Wearables are fast becoming the most talked about piece of tech today. From the likes of the smartwatch with the Samsung Gear and the Apple Watch and beyond, to the fitness trackers such as Fitbit Charge, Moov Now, Garmin Vivoactive, and now, the Jawbone UP. While smartwatches have been stealing most of the limelight recently, in terms of discussion, they still have their shortcomings. It also doesn’t signal the end of the stand-alone fitness band, which, in fact, have quite a lot to offer over the smartwatch.
Jawbone recently released their latest line fitness band in South Africa, that being the UP2. The unit is the mid-range tracker between the UP Move and, more premium, UP3. Being the direct replacement for the popular UP24, the UP2 has a lot to live up to.
Build and Design
Jawbone have touted that the new UP2 is 45% smaller than its predecessor from 2014. And it’s not hard believe, even by simply looking at a few images of either. This means that the UP2 is lighter, which, in turn, means that it is a lot more comfortable to wear on a daily basis. Although being lightweight and comfortable may seem trivial for a fitness tracker, it isn’t always something obvious, especially when trying to cram more trackers and sensors into the package. As with the previous model, this year’s version was also designed by Yves Behar, the well-known Swiss designer, whose previous works also include design work on the Ouya console and controller. The UP24 featured a more rubberised finish, whereas the UP2 has been redesigned to incorporate more modern approach by using textured aluminium for the casing. The combination of a smaller, lightweight and more elegant looking band makes it appear a lot more premium in the end. Adding to the more grown up design, Jawbone has rid the UP2 of the multitude of colour options, instead opting for only two; silver and black. Despite this, however, there have already been a few points of discussion with the redesign.
The first of these is the new clasp approach. Many users have complained that the clasp is a bit finicky in that they constantly have to redo the clasp, which, indeed, will be an annoying factor while wearing. Fortunately for myself, during the two week review period, I have yet to experience any issues in this regard, and don’t expect to going forward either. After the initial adjustment of the clasp, sized for my wrist, once clasped, the bind stays intact until I need to charge it (which we’ll discuss later in the battery life). I will admit, though, the clasp isn’t the easiest to position or fasten. This brings me to the next concern, the touch sensors. There aren’t any physical buttons or display. Instead, uses can interact with the unit by means of tapping the casing, which, by default, lights up the active mode LED. In total there are three LEDs, orange for active, a blue-ish/purple for sleep mode (and green for naps), and an additional white LED between the two, which acts a notification LED, such as when the unit is charging successfully. While the logic may seem simple enough, tapping twice, as suggested, to activate the LEDs doesn’t always work out that simple. I found that it’s easier tapping three times, almost to reassure that the unit has detected my touch successfully, before I’m able to perform the long-press required to put the unit into sleep mode.
There is one notable feature lacking from a design point of view, that being the waterproof capability. The unit is capable of withstanding water, effectively making it water-resistance, so taking a shower or doing the dishes isn’t an issue. But users aren’t able to use the UP2 when going for a swim or the likes, which means the unit will spend a lot more time submerged than what it is capable of executing.
Tracking and Performance
At its most basic, the UP2 is a step-tracker (pedometer). And it does the job quite well, quietly tracking your movements in the background, by means of an accelerometer, while you proceed with everyday life. To view your step-count, however, you will require the software, which can be installed to your Android or iPhone device for syncing. Over and above this, the unit is also a sleep tracker. By means of a few sensors, the UP2 is able to determine how long it takes you to fall asleep at night, how much deep sleep you get, how often you wake, and, obviously, the full duration of your sleep. While I’m unable to decipher the truth as to the sleep stages during the night, I can attest to the time taken to fall asleep as well as the duration. The app, which we’ll discuss later, does a lot of the translation as to what this all means, in addition to a few other features.
