Though smartwatches and Google Glass have made for some bold and interesting products, you could easily argue that the best wearables so far have been fitness trackers. But are these US$100+ accessories worth the price of admission? Join Gizmag, as we take a look at Jawbone's newest fitness band, the Up24.
The Jawbone Up24 is a ridged and rubbery-feeling band that coils comfortably around your wrist. It's sold in four different colors and three different sizes (Jawbone includes a handy printable sizing tool on its website). I find the Up24 to be very comfortable on my wrist. In fact, most of the time I forget that I'm wearing it. The only physical annoyance has been having to slide it up my arm a bit when I'm typing, to avoid clanging the end of it against my laptop. For a device that you wear day and night, that's a pretty minor gripe.
The Up24 isn't radically changed from its predecessor, the original Jawbone Up, but it does have one significant difference. While you had to plug the original Up into your phone's headphone jack every single time you wanted to sync your data, the Up24 maintains a constant (low energy) Bluetooth connection with your phone. Your Up24 and phone will automatically sync throughout the day, no action required on your part.
The Up's modus operandi is simple: it tells you how many steps you've taken and how you've been sleeping. You set daily goals for yourself – either the recommended 10,000 steps and eight hours of sleep or your own custom objectives – and the Up24 tells you whether you're hitting your marks or not.
The Up platform also serves as a mini social network, letting you team up with friends to compare progress and motivate one another. I'm usually the first person to cringe when I see yet another social network trying to force its way into my life, but this (optional) one serves a very practical purpose. Imagine you're part of a weight loss club that meets once a month. Or maybe you and your spouse just want to inject a little friendly competition into your daily fitness routines. There's a very real motivating factor that goes along with sharing your fitness tracking with friends (just try not to pick the friends that will take it a little too seriously, okay?).
The Jawbone Up app displays your progress in a series of colorful bar graphs. Clearly-visible percentages of progress towards your daily step and sleep goals sit perched atop the app's main screen, reminding you to keep at it. The app's home screen includes a timeline of your recent activity throughout the day as well, and you can also look at broader trends of your daily, weekly or monthly progress.
If you want to take your lifestyle tracking to a new extreme, the Up24 also lets you manually enter your meals. Jawbone tries to make the food-tracking as easy as possible, letting you snap a picture or scan a barcode to have the meal's info entered into your timeline. But, similar to plugging in the old non-Bluetooth version of the Up, I see little benefit in something you have to repeatedly and manually enter throughout your day. If I spend over $100 on a fitness tracker, I want it to work its magic in the background, without any effort from me (well, apart from the actual exercise).
So how accurate is the Jawbone Up24? I ran a few tests where I recorded individual workouts (known as "Stopwatch Mode" on the Up24) and counted the number of steps I took. When I compared the actual steps to the steps that the Up24 recorded, it usually came up a little short. A 50-step workout, for example, recorded as 43 steps, and a 30-step workout recorded as 27 steps. I doubt any pedometer is going to be 100 percent accurate, though, and I'd say the Up24 is still comfortably within a "close enough" range of accuracy.
Speaking of individual workouts, you can easily start those by pressing the device's lone button twice (one short press followed by one long press). The Up24 logs your entire workout on your timeline – including steps, distance, intensity and calories (which are estimated based on your age, gender, height and weight). There's a handy bar graph here too, giving you a clear visual picture of the peaks and valleys of your workout.
I can't speak to the accuracy of the sleep tracking, but it sure is fascinating. Before you go to sleep, you put the device into sleep mode (one long press on the Up24's button). When when you wake up it will tell you not just how long you've slept, but also how much of that was spent in light sleep vs. deep sleep. You'll also see any points where you woke up. How does it work? Jawbone says that the device monitors your "micro-movements" that you make during the night, which supposedly let it know whether you were awake, sleeping lightly or in the midst of a deep slumber.
Again, I have no bulletproof way of testing how accurate the whole deep sleep vs. light sleep data is, but it compares pretty favorably to what I remember. Last night, for example, I lay awake for a little while before dozing off. I wasn't tossing and turning too much, but the Up24 still knew that I was awake for longer than usual before falling asleep. And at points when I remembered my dreams (the last hour or two before I woke up) it showed that I was in lighter sleep. It also accurately displayed points when I woke up in the middle of the night – even if it was only for a minute or two.
