A year ago now we got a pair of Fitbit Forces to hop in on the fitness tracker bandwagon.
But after going for a goodly while without any such trackers we decided to try again with Jawbone’s UP24. I’ve been wearing one for a little over a month now and decided to get to reviewing the thing.
The Device Itself
First thing to note is that it’s smaller than you think it is. I compared my relatively thin wrist size to their size chart, and as such ordered a medium size. This was a mistake. Although it’s not tight to the point of being uncomfortable, I prefer to wear a band a little looser than that. Erin got a small and I have no idea how she manages with it, but she’s fine. For any other guy, unless you have skinny wrists to the point of being freakishly small, a large is probably the way to go.
But that aside it’s pretty comfortable. The underside is an even texture and it’s a decent quality rubberized thing, so much so that I often stop noticing I’m wearing it at all. Interestingly, it has no sort of clasp. It just wraps around your wrist. I find I like this a lot, because the possibility of accidentally un-clasping it and losing it is almost zero. It’s hanging on for dear life, and even if you do catch it on something, it would take a lot of effort for it to come loose casually.
As far as controls go it’s pretty minimal. There’s one button on one end, and pressing it in certain combinations is how you give it different commands (only two I’ve had need for are a long press until it buzzes to put it into or take it out of sleep mode, or a short press to acknowledge the silent alarm). There’s a little light under the skin that goes with that but I don’t think it’s needed due to the buzzing. The other end of it with the JAWBONE logo is a small cap that covers the charging point which looks like a headphones jack. You plug this end into a USB dongle on your computer every week or so, where it quickly charges.
Aside from the size issue, as a device I quite like it. It’s simple, minimal, a common little wrist band that might otherwise be confused for a bracelet.
For better information, this pairs with a smartphone app which has three distinct areas, worth exploring independently. In general it allows for control of basic settings such as setting silent alarms, changing the interval for its buzzing to make you get up and move, connecting with friends, etc. It also shows assorted advice cards, and issues challenges.
Sleep tracking is what mostly drove me back to using a new device in the first place. I’m not quite a chronic insomniac but I have loads of difficulty, and being able to track it to identify problems is in theory really helpful for me.
But I’m not sure about its accuracy. It does seem to notice I have trouble drifting off to sleep, but since it’s based on movement, it’s not foolproof: hours in the night spent silently, motionlessly staring at the ceiling get logged as fitful sleep. The challenges it issues me for sleep related stuff is also kind of annoying for similar reasons. It notes that I rarely get 8 hours of sleep and will helpfully offer a challenge to tell me to go to bed earlier. Last night it issued this and said to be in bed by 10:20. Thing is, I AM in bed by 10:20 most of the time. I’m just lying there, unable to sleep. It records me as awake, sometimes until much later in the evening, and doesn’t seem accurate at all.
How many steps in a day? Never enough. It does seem to record them accurately, though. The first weekend we had these Erin and I were at DragonCon and spent a lot of time walking around. We found that although we’d generally gone the same distance, it had recorded for me about 3/4 of the steps she had. This is probably true, as I have a much longer stride than she does. It’s also really aggravating that she can rack up the coveted 10,000 steps so much more easily than I can.
And to be fair, I almost never do. On an average work day I’m usually barely topping 2,000, which in retrospect is kind of sad.
One big item that I miss from the Fitbit is the tracking of stair climbing. I did start taking the stairs more often at work, even if only for a couple flights at a time. This doesn’t notice beyond normal steps. Would really be a nice to have.
There’s also the configurable… I’m not sure what they call it. It buzzes every hour when it can tell you’ve been sitting on your ass, trying to remind you to go for a brief walk. I would refer to this as helpful, but I think I’ve literally never not ignored it. Either I’m at my desk working on something, in a meeting I can’t leave, or most aggravatingly stuck in the car.
Ok for real. I support this idea. I want this to be a good thing. But the food input section in the app is just abysmal. It’s lucky they made this thing so it works in conjunction with other fitness apps because it’s necessary here.
You can enter the foods you eat in three ways. One, scan the barcode. If possible, this works very well and I approve of it. It grabs the default 1 serving and you can adjust from there. Two, you enter the name of the food to search for it. Three, you manually enter all the nutrition info. Two and three are terrible, and I’ll give two examples there.
One day, I had a couple of Oreos. I wanted to be a good little slave to my food monitor, so I go to the app and type in “oreo” figuring that one of the world’s most iconic cookies would be in there. The search returned things like “oreo sundae from dairy queen,” “oreo cheesecake,” “oreo frappucino,” and on and on. And not once was the normal, standard Oreo cookie listed.
Another time, I hit up the cafeteria at work for lunch. I wasn’t able to find a specific listing that seemed relevant on the searching, so I went to the website of our cafeteria vendor where I found the standard Nutrition Facts thingy. I went to use option three and enter all that info. Except it wasn’t complete info. Some boxes have all that data, others have less. There was one or two that weren’t listed, so I couldn’t put it in the app, and the app therefore wouldn’t let me list it. (Side note here, I posted on their forums suggesting being able to scan that box and auto-populate the fields. I think this would completely solve my issues with the food section but we’ll see). The same would be true for most restaurants that don’t have handy barcodes for stuff.
So it’s a chore, almost always, to enter your food. I foisted this piece off to My Fitness Pal, which I also hate for other reasons but works well in this regard.
But the ups and downs here leave me struggling as to whether or not I really like it. The lack of a screen like the Fitbit Force had makes it slightly less handy, while the nice clasp system and lack of physical disfigurement are a huge plus. The app is ok but could definitely be improved in a number of ways for each of its modes, probably with just software on the smartphone and a firmware update for the device. And yet this being the second iteration of the device (the UP24 follows the just plain old UP), I’m mildly annoyed they didn’t get to that yet.
I don’t think it’s bad, though, and if someone were looking for a fitness device I doubt I’d steer them away from it. Just not sure I’d be whole-hog enthusiastic for it. Especially with that food entry thing. Damn that one annoys me. I mean, Oreos. Come on! How can that be hard.