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Jawbone Up3 review: Fantastic app, but the band's not good enough yet

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Jawbone Up3 review: Fantastic app, but the band's not good enough yet



THE GOOD Compact band design; one-week battery life; fantastic fitness app for coaching and lifestyle tracking.

THE BAD No on-band display means you need to check phone for stats; band clasp difficult to adjust; heart rate limited to resting heart rate and sleep tracking at night. Can't be worn swimming.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The Up3 is one of the smallest super-slim fitness bands around, but its lack of a display and limited heart rate tracking aren't worth the high price.


It's been on my wrist for two weeks, and I barely feel it's there. I don't look at it. I don't take it off, except when it needs charging every seven days. It's slim and black, and has no screen.

Jawbone's fitness bands take a totally different approach than recent fitness watches and super-smart smartwatches do: you're not meant to interact with them. The older Jawbone Up and Up24 were like that, and so is the new Up3. Its job is to collect data, sense things and send you to your phone for the rest. This time, Jawbone has added heart rate sensing.

Jawbone's bands never had heart rate sensors before. But the Jawbone Up3 -- which sells for $180 in the US, and will cost £150 and $AU230 when it debuts elsewhere later in 2015 -- uses a unique technology: bioimpedance. That's a big departure from the optical sensor and green LEDs used in competing trackers like the Microsoft Band, Apple Watch and Fitbit's latest Charge HR and Surge bands. And, the Up3 doesn't even currently track your heart rate all the time. 

Jawbone Up3

Nope, no display on these bands. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



The Jawbone Up3 band is meant to be a general lifestyle coach, not a hard-core fitness tracker. It's meant to do more as it collects data over days, weeks, even months. You're meant to kick back, live with it, let it understand you.

But even after two weeks, the Up3 just hasn't done enough to justify its price; the heart rate functionality isn't a killer app, nor even -- so far, anyway -- a particularly useful feature. I love Jawbone's Up app and ecosystem, but I'd rather get the heart rate-free Jawbone Up2 band, which delivers all of the Up3's other tracking functionality at almost half the price. 

Jawbone Up3

(Sarah Tew/ CNET)

Design: Understated to a fault

The Jawbone Up and Up24 were CNET's favorites for years because they were low-key, looking like casual sport bracelets, not "wearable tech." The Jawbone Up3 is even smaller -- 45 percent smaller,in fact, than the older Up24 band. It's downright petite.

The rubber band design gets thicker at the top, where an aluminum body houses a touch sensor and three embedded LED status lights. Tap it a few times to see if you're in "awake" activity mode (an orange man icon) or sleep-tracking (a blue moon). The band vibrates when there are notifications to read in your Jawbone phone app, or when a silent alarm goes off to wake you up or tell you to go to sleep...or, to start moving. 

Jawbone Up3

Metal prongs on the underside measure your heart rate. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



Underneath, metal studs spread across the band, emerging through the rubber. These are the Up3's bioimpedance sensors, which measure heart rate (among other things, eventually). They're meant to contact your skin, so the band needs to be fastened so that it touches your arm all around. 

Jawbone Up3

The USB charger is magnetic and snaps on easily. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



The Up3 is one-size-fits-all, unlike the older Up bands. But, it's also a lot harder to put on your wrist. A metal clasp on the bottom is adjustable, but it took me minutes to get its position and fit perfect -- not too snug, not too loose. The odd slide-in metal clasp design feels, well, like the clasp on a bra strap. It's fine once it's on, but it's not great to remove and attach again. 

Jawbone Up3

The Up3 clasp...awkward. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



You can wear the Up3 in the shower, or while washing your hands, according to Jawbone, but it's not meant for swimming. It has basically the same water resistance level as previous Up bands.

One thing that's definitely better is how it charges. The Up3 requires an included USB dongle, but it magnetically snaps onto the back of the band. And the dongle's bendable, so you could place it somewhere and have the Up3 sticking onto it, charging. 

Jawbone Up3

The Jawbone Up app shows your daily resting heart rate, and that's about it. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



Up3's strange use (or nonuse) of heart rate

The Up3 measures heart rate using a completely different technology than most current wristbands: instead of a green LED, it uses metal studs to measure bioimpedance. (Older BodyMedia bands used similar technology; Jawbone purchased BodyMedia several years ago.)

Down the road, Jawbone says, these sensors could also be used to measure skin temperature variations, hydration, even stress levels. But, right now, all they're being used for is sleep tracking and resting heart rate. Some of these features are ones that the Basis Peak also claimed to be able to measure, but never seemed to in a meaningful way. But at least the Basis Peak does real-time heart rate tracking for exercise and daily use, and it even has a screen. (It was also bigger, and uglier.)

So: the Jawbone Up3 cannot currently be used an active heart rate monitor. It only measures resting heart rate right now, overnight, as you're sleeping. That averaged number appears in a small heart-shaped icon on the Jawbone Up app's home screen, and that's it.

What do I do with that number? Good question. Jawbone has suggested that this simplified resting heart rate number is meant to help people understand heart rate and start with a digestible piece of data. Heart rate is a weird thing; it can run high or low, and that doesn't necessarily indicate anything about your health. Heart rate monitors are contextual. Heart rate depends on what you're doing, and other factors in the your general health. 

