Fitness bracelet looking Up again

Things were looking anything but up at Jawbone last December, when the company pulled the Up fitness tracker bracelet off the market only a month after the product launched.

Up's reason for being wasn't the problem. Through a corresponding app on the iPhone, the bracelet could track your sleep and the number of steps you took, and let you log meals, all to foster a healthier lifestyle.

But Up got off to an unhealthy start. Up was plagued by battery and syncing problems. Moisture sometimes seeped inside what was supposed to be a bracelet you could wear in the shower. My own experience testing the original bracelet was, to say the least, up and down.

Up may have been down and out, but not out for the count. Jawbone, best known for its wireless Bluetooth headsets and speakers, recently came out with the improved version I've been testing for a few weeks -- in and out of the shower. The latest $129.99 bracelet band is light, thin, comfortable and not-half-bad-looking.

Though some of the issues that turned me off to Up the first time around remain, the new bracelet represents, pardon the pun, a step forward. I still have quibbles with the free iPhone app that shows off your data in colorful graphs; in general, the software could be less confusing. Through the app, you can measure your progress against goals suggested by the World Health Organization or ones you establish yourself.

Concealed inside the flexible, soft hypoallergenic oval rubber band are all the electronics -- accelerometer, motion and vibration sensors, rechargeable battery. The bracelet is lighter than a typical watch. You don't feel conspicuous wearing it, though a few people did inquire about the curious thing on my wrist.

Up is part of an ever-congested category of fitness-oriented gadgetry that includes similar products such as the Nike + FuelBand and Larklife. Up tracks micro-movements to not only determine how long you were in dreamland, but how long it took to get there and how much was light vs. deep sleep. The band can also tell you how often you woke up.

You can also take advantage of a "power nap" feature that calculates the optimal nap time between 25 and 45 minutes. The band wakes you with silent vibrations. You can set an alarm to wake up to the same vibrations after a regular night of sleep. And -- this is useful -- you can set an alert that prompts you to get off your fanny if you've been idle too long.

The band also tracks the number of steps you took during the day and how many calories you burned. It can't detect the intensity of workouts, so it's left to you to manually log the length and type of exercise (weights, run, cardio, etc.) and effort level (easy, moderate, gut buster, etc.). Jawbone could improve the process of entering and editing the information.

You're also encouraged to tell Up what you've been eating. You can type in your food intake, snap a picture of your plate, or read a product bar code to scan nutritional info. To help with data entry, Up shows off a picture gallery of common food types, but it was incomplete. There was a generic category for fruit, for example, but I wanted separate images of a banana and an orange. I did log a couple of meals but lacked the dedication to do so every time.

I did feel motivated by the app to walk more often whenever possible, though I usually fell short of my goal of 10,000 steps a day. Based on your behavior, Up serves up frequent insights, some boilerplate, some more helpful. After determining that I had slept five hours, 52 minutes a night, Up reminded me "studies show that getting at least seven hours of sleep is important for sharpening your memory and boosting mood."

Motivation and challenges might also come from "teammates" with whom you can share your fitness and nutritional activity.

There's no display or readout on the bracelet as there is on the thicker Nike + FuelBand, so you must go to the iPhone for that (an Android version is coming). I didn't mind. Up does not have a companion website, either. That I would like to see.

To sync data, you plug one end of the bracelet into the headphone jack on the phone. Syncing is faster and simpler than on last year's model.

One of my initial criticisms of Up was that for a company like Jawbone that makes its living off Bluetooth devices, it's a shame syncing isn't wireless. That's still the case. Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman says Bluetooth isn't reliable enough for this particular implementation, but Nike + FuelBand and Lark bracelets do employ Bluetooth.

You charge Up by connecting it to a computer via a special USB dongle. I got the full 10 days between charges that Jawbone promises. Last year's model pooped out well short of that.

The good news for Jawbone's bracelet is that from last year to now, things have only gone up.

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