Goondu review: Jawbone Up

April 24th, 2013 | by Raymond Lau
Goondu review: Jawbone Up
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Up as a stylish accessory

Jawbone’s Up is a device that’s supposed to be worn 24/7. So, to truly understand how well it works, I’ve been wearing it everyday and every night over the past few weeks to see if wearable computing is all it’s cracked up to be.

Although I already had a pretty comprehensive hands-on session with the Up, there were definitely more insights to be gleaned.

Design

Simply put, the design of the Up is superbly unparalleled. If the first check-box on your list for a fitness tracker is how it looks, then look no further than the Up.

As with any fashionable accessory, when I first started wearing the Up, it caught the eyes of my friends and acquaintances which led to the obligatory explanation and demos of what it is and what it does. That’s quite a score there for Jawbone.

The zig-zag pattern and sliver flourishes are the most eye-catching bits, though they have sharp corners that can scratch your skin if you’re not careful.

I doubt I would have drawn as much attention if I had simply been wearing a new watch or a regular rubber wrist-band.

However, the lack of a built-in display is a real bummer. There’s no way to get up-to-date feedback flashed at you whenever you want, and the process of syncing with your Android or iOS device has too much friction.

This may sound inconsequential, but it plays a big part in one of the Up’s core purposes — to motivate you to move more.

A display can tell me immediately how many steps I am from my daily goal so I can get moving immediately. Instead, I sync the band only at the end of the day, when I usually have other plans or am too tired to go downstairs for another 5,000 step stroll.

One sensor is not enough

The Up only has that one accelerometer. While this allows the device to stay slim and pretty, the accuracy of results leave quite a bit to be desired.

Jawbone claims that its “Motion X” algorithm is very smart at determining whether you’re walking or not, so I put it to the test.

First, I got into the car and synced the band with an iPad to reset the counter. After that, I put the band back on and drove for about half an hour to my destination. Once there, I synced the band again.

According to the app, I walked a total of 216 steps when I didn’t move from the driver’s seat at all!

I don’t think anyone will expect the Up to give scientifically accurate results, but you should take the figures with a larger grain of salt than previously thought.

As for sleep, there’s really no way for me to tell if it’s accurate without getting a person to sit beside my bed and watch me sleep through the entire night.

However, the measurements do seem to corroborate with how I feel the next morning. It make sense for the Up to be better at sleep tracking, since it only needs to know if you’re moving or not.

Ain’t nobody got time for manual input

One of the more interesting things you can do with the Up mobile app is the ability to manually input your dietary intakes and work-outs so that the data can be crunched to provide a more holistic feedback about your lifestyle.

But honestly? Out of my entire time with the Up, I typed in what I was eating only once.

It doesn’t help that Jawbone’s database lacks local food, so there are no pretty pictures or nutrition info of char kway teow to motivate me.

Manual input for physical work-outs turned out to be even less useful than food tracking, as I didn’t see the need to use it even once. When I go for a run, I use Endomondo on my smartphone to automatically keep track of my route, speed, and calories burnt. I can even listen to music on my smartphone. The Up is completely useless in this respect.

Moreover, the Up app lets you decide for yourself how intense your workout was, which is completely subjective and defeats the purpose of machine tracking.

The future of smart accessories

Despite some cool and unique features, the Up is ultimately a device that’s nice to have, but not absolutely essential.

In fact, the band is likely only going to appeal to early adopters at this stage, and I have no doubt Jawbone is watching closely and taking notes for future models.

Sure, it’s fun to review how long I’ve slept and how many steps I’ve walked, but it doesn’t really motivate me to do more. My schedule it too packed to suddenly decide to go downstairs for a walk or go to bed two hours earlier just because the band says I need to.

At the end of the day, the Up is a beautiful gadget that has the potential to transform our lifestyles, but the potential isn’t quite fulfilled.

But it’s given me a taste of what wrist-gadgets are capable of, and the space looks set to heat up very soon. Who knows? Maybe by this time next year, we’ll be crunching the power of a smartphone on a gadget tied to our wrists.

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