Review: Jawbone UP2

Review: Jawbone UP2

Introduction and Design

Putting the technical guts of a gadget into a newer, shinier body is a long-held tradition in the consumer technology industry.

While the UP2 looks a lot like the UP3 in terms of its newer wristband design, from a feature perspective it’s almost entirely the same as the UP24 that it has replaced.

Just like the UP24, the UP2 will track your steps and sleep and display your performance on the UP app, but lacks the more advanced sensors found on Jawbone’s top-of-the-line fitness tracker.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. As we found in our UP3 review, there’s still no obvious benefit from having those extra sensors yet, which allows the UP2 to appeal to customers looking to get the fashionable fitness band, but not willing to spend the cash on the premium model.

Design

Jawbone UP2 review

From the top down, it’s hard to actually recognise that there’s a difference between the UP2 and UP3, being almost identical in size and shape, and featuring the same touch sensitive interface.

In fact, just like determining the gender of some animals, you have to turn the UP2 upside down to realise it doesn’t have the heart rate monitor or bioimpedance sensors of its premium sibling.

In typical Jawbone fashion, Yves Behar’s design signature is all over this thing, from the contoured touch face to the same awkward side-clasp you see on the UP3.

We tested the silver version of the UP2, and it truly did feel more like wearing a shiny silver bracelet than a proper step tracker.

Of course, those similarities with the UP3’s design mean there are a lot of the same problems as the premium band.

It takes a while to get used to the side-clasp mechanism,, and despite the "one-size-fits-all" approach, getting a perfect fit takes a bit of time. It’s not a terrible design, by any account, but it doesn’t exude the simple yet elegant design of some of the Apple Watch straps, for example.

Back on top of the device, the touch display offers three LED lights to communicate different messages depending on the combination of flashing lights. So an orange man shows you’re in active mode, a crescent moon means you’re in sleep mode, and if the middle message light flashes with either one, it means you either need to get up and start moving (an idle alarm) or start the process of going to bed (sleep notification).

Jawbone UP2 review

This touchscreen completely replaces the physical button of the UP24. In some ways, this is a good thing as fewer moving parts means fewer chances for the band to break.

But unfortunately it’s far from perfect – you need to double tap the device to wake the screen, and then press and hold the screen to change modes. That sounds fine in theory, but the reality is that the tap-to-wake-up mechanism is temperamental at best, and almost never works first time when you’re lying in bed.

On multiple occasions, we also somehow managed to switch the device from sleep tracking to active mode in our sleep, meaning our data was completely wrong on multiple occasions.

Admittedly, these are minor gripes. But compared to the Fitbit Charge HR, which automatically detects when you’re in sleep mode without the need to manually switch across, the UP2 feels like it’s a step behind the competition.

App and Performance

App

Jawbone’s UP app continues to be the best way of engaging with your fitness tracker’s data. While the likes of Fitbit’s app give you the hard, raw stats and not much else, Jawbone’s offering works hard to help you understand the data.

Dubbed smart coach, the app will analyse your data, comparing it to your ongoing performance, but also against other app users.

The insight that you’re in the top 20% of UP users on any given day, or the knowledge that you’re getting more sleep than most people your age, is much more useful than simply counting the number of steps you’ve taken or how many hours of sleep you managed overnight.

Jawbone UP2 review

Jawbone also helps keep you motivated, with regular challenges for both getting and staying active, or getting to bed at a certain time to help your energy levels the following day.

It’s done in a really positive, personal way that helps challenge you to better yourself, which is ultimately the reason you’re buying one of these devices, isn’t it?

The app also doubles as a social network of sorts, letting you track and share your performance with other UP users.

While this has always been interesting – allowing your friends to send messages of encouragement when you hit your goals – the introduction of Duels has added a much-needed competitive element to the app.

You can throw down step challenges to anyone on your contact list for a 24 hour, three day or one week step duel.

Throughout the challenge, you are constantly updated on the battle, so you can put in the extra effort to demolish your opponent (or meekly let them claim victory). You can also keep your Duel’s private, if you don’t want to share your shame at losing with the world.

For those lone wolves that prefer to not compete with friends, there’s still plenty of personal insights available in the app, including the ability to track your step and sleep trends over time.

The UP app also has the ability to track food and water intake, weight and moods. Unfortunately, the food databases aren’t available in every region and even when they are, they can be a bit hit and miss.

Fortunately you can counter this by using a connected third party app like MyFitnessPal. In fact, the Jawbone UP app’s API is one of its biggest strengths, letting you integrate things like Runkeeper, Strava, or even your Nest thermostat.

There’s also IFTTT support, which opens up a huge range of possibilities for fitness and sleep based triggers. For example, we’ve used our UP to turn on a coffee machine when we wake up by using IFTTT and Belkin’s WeMo home automation system.

Performance

Jawbone’s UP bands have always been on the more reliable end of the step counting spectrum, and the data from the sleep tracking has always felt a bit more useful than competitors.

But the UP2, like the UP3, has some real challenges in terms of usability.

The touch display, as we’ve already mentioned, is temperamental, and quite often refuses to wake up when you want to switch it between sleep and active modes.

Jawbone UP2 review

The charger, meanwhile, is a design nightmare. Like the UP24, the included charger is a short proprietary USB cable about four inches long. But unlike the UP24’s cable, which featured a 2.5mm headphone jack to charge the device, the UP2 has a magnetic attachment that lines up four pins with the underside of the wristband.

