When it comes to fitness trackers, aside from Fitbit, the next name that most comes to mind is Jawbone. Unfortunately for them, things have been a little rocky, with them taking Fitbit to court over hiring away their employees and stealing corporate information, along with downsizing of the company to try and remain afloat. There has been lots of speculation whether they could afford to continue to stay around, and it seems like they’re saying that they are, even if it doesn’t seem like much is happening in regards to product launches. Whether this is just a knee-jerk reaction to keep their existing inventory selling, I can’t tell for sure.
Regardless, I was gifted a Jawbone UP2 Wireless Activity and Sleep Tracker a while back, so I might as well put it through the review challenge to see whether it’s any good.
The package for the UP2 is rather visually attractive, showcasing the fitness band inside a ribbed cardboard backing behind a clear plastic cover, a little like showcasing a piece of jewellery.
The features of the UP2 are shown on the rear, and include activity tracking, sleep tracking, food tracking and “smart coach”. The first two features are almost universally available among fitness trackers, with the third being available in many fitness trackers. Of the features, smart coach is unique to Jawbone products and is their “personalized” data mining motivational tool to try and persuade you to take more healthy actions.
The side of the box gives you some basic specifications. The unit claims a battery life of up to 7 days, using Bluetooth Smart (low-energy) and is splash-proof with an LED display. No mention of actual IP rating is provided. From what I can tell from the online documentation, it should not be taken into showers, or underwater. It claims compatibility with iPhone 4s, iPad 3rd Generation, iPod touch 5th Generation and iPad mini (or newer), and Android devices running 4.3 (or newer) with Bluetooth-LE radios. The unit itself has a model number of JL03 and is assembled in China.
Once entirely unboxed, we find that the package really only contains the unit, a magnetic USB charger dongle, and various information leaflets. I suppose that’s really all you need, given that the app is free and installed through the relevant app store.
The tagline for the UP2 is “where performance meets style,” and I suppose this is appropriate as the band is visibly thinner than many others, and has an attractive designer-patterning on its surface. It has a relatively discreet profile without any outward branding.
The unit has permanently-attached silicone rubber straps which feel a little softer compared to the Mi Fit band. As to its durability, there has been no problems in the month I’ve used it for, although from experience the silicone may harden and turn brittle with time so that might be something to watch out for.
The charging contacts are on the rear, thus charging requires taking off the band and getting it magnetically clipped into the charging dongle. To help with that, it seems the rear of the unit has a metal plate, and the socket has some registration pins. The orientation, however, isn’t obvious at first, and can only be established through trial and error or by experience. The good thing is that it doesn’t mate the wrong way around. Once mated, the three LED indicators cycle to indicate charging.
The strap has its fastening hardware “moulded into” the band. This includes a loop which the end is threaded through, and the buckle which is a “slide-in” variety.
The receptacle is a matching buckle on the other side of the band which is clamped quite firmly on the band.
The rear of the band has detents which help steady the clip against moving under normal circumstances. These work fairly well, although if you do have the band too tight, it will slowly “slip” through a detent and establish a good compromise position.
However, because of the “slide” buckle, there have been occasions where the band was caught moving my wrist across certain surfaces and resulted in the tracker band being unclipped. As a result, it’s probably not the optimal configuration, but it is convenient and quick.
Setup and Use
To set-up, you have to download the UP application from your relevant app store and install. The setup process is guided and is relatively easy.
While everything looks nice and quick in the animation above, in reality, the process is quite long. This appears to be due to the way they’ve implemented the communication between the app and the band – the firmware update process at the end took a whopping 16 minutes for me to complete, quite a bit longer than any other unit I’ve used. Luckily, that’s something you only have to do once in a blue moon.
The main “home screen” is shown to the left. The top area indicates, with bars, what your progress is towards your sleep and activity targets are. Underneath, you can change the date to view data for previous days.
In the bottom area, under “Your Activity”, UP keeps a “timeline” style view of your activity and Smart Coach issues questions, suggestions, etc.
Smart Coach seems to have a lot of “generic” tips which are fed to users which border on life coaching sometimes. Some of the messages seem to be triggered by the data, and will prod you with suggestions. Other messages are questions which help Smart Coach learn about your routines and try to push you towards doing a little more.
From my perspective, Smart Coach while nice in principle, just doesn’t work for me for several reasons. For one, it’s very suggestive but hardly authoritative, so it’s basically powerless to make you do anything. A big “gap” between your goal and accumulated steps is just as motivating from my perspective. The other issue I had was the amount of questions it liked to ask – and how much I was prepared to reveal to an app, or a company, just so it can tell me to “do what you’ve been doing before”. Wherever there is praise, it’s relatively “formulaic” and boring. I just didn’t think it worked, or I needed it, but it is admittedly a good attempt at being a bit more “human”, and a bit less “game-like”.
