I have been a fan of wearable fitness trackers for well over a year now. It is not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my life. I feel a lot fitter these days and this is mainly down to the fitness tracker gently encouraging me to be more active. Then praising me when I reach my daily target of number of steps. The tracker also encourages me to sleep better by suggesting regular bed times and length of sleep. I was never really an active person before as I spent too much time at the computer or watching television. But, these days, I often meet my daily goal of doing at least 10,000 steps and sleeping for at least seven hours. The first fitness tracker I owned was an UP24 by Jawbone. The review on this page is about the latest version, UP3, which I have been using for the past few months.
My original UP24 band lasted just over a year. I got a lot of use out of it, but towards the end, it started to fall apart. I was told that the weather in Asia wasn’t really suitable for the rubber wristband and it started to stretch. First the button fell off and then I was unable to plug in the charger. So, I had to stop using it. Unfortunately, weak that I am, I also stopped exercising each day. As a consequence, I started to put back on the weight that I had originally lost. Then, about three months later, I heard about the UP2 wristband which was more durable and a better design. As I desperately needed help in getting fit again, I decided to buy this new version. To cut a long story short (which you can read in my review of the UP2 here), I had some issues with the UP2 and returned it the following day to get my money back. I then bought a Fitbit Charge HR instead (see my review of that here).
So, why go and buy an UP3 if I already had a Fitbit Charge HR? I didn’t. After I wrote my negative review of the UP2, a regional PR officer for Jawbone contacted me to say that the UP3 was about to be released and would I be interested in testing out a review copy. He went on to say that firmware had been updated to make it a much better experience. For example, the battery length had been increased to 7 days and the band now automatically knows when you have fallen asleep. Naturally I said yes. I do love my Fitbit, but the app and smart coach for all of the UP wearable devices are a hundred times better. I really wanted to give it another go. So, for the last few months, I have been wearing two fitness trackers on my wrist. I was hoping to make a decision relatively quickly on which one I preferred. But the decision was far harder than I thought it would be.
One of the things that I like about all of the UP wristbands is the idle alert. This is perfect for me as I sit at the computer a lot. I set it to vibrate after 30 minutes of sitting around. This is a gentle reminder that I should get up and walk around for a few minutes. Staring at the screen for long periods of time is obviously not good for your eyes. Same goes with sitting down all day. So, whenever it vibrates, I get up and walk a circuit of the house by climbing to the top floor and back again. As soon as I settle down back at the computer, the countdown clock automatically starts running again. You can change the idle time in steps of 15 minutes increments starting from only 15 minutes all the way to two hours. It also has a smart alarm to wake you up in the morning. For this I set a 20 minute window so it gently wakes me up when it senses I am in light sleep. So, no more loud alarm bells.
Another thing I like about the UP wearables is the sleep tracking. And with the UP3, you also get to see your resting heart rate each night. Yes, the Fitbit has this too, but the UP app is far more beautiful and goes into more detail. Last night, my resting heart rate was 58bpm which is above my usual average. The smart coach suggested I didn’t drink enough water the day before. Which was true. I usually find if I drink a glass of water before sleeping, my heart rate is lower. After a recent firmware update, the wearable now automatically tracks your sleep. However, if you press a button on the app when you are ready to go to sleep, you get to see how long it took for you to fall asleep. For me it usually takes only 5 minutes until I am snoozing.
The colour sleep chart also tells you how many times you woke up during the night (thankfully I didn’t last night), and how long you had deep and light sleep. Basically, the more deep sleep I have, the better I feel in the morning. This is something I am still working on to increase. Two hours of deep sleep and 5 hours of total sleep often feels much better than only 40 minutes of deep sleep but 8 hours of total sleep. The wearable will also track your REM during sleep. This seems to be quite accurate. If I have REM sleep just before I wake up, I can normally remember my dream. For the days I cannot remember my dreams, the chart shows me I didn’t have REM sleep just before waking. This awareness of my REM cycles is actually helping me remember my dreams.
I’ve mentioned the smart coach already, but it is this, together with the colourful app on the smartphone, that makes the UP wearables better than the Fitbit. The sensors on the wristband are also more superior as they track heart rate, respiration rate, body temperature and galvanic skin response. The smart coach then uses this information to give tips tailored just for you. In addition, you are told when you are falling behind on your daily averages, both with steps and length of sleep. Like this morning, the smart coach said that I wasn’t getting enough sleep lately. So, he has suggested I go to bed tonight at 10:15pm. I also got a message yesterday to say I was only 1,500 steps behind my weekly average and suggested I go for a 15 minute walk. The UP3 is like having your own personal trainer without the costs or inconvenience.
