Since early January, I've been wearing a small electronics-laden band around my left wrist almost continuously. That's not because a judge ordered me to clap the thing on, but because this device - the Jawbone Up – might report something useful about my exercise and sleep.
This $129.99 wristband (the second generation of one taken off the market in 2011 after numerous failures) employs "a precision motion sensor and powerful algorithms" to count my steps, then stays awake when I sleep to measure my shut-eye time.
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To see those details, I remove the band's cap and plug it into the headphone jack of an iOS device running the Up app (an Android version is promised). To charge it every five days or so, I plug it, via an adapter, into any USB port or charger.
The biggest discovery this data has yielded: Working from home can be worse for your health than I'd realized. On Feb. 4, when I didn't leave our cozy abode, the Up only recorded 2,490 steps, for a pitiful 1.2 miles and 115 calories of "active burn."
Stepping out to a neighborhood place or two, however, easily fixed that: On Feb. 8, nearby errands sent my totals to 7,973 steps, 3.8 miles and 375 calories. And walking to my Metro stop, then strolling to a downtown destination, really ran up the score - on Feb. 11, when I only went to a basketball game in D.C., the Up recorded 14,232 steps, 6.9 miles and 701 calories.
(Running would burn calories faster, but it's also in the 30s outside as I type this.)
But don't take the mileage figures as gospel. Even after two calibration sessions, the Up still overestimated a walk as compared to the GPS-linked RunKeeper: 2.54 miles for the band, 2.32 for that smartphone app.
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Other forms of exercise can confuse the Up. It read an 18-mile bike ride as maybe five miles of walking, and a couple of hours of skiing didn't seem to register at all.
So you might prefer to clock your daily distances with a smartphone app. Conveniently enough, the latest release of Android (available on almost no phones) updates its Google Now software with an "activity summary" of your walking and bicycling.
But you can't wear a smartphone to bed; if, however, you switch the Up to its sleep mode by holding down its single button, the Up will analyze yours.
As the father of a toddler who now delights in waking up my wife and I, I wasn't expecting great results, and the Up did not surprise. My best sleep came on Jan. 19, when I sacked out for 8 hours and 26 minutes; five to six hours have been more typical, with deep sleep a minority of that time frustratingly often.
But how do I get more of the out-of-it slumber the app values so highly? I have no idea. Maybe I would if I used the app's options to log my moods and record each meal with a typed description, a choice from its database or a photo–but I could not get myself into those habits. (Years ago, I tried out a service in which I used a cameraphone to take a picture of everything I ate for a dietician to assess; it was enlightening but weird.)
The Up's "Teams" option, in which you share data with others to motivate each other, also conflicted with my own hangups. None of the five Up users the app found among my contacts and Facebook friends were close pals with whom I'd feel more comfortable seeing this much of my life.
The Up band itself was durable–I wore it in the shower without evident harm–but also a bit bulky. It fit awkwardly under a dress shirt's sleeves, scraped across my laptop's palm rest and kept getting caught on the elasticized cuff of my winter jacket. And I couldn't help thinking that if I had to have this much circuitry around my wrist, I'd like it to tell time.
Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery