The Jawbone UP3 Needs More Heart

Jawbone’s UP3 is equally smart and maddening.

Jawbone’s UP3 is equally smart and maddening.

How do you know you’re healthy? Stepping on the scale is an easy choice. Obviously you can go by how you feel (though that can be deceiving). Some people visit the doctor every year for a thorough check-up.

When it comes to electronics, wearable devices offer a trove of data (steps taken, calories burned, quality of sleep achieved) in an attempt to give the big-picture view of somebody’s health. With the UP3, Jawbone is attempting to establish a new common standard: resting heart rate. Compared to Jawbone’s previous devices, it’s the UP3’s reason for being. It’s also the source of its costly price tag ($179.99) and symbolic of a device whose potential goes unrealized.

Jawbone’s new UP3 features metal studs on the inside that unobtrusively measure heart rate. The band is also half as small as its predecessor.

Jawbone’s UP app tracks steps taken and quality of sleep, and makes suggestions for healthier living based on your data.

Unlike fitness devices that measure heart rate through exercise and other activities, the UP3 measures it while you sleep – in a specific ”Sleep Mode“ that you must turn on before you turn in for the night. The band uses that information to track your resting heart rate when you first wake up in the morning at your (supposed) least stressed and most refreshed. The company’s goal is to establish a baseline, and then use fluctuations as either a warning sign of flagging health and fitness, or an improvement.

Between 60 and 100 beats per minute is the average range for adults, and a lower number is better. So what if your resting heart rate measurements start to go up? Are you getting sick? Didn’t take enough steps? Drank too much last night? Jawbone’s ”Smart Coach“ in its UP app  does a good job coaching wearers on taking more steps or offering suggestions for health improvements, but for heart rate it doesn’t have much to offer.

The same difficulties apply to the sleep tracking, where UP3 uses its heart rate sensors to track REM sleep in addition to light and deep sleep. The data is fascinating and mostly accurate (it consistently turned out a very low amount of REM sleep), but needs further developing. What’s the right ratio of light to deep and REM sleep? How much of each should you be getting each night? Hard to say – Jawbone’s app doesn’t offer that information.

Quite simply, Jawbone’s device and app do not provide enough context to make its current heart rate function a compelling feature. Notice the word current. The company has promised additional updates to read your heart rate at any time during the day. That will be a welcome addition, but for now it means you have to buy the UP3 on faith.

That is often the prevailing theme with the UP3: for every bit of good, there is noticeable helping of frustration. The original UP was clunky, but the UP3 is sleek and streamlined. And yet the band is difficult to adjust and prone to falling off if something hits its metal clasp just right. The band is water-resistant (fine for dishwashing and showers) but not waterproof, a feature that Jawbone had delayed the band six months for but still couldn’t make work.

The UP3 also doesn’t have a true digital display; all the relevant information about steps, calories and more can only be found by pulling out your phone. It was a conscious design decision by Jawbone to preserve battery life (an impressive full week of use), and it’s certainly a divisive decision. Some will appreciate the non-tech look, while others will miss the instant gratification of queueing up the information on their wrists.

Ultimately, the UP3 is in a tough spot. Other fitness trackers offer more robust heart rate capabilities. Meanwhile, Jawbone’s very own UP2 offers nearly all the same functionality without the heart rate sensing, and does so at nearly half the cost ($99.99). The UP4, coming later this summer, adds Apple Pay for a mere $20 extra than the UP3. The wealth of options makes it clear: the UP3 is the languishing middle child.

Verdict: The UP3 fails to make good use of its signature heart rate feature, and its hefty price tag for a step tracker should persuade consumers to look to Jawbone’s other offerings – or simply go elsewhere.

C.J. Mittica is the editor of Wearables. Contact him at cmittica@asicentral.com and follow him on Twitter at @CJ_Wearables.