A week with the Jawbone UP24: One of the best activity trackers gets better

Jawbone UP, Photo by Gigaom

I like to think I’m a relatively health-conscious kind of guy. I go to the gym a few times a week, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge almost daily, sleep upwards of seven hours a night and eat boatloads of kale. But it’s snowing in New York as I write this, which means holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m not looking to increase pant sizes as I prepare for hibernation. Thankfully, I’ve been wearing the new Jawbone UP24 for about a week now, and it’s really made me re-evaluate some of my fitness-related decisions. I’m still probably going to eat that last mini quiche, but I’ll also think about walking back over the bridge to get home instead of hopping in a cab.

Something old, something new

You wouldn’t know the UP24 is a different band just by looking at it. Physically it appears virtually identical to the previous model. Jawbone claims the buttons have been refined, and the UP’s 3.5mm headphone jack has been replaced by a 2mm jack, but it’s covered by a cap so you’d be hard pressed to tell any of this at a glance.

The UP 24 has the same coiled design as the UP, which many reviewers have said is stylish, though I tend to disagree. The band is bulky enough that it never fit under any of my shirt cuffs, which means it was always front and center, announcing its presence on my wrist. Perhaps it was my mistake to pick the loud orange band instead of the black one, but it never really matched anything I wore, and I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it to an event that requires me to get dressed up. That said, for regular everyday use, it’s fine. It’s also super comfortable — most of the time I forgot I was even wearing it.

Jawbone UP24 wrist

The UP24 also tracks the same fields as the previous UP, which means you’ll get readings on your motion and sleep. It still doesn’t differentiate between walking and other physical activities, so you’ll need to log those in manually and adjust your caloric burn.

So what’s different between the UP24 the previous UP? For one thing, it costs more. The UP24 will run you $149.99, while the UP is still available for $129.99. And while the UP24 comes in small, medium and large sizes, there are only two colors available — black and orange — unlike the eight colors introduced for the previous UP.

Price aside, the biggest — and I’d argue most important — change is support for Bluetooth Smart (or Bluetooth 4.0 LE). One of the biggest knocks against the UP was that to sync your data you had to manually plug the band into your device’s headphone jack. That meant you had to stop what you were doing, take the band off, plug it in, sync, and put the band back on. That’s a pretty big hassle, especially if you want to view your stats multiple times per day.

With Bluetooth Smart, all of the data the band collects is automatically synced straight to the app. Simply fire it up and your new results will appear. There was sometimes a slight delay in this — I’d have to wait a few seconds before my feed would refresh — but for the most part the information is there as soon as you open the app. Because it was so easy to access, I found myself checking the data almost hourly, or at least whenever I thought I took a notable number of steps.

UP 3.0 home screen

Bluetooth connectivity does have an effect on battery life. Whereas the original UP is rated for up to 10 days of use, the UP24 is said to last for 7 days. From my testing thus far I’d say that rating is accurate. And I actually think 7 days is reasonable: Charging the band once a week doesn’t feel too cumbersome.

Thankfully, there doesn’t seen to be a huge drain on my phone’s battery life either. I’ve been using the UP24 with my iPhone 5s. And while I usually turn Bluetooth off whenever I’m not using it, I’ve stayed connected for almost a week straight without any largely noticeable effects.

Credit that to Bluetooth 4.0 LE, which requires less power than previous iterations of Bluetooth. The downside to this is that you must have a Bluetooth Smart-compatible device in order to connect to the band. This includes Apple’s iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, as well as some Android devices. But it’s important to note that Jawbone’s new UP 3.0 app is only available for iOS devices right now, so for the moment you can consider the UP24 iOS-compatible only. There’s no way to sync the band using the 2mm headphone jack.

The other big new feature is the ability to get live feedback on your phone. Since the band is always synced, the UP app knows when you’re close to meeting one of your goals. That means it can send you push notifications letting you know that you’re almost there (which can very well make the difference between taking that extra flight of stairs or waiting for the elevator). It can also push other information to you when relevant, like a summary of your previous night’s sleep. Of course, you can also turn these notifications off in the Settings menu.

UP 3.0

UP 3.0 brings updates galore

Even if you decide to stick with your original UP band, your experience is about to improve considerably thanks to the updated UP 3.0 app. Jawbone has introduced loads of new features to its iOS app, starting with something called “Today I Will.”

Essentially, Today I Will tracks your activity over time, then gives you bite-sized goals to help bolster your progress. So after wearing an UP band for a week or so, you’ll see a “Try This” message appear on your home screen, along with a suggested goal. And as mentioned above, if you’re using the UP24 you can also be sent reminders of your goal via push notification. It’s a handy little tool for motivating you to go the extra mile (or at least the extra 1,000 steps).

Similar to this feature is the inclusion of streaks and milestones. Streaks acknowledge short-term progress, like continuously hitting one of your goals over a number of days, while milestones draw attention to bigger achievements, like stepping your millionth step. Again, these are simple but effective ways to keep you motivated.

Another useful new feature is the ability to “recover” your sleep. That means if you forget to put your UP in sleep mode, you’ll still be able to track your sleeping habits. All you have to do is enter the Activity Log in the app and you’ll get an estimate of your sleep cycle, which you can then adjust manually.

Once in the app, you can also swipe down from the home screen to view your recent activity over the last two days. This lets you quickly sort through all of the noise and get straight to your personal data, which is a helpful addition.

UP 3.0 recent activities

You also have access to all of the previous features you’ve grown accustomed to, like the ability to link with other UP-wearing friends, or set smart alarms wake you up at the most optimal moment in your sleep cycle. And you can connect the app with other apps and services, like LoseIt!, RunKeeper and Withings, to get a better picture of your overall health and fitness levels.

Jawbone claims a new Android app will come eventually, but for now you’ll need an iDevice.

Let them eat fruitcake

The UP24 won’t magically protect you from holiday-related overindulgence, but because it is always being synced, it does force you to think a lot more about how active (and inactive) you are on a regular basis. And between this and the new notification system, it really can inspire you to walk those few extra blocks rather than getting in the car or on a train.

Is the UP24 a better buy than the UP? Absolutely. That extra $20 is worth it for the Bluetooth connectivity alone.

But how does the UP24 fare against some of the other big activity trackers? That’s more of a personal decision. Some people will prefer the discreet, clip-on Fitbit One (see disclosure). Others might want the much more in-depth display readouts on the new Nike+ FuelBand SE. Tech enthusiasts will surely be drawn to the Basis B1, which also measures your heart rate and skin temperature. And the new Fitbit Force looks like a happy medium between the UP and the FuelBand.

Without having tested some of those other devices, I can’t say which one is best for you. But any iOS user that wants to get quick, easy insight into their activity levels, along with the motivation to set and meet their goals, should take a close look at the Jawbone UP24.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom. Om Malik, founder of Gigaom, is also a venture partner at True.

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