Wearable activity-tracking devices, which measure your steps and caloric burn, among other things, still aren’t mainstream. But they’re slowly growing, and some of the companies that make them — like Fitbit, Nike and Jawbone — recently released new versions of these wristbands.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing the new Jawbone Up band, called the Up24. This $150 wristband is $20 more than the “old” Up, and works with a new version of the Up mobile app. Right now, the Up24 is compatible only with Apple’s iOS devices.
I’m going to cut to the chase: The Up24 is no doubt an improvement over the version the company released a year ago. It syncs your data wirelessly over Bluetooth, which the previous Up did not do. And there are small updates in the Up mobile app that make the whole system more interesting.
But the Up24 is not leaps and bounds better than the last one.
Up’s biggest competitors are the new Nike+ FuelBand and Fitbit Force. I often get asked which of these is the best activity-tracker available right now. I haven’t tested the newest edition of the Nike+ FuelBand, but, like the Up24, it costs $150 and uses low-energy Bluetooth, which doesn’t drain the battery as much as standard Bluetooth.
I reviewed the Fitbit Force a couple months ago, and while it isn’t a massive improvement over the company’s earlier Flex wristband (is this starting to sound familiar?), its added display and altimeter, along with a $130 price point, make it a better deal overall than the Up.
But none of these are perfect. I’ve heard a handful of complaints from wearers of last year’s Up, who say their wristband stopped working after several months. And avid wearers of both the Fitbit Flex and Force have shown me or told me that the rubber band degrades after some time. They’re also not waterproof.
And these activity-tracking devices still aren’t super “smart” with their insights. It’s going to take a lot of your own motivation and willingness to track everything in order to maximize the experience with them.
In terms of aesthetics, I tend to like the Up the best. This new one looks almost identical to the first rubber band, but has a different swirling pattern on it, and comes in black and “persimmon” (a fancy way of saying “orange”).
Like the last Up, the Up24 has sensors in it that track steps taken, spikes in exertion and sleep patterns. It also uses a formula to determine your calories burned. Within the Up app, you can manually log your food intake or a custom workout, like a weight-lifting session or a yoga class.
The new band syncs all that data over low-energy Bluetooth, so you no longer have to yank the cap off the end of the band and plug it into your iPhone’s audio jack. While I never really minded plugging the band in before, the Bluetooth syncing is the Up24’s greatest improvement. It’s faster than plugging in, and did make me more inclined to check the app throughout the day. The band still charges by plugging the end into a proprietary USB charger.
The Up24’s battery is said to last around seven days. In my experience, the Up24 lasted closer to 10 days in the first test I conducted, and nine days on the next full charge.
Within the new and improved Up app, there’s now an “Activity Log” at the top of your home screen that gives a connect-the-dots-style snapshot of your day, and tells you when you last viewed the app.
I liked another new feature, called “Sleep Recovery,” though it’s not entirely accurate. With the old Up, if you wanted to track your sleep at night, you would press the button at the end of the wristband to put it into sleep mode. When you synced your band to your phone the next morning, you would see “deep sleep versus light sleep” in the Up app, based on your movement throughout the night.
Now, with Up24, you don’t necessarily have to set the band to sleep mode. The band “guesses” how long you slept, based on your movement and your sleep data from previous nights. You can tell the app that the estimate is accurate, or you can put in the correct time. Up24 was okay at guessing my sleep, but I edited the entry more often than not.
Up24 also promises to give you extra motivation by showing you occasional “Today I Will” opt-in notifications — for example, “Today I will exceed my average step goal” or “Today I will get to bed by 10 pm.” I saw two of these suggestions over the past few weeks. They were both for step goals. I missed the first goal. The second one popped up on Thanksgiving and, as I write this, I should probably be walking, so let’s see how that works out.
Otherwise, much of the app remains the same. You can still set the Up to automatically import data from other popular health apps — like RunKeeper, Strava or MyFitnessPal — but this actually demonstrates some of the limitations of Up. For example, even if I don’t wear the band, the Up app will know if I ran three miles using the RunKeeper app. But UP won’t factor those steps into my total count.
One day, I rode my bike in the morning, played basketball later that morning, then took off the band and went for a swim that evening — and still came up “short” of my activity goal, according to Up, because it wasn’t automatically factoring in the bike or swim. The Fitbit Force works similarly when it pulls in data from other apps.
The Fitbit Force, however, passes what I’ll call the “Mom test.” My mom doesn’t use a smartphone (yes, there are still plenty of people who don’t), but she does walk for exercise. Since the Fitbit Force has a display, someone like my mom could use that wristband and still see her step count and calorie data right on the band, without having to sync to a smartphone. You don’t have that option with the Up.
Lastly, part of the power of the whole Up lifestyle is supposed to be its social aspect. You can add fellow Up users to your “team” in the app, and follow one another’s progress. I have 16 people on my team, and over the past few weeks I’ve noticed that only two people are active on Up — and those people work for Jawbone. So, while I’m still enjoying using it, I’m definitely not getting that social boost from it.
As I’ve said before, it feels like this category of wearable technology is inching forward, but not taking giant leaps. Up24 is another example of this.