Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Only Way Is... UP!

I couldn't resist purchasing UP! The wearable health-band and accompanying iOS app just brought to market by Jawbone, who are famous for making bluetooth earpieces.  Here are my thoughts on the band and its accompanying app:

Buying the Band

I got it from the Apple Store via the store's iOS app. It suggested that delivery would be in 2-3 three weeks but it arrived within a week. In theory, the band comes in a range of sizes and colours, but there were only black ones available directly from Apple. I got a medium and, when it arrived, wished I'd gone for large as it seemed a little tight. However, after a couple of days I read in a forum that you're meant to where it on your less dominant arm and I found that when switching it to my left arm to sit alongside my watch I suddenly couldn't really feel I was wearing it.

The UP app is a free download but doesn't work until your register an UP band, which cost me £80.

What does it do?

The band itself is effectively the most expensive step counter you'll ever buy, although it does have a few more tricks up its (and your) sleeve. Inside the band is an accelerometer which, as well as counting your steps can also measure both the speed and vigour of your step. You can set the band into Active mode for whenever you're up and about and Sleep mode for when you are ready to nod off at night until you rise.


When you connect the band to your iPhone it syncs the data which the band has collected with the app and produces some nice little timeline infographics which summarise your activity levels and your sleeping patterns.

Sleep Analysis

At first I was a little dubious about the sleep analysis but having lived with it for a week or so I can confirm that its summary of periods of light sleep, deep sleep being awake seems pretty accurate. It also give you a 'sleep quality' statistic as a percentage and I'm not so certain about the science behind that. To be honest, you can exceed 100% sleep quality by simply oversleeping - so that can't really be right can it?


There is a nice little alarm feature connected to sleep-tracking - you set yourself a preferred alarm time before syncing your band at bedtime. In the morning, the band will wake you by vibrating at some point during the thirty minutes preceding your set time, based on when your body will respond best to being roused (when coming out of a period of light sleep I presume). Apart from anything else, having a vibrating alarm clock around your wrist is a nice little idea for those who don't want to wake their partner.


The vibration function can also be used throughout the day as a little reminder to you to get up and move around. You can set the frequency in 15 minute intervals for the band to alert you after a period of inactivity. So if, say, you've been concentrating on that spreadsheet for a little too long, it'll give you a nice little nudge to take a little walk around and move your body.

A friend of mine who's also trying the UP band/app suggested using the regular vibrating alerts as a reminder to drink water. This is a great idea, although if you are moving about during the day, your band won't vibrate as it is happy that you're being active, so you might forget to hydrate.

Activity Monitoring

When you sync your band (you connect it to your iPhone via its headphone socket) it takes the most up to date information about the steps you've taken and quickly converts them into timeline graph. If, however, you are setting out to do a specific workout you can double press the button on the band to let it know. When the band is in this mode, it pays a little more attention to what you are doing so that when you sync it to the app, it will produce a more detailed summary of your workout, breaking it down into periods of vigorous, moderate and light movement as well as attempting to estimate a calorie-loss figure (based on the sex/height/weight details you put in your profile on setup).

As well as double-pressing the band, you can also trigger a workout on the app itself. If you do this, the app combines the movement/step data it will receive from the band after your workout, with GPS details from the handset itself. In this way, it can plot your activity on a map and show you the places where you were being vigorous, moderate or light!

There are some problems with tracking workouts using the UP band/app though. Firstly, whilst it's good for running walking and possibly cycling, it cannot efficiently identify resistance-work in the gym. It does work for swimming apparently as the band is waterproof down to a metre.

The other problem is that it equates speed with vigour and cannot measure gradient or altitude so, when I look at the map it produced of one of my yomps around local farmland, it presumed that in the stages where my steps were slowest I was slacking and where they were quickest I was working harder. In fact, where my steps were slowest, I was pushing my way uphill and where they were quickest I was coasting downhill.

Nevertheless, the workout aspects of the UP concept provide useful summaries of your activity, even if they are not incredibly scientific. For more science, I'd suggest wearing a heart monitor too. I'd like to see pulse-measurement as a feature of 'UP2', seeing as the thing lives on your wrist.