Clicking on the bars themselves brings up a detailed view of that day’s activity or sleep data. This includes sunrise and sunset times, and bars showing time intervals (for steps) and sleep depth (for sleep).
Scrolling down on either screen provides a short version summary of the trends for the adjacent few days. Errors in sleep can be manually amended using the icons in the top right.
Tapping on the icon in the upper right corner of the home screen brings up the menu about your band. Here, you can see when it was last synced, what the battery status is, and set various features of the band.
While the indicator indicates about 10-days after a charge, I found that I could get 8-9 days out of it based on one alarm per day (the same benchmark I used with the Mi Fit and Fitbit One). This isn’t particularly good by any measure, and means that charging once per week is an absolute necessity. Remembering to do this can be a bit of a challenge.
The sleep tracking icon allows you to manually invoke sleep tracking if necessary, although sleep detection has been upgraded to automatic with the latest firmware. Stopwatch allows you to time activities and add them to your log. Smart Alarm allows you to set up to four alarms which include the ability to wake you during times of light sleep (as Mi Fit did in the past). Idle alert buzzes you if you’ve sat too long, whereas Activity alert sends you notifications on your phone to remind you to check your progress. Reminders sets notifications on your phone to remind you of bedtime, time to take medicine, etc. Tapping on the band itself also provides further information on the firmware version, and allows you to use the “find band” feature, which uses phone GPS and last synced location to try and find the band.
Unfortunately, there are no screenshots of these sub-menus because the app developer has blocked screenshots, but the reasoning seems unclear.
Goals allows you to set (or change) the goals set during set-up.
Trends allows you to see the aggregate data for your sleep and movement tracking in the form of bar graphs.
Friends allows you to add friends so you can participate in activities such as Duels with them for additional motivation. You can even send messages, I suppose, to your friends.
Apps is a gallery of fitness related apps, many available outside of UP, and many which don’t seem to have any direct relevance to UP aside from the fact they’re fitness related apps. The UP Marketplace allows you to buy UP trackers, and the Help & Settings allows you to change your profile, application/notification and privacy settings and access support.
The app does have a habit of running whenever you wake your phone and trying to sync your tracker in the background, which I found a little annoying due to the persistent notification blinking on and off. I managed to tame this by making it a habit to not have it run in the background at all, but I suppose the constant syncing is there to try and cover up the slowness of the sync process itself.
From basic testing, it seemed that the band is set to always broadcast its presence, which could potentially be a privacy issue. In use, the LED indicators were not particularly useful, as previously they were used to indicate the mode which no longer needs to be manually toggled. As a result, the only way to be up to date with progress is to sync and check with your phone or wait to be buzzed when you’ve reached your goal. Step tracking was generally within 10% of that reported by my other bands, and sometimes much closer, but it seemed that the UP is more likely to under-report steps compared to the others I am using.
But the biggest annoyance, by far, is the slowness of the band. Whereas the Mi Fit and Fitbit trackers are easily synced in 20-30 seconds even after a few days of not being connected, the UP2 is slow. Sometimes even eight minutes is needed to keep the data synchronized after being disconnected for a few days. In fact, after five days of disconnection, I managed to type out the last five paragraphs in this section while the unit synced.
Another issue is that even after the sync completes, sometimes it takes a good half-minute before the data that was synced finally appears on the home screen, due to the need for the data to be processed “in the cloud” and then downloaded back to the phone, rather than being processed in parallel or processed on the phone and then uploaded to the cloud one-way.
The Jawbone UP2 is a viable fitness tracker with a stylish exterior. However, that’s really where the good news seems to run out.
When you consider that the band retails for about AU$90 on eBay, through to AU$179 from bricks and mortar stores, it’s not particularly encouraging given it has a (realistically speaking) 8-9 day battery life. The app syncs are ridiculously slow requiring much patience not to become separated from your phone for minutes at a time. Even if you were willing to live through slow sync, its main “drawcard” of Smart Coach just seemed a bit weak for my liking and was more of an annoyance rather than a help. Its other features and specifications are nor particularly remarkable as compared to the competition, and the user feedback on the band itself seems non-existent.
I suppose if you absolutely want a particular “look”, then the Jawbone UP line of products features distinctive appeal, but aside from that it just doesn’t quite stack up to the competition in terms of usability. Given that the company seems to be in trouble, it might be unwise to invest in their products if you expect to have support into the future. Remember, that with “cloud-backed” platforms, once the company pulls support for a product, you are basically left with a paperweight unless someone reverse-engineers the product to offer a compatible alternative.