Jawbone Up3

Sleep analysis includes resting heart rate readings, and enhanced measurement of REM sleep. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



Low resting heart rate is considered to be a good thing, but how low? There's no real goal to this game, unlike the 10,000-step metric for pedometer-based fitness bands. I see my resting heart rate is 57 one day, 60 another, 58 the next. Jawbone's app hasn't told me anything about what this means, or what I need to do next with that data. It feels useless.

The Up3 also uses heart rate monitoring to improve sleep tracking, and it seems to have a slight impact. Much like other heart rate-enhanced sleep tracker bands like the Microsoft Band, Basis Peak and Fitbit Charge HR, it measures "light" and "deep" sleep, plus it has an added "REM" sleep mode. Band-based sleep analysis is no replacement for a real medical-grade sleep study, but this is meant to help you understand how generally well-rested you've been: deep sleep equates to body rest, and REM to brain rest. But as I looked at my sleep charts on the Up app, again, it was hard to draw any conclusions...other than I wasn't getting enough sleep in general. The Up app does a great job of encouraging proper sleep and calculating proper bedtimes based on your daily living habits, even setting vibrating bedtime alarms, but I don't think the extra dimension of REM sleep made any difference. The more affordable Up2 band's simpler but perfectly effective sleep tracking is perfectly fine.

The Up3 could gain extra features down the road, but when will they arrive? Who knows. Jawbone plans on rolling out extra heart rate tracking modes on the Up3 once "people understand heart rate," and extra modes, too. If you buy an Up3 band, you're betting on those features arriving. In its current state, it does less than the more affordable Fitbit Charge HR, which also measures heart rate during exercise and even has on-board display. 

Jawbone Up3

The Up app is easy to use, and offers up daily living tips and challenges. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



Jawbone Up app: Best in the business

There are many reasons why I loved using Jawbone Up24 before. It's got a great fitness app. It tracks steps and sleep. It has food and water tracking tools. It ties into Withings scales and syncs my weight. It hooks out to dozens of other apps and services. It's very social, but has clear privacy settings. It coaches you based on insights gathered from statistical data, and it does this better than any other fitness app I've used. It also lets you choose whether to sync it with Jawbone's own Up bands, or with your phone's pedometer, or even with Jawbone's Up apps for smartwatches, including the Pebble and Android Wear, and Apple Watch down the road.

Jawbone's latest app update (it's the purple app, not the blue: oddly, Jawbone has two separate apps for older and newer bands) adds more smart coaching, and integrated heart rate tracking.

But, as I said, heart rate is incorporated oh-so-sparingly. The app makes no effort that I've seen to help you understand your resting heart rate, or work toward improving it in any meaningful way. It's just a number...and, from what I've seen, a pretty static number at that.

You can track and tag activities or sleep that the band may not have automatically tracked. These appear in your daily feed, catalogued. You can study your activity, sleep data or any food data you've logged side by side for trends. Jawbone's coaching insights are derived from its database of users. It's the type of data-driven insight that Microsoft's Band is striving for, but hasn't gotten to yet. 

Jawbone Up3

You can compare your lifestyle trends across various sets of data. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



Unfortunately, those insights work best for data that's collected in droves: steps, sleep and food tracking. Heart rate data isn't as plentiful, since the Up3 is so new, and so the Up3 doesn't seem like it has much to process. More Up3 bands and more diverse heart rate data collection could make the insights work better, but right now it's just not showing up.

The Up app has its own food tracking and nutrition tracking software, and it attaches a color-coded nutritional score to your daily intake. It's clever and nicely designed, working a bit like the MyFitnessPalapp. But, I didn't feel motivated to keep tracking my food intake. I slipped a bit. And the app, even though it tried coaching me to eat more fiber, didn't make me succeed in tracking whether I'd done so. After two days of a fiber challenge, the app seemed to give up on convincing me.

Sleep- and step-based coaching nudges work better; it'll tell you to take a few more steps to reach your weekly average, or go to sleep earlier to meet your sleep goals. Steps and sleep are more easily gamified than nutrition and heart rate -- it's easier to control and measure whether you walk an extra 1,000 steps, or go to bed for an extra hour. 

Jawbone up3

Lots and lots of connected apps. (Sarah Tew/ CNET)



You can connect the Up app with dozens of third-party apps and ecosystems, and external fitness hardware. It's fantastically hooked-in. It also works with Android and iOS, and lets you sync data from your phone's pedometer, or even smartwatches with an Up app installed. So why do you need an Up band? You don't, unless you want vibration alerts or the Up3's minimalistic heart rate tracking.

Conclusion: Great app, but the band costs too much for too little

I was excited about the Up3's potential, but the band is too awkward, the heart rate tracking too limited in its current state and the features too sparse for the high price. $180 is the cost of many smartwatches: it's nearly double the cost of the perfectly capable but heart rate-free Up2. Get that one instead, or wait: wait for Jawbone to figure out its heart rate technology better, or for the whole fitness landscape to figure it out. Fitbit's Charge HR and Surge at least work for fitness and measure heart rate all day. The Up3 doesn't. Until it does, or does more with its supposedly advanced bioimpedance sensors, I can't see why you'd choose one.

Sport: Fitness and wellness

Proficiency level: Expert/Intermediate

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