So, what is the downside to the UP3? I think the number one moan is the buckle. It was a bit fiddly to start with to put it back on after I had taken a shower, but I did eventually get used to it. My main concern, however, is that it easily comes undone. It is not as secure as the buckle on a watch strap like on the Fitbit. This happens when I am rummaging in my backpack or putting on a jacket. Luckily, I am so worried about this that I can usually sense that it has come undone and I can catch it before it falls off. But, I think one of these days I will lose it altogether. The only way I have been able to partially solve this problem is to wear the Fitbit to the left of my UP3 which helps to stop it coming undone. The older UP24 was more secure but it was thicker and so more uncomfortable. I really like the design of the UP3 but I just wish they would do something about the buckle.
Unlike other wearables, the UP3 doesn’t have a screen to show progress. That never really bothered me in the past as I could open the app to see what percentage of my goals I had achieved. However, I have now been spoiled by the small screen on the Fitbit Charge HR. On this, I raise my hand and the display automatically comes on. You can change what it shows first. I have the time. I tap the watch and it switches to steps taken so far today. If I then walk I can see the steps increase live. The UP3 doesn’t do that. In fact, sometimes when I open the app to see my progress, it might take a minute or so to connect and update which is frustrating as the Fitbit does it live. While we are on comparisons, the Fitbit also shows my present heartrate. This is good to see before and after you exercise. UP3 only records passive heart rate during the day. You cannot see it live.
For the past few months I have been trying to decide whether the UP3 is better than the Fitbit HR Charge. Of the two fitness trackers I have been wearing, which one would I choose? That decision actually turned out to be harder than expected. There are some things on the Fitbit HR Charge that I love which the UP3 doesn’t have. This is mainly the ability to count flights of stairs. So, on my Fitbit, I have two main goals during the day. I aim to walk at least 10,000 steps and climb 42 flights of stairs. I wish the UP could count floors. Since I bought my Fitbit, I have stopped using the lift to go up to my 6th floor office at school. As mentioned before, I would love to see all of this progress on the UP3 wristband without having to open the app. Another cool thing the Fitbit has, is phone call notification. Sometimes in a noisy environment I don’t hear my cell phone ringing. The Fitbit will vibrate and you will also see the caller ID on the screen. If the UP3 had these three things as well, then I would go for that instead of the Fitbit.
A final test to see which is the best fitness tracker for me to wear is to see which one I would choose to go with me on long trips. I didn’t want to take both as I would then have to take both of the chargers. Plus it would be two things to look after. For the last two trips I went on, I took the….. UP3. I think mainly because the battery lasts longer, I love the app and smart coach, and it isn’t so big on my wrist. I also chose not to take the Fitbit with me on the trips because I felt there was no need to be able to track flights of stairs. I wouldn’t have any opportunity to do this. I only needed to record steps and sleep patterns.
So, I guess that means I favour the UP3 over the Fitbit. But, that is not a fair comparison as I didn’t buy the UP3 as I was lent a review copy. Yes, I really like it, but would I have bought it with my own money? I bought the Fitbit Charge HR at the computer fair in Bangkok for a promotion price of 5,000 Baht (full price is 5,590 Baht). On the other hand, the Jawbone UP3 sells for 7,990 Baht. That is a big difference in price. Particularly as the cheaper Fitbit comes with a screen and counts both steps and flights of stairs. I think price wise, I would have chosen the Fitbit Charge HR. But, if they were both the same price and I had to choose, I would have gone for the UP3 as I find the idle alert, smart coach and the information on the app very useful.I would then just hope that in a future firmware update, they would add the ability to count flights of stairs.
If you use any of these wearables then please post your own comments below. The market is starting to be flooded with fitness trackers and it is now possible to buy wearables that are much cheaper than these two. But, are they as comprehensive? And if not, do you really care when you only want to track the number of steps you make? At the end of the day, you have to make your own decision on how much money you are prepared to invest in your health. But, I will say this one thing, fitness trackers are a good investment. It has certainly changed my life for the better.