One of the issues still plaguing the smartwatch industry is the battery size, and ultimately, the battery life, typically between 24 and 48 hours. Although I’m unable to speak for all fitness bands, it typically isn’t an issue, and the UP2 is no different. The unit takes roughly an hour to charge by means of connecting to your PC or laptop’s USB port by aligning the magnetic strips, and, once completed, lasts more than a full week. The software typically gives you warning to charge with up to a full day of use still available.
UI and Software
The app, which I’ve already mentioned, can be installed on your Android or iPhone device, provides a lot of useful information to the user. Tracking your steps and sleep is trivial when compared to conducting a full analysis and chart for your activities. The Main Menu is split into a few sections. The top section provides your daily performance in terms of your sleep, steps, and food intake. The middle section provides the user with useful insight into their routines, as well as a few useful tips on how to better go about your routines in terms of how you sleep, when you’re most active, what you eat, and a host of other information you may find useful. The bottom section provides a feed of information for the day, in terms of your objectives met, when you ate certain foods, and even information about other users you’ve befriended.
From your first moment of waking in the morning the device is able to detect that you’ve woken, and if you’ve set an alarm via the app, will be vibrating to wake you when you’re out of deep sleep, making it, theoretically, easier to get up. While I find myself constantly switching back to active mode manually on the device, the software is able to determine this beforehand. Your sleep stats are then displayed in the form of time taken to fall asleep, duration of light sleep and deep sleep along with the full duration, the times you’ve woken, how long you’ve been in bed before and after your actual sleep.
The step tracker provides a percentage for your target step goal for the day, along with the distance covered, your total active time and idle times, calories burnt, in addition to a neatly composed graph of your step patterns. The software is also able to determine higher than usual step amounts, prompting a suggestion of logging an activity such as running, sports, or even a brisk walk. It isn’t quite as adept at determining your exercise routine, such as hitting the gym, but users are able to manually enter this information if they choose. The more information you provide, the better the software performs, in terms of making suggestions and tracking your health and fitness. By gathering all this information, the software is able to work out your required calorie intake based on the goals you’ve set yourself, whether it’s to lose, maintain or gain weight.
As already mentioned in passing, users are able to add their food intake for the day. The software is able to add the approximate calorie intake, along with your daily nutritional information such as fibre, unsaturated fat, carbohydrates, protein, sugar, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. Although users are able to adjust the amounts for recommended consumption, the default is set to amounts recommended by USDA for your age, height and weight, and goals set beforehand.
Once all this information is collected, the software provides continually updated information to the user. This allows it to determine whether you’re sleeping, eating or exercising enough, suggesting times when you’re most productive, and even knowing how your day has progressed. Often times when I lie in bed for a few more minutes, or spent more time idle than normal, the software is able to pick up my activity levels during these slow days, and being able to advise on a plan of action to combat such patterns. It may seem a little over the top or creepy to some, but what’s the point of a fitness tracker if you’re not willing to get use the information available to you to better your current health status. The software also features a few more admin based features such as a stopwatch, smart alarm, idle alert, activity alert, and reminders.
The Jawbone UP2 certainly delivered quite a number of useful features into a small, lightweight, and good looking piece of equipment. The device is complimented by means of the application installed onto your smartphone, being able to provide you a better understanding of your daily routines and working out a plan of action to do better. The software, though, isn’t perfect, and has a few shortcomings when manually trying to start a workout session. It often better to let the device track what it has to, and then manually entering the activity once you’ve completed your session. The other annoyance is that the app doesn’t sync or really work when you’re not connected to the internet, although it doesn’t use much, if any, data while it does this.
With an RRP of R1,599, the UP2 is less than half the going rate for many smartwatches currently in circulation, and does a whole lot better in terms of being able to track your movement and sleep patterns. If you’re in the market for a fitness and health tracker, without the additional requirement of having a heart rate monitor, the UP2 is definitely a worthwhile purchase. Thankfully, the software bugs aren’t more than an update away, so there’s still room for improvement.