Jawbone’s Up 3 certainly took some time to arrive, but the delayed fitness gadget is finally here, packing in more sensors than most activity bracelets and the ability to track REM sleep. Worth it, or should you go with something less exy?
Announced last year and finally set to be available shortly, the Up 3 is the next generation of Jawbone’s fitness band.
After persisting with the Up, Up 24, Up Move, and the recent Up 2, the Up 3 is an Up smart band with more sensors to track more of your life.
Specifically, this band features the same three axis accelerometer as its Up 2 brother, but adds a few more sensors, including one to measure heart rate, respiration, and skin conductivity, as well as the ambient and skin temperature of the wearer.
This technology is worked into a medical-grade rubber body with the main electronic components sitting inside an aluminium block covered in a capacitive touch panel. The electrodes are made from stainless steel and coated in titanium nitride (TiN).
The main body of the device includes three LEDs, with orange for activity, blue for sleep, and white for notifications sent to the device.
The Jawbone Up 3 talks to smartphones and tablets by way of Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (LE), with this connecting to a 38Ah battery that can support up to 7 days of life, with the magnetic USB charger taking roughly an hour to charge the life.
Jawbone’s Up 3 is rated as water-resistant and splash proof.
Now that every man, his dog, and his dog’s company has a fitness gadget out there in the world, the race is on to find a fitness gadget that does something different.
After all, most of the fitness gadgets out there are reliant on the same basic principle: take an accelerometer or another multi-axis sensor, encase it in a wrist- or pants-friendly device meant to be worn, use it to track information, and then synchronise that information with a phone.
Just like that, you too can design a fitness gadget.
There is a little more to it than that, of course, and that’s why companies spend millions of dollars in design, research, and app development to make these devices as seamless as possible, to connect with our lives and make us reliant on them.
In the latest of these fitness gadgets from Jawbone, the company has decided to integrate a couple of different sensor technologies to compliment the existing movement ones the Up bands have relied on for a while.
Alongside that original tri-axis accelerometer, the Up 3 features sensors to pick up on the temperature of your skin, the temperature of the world around you, and for bio-impedance, specifically tracking heart rate, respiration, and skin conductivity (Galvanic Skin Response).
And when you pick up the Up 3, you can actually see the differences in the sensor setup, with gold-looking titanium nitride ceramic-like contacts that sit against the skin for measuring these attributes and data points.
Using the Up 3, you’d never realise the tracker is doing anything different, and essentially, this is like using any other Up. You pair it with a Bluetooth LE compatible smartphone — basically, anything from the past year — and then wear the device.
As you wear it, the Up will talk to the phone either at random intervals or when you open the Up app, and this will track movement in daylight — steps and whatnot — and when put into sleep mode, will track the motion, heart rate, and more to get you a better understanding of how you’re sleeping, with REM cycles added to the mixture of light sleep, deep sleep, and being awake.
Going from daylight to sleep is as simple as tapping the Up 3 band to wake it up and holding your finger against the band, which will switch you between the two modes, daylight — with an orange figure lighting up — and sleep — with a blue moon.
That’s a fairly new control system, too, borrowed from the Up 2 — just like the one-size-fits-all band you get to wear — with a reliance on a capacitive touch panel that surrounds the middle of the band.
This inclusion eliminates the need for buttons, which should improve durability, but we’ll get to this later, because the not-quite-touchscreen nature of this part isn’t going to be ideal for all.
Fortunately, the Up app is as good as it ever was.
Just like with the previous Up incarnations, the app is one of the better parts, with a clear understanding of how you’re doing, fairly frequent synchronisation, and a social side of things that allows you to compete with your family and friends that have joined the Up system through either a gadget or an app on a smartwatch, which is also a possibility these days.
The information taken from this platform is fairly rich, too, with a break down of your activities over the course of a day, revealing how often you walked, were active, how many calories you burned, and so on, with the sleep showing the time it took to fall asleep, when you woke up, and a little more, too.
During sleep, your heart rate will be tracked, which is about the only time it happens on the Up 3. We’re told this will change later on as Jawbone’s people work on ways to make the Up 3 do more, but right now, it tracks heart rate while you’re sleeping and tells you how much water you should be drinking.
That’s primarily what the Up 3 does, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot of a difference from the Up 2, though in a way, this might be seem like early adopter technology that will eventually open up.
Even with this in mind, the Up 3 does appear to have some pretty noticeable problems.
Let’s start with the interface, because that capacitive touch panel — what we’ve delightfully heard referred to as a “captouch” panel, which is a shortening of the tech terms — really needs work.
We’ll get this out of the way very quickly, because if you’ve read our Up 2 review, you’ll know that the Up 3 doesn’t rely on a “touch screen”, but rather a “touch panel”.
Essentially, this panel has a degree of touch sensitivity applied the to textured surface that occupies the top and sides of the Up 3 band. It’s very similar to the touch panel offered in the Up 2, and using it has you double tap the display to wake it up, and then hold your finger on the display to stick it in different modes.
It’s not a complicated system, and that’s a positive.
The negative, however, comes from just how fussy it can be. For instance, through the review period, it didn’t always work. Double tap and it might, triple tap, quadruple tap — tap, tap, taperroo — and so on.
One firmware update later, and all is well, but then before you go to bed, the band has problems again, refusing to switch into sleep mode or wake up when you prod it.