This info isn't going to dramatically change my life, but I still find these sleep graphs to be pretty damn cool. And, having realized that I'm routinely only getting 85-90 percent of my sleep goal, I now keep an eye on getting to bed earlier or sleeping in later. The Up24 is all about raising self-awareness.
If you're wearing the Up24 at night, then when the heck do you charge it? Well, fortunately you'll only have to worry about that once a week. The device lasts about seven days on a single charge, and charges from completely empty to full in about 80 minutes. Since it isn't designed for swimming, baths or showers, I just charge it while I'm bathing. You could also drop it on a charger while you're going to be sitting down for a longer period.
Speaking of sitting down, the Up24 has an awesome killer feature that, for me, tipped the scales in its favor (over its rival, the Fitbit Flex). When you turn on "Idle Alert" in the app's settings, the Up24 will vibrate your wrist anytime that you sit still for too long. I set the device to alert me if I haven't moved for 30 minutes, but you can set it to as frequent as every 15 minutes or as infrequent as every two hours. You can also set it up to only alert you within certain hours of the day (you know, so it doesn't buzz your wrist in the evening when you're watching Game of Thrones).
If, like me, you spend your workday on a computer, then Idle Alert can be an amazing feature – practically life changing. It's easy to zone in on what you're doing and completely lose track of the fact that you've been sitting still for an hour or more. With the Up24's Idle Alert, I take many more active breaks than I did before, and I feel better because of it. I'd imagine this feature alone is making me a bit healthier.
Trackers like the Up24 essentially turn your life into a video game. You set your own level of difficulty (in this case, step and sleep goals) and it keeps score. When you're finished, you can appreciate your high score and try to beat it the next day. And, like any good multiplayer game, throwing some friends into the mix only amps up the friendly competition and fun. The Up24 takes your personal fitness, a subject that could be extremely boring, and infuses it with a little high-tech entertainment.
Jawbone's Up app gives you lots of data about yourself, but one thing it doesn't have is a lot of coaching. You do get daily tips, that can range from fun factoids to general practice tips (along the lines of what you'd read in a pop health magazine). But there isn't a ton of guidance on what it thinks you should be doing, apart from some very general recommendations and gentle nudges to raise your goals.
I don't have a problem with that. First, I prefer to set my own goals – not subscribe to some spoon-fed plan that some team of experts has laid out for me. Plus I think it would be misleading for something like the Up to pretend that it's replacing a doctor or personal trainer. If you start adding too much of a prescribed regimen to the mix, then you might think the Up is capable of doing more than it really is. The app's simpler focus – activity- and sleep-tracking with some general pointers mixed in – seems like the most appropriate approach for a pretty simple product.
So is all of this worth $150? I think it could be ... at least for now. Since I've been using the Up24, I'm much more conscientious about my physical activity. If I haven't gotten much exercise on any given day, I'm now more aware of it – and therefore more likely to make time for a workout or walk around the neighborhood. The data itself is nice, but the simple fact that I'm wearing something that tracks my activity makes me focus more on moving my body. To me, that awareness is the biggest thing that's going on here.
My biggest hesitation in recommending the Up24 is that we're likely to soon see health-related wearable devices that do much more than this. Samsung's latest Gear watches already include heart monitors (though the rest of their exercise tracking features leave something to be desired). Rumors also point to Apple's iWatch having a heavy fitness focus – with some smartphone-like features to boot. If rumored devices like that end up falling in the $200-300 range, then you could potentially regret throwing down $150 on a less advanced wearable.
On the other hand, we don't want to get carried away comparing the Up24 to devices that don't yet exist. Right now, it's easily one of your best fitness-tracking options. If you're like me, then its Idle Alert feature will put it ahead of the Fitbit. And if you can snag the Up24 for $120 or so (Amazon currently has it on sale in that range) then I think it's definitely worth a look.
If we let it, technology can turn us into a bunch of couch potatoes. But companies like Jawbone are using technology to encourage us to live healthier, more active lifestyles. $150 may be a little pricey for such a simple device, but, then again, it's hard to put a price on a healthier mind and body.
The Jawbone Up24 is available now in Onyx (black), Persimmon (red), Lemon Lime (green) and Pink Coral (pink) color options. The companion mobile app is a free download, and is compatible with iOS (iPhone 4s and later) and Android (4.3 and later, for devices with Bluetooth 4.0 built-in). You can read more at the product page below.
Product page: Jawbone
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