Review: Jawbone UP3

Introduction, Battery and Design

Update: We’ve been wearing the UP3 for a while now, and as with so many gadgets, extended usage has revealed new quirks, so we’ve updated the review to reflect the changes.

Jawbone originally had big plans for its UP3 fitness tracker. When it was first announced, Jawbone was happy to boast that the UP3 would be the first 24/7 tracker you could use to not only track your steps throughout the day, but also track your laps while swimming.

But it turns out that Jawbone’s eagerness to create an all-encompassing tracking device were not to be. As production scaled up, the company couldn’t actually deliver on its claims the device was waterproof.

So, after a long, hard look at the product, the UP3 that’s now available around the world is not exactly the product we were promised last year.

It is, however, a rather solid step up from its predecessor, the Jawbone UP24. While that particular model has itself been replaced by the UP2, the UP3 adds a heart rate sensor, skin and ambient temperature sensors, and galvanic skin response measurements. Up against fierce competition in a near saturated market, can it possibly win? Can firmware updates and new features see it take the crown? Let’s find out.

Battery life

Jawbone UP3 review

There’s a whole new form factor with the Jawbone UP3, and a smaller, more compact body, so it’s no surprise that there’s a bit of a battery life drop over the UP24 here.

While the UP24 was able to eke out almost 14 days worth of battery from a single charge, the UP3 is currently pushing between 5-7 days, following a recent firmware update.

Truthfully, we find that it tends to steer firmly on the lower end of that spectrum, with the “charge soon” notification on the smartphone appearing more frequently than we’d like.

Still, that five day life is still comparable to some of the rival devices on the market, although you do have to wonder if the addition of new features (using all those extra sensors) will drain the battery life even faster.

Jawbone UP3 review

The app does send push notifications to let you know when the battery life is starting to run a little low, so you shouldn’t be suddenly walking around with an uncharged device.

But at the same time, it’s noticeably slower to charge than previous UP versions. Where the UP24 would go from practically empty to full in the time it took to have a shower, the UP3 is lucky to add a couple of days to the battery’s longevity in that time.

For a device designed to be worn every minute of every day, needing to charge it for an hour or more at a time feels like it defeats the purpose.

Strap, comfort and style

The UP3 is strikingly different in design to previous models of the UP band. Gone is the stretchy, overlapping bracelet design, replaced instead with a much more secure watch-like band.

Lightweight, slim and with integrated sensors, the band uses a unique side-sliding mechanism to hold it in place.

It’s a little bit awkward to put on, to be honest. It does get easier with time, but it’s still not as natural as some of the Apple Watch strap designs, for example.

Jawbone UP3 review

And even with a perfect fit, those new bioimpedance sensors tend to leave dents in your skin, so you’re probably going to want to take it off periodically just to give your wrist a rest. I won’t say that it hurts at all, but it doesn’t feel great either.

That said, the Jawbone UP3 still feels like a step up over the design of the UP24. It’s much more secure – the worry of having the band rip of your wrist when you put on a jacket is gone.

Also gone is the physical button at one end and the 2.5mm headphone-jack shaped charger at the other.

Instead, all interaction with the UP3 is done via the touch sensitive body. By “all interaction”, we mean cancelling vibration alerts. It used to be how you cycled between sleep and step-tracking modes, but a firmware update introduced the ability for the UP3 to detect your sleep times automatically.

Now, pretty much all the device’s controls are managed via the app on your smartphone.

Jawbone UP3 review

That includes the Stopwatch function that made it easy to record a workout. Admittedly, the function is still there, but as far as user interface goes, there’s nothing revolutionary here on the new Jawbone device.

Despite the radical strap redesign, the Jawbone UP3 is still noticeably a product from the mind of Yves Behar. It features the immediately familiar textured body as other Jawbone products, with a different texture for each of the two colors currently available – black and silver.

Jawbone promises more colors down the line, but for now the range certainly stands out as some of the more attractive wearables on the market.

Step Tracking, Accuracy and Software

Step tracking and accuracy

The idea is that by including all the extra sensors, Jawbone is able to record even more data points, giving it more ways to inspire you to keep healthy.

