Work, sleep or play - a wristband that monitors your entire life
Road-testing the Up wristband that monitors exercise, sleep and diet brings more awareness and surprising information
Ciara O’ Brien, right, wearing the Jawbone Up wristband, sparring with Evette Wade at the kickboxing class, at Bushido Martial Arts Academy, Clondalkin. Photograph: Eric Luke
The idea of a band that monitors your entire life may seem like it’s teetering on the edge of Big Brother-style intrusion, but an increasing number of devices will do just that for you. From Withings to Nike, wearable fitness technology is becoming big business.
This is the second go for the Jawbone Up. The first ended in the product being withdrawn from the shelves and refunds. It didn’t last long in the shower, for a start, but Jawbone has promised that its latest version is more durable.
The Up band covers quite a bit. Instead of simply tracking your movement, like the Nike Fuel band, it also monitors your sleep. It works as a stopwatch too. All this data is fed into your Up app, building up a picture of your day.
On the basic Up app, movement is measured by steps only, which seems a little arbitrary, especially if you like cycling and other sports. But the app does allow you to connect with a range of other services, such as My Fitness Pal, Sleepio, RunKeeper, Notch and even IFTTT (If This Then That), which makes it more useful.
If you are looking for a lazy way to do things, the Up band isn’t it. It requires a bit of user intervention. For example, at night, you have to remember to switch it into sleep mode, or else it will tell you that you haven’t slept at all, throwing your stats out for the week.
After you switch it into sleep mode, it will track how long it took you to fall asleep and then, based on your movements, how much time you spent in deep sleep versus lighter sleep.
And the more information you give it, the better picture it builds up. You can log your food and drink, and your daily moods through the app, giving the system a more rounded view of your typical day.
The Up app provides daily “insights” that are intended to be inspiring. Most of them appear to be aimed at a US audience, citing US-based figures for average movement and so on.
One thing: the Jawbone Up requires a smartphone to transfer your data to the service, allowing it to build up a profile of you.
After two days it will have enough data to start noting trends so you can see how well you’re sleeping (or not), and how your activity level fluctuates. It will track workout time, calories burned and, if you give it the information, your food intake too.
It’s easy to set up: charge it, download the app and plug the band into the headphone jack on your phone. It walks you through the steps and you are ready to go in only a few minutes, which is refreshing.
There’s no Bluetooth to wind down the battery life on your band or your phone; all data transfer is done via the headphone jack. Jawbone recommends you do the sync about twice a day. You get about 10 days out of a full charge on the band, but you need a USB-to-headphone jack attachment to do it, which is slightly annoying because it’s the first thing you misplace.
But this band is going to change my life (allegedly). I’ll sleep better, move more, eat better (maybe) and maybe even fit in a perfectly calculated nap or two.
Day one doesn’t go too badly. The alarm on the band wakes me up before my regular alarm goes off, evidently deciding that my sleep cycle is at the best point to do this.
There’s a minor hiccup later when I realise that it’s best to calibrate the distance settings on the band. Although it’s got an accelerometer built into it, and will calculate steps straight out of box, the distance will vary according to your stride length. And I’ve got a little less stride than the average person. It can also be a little generous; for example, I added 32 steps (allegedly) to my daily tally without ever leaving my desk.
The band will also prompt you to get up and move around if you have spent too long sitting at your desk. I’ve set it initially to 30 minutes, but that’s quickly changed or else I’d never get any work done.
No wireless syncing means I have to stop myself taking the band on and off several times a day just to see how I’m doing. It’s a little frustrating, as you can’t keep track during the day without taking it off, plugging it in and waiting.
After the first Up debacle, I’m a little nervous about keeping it on in the shower, but it makes it through unscathed.
By day three, I’m falling down on the food and drink logging, but the band has shown me one thing: I’m not sleeping nearly as much as I thought. And it’s tough to stick to the 10,000 steps goal when you have a desk job.
The idle-reminder prompts me to get up occasionally, but most of the time it’s ignored. Still, I get some extra activity logged at a kickboxing class, which pushes my stats a bit higher. And Up tells me I’m in the top 30 per cent of Up users for activity levels, which is reassuring.
A week later and the band is still going strong. It’s been through numerous showers, been pulled on and off several times a day and survived several workouts – things that rendered the previous bands useless after disturbingly short periods of time. So it’s safe to say that they’ve improved the design drastically.
While it hasn’t caused any major shift in my lifestyle, forcing myself to document what I eat, making me more aware of my movement and tracking my sleep has made me more conscious of it. A few small changes here and there add up.
Just don’t expect it to do all the work for you – no amount of advanced technology in a band will do that. Not yet, anyway.
The Jawbone Up is available for €129.99 from Three.ie