Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Jawbone UP

This is an uncompensated, unsolicited review.  I bought the UP myself and the opinions and screenshots and photos here are my own. There are a couple of Amazon affiliate links in the post.

As I said in an earlier post, I bought the Jawbone UP -- actually two, one for me and one for my husband -- because with school starting, I wanted to have some extra incentive to keep us both active as school was starting to avoid Death by Sitting Around.

I like the look of the UP -- it's a pretty basic band that wraps around the wrist. It is available in several colors but mine is basic black. The band comes in small, medium, and large sizes. My wrist is about 6" around so I ordered the medium, which fits well with some breathing room. On one end, there is a removable cap that says "Jawbone." On the other is the only input device on the UP itself, a simple button. Various button-pushing patterns are used to switch the UP from active mode into sleep mode and back again, to time activities, and to set the band in "Power Nap" mode.  There is no display on the up other than a small glowing sun and moon.

The UP is designed to interact with an iPhone or Android device -- the cap pops off to reveal a plug that fits into the headphone jack for syncing, recommended at least twice a day. This is also where the device plugs in for charging -- the wristband is supposed to hold a charge for 10 days or so. Jawbone UP users are supposed to wear their devices 24/7, except when charging or doing something like swimming where the band would be immersed in water. The UP is water-resistant and can be worn in the shower, but is not recommended for swimming.

The relatively simple interface allows for some powerful data tracking. I can, for example, use the app to get detailed information on my sleep:

The UP app also, of course, tracks activity, which is its primary function. Besides the step counting function, the UP allows input of other activities: "Walk," "Weights," "Run," "Cross-Train,' "Hike," "Cardio," "Bike," "Yoga," "Stationary [bike]," "Pilates," "Elliptical," "Basketball," "Video Games [like Wii]," "Tennis," "Dance," "Soccer," "Ski," and "Other." 

(Seriously, UP designers, video games and ski make the cut but not swimming? That's a pretty popular activity to just lump into "Other," especially since the band can't track it directly if I'm not allowed to wear it in the water.)

There is a stopwatch function to help facilitate tracking other activities. It is annoyingly difficult, however, to get the button-pushing sequence correct, especially while walking or running. I tried during one of my interval workouts and kept putting the band into sleep mode. That was very frustrating and I finally gave up.

The app also can track mood and food.  I, however, am used to logging my food with Lose It!, and since I have the Premium version, I can connect it directly to the UP app and my calorie information is pulled into the UP app. The UP app, in return, sends activity data back to Lose It! -- once a certain calorie threshold is exceeded, a calorie bonus is added to Lose It!

One thing I really notice, and commented on yesterday, is that using the activity tracker to interface with Lose It! results in much less calorie credit for exercise than tracking the activity in Lose It! directly. I have my baseline activity in Lose It! set to "Sedentary." Yesterday evening, though, this is what I saw in Lose It! even though I had exceeded my 10.000 step goal in UP, "burn 95 more calories for bonus":

For reference, here is my UP app screen: 

That means that to Lose It!, a sedentary activity level is the equivalent of walking more than 5 miles per day -- I wish I had known this sooner! The Lose It! designers might need a "desk job" activity level that is even lower than "Sedentary" to provide accurate tracking for people who don't have a Jawbone UP.

Even though I'm tracking in Lose It! and not in the UP app, all my nutritional data seems to get pulled over to UP just fine.  Instead of tracking individual items, though, it just pulls the four meal categories that Lose It! allows: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.  The app displays in a very simple interface how my nutritional breakdown compares to the USDA guidelines for someone of my size and gender. I had a whole egg yesterday and half and half in my coffee, and the app didn't like that.

The Jawbone UP does seem to be working for me as a behavior-modification device . Last night I came home from teaching class and felt totally wired. I talked Jesse into going for a walk so I could earn a few extra steps. It helped me to calm down and get to sleep. Today, as I'm writing this blog post, I have the Idle Alert set to 15 minutes -- every time the band buzzes I'm supposed to get up and move around.  I am going to tone that down for the workday to 30 minutes.  I also love the Power Nap function -- I used it yesterday. This function sets the band to sleep mode with an alarm that will be between 27 minutes and 45 minutes, depending on how much the user is moving around. Yesterday I slept soundly for about 25 minutes and then was awake when it buzzed.  That little catnap really did help me feel refreshed. I can tell from my sleep tracking that I'm not getting quite enough sleep, and this is something I plan to work on.

What are the downsides to the UP? As I mentioned earlier, the single-button input makes it hard to set to stopwatch mode -- the gesture is just too similar to what I need to do to set it to sleep.  Another common complaint among Jawbone UP users is that the band is not as durable as they had hoped -- at full retail price of around $169 (Amazon affilate link) the band would be expected to last quite a long time, but some users are complaining that their band only lasts a few weeks. I am hoping I won't have that experience -- I would be pretty upset. The most common way the band seems to go bad is by not holding a charge -- mine seems to be doing just fine so far, but my husband's has been needing a charge every day or two instead of the 10-day span, which doesn't bode well. There is a one-year limited warranty on the product, but it is only valid if the band is purchased directly from Jawbone or an authorized reseller. The other complaint I have seen on the Jawbone forums is that it is much too easy to lose the cap. This does seem like a pretty big design flaw.  The manufacturer seems to send out replacements for the first one, but after that the replacements are three for $9 with a shipping cost of $4.95.  The band functions fine without the cap but it would look ugly. I would hope that in a future release the cap will either not detach completely or will have some sort of chain to attach it to the band, or some other workaround for this design flaw.

Have you used the UP or any of the other activity tracking device?  Does it seem to have changed your behavior? Please let me know in the comments -- my idle alert just went off so it's time for me to get moving.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07