If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re still stuffing your face with leftovers, preparing to do so, or regretting that fifth helping of turkey with all the fixins. Even diligent weight watchers let themselves go during holiday feasts — so what better time to look at the next generation of fitness tech?
Over the past week, I’ve had a chance to test out Fitbit’s One, its third-generation activity tracker, and Jawbone’s redesigned Up health wristband. I went from not tracking my activity at all to constantly wearing two of the most advanced health tracking devices available. The result: Lots of data … and constantly feeling like a lazy bum.
Sure, I’ve dreamed of living a healthier life, but you know how it goes — work, chores, and sheer laziness inevitably get in the way. The promise of these fitness gadgets is that they’ll point out just how terrible your daily habits are, and with the power of data, they’ll force you to be move more, eat better, and get more sleep.
Both the Up and One can track your steps, sleep habits, and give you an estimate of calories you’ve burned. The One clips onto your clothes, just like its predecessors, while the Up is meant to be worn all day on your wrist.
No matter how you do it, simply tracking your activity has health benefits: People who do so generally increase their activity by 26 percent, according to the American Medical Association. Even if you don’t have a strict diet plan and a trainer at the gym, fitness data can make you healthier.
In comparing the Jawbone Up and Fitbit One, I definitely settled on a favorite. But I also learned that these devices are extremely personal — what works best for me may not end up working for you. But at least you now have a number of mature fitness gadgets to choose from.
Jawbone’s Up: You can trust it this time
Let’s not mince words. The original Jawbone Up was a failure. Released in November, 2011, the Up sported a slick Yves Behar design and came from one of the most trusted names in gadgets. But a month after launch, Jawbone was forced to suspend production of the Up and offer full refunds due to issues with its electronics.
Instead of giving up, Jawbone went back to the drawing board to figure out exactly what went wrong. It turns out building a flexible, wearable computer was harder than Jawbone anticipated. Now, after 2.9 million hours of user testing and the development of 28 new manufacturing processes, Jawbone has relaunched the Up. And even though it looks the same as the old Up, this new Up is a completely different beast internally.
Above: The old Jawbone up (left) alongside the newer, more well-built model (right), both without their rubber coatings.
One quick glance at the two Up models laid bare is enough to tell you which one is better built. The new model features a strong coating around the Up’s internal electronics, and it also seals together with the Up’s rubber exterior to keep water out.
According to Travis Bogard, Jawbone’s vice president of product management and strategy, water damage was one of the biggest problems the company faced with the first Up. Jawbone went through all of the usual industry standards for testing, but once the Up failures started rolling in, the company quickly realized it needed to come up with rigorous new testing standards of its own.
Now Jawbone is confident the Up will withstand whatever consumers throw at it. But you’ll have to pay a bit more for this model: It’s retailing for $130, instead of the $100 last year’s model cost. For now, the Up is only compatible with iOS devices. The company says it’s working on an Android app but hasn’t said when it will be available.
I’ve been using the new Up wristband almost non-stop over the past week. It’s survived showers, pouring rain, and several instances where I forgot to take it off before messy cooking situations. Perhaps due to its more solid internal construction, it also feels more flexible and comfortable than last year’s model. That’s particularly important, since it’s meant to be a device you never take off — even while sleeping.
The Up is a bit too thick to hide completely, but with its bright color options you may not want to hide it. And it’s light enough that you can easily forget you’re wearing it. Jawbone claims the Up has 10 days of battery life, and it’s performance over the last seven days I’ve been wearing it seems to confirm that figure.
The good: Strong design, revamped app
Design still holds up: I immediately lusted after last year’s Up model the moment I saw it — chalk that up to a simple, yet elegant design that makes it seem like a piece of cyberpunk jewelry, not just a gadget. Jawbone didn’t change anything with the new model’s design, and I can’t blame it. One year later, I’m still drawn to the Up in a visceral way.
Vastly improved mobile app: The original Up iPhone app released last year was fairly basic — it showed the number of steps you took and your sleep performance and offered you a way to track what you ate. But there wasn’t much of a social component, and the food tracking was mostly manual.
This time around, Jawbone’s Up app finally feels complete. You can track what you eat (using the device’s matching iPhone app) more easily with a massive database of foods and their nutritional information, and you can add friends to your “Team” to compare their performance. You can also track your mood through the app and log additional exercises like yoga and cardio workouts.
Best of all, the Up app now uses all the data it collects to generate useful insights about your behavior. If you don’t get enough sleep while travelling, or if you tend to eat unhealthy lunches at work, Up will nudge you to be better.
Sleep tracking and silent alarm works wonders: Not much has changed when it comes to the way the new Up handles sleep, but its ability to track the quality of your sleep and wake you up gently is still worth mentioning. The wristband can figure out how much light and deep sleep you’ve had, as well as how long it took you to fall asleep once getting to bed.
And since it knows how well you’re sleeping, Up’s silent alarm can pick the best time to wake you, so you get up feeling refreshed. It’s the perfect solution for anyone who hates waking up to a blaring alarm in the morning.
