Up For Nine Months

A promotional image from Jawbone featuring the Up band in various colors. 

I didn’t weigh myself once between 2008 and 2012. I was shocked to discover I’d put on over thirty pounds in that time. It is likely that more than half of that came on in the last few years; I hadn’t bought a single new pair of pants between 2008 and 2010, and I found my waistline increasing in 2011. I’d taken on a new job that involved significantly more sitting around, and quite a bit more dining out.

I decided to do the responsible thing and start dieting. I’d thought I was being cautious before, but a quick glance at the calorie counts for many of my favorite restaurants revealed that there are much worse places to eat than McDonald’s. I realized I’d need to keep better track of what I was eating, and I should probably get a better idea of how many calories I expend in a day.

Fortunately for me, a revolution in health and exercise information is going on right now. Products like the Fitbit and Nike Fuel band are blowing up, and even better products are on the horizon. I chose to augment my less-than-stellar fitness sense with Jawbone’s Up band. I selected this particular device not for its style (although I liked that), or its cost (it’s right in the middle on cost), but because it also has an interesting sleep-tracking function that attempts to wake you each morning while you are in light sleep, making the transition back to consciousness easier. I’ve always had a hell of a time waking up in the morning. Every little bit helps.

The Jawbone Up band comes in various sizes and colors. At the time I got it, late December of 2012, only a few were available. I went with the incredibly standard medium-sized black band. It fits my wrist pretty well. I don’t care for wearing any sort of jewelry or accessories, so it took some getting used to. I still remove it whenever I am typing. The band is semi-flexible, and after you wear it for a while it will adjust a bit to your wrist. The Up band is also water resistant, so you don’t have to take it off unless you plan on actually submerging it completely. You interact with the band in two ways: one end has a single button, the other a standard 3.5 mm TRRS headphone jack. The headphone jack plugs into a compatible iOS or Android device and transfers the data it collects to your Up account. The button can be pressed and held in various morse code-like patterns to alter functionality.

A promotional image of the black Jawbone Up, the color I purchased.

I’d like to get the bad news out of the way first: the quality assurance on the Up has been an issue from day one. I was hesitant to purchase one, because the previous generation of the device was known for breaking down quite easily. Jawbone was adamant that their revised model, released in 2012, would fare better. I have a second generation model, and it hasn’t impressed me on that front. In fact, I am on my third band (fourth, if you count them sending me the wrong size after the second broke). The first band stopped taking a charge after a month, and no amount of hard or soft resets could revive it. The second stopped vibrating several months in — a key function for me, as I’d purchased it as much to monitor my sleep as my movement. I’ve been on this third band for a few months now, and so far it has held up to the same level of stress that defeated its forebears. Still, I can’t escape the concern it will fail on me at some point in the near future.

The Jawbone Up communicates with an app that runs on either an iOS or Android device. A full list of compatible devices can be found here. The software translates the data the band collects into sleep patterns and estimated movement. For example, you can mark specific activity on the band by pressing the button on the end once, then quickly pressing and holding a second time until the band vibrates, and repeating the same action when done. If you are engaging in actual exercise, this is a good way to verify the app’s calorie counts and movement tracking are accurate. The same app also has a calorie-tracking function to help you keep an eye on the food you’re eating. Its library is fairly extensive, though you’ll find yourself entering in data for local brands or just estimating meals based on existing listings fairly regularly. The App also heavily relies on communicating with Jawbone’s servers for every sync or meal, so if you don’t have an internet connection, you’ll have to wait until you do to update your information. 

Putting aside my concerns for its workmanship, the Jawbone Up has helped me lose thirty-five pounds and keep them off for two months. I’ve started a second round of dieting, with the hopes of losing up to thirty more. If you aren’t interested in its sleep-monitoring alarm, there are cheaper competitors with a better build quality track record. However, I can say that for me, the Up has made me healthier and more keen to alter my often sedentary lifestyle. I’ve lost weight, put more effort into getting at least some exercise, and sometimes, I actually wake up on time.

Sometimes.

Posted on September 16, 2013 and filed under Review, Tech.