Interestingly though, many of those sensors aren’t actually being translated into useful data yet.

Jawbone promises that these sensors will be activated in the future, delivering a wide array of additional information via the UP app, but even months later, we’re still waiting to see any real useful additions to the data set.

Jawbone did introduce “Passive” heart rate via a firmware update, which records your heart rate while you’re idle. But for people looking to get active, this information isn’t really useful.

Jawbone UP3 Charging

Still, as a step tracker, there’s a lot to like about the Jawbone UP3. It retains the level of accuracy that we loved about previous versions, and combines that with a more secure wrist strap.

The introduction of Duels, and the constant refinement of the Smart Coach, with tips and prompts to improve your daily activity are great.

But while step tracking performance has stayed the same, and the wristband has improved, there are some serious challenges on the user interface front.

For a start the touch display is temperamental. Before the recent firmware update, switching between sleep and active modes required you to double tap the display, then press and hold it until it vibrated and changed.

The fact Jawbone has done away with this is a big step forward. We were extremely frustrated during our early tests, as the UP3 required continual tapping to wake the device up. What’s worse is that this happened either when you were going to bed or when you first woke up.

Jawbone UP3 review

One frustration that no firmware upgrade will fix is the charger. Just like previous iterations of the UP band, the UP3 features a short proprietary USB charger.

But this time around, the charging mechanism isn’t in the form of a headphone jack that allows the band to spin around in every direction. It’s a small multi-pin magnetic attachment that can only attach one way.

It’s not obvious which way that is, so expect some playing around to get it right. Also, the magnetic attachment doesn’t make the connection happen, like some other devices, so even if you have it the right way, you have to make sure you’ve got things attached.

But the biggest challenge with the charger is that the cable is too short. Thanks to the new clasp design of the UP3, and the short USB cable, you need to bend the charger upwards or have it hanging off the side of a desk in order to charge the device.

Over time, this function has gotten even more frustrating, as the pins on the device get covered in sweat and dirt, the charging connection can become unreliable. A few times now I’ve left the UP3 charging, only to discover after an hour that I’ve only added an extra day or so’s worth of charge thanks to unreliable connections.

While wireless charging is probably impossible given the sheer number of sensors already packed into the UP3, there has to be a more elegant solution than this one. Even a mechanical clasp rather than the magnetic one, or even just a longer cable would make a difference.

Jawbone UP3 review

It’s all manageable – you can make the connection quickly enough – but it’s fiddly, which is the opposite to what you want from a device designed to be worn 24/7, and flies in the face of the simplicity of the Apple Watch charger.

On the sleep front, The UP platform is still the best on offer, giving the most detailed data you can get on a 24/7 band, and far outperforming the likes of the Fitbit Charge.

As mentioned above, the addition of REM sleep is interesting, although we’re not sure just how accurate the data is, and so far I haven’t seen much useful information based on my recorded REM data.

Otherwise, the sleep tracking is the same as previous UP bands, showing light and deep sleep patterns as well as when you wake and fall asleep.

Somehow, Jawbone managed to include the vibration motor in the UP3, so you get the silent alarm function, which wakes you up gently by vibrating on your wrist.

That vibrating function also acts as an “idle alert” prompting you to get up off your butt if you’ve been idle for too long.

Interestingly, this is one feature that really lacks a screen. The Apple Watch offers the same function, and over the course of our test period, it was painfully obvious that having a screen tell you to stand up was much more effective than just a minor vibration on the wrist.

Jawbone UP3 review

The app still has a meal tracker, which allows users to quickly add consumed food and drink to try and complete the health picture.

Unfortunately, there’s still a big gap in terms of foods available. When we first reviewed the UP3, the app’s food database was almost exclusively targeted at the US, which may be one of the largest markets in the world, but doesn’t make the process any more convenient to international users.

I tested the UP3 in Australia, and while the database wasn’t integrated when I first reviewed the fitness band, it has since been updated to include a pretty decent selection of foods.

