I’m not one to consider technology indispensable. There’s always something new, something better, something that can do what your device can do and three other things, on the horizon. And it’s headed this way and it’s accelerating and… what is this smartphone doing embedded in my skull?
What I’m trying to say, without presenting too horrifying a mental image, is that tech moves fast and those items that you see in store often hit the market just in time to be made obsolete. And that’s very true of fitness wearables, which went from dedicated devices to either a) highly specialist (like the Garmin Forerunner series) or b) fairly generic (pretty much any Android Wear offering of late). Is there still place for a standard fitness wearable?
After spending more than a month with the JawBone UP2, I’m going to have to say ‘Yes’. Why? Because it’s become way, WAY more important than that credit card I’m supposed to never leave at home. Costs me less too.
The Lowly UP2 Looks Great
Looking at the UP2, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything too remarkable. I had the Black Diamond model for review, which is an all-black strip of lightweight plastic that wraps around my wrist. The main section is an integral part of the band and it attaches using a fairly crude clip and – to be fair – if any part of the band breaks you’re got yourself a useless bit of tech. But wearing it is like wearing nothing at all, so much so that it’s easy to forget to take it off prior to experiencing large amounts of water.
Sadly, the UP2 isn’t waterproof. Splash-proof, which is okay, just not fully waterproof. I’d still not worry about a brief dunking though, the only exposed section of the inner workings are the contact points where the UP2 is charged. On top of the wrist-band are three lights – one white, purple and orange – which have been rendered fairly useless since the last firmware update. But that’s besides the point.
Is That All It Does?
Once you’ve got your JawBone UP2, you need to download the app. That’d be the UP app with the purple icon, not the other one. They’re not the same, for some reason. Once the app is down, and you’d better have Bluetooth 4.0 LE on your chosen smartphone or tablet or the app’s just not going to download, all that is required is that you follow the onscreen instructions to set the UP2 er… up.
It’s easy enough that all you need to complete setup successfully is the ability to read. But I’ve worked in customer service before and I know how truly, disastrously inept (in a talented way) some end-users can be so just follow the directions on-screen, okay? It should be fool-proof. I think.
And once you’ve done all that, and updated the UP2 to the very latest firmware (another simple process that takes a couple of minutes once the app downloads the update for you), you just… wear it. There’s nothing else to do besides keep it charged. It’s quite the passive experience, the newest firmware even makes sure that you don’t need to put it into Sleep mode – that’s now automatic.
Magic’s On The Inside
All of the special features found in the JawBone UP2 come down to the app – without it, the UP2 isn’t very much at all, a generic sports band at best.
But with the app, and the attendant Smart Coach, this tracker becomes the key to experiencing a healthier lifestyle. It does this by learning the user: your stride, your habits both motion and dietary, if you’re using a compatible app to input food data and your typical daily rhythms. Smart Coach is accurate enough to tell the difference between your night-time habits during the week and the weekend and will, with enough time, tailor its advice and encouragement accordingly.
Smart Coach’s best feature is that it provides more than you’re looking for. If you’re sleeping badly, for instance, it’ll point out how you can relax prior to going to bed. If your usual workout patterns take a dip, it’ll suggest alternatives that require less time. And it’ll constantly push you to challenge yourself, by going to bed by a certain time or meeting a certain movement target – even if it’s below your set targets, the Smart Coach is constantly trying to be helpful.
The slightly creepy bit is: If you follow Smart Coach’s instructions, you will move easier, feel better and even get more sleep at the end of the day. This is how the computers will get us, folks. They already know our patterns better than we do ourselves.
Your Mileage May Vary
It’s not all roses with the JawBone UP2 though. You’ll note that we didn’t fare quite as well with the UP3 and some of the criticisms seen in that review hold true here. The UP2 is going to prove too basic for some users and if you’re already sporting a multi-function fitness wearable (say, an Apple Watch) you’re not going to be tempted away.
But there’s another issue that I’ve noted and that is that your mobile device is going to make a difference to your experience. Pairing the JawBone UP2 to an HTC One M9 resulted in a near-perfect experience, with constant syncs and updates happening in double-quick time. Pairing with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0, on the other hand, is a less impressive experience. Pairing with that gadget was less pleasant, as the Bluetooth connection would frequently drop and need to be reset. The last firmware update ironed out some of the kinks but there’s still some work to be done.
Personally, I love the UP2. It’s basic, lightweight and the app is honestly the most helpful thing I’ve ever seen in a fitness tracker. That’s not the case for everyone and even I would opt for a different fitness tracker – provided said tracker was fully supported by the UP app and Smart Coach. I’m less in love with the JawBone than with what it facilitates. That’d be a huge collection of useful data, suggestions and encouragement, presented in a way that is easy to use. The band itself has its flaws – the app makes up for all of them.