Jawbone ‘steps up’

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Not so much a wristband – more your own 24-hour personal trainer. Sort of. It’s a fancy pedometer. It also gives you an in-depth analysis of your life and teaches you things you never knew about yourself…

If you are one of the 56 million people who last year downloaded a health and fitness app to your phone, then Jawbone’s new “UP” wristband and app combo could be right up you street.

At its most basic, UP is a fancy pedometer that sits around your wrist. At £100, it’s an expensive way to measure the number of steps you take in a day – especially given many GPS-style apps offer a similar service for free.

But UP claims to be a different beast, providing in-depth analysis of your life and teaching you things about yourself you never knew, 24/7, day and night.

How does it work?
As mentioned, UP comes in two parts: the wristband and the app. Neither works without the other, so if you don’t have a smartphone, this isn’t for you.

The app is available free from Apple’s App Store and Google Play (no word on BlackBerry or Windows yet). Full handset compatibility is available via the Jawbone website but anything iOS 5 or Android 4.0 should work fine, though it’s worth checking.

Once installed, you must first create and complete a profile of yourself – including picture – to gain the most accurate results from the wristband. Details such as age, sex and height are required plus any targets, which we’ll come to.

The wristband
The wristband is described by Jawbone as a small computer wrapped around your wrist, encompassing a plethora of technology and sensors – powered by movement specialist MotionX. Each of the sensors is designed to record and analyse every movement you make.

The exterior is made from a flexible “medical-grade, hypoallergenic” material that sits comfortably around the wrist. As with a watch, once it’s on, it’s largely forgotten about.

Unlike most battery-draining fitness apps, which are used specifically for workout periods, UP is intended to be worn 24/7 and will operate non-stop for 10 days before needing a recharge.

In fact, the only times we removed ours were in water (it’s water-resistant not waterproof), during charging or syncing with a phone.

As you can see by the picture, the wristband is double-ended, with two nickel-coated ends that cross over.

The larger of the two ends hides the 3.5mm phone jack, which is used to both charge the band and to sync with your phone.

This is removed with a simple twisting motion rather than screw. Be careful not to lose it – they cost £6 to replace!

The smaller end is actually a button, which performs a number of functions such as powering on and off and switching from night to daytime mode, which we’ll come to.

The band is offered in small, medium and large sizes, although its elasticity does seem to have loosened in the month or so we used one. Unfortunately, the wristband is susceptible to falling off when brushed up against something, particularly when removing clothes – shirt cuffs and tight jumper sleeves being a natural enemy. Ours even fell off during sleep.

It is available in a variety of colours although black (onyx) seems to go with everything.

In the cloud
While the wristband does the manual labour, the app has the office job – it is the brains behind it all.

Information is passed from the band to your phone using the 3.5mm jack (there’s no wireless connectivity option). All information is stored in the cloud for nine months.

The number of steps taken that day is the first thing displayed when the upload/sync process is completed (see left).

By clicking on the small arrow, you are immediately taken to a more extensive menu, which is where all that technology from the wristband comes into play.

The steps, are calculated to provide a more detailed analysis, such as the average distance travelled (physically) up to that point. This can be a real eye opener when you total up all those toilet breaks and trips to the printer at work.

In addition, the information reveals the number of calories burned (based on accurate input on your profile), and the longest periods spent active and inactive.

Targets
According to the NHS, people who walk 10,000 steps a day, live a healthier life. UP allows you to set yourself daily targets reminding you each time you sync how close or far you are to reaching it.

This can be quite fun and gives you the added motivation to ensure you hit those targets. Since I began wearing the band, I have made a number of deliberate changes to ensure my 10,000 target is achieved. Small things like walking up and down escalators rather than standing motionless, and taking walks during my lunch break. Even the dog gets longer walks now.

Jawbone claims 26 per cent of UP users now deliberately walk further than they normally would, by checking their progress to achieve this goal – I’m certainly in that percentile. Should 10,000 be unachievable, you can set yourself more realistic targets (see image far left).

