Jawbone UP! and self quantification

In May last year I started wearing the annoyingly-capitalized Jawbone UP device. It's a wrist band that tracks your movements, syncing the data with an app on your phone. It's part of the whole Quantified Self movement where people measure aspects of themselves and their lifestyle and use the data to optimize.

For me, I thought it looked like a cool piece of tech and I was curious what I'd find out about myself and my activity. Having endured the past 4 years raising young kids, I was particularly interested in my sleep patterns.

The device itself is pretty straightforward. It's a rubberized wrist band with a button on one end and a cap covering a headphone jack at the other. A couple of LEDs shine through to indicate the modes it is in and battery status. Syncing is done by plugging into your phone's headphone jack and opening the app. Newer units use Bluetooth to do this wirelessly, which would be nice. Charging requires a proprietary converter to charge on USB, which is pretty annoying given the ubiquity of the rather small Micro-USB these days. Hopefully wireless syncing devices will have that standard connector in future.

Pressing the button can do a few different things. You switch to "sleep" mode by long-pressing once. It then measures your movements to get an idea of your sleep patterns: how long it takes to get to sleep, how often you wake up and your periods of "light" and "deep" sleep. It divines all this from your movements. Not sure how genuinely accurate this is: I'd love to see a sleep lab study comparison.

Long-pressing the button twice starts logging an activity. You use this for gym workouts or other special exercise periods you want to log. In the app you can define what the activity was and it'll log an average calorie burn for the period.

App UI

So you connect the device to your phone and run the app to sync it. You'd think this would push the data up into some cool web app. You'd be wrong. Everything has to be done through the (shitty) phone app. That's really annoying.

The app itself ignores a lot of Android conventions, like the menu button, which makes it plain annoying. Pinch zoom doesn't work on things like timelines, which is just ridiculous. No, I don't want to just look at "today" thanks, and I don't want to be swiping for another hour to get where I want to.

The limited UI means I didn't get to spend much time with the data itself. That limits the insights you might get. You have to think to open the app and record your mood, or how well rested you feel. So then it's hard to correlate the data with how you feel.

At launch the Android app didn't integrate with other apps. Now it does, though I haven't used it. Not sure if there's some way to suck the data out for your own purposes.

Device failure

A couple of months after buying my device, it stopped holding charge. I'd plug it in and the battery just flat out wouldn't charge, in fact it would lose charge while "charging". The retailer, Exeltek, flat out failed to respond to my return requests. So a big fuck you to those pricks, don't buy from them. Fortunately the Australian distributor were quite good. Though they then had no stock and it took about 7 weeks to get a replacement. Sounds like this isn't an uncommon problem.

Whoops, lost it

Over the Xmas break, while bodysurfing up on the Central Coast, I lost the device. Was flailing my arms around swimming to get onto a wave and the thing popped off, never to be seen again. I tried in vain to find it, but pounding surf and all it was kinda impossible. Doh!

The best feature, not the one they push

My favourite feature of the device is one they don't really advertise strongly. The device has a vibration motor in it, so it can notify you of things. One thing it can notify is an "Idle Alert". You set a time range (08:00-19:00 for me) and a time limit (30 minutes) and if you're inactive for that period, it vibrates. It's a fantastic reminder to get up and move around, something my physio is always reminding me will help fix my back. I really really miss that feature!


So while I wouldn't strongly recommend the device, it's kinda cool and not too ridiculously expensive. They seem somewhat unreliable, and the app UI is annoyingly crap. If you could get the data out, it might be cool.

The wristband thing is vital for me. I don't wear clothes in bed, so the sleep function works best in a wrist band. Fitbit and other devices have a sleep band, but otherwise you have to carry it somehow. That seems clumsy and I'm likely to forget it. A wrist band works much better for me.

The vibrating idle alert is awesome. Does anyone know if other devices do this?