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Jawbone Up review: An easy-to-wear and insightful fitness pal

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Users are encouraged to share steps taken and food eaten. Sarah Tew/CNET

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).

View numerous performance categories plotted against each other. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Bundled along with the Jawbone Up is a USB-to-3.5mm headphone mini jack adapter. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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