Advancements in mobile technology have a huge potential to improve our health.  Two innovative products, the FitBit and Jawbone UP, aim to achieve just that by aiding users in awareness of personal health habits.  Both devices track your movement during the day, record your sleep habits at night, all while trying to motivate you to be healthier.

I have been using both the FitBit and Jawbone UP together the last few weeks and now offer the following review and comparison.

Wearability

(picture credits: FitBit via FitBit, Up via Garrett Murray)

FitBit

The FitBit is small rectangular device that can fit into any pocket to track your activity. Mine has found a home in my left pocket and once in place, I barely remember it’s there. In my opinion, this is a huge advantage to the FitBit.

It’s very discrete and not noticeable in your pocket– unless you have an affinity towards wearing super tight pants. Then you might see it, but when wearing super tight pants, this is probably the least of your worries.

In terms of wearing the device for sleep tracking, I found slipping the FitBit in and out of the included sleeping band to be a hassle.

Jawbone UP

The Jawbone UP is a wristband intended to be worn at all times, even while showering. The UP was designed very well, and I personally really like the look of the band. It’s always on my wrist; therefore, if I slip into some basketball shorts without a pocket for the FitBit, I am still able to track my activity throughout the house.

There are several reviews online that complain the band gets in the way with long sleeve shirts. I agree in part, but find it’s really no different than wearing a watch with a long sleeve shirt. The UP is light-weight and after a day or two of wearing the band, I forgot it was even there.

The sleep tracking is much easier to use than the FitBit sleeping band. The vibrating alarm is a huge advantage to the UP as well. My wife is a very light sleeper and this feature allows me to get up in the morning without waking her up with an alarm clock.  I got used to wearing the band quickly.

Gamification

FitBit

The gamification strategies of the two devices are quite different. I believe the FitBit’s is a little bit more mature as it ties into the website extremely well. Badges, almost identical to Foursquare, are used as motivators and can be quite effective. There were a few nights that I did a few extra steps just so I could be sure to hit a goal or get a badge.

There are also weekly (you can control the frequency) emails that are really helpful to report how active you have been and what has been tracked for the week.

FitBit includes many aspects of your health. The device tracks steps, flights of stairs, mileage, calories burned, and sleep. The app also can track food, water, exercise, and weight. Social aspects are also included in the experience. Twitter is integrated in the app (which I totally love) as well as Facebook for the web, so you can connect with friends on Facebook that also have the FitBit.This is a huge advantage over the UP. There is no Twitter or Facebook integration with the UP and the accompanying iPhone app.

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However, the FitBit needs to be in range of the dock (the wireless sync has never been reliable for me) or you need to sync it manually in order to view your data online. A small amount of data is available on the FitBit iPhone app.

The combination of the emails, competition with Facebook friends, and badges make the FitBit really fun to use and certainly motivating. I’ve been amazed at how my behavior has changed for the better since using the FitBit.

Jawbone UP

Jawbone has a different approach to their product and though I really like the idea, I believe a little bit of polish could make it a real force to be reckoned with in this space.

UP focuses on a completely mobile experience. There is no website that houses additional charts and data, everything is stored on the iPhone. I love this type of design. When I have a few extra minutes I can plug in UP to my phone, and all the data syncs. Immediately, I can know where I stand in terms of my activity for the day.

Although the UP doesn’t use badges (which I think they should definitely adopt) they use activity, sleep, and food bars. You can set your personal goals for each bar and when you have achieved 100% or more of your goal, you get a spinning star burst that is surprisingly motivating. When I notice I’m a little short on my activity, I am motivated to go do something so I can get up to my 100% and see the spinning star burst.

In addition to setting the goals, there is a tab for challenges. You can create your own challenge or pick one that is already set up in the app. Challenges are long and short term, some of which are quite creative. Personally I haven’t participated in challenges much. Maybe because many of the challenges are “corporate” challenges, they become a little bit of a turn off for me. I feel like I’m being sold something if 24 Hour Fitness has a specific challenge for me to do.

There is a social component as well to the UP but only within their own network that does NOT tap into Twitter or Facebook. I think this is a shame. I’d really like to find people to add to my network but I don’t want to add a stranger. Will they be active? Will they be friendly?

In conclusion, the all mobile strategy for Jawbone is a winner.  Having all the data housed in app and available at anytime is a big motivator.  However, Jawbone needs to re-evaluate their social strategy.

Data Comparison

I picked a random week in which I had data for both devices. In the images you can see the comparison graphically. For those who want to know exactly how they size up the data is below.
Steps and sleep comparison
Number of Steps

FitBit Steps – 6,104; 2,952; 5,259; 3,579; 5,487; 3,936
UP Steps – 5,691; 2,097; 6,185; 2,596; 3,869; 4,502

Hours of Sleep

FitBit Sleep – 7.59; 6.87; 6.37; 6.73; 6.83; 8.12
UP Sleep – 7.66; 6.86; 6.40; 6.78; 6.73; 8.13

As you can see the sleep tracking is nearly identical. I prefer the UP for tracking my sleep because I get more detailed data. Additionally, it’s easier to put the UP into sleep mode than it is to put the FitBit into the sleep band and then put it into sleep mode.

The differences in activity I attribute to the location of the tracker on your body. The FitBit is in my pocket, while the UP is on my wrist.  If I’m grocery shopping or holding my wife’s hand while walking, my arm is not moving naturally; I believe this causes the discrepancy in the recording of my actual steps. I’m not sure if the error is over or under what it should be. On the two days that the UP had a higher step count, I put the device into activity mode to play basketball or run (my shorts didn’t have pockets) and it accounted for more activity than the FitBit. Since the time frame is a little over a week ago, I can’t be sure if that’s the case, but it makes sense to me.

Conclusion

Both the FitBit and the UP have motivated me in different ways. I much prefer the paradigm of having my activity available to me at any time on my phone with the UP, but the tools to motivate are more sophisticated on the FitBit. I have every intention of continuing the use of both to help me live a more healthy life.

If you are on the fence about whether to get the FitBit or the UP, think about whether you want all the data on your phone or more sophisticated tools online.  Also, it is important to note that the UP had manufacturing problems and is not being sold right now (as of June 2012), but will go back on sale soon.

If you’re still on the fence and have a few more questions I’m more than happy to share additional thoughts. Just let me know in the in the comments. If you have an UP or FitBit I’d love to add you to my circle on Google+. Shoot me a message with your email and I’ll add you on FitBit and UP too.

Josh is a  user experience designer. He is currently working on his Masters in Information Systems at BYU. 

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