Jawbone's new UP24 proves that activity-tracking wrist bands and traditional wrist watches can peacefully co-exist on a single human limb.
Dig it: Most wrist-worn activity trackers are thick and bulky. Some even include clock displays. Slip one of these specimens next to your Swatch or Victorinox, and it appears you're wearing two watches. Yeah, it's not a good look. That's why I've always been a fan of Jawbone's simple, nondescript wristbands. I can wrap one right above my watch, and it looks like I'm wearing some type of fashion-neutral man jewelry. Dignity: preserved. No one gets hurts.
But Jawbone's UP line has always suffered a heart-breaking drawback: You have always had to remove the band and plug it into your smartphone's headphone jack to see the latest data on your step and sleep patterns. Until now. Enter the UP24, which finally, finally, finally brings Bluetooth syncing to Jawbone's quantified self platform.
Bluetooth syncing for the UP24 is currently only available for late-model iOS devices, but dissing Android owners is par for the course in the activity-tracking wrist band game. All the companies do it, ignoring Android entirely, or adding support for individual phones in intermittent bursts of generosity. That said, slowly but surely Jawbone has made its original UP band compatible with a solid collection of Android handsets, so hopefully the company will quickly follow suit with the UP24 as well.
Get to steppin'
Like all its direct competitors, the UP24 uses accelerometers and algorithms to track the steps you've taken and hours you've slept. Jawbone's expectation is that you'll wear the band pretty much 24/7. The battery is advertised to last between 7 and 10 days (an accurate claim, I've found), and is shower-resistant, but shouldn't be submerged in water.
For daytime activity, the system can also divine how many miles you've walked or run; your total active time; your longest continuous period of activity; your total calorie burn, and your active calorie burn. (All these reports take into account your gender, age, height and weight.) In the middle of the night, the UP24 becomes a sleep tracker. Check your data after you wake, and you'll see details on your total sleeping time, and periods of light and deep sleep.
Based on anecdotal evidence, the sleep data looks surprisingly accurate. I've gone on a number of activity-tracking jags, festooning multiple devices on both arms to see if the trackers agree with each other, and are consistent with real-world events. I've found that step data is more or less consistent among devices, but only Jawbone's UP bands have properly registered my periods of sleep and wakefulness.
Specifically, competing trackers have failed to capture those annoying moments when I get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or briefly contemplate some existential grievance. But those interruptions have been faithfully recorded by Jawbone's hardware. I also like the way Jawbone's software reports how long you lay in bed before falling asleep.
Even better, the new 3.0 version of Jawbone's iOS app has a "sleep recovery" function for those times when you forget to actively switch the band from step-tracking mode to sleep-tracking mode. The band is always recording its accelerometer data, so if you fail to deliberately signal the beginning of a sleep session (something that requires a physical button press, or a tap on the app), the recovery function can look at all your data, and make an educated guess on when you were sleeping. (Hint: It will be that 6- to 8-hour period when you weren't logging any steps.) You can confirm the system's sleep estimate, or adjust its start and stop times if you think you know better.
The new 3.0 software also adds a great Activity Log feature that tosses all your most recent lifestyle highlights--hours slept, steps taken, and even meals consumed, assuming you use Jawbone's near-useless food tracking tools--into a single, information-dense screen. This new data snapshot highlights Jawbone's core competency in activity-tracking: Helpful, easy-to-understand, and always delightfully designed infographics.
Indeed, because the UP24 is such a simple piece of hardware, the value you find in Jawbone's system largely keys into how much you like the company's software design. I find that the app's data snapshots strike just the right balance between depth and simplicity, but there's no disputing Jawbone's vision is heavy on easily digested information nuggets, and light on statistical deep dives. Still, it's an approach that works for me, and I find myself working hard to consistently beat my daily exercise goal of at least 10,000 steps. I also check my sleep data every morning, if only out of sheer curiosity. I'm hooked.
The bottom line
But let's face it: Step and sleep data are just table stakes in the activity-tracking wristband space, and when Jawbone added Bluetooth syncing to its menu, it was really just playing catch-up. The Fitbit Force already has Bluetooth syncing, and many folks will prefer the Force because it includes a display that reveals step counts-in real time, with no need to open up a smartphone app. And then there's the Basis B1 Band, which includes extra sensors for heart rate monitoring--this in addition to Bluetooth syncing and a real-time digital display.
Unfortunately, the UP24 has none of these features. But it is the best activity-tracking wristband for horophiles--or just normal dudes (like me) who don't want to stop wearing their favorite watch.
Earlier this year, Jawbone purchased BodyMedia, a company that makes fitness trackers that have sensors for monitoring skin temperature and conductivity--key data points for determining one's actual calorie burn. It's likely that Jawbone is planning to launch a sweeping new product that combines its existing sensor approach with tricks from the BodyMedia portfolio. But for now, the UP24 is the best Jawbone can offer. It's not a bad activity-tracker, but without a digital display or deeper data-tracking set, it's impossible to call it state of the art.