Robin Camille Davis
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Review of the Jawbone UP wristband after 3 months

May 19, 2013
Tags: tech

Jawbone UP wristband

UP wristband by Jawbone. Nails by Essie. Only suitable backdrop within reach by Dodocase.

Edit June 23, 2013: spoiler alert! You grow to love the wristband but it dies young.

I've had my Jawbone UP wristband for over 3 months, during which I wore it every day. It's a $130 lifetracking wristband that logs your steps by time of day as well as your sleep patterns. You can see charts and graphs of your UP data in an iPhone or Android app.

Pros

Band: The band, size small, fits my pathetically thin wrist well. The unconnected ends and bendiness allow for quick on/off. I don't mind having it on my wrist all the time unless I'm typing. The zigzag pattern is very modern-looking, and I like the color, mint green. I've actually never been concerned that the band 'didn't go with my outfit.' It's eyecatching, too — I get asked about it probably once a week.

Activity graph

Activity graph

Activity: As has been said before by others, it's really gratifying to see how many steps and miles I walked at the end of a long day scuttling all over NYC. It turns transit into a creative activity. The feel of sore muscles fades, but you have data points in your pocket and a high point on your graph. I think more about my activity during the day: increasing my goal from 10,000 steps to 11,500 has pushed me to walk/run more.

Sleep: The sleep tracking function is also excellent and accurate. This feature convinced me to buy UP rather than a Nike Fuelband or a FitBit (although the recently released FitBit Flex now tracks sleep too — and looks gorgeous... and is cheaper...). One of the best features is the alarm clock. To all of my former roommates' and neighbors' chagrin, I am a slow waker who used to set at least 5 alarms on 2 devices to get up on time. Now I just rely on UP, which vibrates gently during light sleep at preset alarm times (e.g., up to 20 minutes before 7:40am). It is a more gradual and less irritating way to awaken — like a friendly bumblebee is nudging my hand. The sleep graph isn't particularly useful to me, as I've never had sleep problems, but I did recently notice that switching pillows was correlated to fewer instances of me waking up in the middle of the night.

Sleep graph

Sleep graph

App: It's simple to use and looks nice.  For viewing your activity/sleep for one day at a time, it's great. The graphs are easy to read and scrub through (to see the exact time a bar on the graph occurred). I like that you can add moods, on a scale of 1-8 with happy/sad faces and caption of your choice. I always read the daily tips. I was prepared to deride them, as all daily tips offered by other software are lame — but UP's are very useful! Typical tips compare my stats to other users' in aggregate, bring up general healthy living advice, and encourage me to beat last week's step count or catch up on sleep to meet my goal, etc. I was also happy to see an UP channel recently opened on IFTTT. Some of my data can be freed! UP recently hooked its API up with some other apps, too, including RunKeeper, which I appreciate since I already have years of data on the site.

Note: I have only used the food logger a few times in the first week I had the wristband. If I were more concerned about my diet, this would be a nice feature. It's always a pain to manually log anything, so the app tries to make it less painful by tapping into a nutrition database populated with general foods like 'Ham & cheese sandwich' and 'Fried appetizer', plus a barcode scanner for packaged foods. But it's a hassle to log something more complex or unusual, like 'chicken on couscous with mint and tomatoes', especially for a constant snacker of diverse foods like myself. Still, if I figured out how to quantify the amounts of those ingredients, it would be saved in the Food Library for the next time I had that meal.

Cons

Some of the dirt, scratched off

Some of the dirt on the left cleaned off after 3 months of use

Band: The ribbed, grippy material coating the wristband attracts dirt like whoa. UP provides some cleaning tips (online, not with the product), including using isopropyl alcohol, which works great.  The LED indicators (just sun and moon, to indicate whether it's in wake or sleep mode) work infrequently on my band after 3 months. The mode change button, the smaller silver endcap, sometimes doesn't work when I want to turn off the alarm clock buzzing or change modes (I must plug it into my iPhone to reset it). Because the ends don't connect, the band sometimes gets caught on clothing. The battery life is supposed to be around 10 days, but it's actually 7 days for me.

Activity: Steps do indicate activity, but the band can't tell if I'm running hard or strolling slowly. Theoretically, after a workout, you'd have more steps on your bar graph for that 15-minute interval, but the data produced by me running at the gym and walking home afterward all blends together. It's silly, but I feel cheated out of seeing data representing me sweating hard on the treadmill. You can manually log workout activities, adding data about the type of exercise, how long it lasted, and effort level (no distance, which is annoying) — but you can't see this data in aggregate and it's not automated. So, I'm relying on hooking UP in with RunKeeper, but the data still isn't that precise. Ideally, the sensors should be able to tell when I'm taking quicker steps (running) or doing particular repetitive motions (like doing bicep curls or using the rowing machine). I wouldn't mind false positives for non-workout exercise, anyway. Shelving books can be a strenuous activity!

Sleep: You must manually switch between wake and sleep modes by pressing on the endcap button. I'm not sure why this must be, since the sensor can clearly differentiate between wakeful idleness and light sleep. I guess if I climb into bed at 11pm and don't fall asleep until 1am, I'd want the data logging my sleeplessness, but as a person who has no problem falling asleep, I wish that switching wake/sleep modes were optional.

Comparing bar charts

Comparing bar charts

App: For viewing aggregate data, it's pretty bad. The only data aggregation or mashup you can get is by comparing two bar charts with the data of your choice (total steps, deep sleep time, etc.) by given time intervals (days, weeks, months). I need more control over my data visualization — for one thing, bar graphs aren't the only useful graph! I would also appreciate a simple textual summary: March 2013: 178.9 miles on foot. In addition, the app itself doesn't feed me the great data mashups I expected — something in the vein of You've been getting around 15% less deep sleep than last week, have logged 40% shorter workouts, and have logged bad moods 25% more often would be welcome. I mean, it's obvious that I'd feel better physically after training for a marathon than sitting through a Game of Thrones marathon, but I want that data! For now, I'd have to IFTTT the data to a Google or Evernote doc and transform them into something workable. Lastly, it's odd that it doesn't sync wirelessly like competing products — I have to plug one end of the wristband into my iPhone's headphone jack.

Conclusion

Overall, I like it. I'll give it a B-. My only real gripes are the dirt and hardware issues. If the band worked like it did the day I got it, I'd bump it up to an A-.

Since it's a relatively new product being promoted heavily, I'm assuming that the app will improve its data analysis in the near future. I will continue wearing it on a daily basis. I get questions about it all the time and am always happy to share about my experience. I've dabbled in Quantified Self practices before, so this was a natural purchase for me. The price was a little high, but it's an amazing piece of wearable technology, and I like the diversity of data it logs.

I'm looking forward to seeing more people track life activity. As preemptive healthcare becomes the norm, it only makes sense that we should collect bodily data rather than doing guesswork or catching problems too late. How cool would it be to have a giant database of aggregated lifetracking information? Then we could really get a good picture of our nation's (world's!) health and lifestyles.

Edit June 12, 2013: Looks like I'm not the only person having trouble with UP's lights and button. See TechCrunch's article, The Mysterious Case Of The Missing Jawbone Up »

Edit June 23, 2013: the wristband died today after 4.5 months. Jawbone support is great (especially by phone) and they are replacing the wristband completely, including shipping expenses. Hoping that the next one is a little hardier.

Photos and screenshots

Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

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