it isn't perfect. First, this product won't appeal to serious athletes who need to measure their speed and distance performance in detail. That the Up has no screen of its own like the $149 Nike FuelBand does and only works with iPhones and a handful of Android devices is a pain. Also less than futuristic is the Up's lack of Bluetooth, a feature the $99 Fitbit Flex has that would enable it to do background syncing when your phone or PC is in range. That makes the Jawbone Up a very compelling smartphone accessory for those seeking a casual way to ease into a healthier lifestyle, but some handset owners will be out of luck.