Graphics
If a bunch of numbers seems boring, the information is also displayed as a graph in your profile,  providing a minute-by-minute account of your movements. It’s surprisingly interesting and if you are someone who wants to be more active, it’s easy to identify recurring periods of inactivity that can be changed (see left).

If like me you are someone who spends much of the day sitting down at work, this can make grim reading but UP has settings to help you become more active.

For example, the app includes an ‘idle alert’ option, which can be set to make the wristband vibrate every, say, 15 minutes that pass without the motion sensors kicking in. It really works, too.

Of course, there are times of the day when you don’t want this reminder, so it can be set for specific times, such as 9am to 5.30 while you are at work – and not in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep.

Night mode
Which brings us to the next, and arguably most interesting feature UP has to offer.

By pressing down on the smaller nickel button for a few seconds, the wristband will vibrate and switches to “night-time” mode. A small blue moon light will appear briefly to indicate the change (a green sun appears when switching to daytime).

Rather than monitor your steps, the sensors now closely monitor your smallest movements to determine your level of consciousness.

Based on your movements, the band is able to record the approximate moment you fall asleep.

In addition to that, it will detail how long it took to fall asleep, the quality of that sleep (light/deep), times during that period spent awake and the time you get up.

According to my profile on October 1, I spent six hours and 48 minutes asleep, waking up once – completing 85 per cent of my eight hours sleep target.

Again, as with the step counter, a graph paints a clearer picture.

UP also includes a “power nap” option if you fancy a quick rest during the day. Having set the length of time you wish to sleep for, the sensors will wait until you fall asleep before beginning the countdown. Once reached, the vibration kicks in until it detects movement.

If you really want to go a step further, UP also includes an option to record your daily food consumption and calorie intake.

This, in truth, is the most fiddly function on UP, as unlike almost everything else, it requires you to physically input the information yourself. It is also one of the only functions that does not require the wristband.

It is clear that a lot of time and effort has been spent in ensuring its functionality and presentation is to a high standard – and it is a far more enjoyable experience than some others in the market.

To launch, you simply click on the “knife and fork” logo positioned just below the graph on the main menu. This takes you to the dedicated menu, where you can select from a range of food and drink categories (breakfast, sandwiches, meat, pasta etc).

You simply have to click on the appropriate category ie “drink”, which opens up an extended list of options for you to choose from – complete with average calories (see images, below).

So, for example, if you had a glass of milk, you click “drinks”, then on the picture of a glass of milk (122 calories), and then save.

It’s incredibly easy. You can even add the location and exact time and add notes if you need to such as “low fat milk, finished only half”.

But if that all sounds too much like hard work, and your food and drink comes with packaging, the app also includes a barcode/QR scanner.

Simply scan the barcode and, provided the item is found (which it was on every one of our tests), it will be added to your daily record – and calorie intake. Accuracy will depend heavily on your honesty, but also remembering to tot it all up.

Life as you know it
All the combined information gathered through UP really does give you a detailed insight into your life – be it asleep or awake.

As mentioned at the beginning, it all depends how deep you wish to go. If ensuring you achieve 10,000 steps a day is your ambition, UP is a clear and simple way of doing it.

But you can go much further. You can look for patterns as to why you had a good or bad night’s sleep. It might be a type of food you ate, drink you drank or the level of exercise.

If you are someone looking to lose weight, measuring the number of calories burned each day against the calories consumed, using your food and drink tracker offers you that extra insight into what changes you could make and what foods you should try to avoid.

Conclusion
Whether UP can justify the price tag remains to be seen and it will certainly face stiff competition from the number of smartwatches hitting the market, which will undoubtedly promise similar benefits.

But for simplicity and an incredible battery, there are few devices in the market that can match the vast levels of analysis UP offers – many of which we simply haven’t the space to discuss.
UP truly does deliver on its promise to allow you to discover things about yourself that you never knew. Most importantly, it’s damn good fun.

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