It’s not comprehensive by any means. There’s a wide number of foods that I scanned that didn’t register – something I imagine would reflect internationally.

Despite a local food database, I still found that it was easier to workaround using companion apps like MyFitnessPal to pick up the slack in terms of food tracking, although it’s an imperfect solution.

App

The Jawbone UP app has received a new lease on life. So much so that upgraders from the UP24 will have to head back to the app store to download a new version.

Fortunately, there’s no new learning curve here. The new app – designed to work with the UP2, UP3 and UP4 (the Amex payment version launched in the US) – features the same orange and purple bars to represent your activity and sleep through the day.

Directly below the graphs is the Smart Coach – a combination of tips, tricks, challenges, and your newsfeed of activity, so you can see how you and your friends are doing on your fitness journey.

Jawbone UP3 review

Depending on how much or how little sleep and or activity you do each day, the app will suggest ways for you to improve. It’s subtle, encouraging, and based on your own data, so it feels like everything is specifically targeted for you personally.

Also present in the App are the traditional UP features like Idle alert – which makes the band vibrate on your wrist if you’ve been sitting down too long – and the Stopwatch function, so you can record a workout.

There’s also Trend graphs, connected apps (like MyFitnessPal or Runkeeper) and the ability to set your step and sleep goals.

But of course, all of those features have been around for a while. What we really want to get to are the new data points – the things that make the UP3 different from previous versions. What do all those extra sensors do, after all?

The most obvious addition is the inclusion of heart rate recordings. While devices like the Fitbit Charge HR and Apple Watch record your heart rate through the day – and while you’re exercising in particular – the UP3 takes your resting heart rate when you first wake up.

The idea is that this is your baseline heart rate – the rate your body works at before any external pressures have started to stress you out, before coffee, before anything. Jawbone argues that this is the best way of measuring your overall heart health.

Jawbone UP3 review

Whether that’s true or not is probably for scientists to debate. But it was certainly interesting to watch my resting heart rate change.

For example, the morning after an evening where I may have had a bit too much to drink, my resting heart rate went from averaging at about 61 bpm to 68 bpm.

A couple of occasions where I was up overnight with my kids and woke up extremely tired, things jumped up to 65 bpm.

Of course, that’s all good and well to know, but what do I do with it? I imagine that should I find myself getting significantly less sleep than normal and my resting heart rate average creeping up, the app would suggest I get to bed sooner.

But so far, I’m yet to receive any truly useful information about my heart rate.

The recent firmware update that ditched the need to manually change modes also added what Jawbone is calling “Passive Heart Rate”.

Now, the band will not only record your heart rate when you first wake up, but also at moments when you are idle through the day.

But again, so far I’m yet to get any useful information delivered from this new metric. Diving in to the Smart Coach for more, the best information I’ve received is to try and keep my passive heart rate close to my resting heart rate for better heart health.

Then there’s the other new piece of data that plays out on the UP app: the recording of REM sleep. Tap through to your sleep data, and instead of being presented with just light and heavy sleep charts, you’ll also see a new REM graph.

Jawbone UP3 review

Truth be told, I’m kind of skeptical about this data. I dream a lot – amazingly lucid dreams that I quite often remember – yet according to the app I generally only get about 35 minutes of REM sleep a night, scattered across the night.

While I can’t definitively say this number is incorrect, it certainly feels off the mark.

The next new addition to the UP app is something not exclusively tied to the UP3 – Duels allow users to challenge an UP friend to compete on who can take the most steps in a day, three days or over a full week.

That sense of competition is a great way to inspire you to get up and take more steps, Thanks to regular push notifications about the Duel’s progress, there’s a real incentive to get up and try and take more steps than your UP-wearing friends.

You can also opt to make your Duels public or private, so if you don’t want the world to know you can’t hold a torch to your partner’s fitness chops, you don’t have to.

Compatibility and Verdict

Compatibility

Like its predecessor, the Jawbone UP3 uses Bluetooth 4.0 to pair to your smartphone, so there’s a better than average chance it’s not going to work with your older smartphone from the get go.