Unfortunately, reliability is the first problem with the Up 3, and after a couple of months with the band, durability isn’t much better with wear and tear already being seen on the top of the band.
Back to that first problem with reliability, though, because while the device isn’t terribly reliable, it makes the second problem so bizarre, as we found over-responsiveness to be an issue.
We’ve already said that the captouch panel basically wraps around the Up 3, and this needs to be remembered.
It’s not just the top, but the sides, and that’s important because if you’re wearing something like a piece of jewelry — say a watch or smartwatch — and it bangs up against the Up 3 every few seconds, it will actually register on the Up 3 and touch the panel.
This means your Up 3 will constantly tell you that you’re in daytime mode, or worse, pick up on the constant touch of a watch and put you in sleep mode on a regular basis, which can be a little frustrating.
As a point, Jawbone’s Up software does a pretty good job of working out that if you’re walking around, you’re not sleeping, and fills in the gaps, which is tremendously useful. But this issue of overly responsiveness can lead to a reduction in battery life, seeing our 4 to 5 day life dropping closer to 3 days when we wore it on the same arm as our regular watch.
Jawbone could fix this in one of two ways: make the display less responsive — either in general or to things that aren’t fingers — or incorporate a watch into the Up 3.
That takes us to another issue, because the Up 3 just doesn’t do all that much.
It’s a fitness band first and foremost, and Jawbone’s people totally talk that up, which is awesome. But it’s also only a fitness band first and foremost, because it doesn’t really do anything else.
Despite maintaining a constant connection with your phone or tablet over Bluetooth, it doesn’t pick up calls, nor does it tell you when you’ve had a message drop by even though there is an indicator built into the Up 3 band for “messages”, though this appears to be there for the benefit of the Up app telling you something, like a fitness or coaching tip, or asking if you were exercising during a certain time.
“Bzzz!” the band will say, vibrating and lighting up the message icon, and directing you to a question on your phone on if you were exercising between 6.15 and 7.35 when it picked up on extra activity.
That’s what that message icon does, and that’s more or less all it does. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it did something else, like alert you to a phone call, or an email?
Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a small clock integrated in this design, too?
The much less expensive Up Move has one, albeit in a different design, so you kind of want something here too, something to say “I have less reason to wear a watch alongside the Up 3 since there’s a watch already here”.
In fact, it would be tremendous if there was a way to see how you’re going with your steps, outside of pulling out your phone.
These are similar problems we experienced on the Up 2, and they’re found here again on the Up 3, likely because Jawbone is relying on the same design to push this gadget forward. There is a difference between the two, however, and the Up 3 should do more, because it includes more sensors and is $100 more expensive. You’d hope so, anyway.
Water resistance also produces a similar issue to what we saw in the Up 2, with the Up 3 temporarily powering down when it comes into contact with water.
A good thirty or forty seconds after frantically tapping the display when it gets wet, you’ll see the display switch back on and the vibration return, the fear of a lost $250 purchase fading the moment it does.
If that’s actually what is happening — powering down to save the band when it gets wet — we’re not sure Jawbone should be calling this “water-resistant”, because this seems more like the way a water-damaged gadget would behave, not one packing water-resistance.
Perhaps it would be easier for Jawbone just to say this isn’t water resistant, because if we were told that, like we were on the Up Move, we wouldn’t try to use it with water, and we’d take it off every time we washed our hands.
And you know maybe we’ve been spoiled by the cheaper Up Move, because that not only had the clock we’re missing with this band, but it also used the circular design to show how you’ve been going throughout the past 24 hours with your step goal, animating in a full circle when you’ve completed the several thousand steps, and then some.
On the Up 3, though, there’s nothing. No indication that you’re halfway through — keep going! — and only a bunch of flashing indicators telling you that you’re done.
That’s one of the problems with the Up 3: it’s a fitness gadget for adults, but it doesn’t feel like it does much to keep you going as an adult, except of course because you’ve already spent a good $250 on the thing. You keep wearing it only because you feel you need to, but it’s so passive you have to wonder what it’s doing, and check the app repeatedly to find out.
Compare that to the Up Move, which provides indicators all throughout the day, and is far more interactive, and that talks to a phone just as well, too.
It’s unfortunate we feel this way, as the sensors in the Up 3 could yet prove to be a useful fountain of knowledge, measuring different indicators than the typical accelerometer or compass mechanisms we’re used to seeing in fitness gadgets.
The race to build the perfect fitness gadget is definitely on, and while Fitbit may have been there from the starting line, Jawbone wasn’t too far behind with its own entry, the Up.
A few years later, the Up 3 definitely has a lot going for it in the sensor department, and Yves Behar and his team of industrial designers have certainly improved on some areas with look and feel, completing the package with an app that feels super polished and friendly to use.
But it’s not a totally done thing, and the bottom line with the Up 3 is that while it has some cool technology inside, and while Jawbone has improved a lot about the Up band, it still has a way to go, with the current iteration feeling a little over-valued for what it does.
Inside the band, the technology at play could reveal a world of little extras, and over time with future firmware updates, we could see Jawbone unlock more of what the Up 3 can do, but right now, you’re paying for something that doesn’t do much more than the model $100 its junior, and even carries problems of its own.
When the price drops and Jawbone releases updates, we’d buy this, but it needs to do more and work better, because outside of the extended sleep tracking on offer, the $249 Up 3 isn’t going to help you understand your fitness or activities any better than the $89 Up Move.