The first problem is that the cable is so short that if you connect it to a USB port on a laptop, you almost need to leave it hanging off the desk in order to fit given the band’s fixed, rounded shape.

The second problem is that the magnetic attachment only goes one way, instead of connecting no matter which way you attach it to the charger. It means the act of charging the UP2 can take a few goes, countering the simplicity of the device itself with unnecessary frustration.

Jawbone UP2 review

This new charger is also significantly slower than the UP24, requiring up to an hour to give the device a full charge. For newcomers to the UP platform this may not seem like a big deal, but for upgraders from the UP24 – which would charge in the time it took to have a shower – it’s a long time to go without the band on your wrist.

The battery life itself is still respectable, with "up to 10 days" battery quoted on the box, or 5-7 days in real life. That’s a big step down from the two weeks or so UP24 users are getting, though. On the upside, you do get a push notification on your phone when battery life is running a little low so you should never be surprised by an inactive tracker.

Jawbone UP2 review

Another change from the UP24 that’s sure to frustrate upgraders is no longer being able to launch the stopwatch function from the device itself. For anyone wanting to record an activity, you need to manually head into the app to launch the stopwatch function, instead of just holding down the button as you could on the UP24.

The app does try to counter this by automatically detecting when you’ve been active for a period of time and classing it as an activity. It even goes so far as to ask you whether you were going for a walk or a run, and asking you to classify how intense it was.

The only problem is that sometimes it just doesn’t recognise you’ve been out pounding the pavement for an hour, so the specific details of your killer workout are never actively recorded if you rely on the software to do it for you.

On the sleep front, you can expect details on light sleep, deep sleep, and those times you woke up in the middle of the night.

The vibration motor inside the band’s compact body also offers a nice, gentle wake up alarm (so long as you don’t turn it off and go back to sleep), and can give you a gentle prompt to get up and go for a stroll when you’ve been idle for too long.

Compatibility, price and verdict

Compatibility

If you want to start shaking things up with Jawbone, you’re going to need a phone with Bluetooth 4.0 for that low-energy data syncing. Of course, on the Android front, having Bluetooth 4.0 does not guarantee compatibility.

According to Jawbone’s website, the UP2 requires one of the following Android phones to work: HTC One, HTC One (M8), HTC One Max, HTC Droid DNA, LG G3, LG Nexus 4, LG Nexus 5, Motorola Droid Mini, Motorola Moto X, Motorola Moto G, Motorola RAZR M, Samsung Galaxy Grans 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 3, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia VC, Sony Xperia Z1, Sony Xperia Z1 Ultra, and the Sony Xperia ZL.

Jawbone UP2 review

You’ll notice that the list of compatible Android handsets there seems a little dated. And it is. The good news is that you might be able to get the UP2 working with more recent handsets – we managed to download the UP app to the HTC One M9 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, for example, but couldn’t actually get the band to pair to the device.

It could be a case of more devices coming in the near future, but it’s definitely a case of buyer beware for Android users – if you have a recent handset, you’ll want to check it pairs before you hand over your cash.

On the iPhone front, the device works with every iPhone since the iPhone 4S, plus the 5th gen iPod Touch, 3rd gen iPad, plus the original iPad mini and iPad Air.

Price

Jawbone has very carefully expanded its range this year to try and cater to all parts of the growing wearables market. For the price conscious they have the UP Move, and for the top-of-the-line they have the UP3.

The UP2 sits firmly in the middle, and is arguably the best option out of all three.

The UP Move, while affordable at US$49 / £39 / AU$69, lacks the same level of style and simplicity of the wrist-mounted devices. The UP3, meanwhile, features a whole heap of sensors that aren’t really delivering useful information yet, and at US$180 / £150 / AU$249 seems to be somewhat too much of a premium.

The UP2 will set you back US$99 / £90 / AU$149, and feels like much better value for money than its more expensive brethren. Even compared to the Fitbit Charge, its most direct competitor, the UP2 feels like it’s offering a better deal.

We Liked

There’s no escaping the fact the Jawbone UP2 is a remarkable piece of engineering. More fashion bracelet than clunky fitness tracker, the UP2 looks great on the wrist while doing a respectable job at keeping tabs on your fitness levels.

The UP app continues to stand out as the best bit of software for this new category of devices, breaking down the data in a friendly, easy way so you can actually understand what it all means.

Having the social integrations – from the ability to challenge your friends to the open API integrations with other platforms – makes the UP a robust system for anyone looking to track both their activity and they sleep over time.

We disliked

Despite a more robust body than the UP24 it’s replacing, the UP2 still feels like it’s made a few too many sacrifices. The proprietary charging cable is abysmal, both in its length, connection mechanism and slow charging speeds.

The touch interface, while surely adding to the strength of the new design overall, is temperamental at best, and makes switching between modes a frustrating experience. Especially when rivals Fitbit automatically detect sleep mode without any user input.

There’s also a real question of compatibility issues for owners of newer Android phones.

Final Verdict

If your heart is set on joining Jawbone’s ecosystem, then the UP2 is almost definitely your best point of entry. With a more robust body than the UP24, yet without the unjustified price tag of the UP3, it delivers a good experience at a reasonable price.

But in this competitive new market, you can’t help but feel that Jawbone has slipped up a bit with this generation of devices.

Its app is still arguably the best out there for delivering the most useful information to users, but the hardware itself, while attractive, fails to deliver a frustration-free experience.

Given that rivals Fitbit have largely achieved this with their Charge products, it puts Jawbone at a definite disadvantage.

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