But despite great strides on Android’s front to make pairing to fitness devices much simpler, the compatible device list is still woefully short.

On the iOS front, you can get the UP3 paired to any iPhone launched since the iPhone 4S right up to the iPhone 6S, as well as the iPod Touch (4th Gen), and the iPad 3, iPad mini and iPad Air.

Jawbone UP3 review

Weirdly, the app isn’t available for the more recent and more powerful iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 2. We’re not sure why this is the case, but given those two iPads are well over six months old, it appears they’re hardly a priority for Jawbone.

The Android side of the compatibility equation is even messier. According to the Jawbone website, the UP app is compatible with phones from HTC, Sony, LG, Samsung and Motorola.

More specifically, the compatible devices are: the HTC One, HTC One (M8), HTC Droid DNA, HTC One Max, LG G3, LG Nexus 4, LG Nexus 5, Motorola Droid mini, Motorola Moto G, Motorola Moto X, Motorola RAZR M, Samsung Galaxy Grand 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z1, Sony Xperia Z1 Ultra, Sony Xperia VC and Sony Xperia ZL.

That said, we could install the app on some more recent handsets, namely the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, but then couldn’t actually get the device to pair with the phone, so the device list is definitely a bit up in the air.

Which obviously makes the purchasing of an UP3 for owners of newer Android devices a more risky undertaking.

Price

So now we come to the interesting part of this review. The Jawbone UP3 has an RRP of US$180 / £150 / AU$249, which places it well and truly out in the premium end of the fitness tracker market.

You can pick it up for a lot less if you shop around, but it’s still in the premium range for fitness trackers.

From a pure specs point of view, you can understand the price tag. There’s a lot of impressive tech in this diminutive little band, including a whole heap of sensors that are unique to the device.

Jawbone UP3 review

But the simple fact is that, for the moment at least, those sensors really aren’t working hard enough for you. Considering the UP2 is available for US$99 / £89 / AU$149 RRP, and currently delivers all the same functions minus heart rate and REM sleep tracking, it makes recommending the UP3 nigh on impossible.

We’ve seen the first wave of promised feature improvements with this recent firmware update, but the fact is that they still haven’t managed to make the UP3 band an essential purchase.

We Liked

When it comes to fitness tracker style, not many players are on the same level as Jawbone. The UP3 may have shifted how the UP bands connect to your wrist, but it still manages to exude the same Yves Behar flair of its predecessors.

The fact that the band now latches to your wrist gives it a much more resilient body, so it’s less likely to break when it gets caught on a jacket sleeve.

Plus, the fact Jawbone has managed to cram so many sensors into the body of the UP3, while somehow maintaining almost a week’s worth of battery life is to be commended.

We Disliked

But let’s face it, this isn’t the ultimate 24/7 tracker we were hoping for. The fact that the UP3 has a whole range of new sensors that aren’t delivering useful information, coupled with the premium price tag really doesn’t add up to a device we can recommend.

Throw in the challenging and slower-charging mechanism, the temperamental touch display and the questionable Android device support, and this really doesn’t feel like the step up Jawbone wanted it to be.

So far, we’re also not really seeing any benefit from the additional measurements either in resting heart rate or REM sleep.

Final Verdict

There’s no denying it: the UP3 feels like an incomplete product. Even subtracting the fact that it was meant to launch as a waterproof device, the fact that it includes a heap of extra sensors that don’t appear to be pulling their weight means there’s no real reason to buy this over an UP2 or Fitbit Charge device.

The good news is that Jawbone has promised a raft of extra features to be delivered via firmware update in the future. Things like stress detection and active heart rate recording would make this a much stronger device.

The UP app is still one of the best ways to track your fitness data, but you can spend significantly less on an UP2 and get much of the same data through the same app.

Which ultimately makes the UP3 impossible to recommend over its cheaper brethren, or its Fitbit Charge rivals. While the most recent firmware update has definitely improved the band’s usability, it still hasn’t delivered any knock out features that can truly help provide you with insight into your health.

Originally reviewed: July 5 2015.

 

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