The Jawbone UP Challenge: Tech and Fitness Take on Wearable Gadgets

POPSUGAR FitnessSource: The Jawbone UP Challenge: Tech and Fitness Take on Wearable Gadgets

Fitness gadgets are having their moment in 2013, with companies eager to produce the perfect wearable tech device - something to help users get moving away from their desks, be active, eat right, and even sleep better. The POPSUGAR Tech and Fitness teams faced off in a Jawbone UP challenge to see if using the fitness tracker band could really motivate us to take more walks during the day, go to bed at a decent hour, and otherwise live a healthier lifestyle.

Built with an accelerometer, the hypoallergenic rubber UP ($130) - available in small, medium, and large sizes - monitors daily activity like walking and running and breaks that activity down by total steps taken, pace, distance, and calories burned. The data is then synced to UP's iOS and Android apps - which also include a nutrition database to record meals and snacks - by inserting one end of the band into the phone's headphone hack. For the less motion-based exercises, users can input a workout into the app, like yoga for 30 minutes, which is then logged to your timeline with an estimate of calories burned. Recent software updates to the iOS app will now pull in information from third-party wellness apps like MyFitnessPal and Withings.

Available in eight colors, the UP band also monitors sleep cycle, showing in a graph the hours of deep or restless sleep per night, and how long it took to finally fall asleep. Intended to be worn 24/7 (it's water-resistant!), UP will send you a little buzz when you've been sitting too long or vibrate to gently wake you up in the morning with the smart alarm setting.

While, admittedly, the Tech team didn't always keep up on daily steps as compared to the marathon-training Fitness team, all four participants wore the UP bracelet for about a month, from sleep to shower to the gym. Here, fitness and technology take on the Jawbone UP.

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  • Fitness Team: Full disclosure: it was the minimalist design and bright colors of the Jawbone UP that got me on board with this challenge. Finally, a fitness tracker that didn't take up prime real estate on my arm! But I was surprised to find that once the stats started rolling in, I didn't take it off.
    While the readings weren't an exact science, nothing beat seeing my regular weekend hikes going well over 40K steps, earning me that Bloody Mary and then some. Weekdays didn't have the same gratification; on days I didn't hit the gym, I was lucky to make it to 7,000 steps a day. The upside is this only fueled me to add in extra steps whenever I could. I once found myself doing laps around the grocery store before shopping just so I could hit my goal of 10,000 steps a day.
    I was into looking at my sleep patterns in the beginning but eventually found myself forgetting to turn the feature on every night, and also just doubting how the Jawbone UP analyzes deep sleep vs. light sleep altogether. When looking at my sleep patterns next to my fitness patterns, I ultimately did not find any correlations between the two.
    Favorite feature: The social aspect of the Jawbone UP really helped me stick to my daily goal of 10K steps. I found myself wanting to beat - well, at least come close to - the number of steps my colleagues were hitting each day. Knowing they were able to see just how much (or how little) I was moving was huge in motivating me to not skip a workout.
    Least favorite feature: When it comes to exercise, I live on a Spin bike. Unfortunately, cycling is something the Jawbone UP can't track accurately. While you are able to log a workout, it only provides an estimate of general calories burned. It was frustrating to see my stats after cycling my heart out for a full hour - as far as my UP was concerned, I might as well have been lying on the couch.
    Verdict: I think the Jawbone UP is a great tool for someone looking for a smartly designed pedometer or a fitness newbie who is looking for a little extra motivation to stick with their goals. But if you want to measure activities beyond running and walking, you're better off investing in a heart rate monitor.

    - Michele Foley, editor, Fitness

  • Fitness Team: Wearing my Jawbone UP when I was marathon training was a motivator in itself. There's nothing like seeing I'd blown past the 10,000-step mark (you can customize your own goal to another amount) to help me celebrate finishing an arduous run, and it was great to track my runs through the weeks to see how I had progressed in training. It was eye-opening to me, however, to realize that on days when I didn't run, I could sometimes barely even make the 10,000-step mark - I hadn't realized I was so sedentary on non-workout days. Wearing the UP motivated me to hit that goal; had I not been tracking my steps, I would have never decided to take the long route to the bus or go for a quick walk outside at the end of the day.
    Aside from keeping tabs on my steps for the day, I also liked that the UP analyzed my sleep patterns; in addition to tracking your light and deep sleep cycles every night, you can view all of your data in trend graphs based on days, weeks, or months to see when you had better or worse health patterns.
    Favorite feature: The fact that you never have to take the Jawbone UP off your wrist - even when you shower! - makes tracking steps and sleep a no-brainer. And even if you forget to press the button at night to change to sleep mode, you can manually enter your hours the next day.
    Least favorite feature: Racking up steps during my runs was fun, but I wasn't able to similarly track my movement during strength-training sessions. After an hour-long intense TRX class, for example, my Jawbone UP barely registered any movement (or calories burned) at all. Instead, I was only able to get a general estimate of calories burned based on the UP's exercise database.
    Verdict: Go for the Jawbone UP if you're in need of a pedometer and sleep monitor, but don't count on it as an all-around fitness tracker. Also, since the UP makes a 24-hour fashion statement, make sure you choose a color that you'll want to wear with all your outfits!

    - Leta Shy, associate editor, Fitness

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  • Tech Team: I'd hoped the UP band's tech pedigree (Jawbone is also responsible for the ultraportable Jambox speaker) meant it would blend seamlessly into my digital life. I wanted a fitness monitor that was easy to use and was a helpful digital interface for tracking fitness progress.
    When the UP first debuted, its only method of food tracking was to take a picture in the app of each thing consumed, with the idea that when you have to see exactly what you eat each day, you'll think twice about that second handful of Goldfish crackers. Fortunately, Jawbone has improved the food diary to not only sync with third-party nutrition apps like MyFitnessPal, but also now include a proprietary food database with beautiful visuals. Once I started using UP's own barcode tracker and calorie counter, I began questioning my loyalty to MyFitnessPal, knowing that I could get my movement and food tracking in one place.
    Favorite feature: The ease of the UP app made the band a joy to use. I would quickly sync a workout from band to phone the second I stepped off the elliptical. While I'm at my desk during the day, I can input meals into MyFitnessPal from a desktop browser and see those in the app next time it's opened.
    Least favorite feature: I don't wear much wrist jewelry, and as noninvasive as the UP is, I found myself taking it off when typing at a desk so that it wasn't in my way. Getting dressed also involved the band flying across the room or getting stuck in a shirt. A closed fastener - like the FitBit Flex - might make me less inclined to take the UP off throughout the day.
    Verdict: There are plenty of ways - including free apps - to track your daily steps for a fraction of the cost of the UP band. It's the integration of the software that makes me a fan, though. A central location for fitness and food data is a big draw for me, though I would like to have the ability to add food via a web version of the app too, so I can access my account at any time.

    - Kelly Schwarze, associate editor, Tech

  • Tech Team: The Jawbone UP impressed me right out of the box. Chief creative officer Yves Béhar, also the man behind Ouya, clearly knew what he was doing. The band's mint-green color is flattering and pairs well with most outfits, and its slim form factor doesn't look or feel bulky.
    The app interface is just as minimal, attractive, and straightforward as the band itself. In the UP app, bold color and large text highlight essential information, like that day's mileage or your move goal, and there are fun, clever animated details sprinkled throughout. I like that everything is coded by color, so it's really easy to see at a glance when you were active (or not) and in deep sleep (or not).
    Favorite feature: I looked forward to plugging the UP into my phone's headphone jack every day and looking at my stats. Oftentimes, syncing devices can be overly meticulous because of missing cables or fussy Bluetooth pairing. But downloading information from the band to the phone doesn't require any of that. It's so quick and easy - exactly what you want out of technology you'll be wearing and using all day, every day.
    Least favorite feature: The band is beautifully designed, but the signature Jawbone wave pattern texture on the exterior unfortunately attracted a lot of dirt, and the light mint-green color was especially susceptible to the grime. Luckily, you can take your UP to the shower and give it a little scrub. The battery life was also shorter than I expected. Between charges, the band only lasted about four to five days, not 10 as Jawbone claims.
    Verdict: I'd choose the UP over other fitness gadgets because of the ease of use, great app, and sleek design. The UP band isn't just for health nuts, either - I would recommend it to anybody who's interested in collecting data about their habits. If you're not motivated to workout now, I can't say that the UP band is a one-step, magical cure-all to get you moving immediately. But every time you sync the band, the cold, harsh reality that, yes, you are in fact idle for a huge chunk of the day, will confront you.

    - Nicole Nguyen, editorial assistant, Tech

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  • POPSUGAR Verdict: Do we need a $130 fitness tracker? Probably not. There are plenty of comparable fitness gadgets on the market. But it's how easily the Jawbone UP software integrates into your lifestyle that had the Tech and Fitness teams sneaking a few more days of wearing the band even when the challenge was over.
    The bright, clean graphics of the app, where we could cheer one another on with comments and emoticons; the monitor of fitness and sleep progress across an interactive timeline; and the intuitive use of the picture-based food journal (which doesn't forget the important stuff: caloric intake) make the Jawbone UP something we'd recommend to friends, especially now that the product's early battery woes and app syncing are in the past.