Jawbone UP Review

The Jawbone UP is the latest in a series of hardware+software health monitoring tools to come our way. Having worked at Bodymedia way back when, I’ve always had an interest in these devices and their complimentary software. The UP is a $100 bracelet that you wear at all times (yes, even in the shower) that helps you track your sleep, activity & diet. The hardware accomplishes the tasks of sleep & activity while the software plays the sole role in diet. Onto the details…

Design

If you’re familiar with other Jawbone products such as the Era or Jambox, you’ll see the same familiar modern clean design in the UP. It was designed by Yves Behar & his team at fuseproject. It’s a design you’ll love or hate. I’m personally a huge fan of the form, but does it function?

The rubberized bracelet is bendable to a degree. It’s not the simplest task in the world getting it on or off your wrist, but thankfully you don’t really need to take it off given its waterproof nature. I’ve worn a watch every day on my left wrist since I was 13… so I’m used to “jewelry”. After opening up the well-designed packaging I got the bracelet on and instantly thought “wow I can hardly feel it there”.

You’ll want to obviously obtain the right size. Jawbone’s site has a sizing guide if you are ordering online, or the packaging itself has a size ring on it so you can try before you buy. There’s really not much in the way of moving parts here; there is a button at one end that is used for switching modes (more on that later), and the opposite end has a cap that is pulled off to reveal the 3.5mm male jack that is used to sync the device with your mobile phone (currently iPhone-only, but Android “coming soon”).

When interacting with the single button, there are light indicators on the bracelet to indicate what mode you are in - normal, activity, sleep. One negative I will mention is that for me the bracelet does not lie completely flat near its endpoints. I still have room in the bracelet, but due to the shape of my wrist etc it doesn’t look/feel “perfect”.

Use

When you first synch the device to your phone, you set up an account along with setting up goals for yourself. There’s not much to “using” the device. You simply wear it and have to interact with it only a few times a day. If you exercise, you can tap-tap the button enter “activity mode”. The sole purpose of this is to just break out this activity within the app UI at a later time. When you go to bed you hold down the button to enter sleep mode. Upon waking up you hold it again to enter back into the standard mode. That’s all there is to it.

You’ll need to charge the device every ten days or so using the included 3.5mm->USB dongle. Every time you synch to the app you are shown the device’s charge level, and there are warnings on the light indicators on the bracelet when the battery is low.

App

The supportive application (that is necessary to use the device) is available for iPhone only at the time of writing. Jawbone has stated in their forums that an Android version is under active development. As stated earlier, the main three things the device does is track sleep, activity, and what you are eating, although there are social features (team) along with challenges thrown in for good measure.

I’ve been removing the bracelet from my wrist to synch to the iPhone using the 3.5mm jack. Maybe you can get that cap off and synch with it on your wrist, but it doesn’t seem easy. You plug it in, open the app, and hit synch. I haven’t had any issues with it yet. The main visualization is a graph with three bars showing if you’ve hit your goals in Sleep, Activity & Diet. You can rotate your phone to see more detailed information about your statistics. It seems like the only view is a daily view, although I would hope there are more views of the statistics on their way.

Sleep

This is one area I’m very interesting in seeing about myself. The UP will tell you how much you slept along with your sleep quality. I’ve always been a light sleeper and my wife tells me I move around frequently. After using the device for one night I now believe her. Compared to a friend of mine who is also using an UP, my deep sleep time is far less than his. I’m anxious to see if this behavior is consistent.

One really great feature in regards to sleep is that the bracelet can be used as an alarm clock using vibration. Even better, it supposedly will wake you up out of a light sleep instead of a deep sleep by getting you up a little earlier if it can (by looking at your deep vs. light sleep somehow).

Activity

In the world of UP, activity is all about steps. You can view graphs of your steps over time along with estimated distance, active time, and calories burned. I’d like to believe I’m a fairly active & healthy person, so viewing this data should be interesting. I do not own another pedometor, Fitbit or anything else along those lines so I cannot speak for the accuracy of the UP. It feels like the numbers are too high though.

One of my favorite feature of the device is found in this area. You can set your bracelet to remind you to be active if you are sedentary for too long. The time range is user defined. This is great as it can remind us programmers to get out of our chairs once an hour :)

Diet

The food diary portion of the application is well… a little underwhelming in my opinion. You are forced to take a photo of every meal and it automatically slots that food into a designated meal such as breakfast or lunch. You can optionally tie the meal to a location (including restaurants, etc, nearby). About 1 or 2 hours later you get a push notification where the app wants you to rate how you feel after eating with the choices of energized, ok, sleepy, hungry, or stuffed. This is all well & good if there’s a way to really find out how certain foods effect you, but I don’t really see a way to do that in the app.

I think Jawbone needs to add some more functionality into this area such as integration with social (beyond their own network), calorie info (wasn’t there some crazy startup/app that figured out calories in food by using mechanical turk?), along with better analytics over time. This area of the app just feels too labor intensive.

Team

So far I only have one friend with an UP as we both got them a little early by scoping out Apple Store’s, but as expected the social features in any health/exercise-based app are key to the experience. You can search for users profiles and invite them to your “team”. You can then view their progress along with yours in the three main areas of interest in the app. It’s a great way to keep yourself motivated and motivate others, although I hope to see some more features added in over time in this area.

Additionally, there is a Feed tab where you can see recent activity of the members in your team.

Challenges

Game mechanics are a huge portion to an offering such as the UP, and I feel they currently fall a little short. There are sponsored challenges such as walking X steps in a day where it looks like you can obtain points (from the sponsors?) that are good for I don’t know what. I hate to say badges in the modern world of over-gamification, but they really do feel like they belong in an app such as this but are nowhere to be found. I want to be able to compete against my friends along with cooperating - the two core game mechanics.

Summary

The UP is an extremely well designed & engineered product accompanied by an average mobile app experience. It is by no means bad - it’s a well done native iOS app that quick & responsive and looks good. In an offering such as this the data that is being captured is the core of the entire experience. It is the foundation. Upon that there are a plethora of choices to be made upon the visualization & interaction with that data. The bracelet and app just came out so I’m not knocking Jawbone for all this stuff but I’m just hoping for more and more in the future. They have a solid foundation upon which they can keep building a better & better user experience.

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