When I first reviewed Jawbone’s UP fitness wristband a year ago, I cautioned that it would soon come to seem remarkably rudimentary.
A lot’s happened since. Problems with the band’s durability forced the company to stop production for most of this year. Meanwhile, competing devices like the Fitbit and the Nike+ FuelBand embraced wireless technologies that made the UP’s system for syncing with your smartphone — by physically plugging it into the headphone jack — seem positively archaic.
Now, the UP is back. Its physical problems are apparently fixed. Its technology problem isn’t.
The colorful, rubber UP, for the uninitiated, is meant to be worn 24 hours a day as it counts your steps, measures your sleep cycles and, with the help of an iPhone application, tracks your diet and links you up with friends who can provide extra motivation.
During the UP’s long absence from the market, Jawbone managed to preserve customers’ goodwill through a generous refund program. And more than a week of using the new version evinced none of the issues that sank it the first time around, which included imperfect waterproofing that rendered many bands unable to hold a charge, and damage from people twisting it in unexpected ways.
I didn’t go out of my way to stretch or bend the UP, but I didn’t baby it either. And I made sure in the shower every day to apply a generous helping of soapy lather, the treatment that undid version one. No problems to report.
Unfortunately, the company didn’t use its unplanned hiatus to bring the bracelet up to date. Rather than match its competitors by embracing Bluetooth, it’s stuck with the same audio-connection plug, complete with the small detachable tip that I just know I’ll lose.
It’s all so … 2011. Except, that is, for the price, which has jumped to $130 from last year’s $100.
Meanwhile, Fitbit, which recently introduced its ultra-simple $60 Zip, has just come out with another model, the $100 Fitbit One. Besides being cheaper than the UP, the One is less obtrusive (you can clip it to clothing or slip it into a pocket) and does more (an altimeter measures stairs climbed, in addition to steps taken). And it’s wireless, automatically syncing with the Fitbit app on your iPhone 4S or 5. (Android users, at least for now, have to use an included Bluetooth dongle to sync with a personal computer.)
It isn’t like Jawbone is a stranger to Bluetooth; after all, it makes some of the best wireless headsets around, as well as the Jambox portable speaker. If the UP has a future, Jawbone will have to make use of that expertise.