Jawbone UP3 review: Company undergoes liquidation
Update: Jawbone has been undergoing liquidation since 19 June 2017. If you’re in the market for a fitness tracker, our 2017 guide shows you how to pick the right wearable for you.
The original review continues below.
I’ll start by laying my cards on the table. I really like the Jawbone UP3. The reason for this can be broken down into three parts. Firstly, I’m a bit of tart and weirdly self-conscious about drawing attention to my wrists. Secondly, (sticking with the same theme) its rivals look too similar to the tags criminals are given on parole. Thirdly, it does everything you/I need from an activity tracker – steps, sleep cycles and heart rate (sort of). We’ll discuss that in more depth later. Also, before we get started, the price is £36 on Amazon UK (or $35 on Amazon US).
The UP3’s journey to market was interesting and amateur in equal measure. Originally, it was supposed to launch with a unique new feature – water resistance – making it ideal for swimmers. Jawbone was so set on this feature that it delayed the release of the device for eight months to get it right, until it finally admitted defeat and hit stores in June 2015 – with only a splashproof, not water-resistant, shell.
Despite this calamitous setback, this understated wristband still has a lot to offer, building on the solid foundations of the UP2 and the UP Move, while adding a much-needed heart rate monitor (albeit one that only kicks in when you’re sleeping, but I’ll come to that later too).
From an aesthetic point of view, it’s hard to fault the Jawbone’s understated charm, especially when compared with the rather ugly-looking competition (I’m looking at you, Fitbit Charge HR).
Wearables have to work hard on their looks. An ugly laptop is forgivable, but something you wear on your wrist is on show all the time, and it should be good looking. If you ask me, the smooth, plastic and rubber UP3 is just that.
Its looks comes at a price, however. Once you win the battle with the fiddly, unreliable clasp and set the strap to an appropriate tightness, the UP3 goes to work on your skin. Wear the device for an hour and you’ll have several badges of honour to show for it, as the metal bioimpedance studs protruding from the inside of the wristband press firmly into your skin. Oddly, this isn’t an uncomfortable experience, but if you like your watches to be loose-fitting, it may take some getting used to.
There’s no LCD display on the outside of the band, so the UP3 can’t tell the time. Instead, you get three simple status LEDs: one each for the Sleep and Active modes (which can be activated by a combination of taps), and one for app notifications. The lack of a full-blown display is disappointing, but you do get decent battery life as compensation (see below).
The UP3 was supposed to be the device that saw Jawbone catch up with its rivals. Sadly, it hasn’t quite done that – but it has gained significant ground. It’s easy to be impressed when reading through the specifications on the outside of the box, which include an accelerometer and sensors for heat flux, skin temperature, respiration and heart rate.
The thing is, information from these sensors aren’t readily accessible. As I mentioned, your heart rate – which is measured like everything else by the band’s bioimpedance sensors – is only taken while you sleep. The idea is that your resting heart rate is a clear indicator of your physical state. While this may be true, if I have a device that can measure my pulse, I’d like access to it on-demand, thank you very much, not when an app tells me I can.
There’s still plenty this can tell you, though: my readings varied wildly from the mid-60s, after drinking alcohol, to the mid-40s when I’d stayed off the sauce. Credit where credit’s due – the UP3 knew when I’d had a few.
Ironically considering it’s an activity tracker, the device comes to life when the wearer goes to sleep. Its sleep analysis is fascinating. Prior to wearing the UP3, I thought sleeping was where I excelled as a human being. Jawbone suggests otherwise. I was convinced I was getting a solid eight hours of good sleep a night, but the UP3 and the Up app suggest this figure is closer to seven – the vast majority of which can be filed under the rubbish “light sleep” category.
More recently, I’ve been averaging 4hrs 58mins of sleep. This is where the UP3 really excels. In no uncertain terms, it told me: “First things first. You’re only averaging 4hrs 58mins of sleep per night. Start working up to the NIH [US National Institutes of Health] recommendation of 7h-8h. Then, focus on consistent bed times.” And I thought I’d been doing well. Nevertheless, point taken: early night for me tonight.
The activity tracking is pretty straightforward. Its pedometer seems accurate (roughly matching the figures produced by the LG G4), but tracking your steps is pretty boring. It’s what the UP3 does during periods of exercise that really matters to me. I often wonder what sort of stats I post playing football, and thanks to the UP3, I now know.
For those interested, during a regular five-a-side game I cover 3.02km at an average pace of 11.3 minutes per kilometre, taking 2,884 steps and burning 385 calories (exactly 1.5 Big Macs) in doing so. This is exactly the sort of information I want from an activity tracker.
I’d love to elaborate on the performances of the respiration, temperature and heat-flux sensors, but they’re a mystery to me. Yes, they’re mentioned proudly on the packaging, but evidence of their presence is nowhere to be seen in the Up app. Perhaps more will be revealed in a future app update.
The Jawbone UP3 has a 38mAh battery built in, rechargeable via a small stubby cable that snaps magnetically onto the band’s underside. After a couple of hours of charging, Jawbone states you can expect this to last for a week, and it’s not wrong. When I first received the device, I impatiently put it straight on my wrist, whereupon the app told me I had “only” five days of power left. Lo and behold, five days later I received a notification telling me the UP3 was about to die.
It’s hard not to like the Jawbone UP3. It’s the best-looking activity tracker out there, and it builds on its predecessor’s capabilities by adding a few additional features. But while the UP3 is a solid-enough fitness tracker, it’s expensive, and it’s currently a touch limited in what it can do.
The heart-rate-tracking features, in particular, lag some way behind those found on the rival devices, such as the Fitbit Charge HR, and it’s disappointing that the promised waterproofing didn’t make it into the final product.
Those limitations, coupled with a high price of £129, make the UP3 difficult to recommend right now; I only hope Jawbone will develop the software soon, so you can do more with the heart rate and other sensor data.