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by on January 17, 2015

As someone who is interested in technology, I often find myself lusting after gadgets that I don’t really need. While I feel like most purchases have been justified, there’s always the chance that something I purchase will end up sitting idle on a shelf or in a box after a few weeks or months. Last week, I learned a bit about how the idea of a fitness tracker really doesn’t appeal to me as much as I thought it would.

Thanks to an online fire sale of Jawbone Ups, I was able to get another retailer to price-match and obtain one locally for the low price of $30. I had liked the idea of the Up since its inception, although was sad to see the first revision have a lot of failures. It seemed that they had fixed issues since then, and the idea of a minimalist band for measuring activity appealed to me. While there are plenty of more feature-rich options, $30 was almost an impulse purchase price and I could live with the Up’s lack of Bluetooth.

For those keeping score at home, I had really been interested in the Up when I was using an iPhone 4, and later a 5. This coincided with Shawn Blanc’s review and discussion on the B&B Podcast. With the iPhone 6, I had the chance to take advantage of Apple’s M8 motion coprocessor and the variety of health apps. My current mix includes Pedometer++ and Nike+ Move and I’ve been mostly happy, but wondered if I could get more out of a dedicated device.

That being said, the Up was rather pleasant to set up and seemed to measure data accurately (or at least close to what my phone had measured at the exact same time). That being said, the first issue I noticed was that if I wanted to integrate the Up with HealthKit, I’d have to prioritize what source would be measuring my steps. That gave me pause as I would always have my Up on me, but I sort of wish that there was a way to mix sources if data was from different times. This isn’t a problem with the Up, but more Apple’s implementation of HealthKit. I decided for the time being to use the Up separately from my existing apps.

I didn’t mind having to plug the Up into my phone to download data, although it was more jarring than I thought to have to take a second and synchronize before I could see my statistics, especially since I was used to seeing real-time data with my phone’s internal chip. Other than that, the battery life seemed good, as did the data that it measured and the very simple user interface.

That being said, despite the Up being a pretty nice piece of hardware, paired with a great app, I returned it. As I almost always have my phone on me, it’s nice to not have to take a second and synchronize data to see any sort of trends. I liked the sleep tracking and vibrating alarm capabilities, but apps like Sleep Cycle also accomplish this.

My bigger complaint was that the Up was just uncomfortable to wear for me. Maybe it was because I haven’t worn any sort of watch or other device on my wrist in over a decade. I found the large to be too big for my wrists (it flopped up and down my wrist and I could fit two fingers next to my wrist with it on), but the medium too small (it fit snugly, but got itchy). If there was an in-between size, I might have had a different experience. I’d assume the same would be the case for someone who was also at the in-between sizes.

Some people may argue that I didn’t give the ecosystem a chance, and I think that’s fair. The problem is that I just found the Up to be a bit redundant and also a bit uncomfortable. I’d assume this would be a similar complaint with devices like those from Fitbit or the Nike FuelBand, especially if someone has the same usage patterns as myself.

For those of you who regularly read this site, you know I do quite a bit of product reviews. Normally, the Up would be a prime candidate for this, but in this case, I decided I’d rather comment on the viability of the Up in the context of my usage. I think it could mostly be applied to similar products like the Fitbit, FuelBand, Misfit Shine, or any other sort of sensor that you must attach and tend to. I know of folks who love these kind of devices, especially because they are trying to track progress or want information from places that a phone would not be viable, so I don’t want to give the impression that I’m dismissing this category.

This brings me to the bigger realization for this short experiment: although it is nice to have data for everything, I really just didn’t care. Using apps to track movement are nice, but I sort of use them to just have an idea if I could have been more active that day or not. If I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, I think that’s pretty obvious, and if I do partake in some physical activity and don’t have some sort of device or my phone on me, it’s not the end of the world.

This may change with the Apple Watch and its different capabilities, as I know some Android users are enjoying all the various things the Android Wear devices offer. Still, I also was impressed with how much my phone is able to sense, especially looking at what was available two or four years ago. For those who have their phones on them all the time, Apple’s “Strength” ad for the iPhone 5S really does make sense, and mostly makes the need for standalone devices unnecessary.

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