Food Tracking

The weakest element of the UP concept is food-tracking which is, more or less, devoid of all science. Basically food tracking is done by simply photographing what you eat and telling the app where you're eating it. A photo of your meal then sits in your timeline graph and after an hour or two the app send you an alert asking you to input how you are feeling after you have digested your meal - rating based on a simple range of happy-thru-sad faces.

The food-tracking concept is based purely on kidology, working on the basis that if you are going to the effort of photographing your meals, you'll eat better and eat less. This approach is sharpened by the only really social component of the app, which is the creation of a 'team' of other UP users. This means that (if you wish) you can share your sleep, workout and meal details with your team-members. The whole team's updates form a feed with the most recent updates first so you can see how everyone else is doing and add supportive (or other) comments if you wish.

Still on food-tracking, it's all incredibly subjective. The only way to achieve a 100% daily rating for food intake seems to be by saying you feel great after every meal. In theory, this is meant to guide you, by experience, towards selecting foods that make you feel and and give you energy.

There are also a number of pre-set health-plans or 'challenges' you can sign up to if you wish, which suggest number of and type of workouts and meals. Several of these are sponsored by third-parties - health-food companies and the like. Here though, there's no moderation or performance assessment. So, for example, if you choose a plan which requires you to eat only low-fat meals and you then elect to eat only fast-food for a week, no-one is going to tell you off.

Social Features?

Other than creating a team of other UP users, there are no other social features associated with UP at this stage. You can't scan your email, Twitter or Facebook friends to find UP users. Neither can you elect to push details of your sleep/meals or workouts to any social networks beyond UP's own team concept. This needs to change.


In summary, the UP concept represents a good start for Jawbone's first move into the health market. It's fun to do/wear and both the app and the band are nicely designed. It includes some great features including vibrating alarms and alerts as well as some nice looking infographics. It is probably over-priced and I'd be looking for it's price to come down over time.

Cons and Suggestions for the Future

On the UP forums hosted on the Jawbone website, there seems to be stream of complaints about faulty bands, with some users apparently on their third and fourth. Fortunately, mine has been OK so far.

Analysis of sleep, activity and food intake is not particularly scientific, with food being the weakest of the three. It's definitely a fun gadget rather than a serious piece of equipment at this stage.

Social elements are minimal - it needs much stronger integration with Twitter and Facebook at the very least. As this can be done at an application level and doesn't require new bands I'd hope to see this sooner rather than later.

Syncing is done by physically attaching the band the the iPhone by removing a discreet cover on the band to reveal a headphone jack which is inserted into the iPhone. Whilst this works pretty well, I'd have expected the band to communicate with the phone by Bluetooth - especially when you consider Jawbone's heritage. I suspect that this would hamper battery-life and possibly the size and weight of the band, but I'd still like to see this in the future. Currently the band is recharged by attaching it to a PC via a supplied USB adaptor - a single charge lasts about ten days.

The opportunity to build in a pulse monitor to a product which lives on your wrist seems too good to miss. I'd like to see this in a later release as it would vastly improve the workout and sleep analyses.

Under it's rubber skin, the band has a couple of LEDs to signify when it's in Sleep or Active mode. This design is nice and subtle, but I'd also like to see a similarly discreet LED time-display so I don't always have to wear a watch and the UP band side-by-side. This could also display a stopwatch timer during workouts.


So, on the whole, UP is fun and I'm glad I bought it. So far I'm taking more exercise and eating better. However, I'm motivated by new gadgets and I'm sure this is a contributory factor for me. If gadgets aren't your thing, this might not be for you. If you are more of a health-nut than a gadget-nut, you might want to consider the Fitbit, which I haven't seen or used, but I'm led to believe it might be more scientific.

So there you go. That's my current take on Jawbone's UP product. Have you got one? I'd love to hear about your experiences with it. Are you thinking of getting one? If so, was this review helpful?

Let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog, Tim. Mrs LS22 is considering a Fitbit, I'll tell her to read you UP commentary as part of her research