Jawbone

Jawbone Up24 (rating:3/5)

If any company looked poised to lead the nascent wearable technology market a couple of years ago, it was Jawbone with its Up fitness wristband and app combination. After all, the company began by making Bluetooth earpieces for phones – the original wearable tech – and boasts star designer Yves Behar as chief creative officer.

Suddenly, pedometers were sexy.

But soon after launching Up in 2011, Jawbone had to recall the device after it proved no match for the shocks of everyday wear. By the time it released an improved version a year ago, Nike had launched the rival Fuelband. Also wrist-worn, it offered constant wireless iPhone syncing over Bluetooth, while the Up had to be plugged into the smartphone’s headphone socket to transfer data. Other Bluetooth-based rivals, such as Fitbit, also gained in popularity.

Now, with the new Up24 – on sale in the US only so far, for $150 – Jawbone is catching up by adding Bluetooth. In other respects, it closely resembles earlier versions, albeit with a new pattern on the bracelet’s rubbery surface. But why change when it remains the best-looking of the fitness bands? It is no bulkier than a digital watch, more flexible than the Fuelband, and comes in several wrist sizes. Unlike its rivals, the Up24 wristband has no step-count display, but that is what a smartphone is for and it does help prolong battery life to about seven days.

The smartphone app has had an overhaul to take advantage of the device’s continuous feed of data, which includes how long you sleep, and how well. The app, which also works with the original Up wristband, has improved notifications celebrating milestones and providing “actionable” information, such as how far you have left to go to reach your goal when, say, you are leaving the office. Figuring out how to set my goals was easier than on rivals such as Fitbit’s app, but the latter makes it simpler to see progress at a glance.

Up’s app provides a busy news feed of hints, charts and updates from any friends you might include to add competitive drive. That could be engaging or annoying (do I want to know my friend had a better night’s sleep than I did?).

Such software enhancements are vital now that consumers can increasingly turn to their smartphones for fitness-monitoring information. Apple’s iPhone 5s includes a new chip called the M7, which tracks how the device is moved. That means apps can use the phone to track runs or just the number of steps taken more accurately than on older iPhones while also consuming less battery power.

Nike is updating its Fuelband, also $150 (£125), but it is already taking advantage of the M7 with its free Nike+ Move app, which tracks activity even when the phone stays in your pocket (see below).

Moves, another well-designed app, available on Apple and Android devices, can tell by the phone’s speed of movement whether you are walking, running, cycling or driving, and how far.

So why bother with a wearable device?

“[The M7 chip] is counting steps and we are counting steps,” admits Brad Kittredge, Jawbone’s director of product management for Up. But, he argues, an iPhone’s step counting may be less accurate if it is in a bag rather than on your person – and it cannot track sleep.

Ultimately, I found that Jawbone’s Up app does a better job than most fitness monitors of nudging me to be more active, and its hardware wins on design. But for true fitness freaks, there are more sophisticated wearables out there, including the $199 Basis watch, Motorola’s Motoactv and Garmin’s Forerunner. In addition, $150 for Up’s Bluetooth pedometer seems expensive when a free smartphone app can recreate many of its basic functions.

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What it is: Nike+ Move, $2-$4, for iPhone 5s only

Why you should try it: Nike+ Move turns your new iPhone 5s into a simplified Fuelband. Moving about generates NikeFuel, a proprietary unit for measuring activity that you can compare against others or your own daily or weekly average. It also breaks down how long you have been running, walking or moving about in some other way. Just don’t cheat by shaking your phone to generate Fuel points.

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