The Jawbone UP In Real Life

The Jawbone UP has been out for just over a month, and has revelled in more than enough controversy for such a short span of time. Complaints of battery drainage, the 3.5mm jack cover loosening, syncs failing, and the app crashing have plagued the fledgling lifestyle device. All of this has progressed to the point that Jawbone has enacted a “no questions asked guarantee.”

Personally, I’ve been using my Jawbone UP for several weeks now, and have experienced none of the aforementioned issues. My UP retains battery life, syncs painlessly, and generally acts as advertised. Honestly, as dubious as it might sound given the press, I’m truly enjoying my Jawbone UP.

With regard to the feature set, many have been quick to point out that the UP lacks the breadth of knowledge to comprehend different forms of activity. For instance, an UP cannot differentiate between walking one hundred steps on flat ground versus climbing one hundred steps in a stairwell.

As such, the data you receive provides only a general overview. The granularity that many owners seem keen to elicit from their UP is unavailable. Understandably, those who have sought such statistics are dissatisfied. The UP, touted as a health tracking device, does little to track the true specifics of your lifestyle choices. For many, that is a deal breaker.

Perhaps I’m in a minority on the topic, but I am perfectly happy without granularity and pinpoint accuracy. I mean, really, I never expected any particular level of specificity from the UP. 

The UP is a lightweight bracelet that reminds you to move around, it wakes you up in the morning, and it tracks your general activity levels. Sure it can’t tell if I’m doing weights at the gym or if I’m running, but it knows how long I’m working out, how intense it is, and the context of that workout with regard to my day. I spent 45 minutes at the gym yesterday, but was far less mobile during the day than usual, and I had less sleep. That’s enough actionable information for me, and has provided enough fuel for me to proactively consider my daily activity levels.

With regard to food tracking, it seems to have been tacked on as an after thought. If you’re looking for calorie tracking (or similar), the Jawbone UP is unquestionably not for you. Taking a picture and designating the meal with a frowney face an hour later is uninformative, and quite literally pointless in its current implementation.

Food tracking requires thought, pause, and action from the user. As hard as I tried, I could not remember to take a picture with each meal. Moreover, the UP should not promote this level of interaction. It casts awareness to wearing the bracelet, and it renders your actions unnatural and labored.

Similarly, I’d argue the desire for granularity in the data is borderline counterintuitive. The UP, as many rightly point out, is a device that’s meant to get out of your way. You’re meant to be able to put it on and forget it’s there. But if the UP produced volumes of data, it’s likely the user would be caught up in the app poring over the information, and that’s certainly not a good trait to have.

During the first few days of use, I compulsively synced the UP with my phone regularly to keep up with my progress. But this behavior was unnatural. I was fully aware of the UP’s presence, but in the wrong way.

Today it sits undisturbed on my wrist throughout the day, and is only removed when I shower in the morning. (Yes, I know it’s waterproof, but really? I don’t think it’ll be missed for a few minutes.) I charge it for about 10-20 minutes every other morning, and I sync it once each morning, and once each evening. As such, I look over the data regarding my sleep in the morning, and then later look over the data regarding my day’s activities. 

Do I learn much? Not necessarily. I know that I spend a large volume of time at my desk during the week, and I know how long I spend in the gym, but I’ve never taken the time to record that information. Seeing a graph of your activity, and the associative times and levels of intensity is novel. Although it is only high level information, when it is coupled with the genuinely interesting data about my sleep, the Jawbone UP provides for a compelling, albeit limited, digest of my lifestyle.

Is that valuable? I’d say so. I learn enough general, brief, and digestible information to prompt simple lifestyle changes. Rather than taking the elevator in my girlfriend’s apartment building, I always take the stairs. Rather than driving between distant shops, I walk. Rather than skipping the gym, my UP vibrates, and I begrudgingly haul myself off the sofa in the evening.

Really, the UP is a lot like a puppy. It’s not the smartest thing, but it’s always around, it always wants to go for walks, and you feel the urge to appease it when it makes a fuss. (Unlike a puppy, it helps improve your sleep patterns, but I digress.)

Overall, I’m very pleased with my Jawbone UP. It may not offer any mind-blowing information, but it provides enough data to encourage me to be a little more active, to sleep a little better, and to move around a little more at the office. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

The only thing that bothers me about the UP?

The “no questions asked guarantee” and the effect it has had on the consumer. I’ve seen and heard far too many comments on the topic from people looking to get a free UP. The same people complaining about the UP suddenly jump through a loophole to get a free one? Shameful. If you like the product, buy one and don’t ask for the return. If you like it and it breaks, get a replacement. Only if you’re dissatisfied should you request a refund. Anything else is disingenuous and ethically unsound.

Jawbone makes some great products, and without that income, it cannot continue. The company is likely taking a huge loss on the UP, and that’s not an open invitation to take advantage of the company’s mistakes. They built a great product with some QA flaws. I hope the UP line continues, and the company produces newer products in future.