Of all the fitness trackers you can wear on your wrist — and boy, are there a lot of ’em — Jawbone’s Up may be the most minimalist one from a hardware standpoint.
Like other such gadgets, the springy, textured bracelet uses sensors to monitor the exercise you get during the day and the rest you get when you sleep. But unlike most of its rivals, it doesn’t have a display to tell you how you’re progressing towards your daily goals. It doesn’t even have a wireless connection: You transfer data to your iPhone or Android handset by plugging the band into the earphone jack. Almost all of the interacting you do is with the Up app, which also allows you to manually enter additional relevant facts such as your weight and details about the food you eat.
Now Jawbone is announcing a new model, Up24. At first glance, it looks exactly like the company’s first stripped-down, fashionable coil. It’s still got a microscopic cap for its charging connector and a proprietary USB cable, both of which feel like they were born to be misplaced. But Up24 has one major new feature: Bluetooth. It’s $150 and is being accompanied by a new version of the Up app (for iOS only at first) that also works with the original wristband, which will remain on the market for $130.
The Bluetooth connectivity lets Up24 sync with the app wirelessly in the background, and Jawbone managed to preserve respectable battery life: seven days on a charge. Aside from saving you from having to remove the cap and plug the band into your phone’s earphone jack to transfer data — which I never found to be that huge a hassle — the wireless capability helps the app coach you throughout the day.
For example, it’s designed to remind you about your walking goal for the day — and to tell you when you’ve reached it — and to give you a summary each morning of how well you slept. A new feature called “Today I Will” makes suggestions about daily goals based on data the wristband collects: It might notice that you’ve been going to bed late and encourage you to hit the hay a bit earlier. The app also commemorates milestones such as the millionth step you take.
Sadly, the few days I’ve had with Up24 — which coincided with a period when I spent a lot of time on planes and was therefore exceptionally indolent — turn out to be too brief an encounter to get a real sense of how the experience has changed. Jawbone advises you to wear the band for a while so that the app can collect enough data to help you effectively; it’s apparently still figuring me out, and therefore hasn’t had much to say beyond what was already in the original app.
Which is not to say that I didn’t notice any improvements. You can still press a button on the band to put it into sleep mode when you retire for the night. But if you forget to do so — which I did 75 percent of the time with the earlier app — it now figures out when you were likely snoozing, and double-checks with you to confirm that it guessed right.
What was good about earlier versions of the Up app remains impressive: For one thing, it’s beautiful and ambitious, with an array of colorful infographics that chart your exercise, slumber and other doings. There’s still a social-networking component, which lets you keep tabs on the activities of friends who use Up. As before, one of the best features is the integration with IFTTT, which permits fancy automation tricks involving multiple apps: For instance, you can set it up to add a meal entry each time you check into a restaurant on Foursquare.
Earlier versions of the Up app, for all their pizzazz, sometimes felt a tad overwhelming. Jawbone has rejiggered the organization a bit, but I still found it less than utterly intuitive. For instance, I don’t understand why the menu doesn’t include an option for entering information about the meals you’ve eaten — instead, you tap a teensy icon in your feed to do the job. There’s also a useful new summary of your recent activity that you might miss altogether if you don’t figure out that you need to swipe down to see it.
And maybe it’s just my particular personality, but I sometimes found the new app overbearingly cheery and chatty. On one day when I’d come nowhere near reaching my daily goal of 10,000 steps, the app still went out of its way to congratulate me, pointing out that I’d walked enough steps to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. I would have found polite criticism of my sloth more motivating. (The app does nudge you to complete your goals, but apparently only does so when you’re most of the way there, not woefully behind.)
That’s the thing about fitness trackers and their apps: More than most gizmos, they’re deeply personal. I don’t need all that much positive reinforcement but do like to obsessively check how close I am to reaching my walking goal without bothering to remove my phone from my pocket. (All variants of the Fitbit have on-device displays, which make that possible.) Still, I’m going to keep on wearing Up24 so it can provide me with better advice — and if Jawbone’s approach speaks to you, the $20 premium over the original model is a no-brainer.