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The Jawbone UP is already one of the hottest products this holiday season, with anticipated wait times when ordering the device from the Apple Store (s aapl) around four to six weeks as of this writing. Reports of retail stores getting stock are closely monitored, and all this despite early reports of battery problems and dead devices. So did the UP impress during a week of testing, or was it a let-down in the end?
Fit and form factor
The Jawbone UP is actually quite an attractive piece of hardware. It’s a simple, unadorned band (black in my case) with a slightly rubberized finish [Ed: as per the Jawbone UP forums, the material used for the Jawbone UP’s skin is actually a thermoplastic elastomer, which means even those with a latex allergy should be able to wear the UP] that helps keep it from moving around on the wrist (so long as it’s sized right), while also not feeling sticky or messing too much with arm hair, a plus for lycanthropic beasts like myself. All control of the device is handled through a simple button capping one end, while the other has a sheath hiding the mini stereo connector, which handles the double-duties of charging the UP and reporting back to your iPhone.
A word of warning: The UP fits comfortably and securely for most activities, but I found out the hard way that since it doesn’t have a clasp or other locking mechanism, it will fly off your wrist, if, say, you’re hurling a dodgeball as hard as you can across a gym. This is inconvenient if you play beer league sports, where the activity tracking features would obviously be appreciated, but keep the UP on your non-dominant arm, if you’re too concerned about flinging a $100 piece of kit at high velocity into a wall or leave it on the bench. In the future, hopefully Jawbone thinks about some kind of locking mechanism to make sure the UP can withstand even vigorous activity.
The UP iOS app
The app that gathers and presents data collected by the UP wristband is a bit of a mixed bag. It looks great, with visually attractive graphs and charts to show you how many steps you’ve taken, how your sleep patterns are turning out, and whether or not you’re meeting your food goals. Having to plug your UP into the iPhone via its stereo headphone jack actually isn’t that annoying, and since omitting wireless connectivity saves battery life, I actually think it’s a worthwhile trade-off. But there are some quirks that make it occasionally unpleasant to use.
Turning your device from profile to landscape, for instance, automatically activates a timeline tracking view of your activity that can be difficult to interpret, and won’t deactivate until you tilt it back. It activates by accident too often, and sometimes doesn’t turn off when you right your device again.
The UP’s social aspects are a high point, however. In the app, you can search by name for friends that are using UP, and add them to your “team.” Watching your teammates’ daily progress is actually one of the best parts of UP, and the most entertaining. Still, there should be a way to scan your contacts or check your social networks for people to add, since searching manually is both exhausting and extremely hit-or-miss.
Challenges are another nice element of the UP app. You can browse challenges and choose to participate, including things like daily walking goals, sleep targets for a month, and more. It’s a nice way to add some additional motivation to your activity goals, and it can score you rewards through Jawbone’s partners.
The UP experience
Just like the app is so-so, the experience of living with and using the UP wristband has both major flaws and big advantages. First, it’s not terribly accurate; since it resides on your wrist, it tends to mistake a lot of arm movements for steps, which resulted in some pretty inflated step counts for me.
Second, it requires just enough user input that it can be hard to remember what you need to do. Taking pictures of my meals, for instance, was something I remembered only once a day, at best. And switching from day to night mode, and from day to activity mode was also a chore that resulted in a few missed opportunities to gather data. These things might become habit over time, however, and indeed, by the time a week was up, I was already remembering to do them more frequently.
I’m not sure how accurate UP’s sleep measurements were, but they were in line with what I estimated in terms of length of sleep, and they mirrored how I felt in terms of their quality ratings. Accuracy is a complaint I see often in forums and discussions related to the UP, but for the average user, this issue is overblown; UP may not be 100-percent accurate, but it achieves the goal of making users more aware of their daily activity levels, sleeping and eating habits, and provides a lot of impetus to improve all three.
The UP isn’t perfect, but for $100, it sure does get a lot of things right. I personally didn’t run into problems with battery life, or with the unit dying on me after a certain amount of time, but those are both issues that seem like early hiccups to be rectified through returns and hardware revisions. As an unobtrusive, motivational device that provides better feedback about your daily lifestyle choices than just sitting around reflecting on your own ever could, the UP is genius. It could get much better, too, so I can’t wait to see where Jawbone takes this next.