The bad: Syncing is a pain
For all of the Up’s whiz-bang technology, you still have to plug it into your phone’s headphone jack to synchronize it, even though the FitBit One and Nike’s FuelBand both offer wireless BlueTooth syncing. According to Jawbone’s Bogard, the company still thinks wireless syncing has a ways to go. That’s ironic, given that Jawbone made its name with its wireless Bluetooth headsets and wireless Jambox speakers.
Synchronizing the Up is a simple process, but it feels like an imperfection in an otherwise quality product. It’s also a pain when it comes to making simple changes to the Up, like changing the time of its silent alarm or tweaking its activity reminder (which buzzes to keep you from sitting down for too long). It’s not tough to get into the habit of syncing the Up twice a day, but plugging it in just to make a simple alarm clock change seriously diminishes its futuristic veneer.
You can be sure Jawbone is working to get wireless synchronization in future versions of the Up, but for now your only option is decidedly old-school. For some people, this may be reason enough to opt for another fitness gadget. But I’ve gotten used to the inconvenience — and it’s also somewhat fun to see the stares from strangers when I plug my unassuming bracelet into my iPhone.
Fitbit’s One: The pedometer, evolved
While Jawbone is a relative newcomer to fitness gadgets, Fitbit has been at this for a while now — and it shows. The company first showed off the Fitbit Classic in 2008. The Classic was widely praised for its compact clip-on design and its ability to track your steps and sleep. The Fitbit Ultra, released last year, added stair tracking, among many other new features.
With the Fitbit One, the company took all of its experience in this arena and crafted it into its most compelling device yet. It can synchronize wirelessly with your smartphone and has a smoother, pebble-like design. Instead of building the clip directly into the device, the One includes a small, removable clip “jacket” — a helpful addition, since it prevents the device itself from getting damaged if the clip gets caught in your clothing.
There’s nothing truly revolutionary about the Fitbit One, but that’s mainly because the company has done such a good job of establishing itself as a fitness leader with its past few devices. It’s hard to blame Fitbit for not pushing the envelope a bit more when it’s already done so pretty significantly several times. With wireless syncing and a strong ecosystem, the Fitbit One could be the ideal device for fitness gadget newcomers and addicts alike.
The Good: Almost everything
Secretly geeky: The Fitbit One may not be as flashy as Jawbone’s Up, but it’s perfect for people who don’t want to flaunt their fitness tracking. In my week using the One, I appreciated how unobtrusive it was — you can clip it onto your jeans and easily forget it’s there.
Data strong: It was nice to get access to my Fitbit data from the company’s extensive online dashboard (Jawbone’s Up relies entirely on its mobile app, for now). The site gives you many more ways to look at your data without fishing through a mobile app.
Easy synchronization: Where the Jawbone Up is annoying to sync, the Fitbit One is a dream. The device can wirelessly synchronize with Bluetooth 4.0-compatible iPhones and Android smartphones, as well as with computers through Bluetooth. Fitbit includes a Bluetooth USB receiver, just in case you have an ancient computer.
Useful ecosystem: Fitbit’s $130 Aria Wi-Fi scale can help you, and seven other people in your household, easily keep track of your weight. And the $60 Fitbit Zip is a good option for keeping track of your kids’ health — it can track their steps and distance traveled, but not sleep or stairs climbed.
The Bad: Competitors are more exciting
As great as the Fitbit One is, it lacks the striking appeal of Jawbone’s Up and Nike’s FuelBand. In the end, it’s the evolution of a device that’s been around for several years, instead of something that feels new and fresh. (Just compare Fitbit’s functional, but slightly boring app, to Up’s and Fuelband’s.)
This may not mean much when assessing its quality, but when it comes to convincing lazy consumers that they need to keep track of their health, it certainly helps to appeal to them on a more visceral level.
Up vs One
After using both fitness gadgets for the past week, it’s the Up that I’m most excited to use every day. Sure, the manual syncing is annoying, but I love its gorgeous design and colorful app. Most of all, I appreciate how it makes a simple statement — the future of technology isn’t just about what we’ve got in our pockets, it’s about what’s right up against our skin.
The Up feels like the precursor to the inevitable rise of body augmentation — you don’t have to wear the Up for too long before it feels like a part of you. The up has a strange and almost ineffable pull on me as a gadget geek and someone who appreciates artistic technology.
For the pragmatic types, Fitbit’s One may be more your style. It offers better access to your fitness data, as well as a few more helpful features. It’s also the best fitness gadget option for people who just hate wearing things on their wrists (that’s a bigger group than you may think).
Summing up: A wealth of choices
Even if you vehemently disagree with my preferred fitness gadget (as a reviewer, I’m used to this), the beauty of the current marketplace is that there’s a choice for just about everyone. Beyond the Up and Fitbit’s devices, there’s Nike’s popular Fuelband, and smart pedometers like Striiv’s. And if you have a smartphone, you don’t even need an additional gadget: You can dive into fitness apps like Runkeeper and Endomondo.
When it comes to fitness gadgets, reviews may not be enough. You may have to try a few before you figure out what works best for you. But no matter what you choose, it’s hard to go wrong. I have friends who’ve lost a significant amount of weight using all of the above options.
What’s important is that you find something that helps you get off your butt — and constantly reminds you to be better.
Jawbone and Fitbit provided VentureBeat with units for review.
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