The Jawbone Up is the latest gadget in a bubbling new class of digital fitness, lifestyle and health monitors, all which come with the tantalising pitch that you wear it, forget about it - and then sit back as it almost imperceptibly changes your life.
In this case, the Up is a light, attractive rubberised wrist band which employs a mixture of movement and sleep sensors, clever analytics software and a fully-featured iOS App to monitor your daily activity, sleep patterns and caloric intake, and help you optimise them.
Jawbone say they simply want you to 'Know Yourself' and 'Live Better', the idea being that by just having more data about how you live will give you the chance and the motivation to do something about it.
So does it work? And, crucially, will you want it to?
In terms of mechanics, the Up delivers. The band itself is handsome, virtually weightless and durable - especially compared to the aborted version one, which resulted in near disaster for the company. Specs-wise it comes with a ten-day battery, a handy headphone-jack port for syncing with your phone (meaning no messing about with Bluetooth) and is available in a growing variety of colours, in three sizes.
As with any fitness gadget, the Up relies on forming a bond of trust with the user in its ability to track your data. Unless you believe that the reported number of steps it counts is roughly accurate, you won't trust and let it do its job. Fortunately the Up seemed largely on track with our expectations, and after a few calibration efforts it was bang on the money when counting steps. That's a big hurdle, but one the Up cleared well.
When it comes to sleep monitoring - which the Up does in a similar way to many cheap apps currently on sale, by checking your movements for signs of light sleep, deep sleep and being awake during the night - the band also seemed broadly in line with our experience, though for obvious reasons it's hard to check.
The band also came with a few nice bonus hardware features, including an adjustable inactivity alert and a vibrating alarm designed to wake you up at the optimum moment within a set timeframe. Both were really handy and subtle, and far more appealing than smartphone buzzers.
What the band is lacking, however, is any visible readout of your daily movements. Unlike the Nike Fuelband, you'll need to sync the Up to see your data, making it more difficult to check progress through the day and motivate yourself to go further. It also lacked the basic but surprisingly popular 'watch' function of the Fuel Band, which seems like a small loss, but makes a difference if you're used to wearing a timepiece on your wrist.
In terms of the software, the Up again performs broadly as you'd hope, with a few extra benefits - and a few more annoying niggles.
In general the App is a useful and well-designed piece of software. The graphs of movement and sleep patterns themselves are slightly fiddly to manipulate, but attractive and clear. An option to compare trends - say hours of deep sleep versus calories consumed - seems useful, but it's hard to think of too many obvious uses without a degree in maths and low self-esteem. And yes, it's annoying to be only able to sync the device with a phone, and not your computer.
Sadly a couple of additional data sets included in the app are either too basic to be useful, or too confusing to use. Take the exercise logger, for instance - it's never obvious how that adds to, interacts with or enhances the value of exercise already tracked automatically with the band. And logging runs after the event is difficult unless you set a stopwatch running on the app, or know exactly when you left. It's all doable, but it's trickier than it needs to be. As a result I wasn't clear when I was getting the 'benefit' of my exercises or not, which started to break down the trust between myself and the gadget.
The Food Tracking portion of the app is also as distracting as it is useful. It's essentially just an easy to use, basic notepad, which uses a database of foods and a barcode scanner to input your meals, and analyses them with a calorie counter and accumulators for other key data points (carbs, sugar, fats). At first it's interesting and useful. But while it's technically optional, and the benefits of logging food and comparing calories burned to consumed are obvious, it eventually wrecks the passive benevolence that should define the Up.
Which is to say, it's annoying. By relying on manual data entry, it turns a physical device designed to be present but transparent in your life into a constantly whining diary that takes time, energy and attention to update - like a calorie-counting Tamagotchi. Everything must be logged, manually, forever. It's exhausting (and not in a manner trackable by the Up band).
The other troubling element here is that while Jawbone cites numerous trusted sources for information such as recommended daily allowances of various nutritional elements, and sites - including HuffPost - for the feedback 'Insights' that pop up in the app - much of this science is still debatable and inexact. For instance, while the need to stay aware of carbohydrate intake is important, having the nutritional counter for carbs glow a menacing red after eating a bag of dried mango and a cold-press whole foods nut bar isn't helpful. It might even be problematic for some users with different diets.
The overall result is that for this reviewer the Up band ended up as a nagging presence in my life, not an encouraging one. While Nike has nailed the 'Good Job, Go Further!' rhetoric in its own line of fitness apps and products, the Up is too ready to criticise rather than encourage.
Why this should matter at all isn't obvious unless you've used it. This is just a gadget after all, which you can ignore if you want to. But the effect when you're wearing it is profound. With the Fuel Band, I wanted to run further, walk more often and push myself to get to my daily goal. With the Jawbone Up I began to fear syncing the device, lest my sleep proved inadequate, my fitness below par and my diet over-saturated with something nasty.
The result is that while the Up is arguably more useful than the Fuel Band, records more data and is more 'actionable', to use a horrible corporate word, it's not as much fun. And yes, like the Fuel Band it's also pretty pricey. Each band is £99, and while none of our friends had one (meaning we couldn't test its many appealing social features) it's more useful in groups, meaning you might even want to buy two or more for your family group.
All of that said, it's hard not to recommend the Up -- for some people, at least. Including, on balance, myself
For users who want something durable, water-resistant and reliable to track their movements and sleep, and quench the thirst for ever more Data about the self, it's a good choice. The software, for all its faults, is well designed, and it will help build good habits that will make a genuinely positive impact on your life. You'll be complemented on the design, and you'll feel better. So £99 well spent.
But for users on the fence it's worth treading cautiously here.
For the thing about fitness, and diet, is that a little awareness goes a long way. Paying attention to your exercise habits, calorie intake and sleep patterns is handy, but fixating on them is narcissistic. And having someone else fixate on them for you - and nag you about it - is basically an untenable way to live.
The role of a fitness gadget is to promote the former, and not to enable the latter two of the three.
The problem with Jawbone Up is that - not always, but a little too often - that's unfortunately what it does.
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