Jawbone UP Review

Here’s the TL/DR version: Don’t buy this piece of shit. It doesn’t work, it will fail, and the software is terrible. Jawbone is still selling them even though they know they’re all future bricks. Don’t buy one. Feel free to read on if you’d like the nitty-gritty details.

Update: Jawbone recently sent out a letter from their CEO offering a rebate policy for all Jawbone users, and admitted they’ve “temporarily” ceased production of the UP until they can solve the problems. This is a good step in the right direction. I genuinely hope Jawbone can resolve the hardware and software issues and release a much better product, because there is a lot of promise here. Perhaps one day in the future I’ll have a positive review of a better UP.

I bought the Jawbone UP with high hopes. I’m obsessed with data tracking. I use Nike+ for running, I have a Withings Scale for tracking my weight and BMI (which I use in combination with Weightbot), I log most TV episodes I watch using IntoNow, I check in everywhere I go with Foursquare—the list goes on and on. So, obviously, products like the FitBit and the new Jawbone UP are right up my alley. I owned a first-generation FitBit and I really liked it, but long-term it became a pain to use. The device needs to be clipped onto your pants, meaning you can forget it easily when you leave your house (and, of course, it’s clipped on your pants which is not an awesome look), and at night you have to put it into this ridiculous wrist band. It just screams extra step and that lead to me leaving it behind. The beauty of the Jawbone UP is that you wear it 24/7. When you go to sleep, you simply press the single button to switch it to sleep mode. You wear it in the shower. You never have to worry about forgetting it because you never take it off.

Design-wise, the UP is relatively pretty. It’s understated, with a simple rubber-coated band that crosses itself at the tips. I liked wearing it, it was mostly comfortable, and it didn’t look particularly strange. I did have to wear it upside down, however, because if you work at a desk and wear the UP the way they suggest, you’ll be instantly annoyed about the thing smacking around on your desk. I also found it less comfortable the default way. Jawbone claims you can wear the band in either orientation without issue.

My favorite features of the UP were its ability to remind you to be active on an interval (I had mine set to remind me every hour from 10AM-7PM to get up and stretch my legs and drink some water), and to wake you up during a 30-minute window when it was most ideal for your body based on your sleep patterns. In theory, these are terrific features.

That’s it for the positive things about the UP. Now let’s talk about why it’s a piece of shit:

The software is terrible. Poorly designed, buggy, and lacking in all but extremely basic features. You sync the band with your iPhone using the headphone port, which is fine, except 75% of the time I would get repeated “Sync error” messages until I unplugged/plugged-in the device over and over. Once successfully synced, the app tracks steps and sleep patterns, and pretends to track food intake. I say pretends, because here’s how UP tracks this data: You take a picture of a meal and submit it in the app, along with a title. An hour or so later, UP asks you how that meal made you feel, with a few emoticon options. That’s it. No calorie counting, no detailed entry, just a cruddy picture of a plate of enchiladas and a “:( Full” message. This is so pointless it might as well not be in the application at all.

The activity reminder seemed hit or miss. One day, it reminded me twice in total, even though I sat at my desk all day long. Another day, it never reminded me even though I was still mostly sitting around. I think this has something to do with the UP using any motion as an indication it doesn’t need to alert you. The problem, of course, is that moving your arm between a mouse and a keyboard rapidly for four hours straight is not what I’d consider activity.

But hey, it tracks steps, that’s something, right? Not quite. Turns out the UP is terrible at tracking motion because it considers any motion to be a step. Sit at your desk all day using a computer and mouse? 1,250 steps. Sure, why not. Brush your teeth? 78 steps. Walk down the street? 11 steps. Wait—what? I control-tested my two of my UPs and they were all over the place. I took exactly 100 regular steps and the results were different every time. The first time, the result was 72 tracked steps. The second time, it was 290 (WTF?), third, it was 112. After replacing my first band, the results were similarly awful: 81, 124, 56. I expected it to be a little off, but this is basically garbage data. To be sure this wasn’t caused by wearing the band upside down, I did these tests in both orientations and had similar results. (Comparatively, I remember the FitBit being very accurate, but it does not have the ability to remind you via vibration or wake you up.)

This problem partially extends to sleep as well. The UP uses movement to determine your light versus deep sleep patterns. The problem is that its alarm utilizes this movement to decide when to wake you up in a 30-minute window. For a single person or someone who does not have pets, this might work fine. But when you share a bed with another person and have cats that like to crawl around on you all morning, what this leads to is being woken up within two minutes of that window’s start time. I tried four nights in total to be “smart” alarmed from 9-9:30AM and every time I was buzzed at around 9:02AM. Was it truly a coincidence that I happened to be in light sleep at the start of that window every morning? Based on how insanely tired I felt when it woke me up, I doubt it. A further problem is there is no way to snooze the UP, so if you don’t get up right away, you’d better have a backup alarm.

Now let’s talk about the most serious problem: The failure rate. I purchased the UP in an Apple Store in Los Angeles. I used it for two days and then it failed. I put it in sleep mode one night, and it didn’t wake me up the next morning (fun!). When I tried to switch it back into activity mode, it was dead. Although the light came on, charging it did nothing. I exchanged it at a different Apple Store for another unit. I used it for two days, and again, it failed to wake me up on the third day. I contacted Jawbone to complain and after nearly three weeks, I received my third UP directly from the company. I used it for a day and half, and then it died mid-day. I went to sync it and noticed it was dead. It didn’t respond to being charged at all. That’s three dead Ups in a tiny amount of time. And it turns out I’m not alone. The discussion forums at Jawbone are packed with complaints from other users, some of whom are on their fourth or fifth UP. One user was burned in the middle of the night wearing it. I’ve yet to hear from anyone who has had an UP for more than a few weeks that works. I’m willing to bet the failure rate is close to 90%. Jawbone is willfully selling defective products to customers.

So where does this leave us? Bad software, defective hardware, and relatively useless motion tracking. Lots of missed opportunities and shameful corporate strategy. Jawbone completely missed with the UP, and they need to cease sales immediately. Don’t buy this product.