Jawbone UP3 review: Tracking your way to better health

The Jawbone UP3 is an update to a well-loved fitness band that adds some much-needed heart rate tracking. I used it while camping out in British Columbia, and while it did a stand-up job keeping tabs on how much I had been hiking, it's so much more than a pedometer.

Jawbone's UP app for iPhone is super slick, and amalgamates data ranging from sleep patterns to mood to activity to food intake to weight and provides real, practical suggestions to improve your health. It's not all about nagging though; the UP app will let you know when you're meeting or exceeding goals and highlight the benefits of these victories. Various notifications will populate your feed day-to-day with links to browse the web for more health-related info, accept challenges, and share relevant tidbits with friends. The app ties in with Apple Health, though only for sleep and step data.

The tracker itself has a comfortable rubber band with a high quality, adjustable clasp. Getting the angle right when affixing that clasp can be a little tricky, but it's very secure. Splash protection means you don't have to worry about taking it off in the shower or while doing dishes. Just don't hop in the pool with it on. Battery life is advertised as up to seven days. I generally got four or five before needing to use the custom USB charging cable.

The front face responds to taps. Two quick taps wakes the UP3 and will blink a light to show which mode it's in. Follow that with a long press to switch between activity and sleep tracking. UP3 can delineate between REM sleep, light sleep, and deep sleep, positioning it all on a timeline within the app. This is great, because it's not data you can easily get a hold of otherwise, and rarely is sleep an activity you have much control over. There was only one occasion where the reading was flat-out wrong, but most of the data seemed right. Remembering to switch to sleep mode can be a bit of a hassle. I really wish UP's IFTTT channel worked so I could use the band to turn off the Hue and WeMo lights in my room when I flip on sleep mode, since it would be a good prompt to remember. Luckily the app is good about getting sleep data retroactively, even if you don't go into sleep mode.

Jawbone UP3

My favorite feature of the UP3 for me has been the Smart Alarm. It buzzes the UP3 within an ideal window of your sleep cycle in the morning, but before a certain time. On the other side, there are bedtime reminders based on your established sleep schedule. Overall, the UP3 is built well for wearing all day, and the sleep tracking is particularly useful.

The UP3's addition of pulse tracking focuses a lot on Resting Heart Rate. As a rule of thumb, lower is better. You get good longitudinal data for RHR, and the occasional Smart Coach suggestion if there's a significant change in the rating, but there isn't much else to be done with the information except maybe pass it on to your doctor.

You're inheriting just as much obligation as you are convenience.

The UP3 is intense about tracking workouts. There's a stopwatch mode that can keep especially close tabs on how much you're doing within a specific span of time. If you aren't doing something that involves steps, you may need to manually input your type of workout for everything to count. Manual weight-logging is also included, though smart scales from Withings and Escali can automatically beam that data to UP.

Social elements are built in so you can get on a Team to follow the progress of your other UP-toting pals, and challenge them to limited-time duels to see who can sweat the most. These social features are largely wasted on me, since my immediate social circle really isn't into this kind of stuff. It's very easy to lean on the Fitocracy app connection to fill your social circle and establish a workout regimen, though it isn't especially accurate when automatically importing that data into UP.

My biggest complaints have less to do with the UP3 specifically, and more to do with the product category as a whole. This was my first fitness band, and most of the reasons that had kept me from getting one up until now held up. Though something like the Jawbone UP3 affords information that you wouldn't otherwise have easy access to, especially with sleep and heart rate monitoring, you're inheriting just as much obligation as you are convenience.

For a full-spectrum, accurate reading on your health, you'll need to manually correct some data, and input plenty of your own, particularly when it comes to food. Tracking food can be a chore. UP's database of items and calorie counts are extensive, but you also have to check the serving size and make sure it lines up with how much you're eating. A barcode scanner helps a little bit, but it can pull in confusing results as often as not. Jawbone has partnered up with a few services to make this process more painless, such as Yummly and Orange Chef. On the whole, I treated the dietary data and the subsequent suggestions as very general.

Jawbone UP3 clasp

That said, you'll get as much out of the UP3 as you put into it. Folks who are already focused on living healthy and want to perpetually improve will already be motivated to make use of everything the UP3 has to offer. Similarly, those who are in bad shape and are dedicated to getting healthier will have a lot of tools at their disposal here. Anyone between those two extremes, like me, will likely pushed into ambivalence after the 50th. time the idle alarm reminds you to stand up from the desk. Ultimately I don't know that the UP3 improved my behaviour any more than my personal sensibilities already do.

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As a pure fitness tracker, UP3 does fine — great, even — but if you're going to be investing time and attention into a wearable, additional conveniences offered by an Apple Watch such as notifications and apps may be necessary to make it worthwhile. Jawbone seems to recognize this kind of convenience, and is integrating American Express tap payments into their next generation fitness tracker, the UP4. As it stands, the Jawbone UP3 is a great tracker for the ongoing and burgeoning fitness nut.

Simon Sage

Editor-at-very-large at Mobile Nations, gamer, giant.