UPDATE: Jawbone is dead. Turns out I was rooting for the underdog. I still think it was the best of this generation, so I'm leaving this old review up.
I’ve worn the Jawbone UP band everyday since November 16, 2012, giving it some pretty solid wear and tear. While I haven’t sat around cave-man smashing it with a rock, I certainly haven’t babied it either. The UP has been with me through pick-up basketball games, pre-Christmas shopping sprees, Judd Apatow’s This is 40, and non-stop Buenos Aires electronica dance clubs. Short of a heated argument with my mother, this UP band has seen it all (don’t worry – my mother’s birthday is coming up and something’s bound to happen).
My verdict: after a year of re-engineering, Jawbone built a robust device that may be the most change-inducing lifestyle tracking companion in the market for the average person looking to live healthier.
The headliner of this whole show is the Jawbone UP iOS app. While I expected a blander interface reminiscent of what I’ve seen from fitbit, Jawbone appeals to the masses with fun interactions that make features with a minor bit of manual entry fun, such as mood tracking.
Also, while fitbit makes data and graphs its main selling point, Jawbone presents its most interesting angle: when it comes to data given to users, more isn’t better. In fact, in the effort to create new health habits, more is often detrimental.
Information overload can hamper an individual’s ability to learn new behaviors and tasks by attracting attention and mental capacity away from the goal1, which is to move more, eat cleaner, sleep better. Spending time trying to digest caloric information and detailed activity graphs would be disruptive for the average person. While it’s fun to see estimated resting burn and hours of light sleep versus deep sleep, this information doesn’t actually mean much for the average bloke to be able to react with actionable steps. As a result, while a user’s activity details for sleep, exercise, and food tracking are still available for the data hungry in the UP app, they are hidden behind more visually entertaining summaries on the main feed design.
Though I can’t knowingly confirm the Jawbone team designed around this insight, the UP band definitely encourages its users to simply do. Don’t worry about the calories, the resting burn, the active burn, the deep sleep, the light sleep, or the myriad of other minute details you can dissect. The idea is, if you improve your habits enough and have really gained discipline, you won’t even need to review stats anymore. Simply do.
Of course, the UP isn’t perfect, but I have no hangups about the lack of Bluetooth and LED display. Battery life is king, and after nearly 50 days with the UP band, I can tell you that I would reject any battery draining non-critical feature. The UP has a 10 day battery life, and I already loathingly charge it every 8 to 9 days. Comparatively, Nike+ Fuelband has a reported 4-day battery life.
Food tracking with the UP app isn’t groundbreaking, as you’ll still need to manually enter your food, but if there was ever a time to apply the adage “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” this would be it. The UP is the best you’ll get right now, and makes the food logging as easy as I have seen compared to other apps such as DailyBurn. Instead of making you spend effort weighing your food and specifying whether or not your chicken has skin on it (a huge blocker to sustainable food logging, as you can imagine), the app makes it easy to just scan, type in, or snap a photo of what you’re eating. This might not result in incredibly accurate calorie counts, but again, the goal is to be aware of your eating habits so you can reflect and create tiny, sustainable tweaks. Didn’t realize you were eating so much sugar? Your UP lifeline is proof that you do, so swap that afternoon soda for water tomorrow.
Jawbone’s biggest mountain to conquer is creating a more intelligent and personalized daily insights engine. Unfortunately, after a month and a half with the UP, the “insights” remain relatively bland. I’m not expecting my app to tell me anything more than “You walked X amount last week, so walk Y today!” soon. There’s only so much walking a person can do, and soon enough people will need non-generic tips that can help them identify potential improvements and create new goals. I know that I’m in the top 10% of active UP users, but where do I go from here? Is moving making me happier, or more tired? Am I keeping a good eating schedule? Do I sleep worse when I eat within two hours of sleeping? Should I meditate? Better yet, can you teach me how to meditate?
Deeper insights may be too much to ask for right now, as it is definitely a pervasive problem with all current life-tracking platforms on the market. It’s the next holy grail, and by no means do I mean to make it sound like an easy endeavor.
With better content in the future, the UP app will have a hook to keep users in the long run. For now, the novelty of small snapshots of my life at my fingertips is keeping me entertained. I still feel sleep deprived from my South American bender, and my UP lifeline confirms I slept from 7AM to 11AM that night, after karaoke-ing, dancing, and eating an entire cow. Not kidding. Go to Buenos Aires and order asado. The Argentines bring you an entire cow.
Pic or it didn’t happen?