Finding the Perfect Smart Watch: Part 1

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I was an early adopter of wearable technology, and since 2015, I’ve owned 8 different devices. As a lifelong hypochondriac and pretty consistent health enthusiast, I was excited by the idea of a piece of technology that could help me enhance my well being simply by wearing it. Of course, I was also enamored by the fantasy that this little device would lead to daily workouts and catapult me into the best shape of my life, so wearables were extremely attractive to me from day one. Here I will chronicle my enduring and chaotic love affair with smart watches, wearables, and fitness trackers narrating the story device by device, starting where the obsession with finding the perfect smart watch began.

Jawbone UP 24

UP24

In 2014, I started to notice people walking around with the first generation Fitbit wrist band, the Flex, which immediately got me interested in this new market. But it was the Jawbone UP 24, the first iteration of the fitness tracker with the cool twist feature, that really caught my eye. It looked more like a bracelet than a fitness band, and Jawbone seemed to have all of the tracking features and software I wanted.

Around fall of 2014 when I was getting really serious about selecting my new tracker, Jawbone rolled out the UP3, a tracker enhanced with heart rate monitoring and a waterproof design, allowing you to keep it on at all times. The design looked sleek and would fit nicely with the lovely with the Victorinox watch I’d worn every day for years since getting it from my partner as a birthday gift. I couldn’t imagine not wearing that watch. So, I put the UP3 on my Christmas list and in doing so unknowingly subjected myself to a rocky beginning in the world of wearables.

As it got closer to the holidays, I grew more and more excited about the Jawbone UP3 that was just waiting to be mine. But when Christmas rolled around, I and legions of other excited Jawbone fans learned we would have to wait indefinitely for the life changing tracker we had been dreaming about all winter. Jawbone sent notices to customers who had pre-ordered the UP3 to let them know the shipping date was being pushed back and that they should arrive shortly after the holidays. So we waited patiently and hoped the weeks would tick by. Unfortunately, the expected shipping date kept slipping further and further into the future, and as Valentines Day came and went, Jawbone issued a statement that the waterproof features of the UP3 had not passed mass production, and they were working on making all the trackers waterproof before shipping them out.

Jawbone UP Move

jawbone-up-move

Around March, all of us who had pre-ordered an UP3 were sent a cute little device called the Jawbone UP Move to tide us over. It was a simple circular disc that tracked steps, sleep, and activities like runs and walks. It paired with Jawbone’s gorgeous and exciting phone app that I excitedly downloaded and started filling with data. The best part was the simple light-based notification system. The Move had LED lights around the edge of the disc that displayed how close you were to your step goal for the day. When you finally reached the goal and completed the full circle, the lights put on a little show for you. After reaching your goal, every time you pressed the center of the disc, your eyes would be delighted with the little light party again. Even though this device was incredibly simple, I loved it, and it was a good consolation for the UP3 being perpetually on hold.

Jawbone UP3

UP3

Ah yes, we finally make it to the world’s most advanced tracker. After months of waiting for a day that seemed like it would never come, the UP3 finally arrived at my house in May of 2015. Having already grown excited about tracking and about Jawbone’s software, I was instantly hooked and felt delighted seeing my step count go up each day and to read the summary of my night’s sleep every morning. To this day, I will argue that the Jawbone app has the most pleasing and helpful user interface of any fitness tracking software I’ve seen (more on that later.)

Unfortunately, some of the hardware issues the UP3 encountered in production would prove to be harbingers of disaster for the device. UP3 featured a simple notification panel which could be activated by tapping the face of the tracker. The UP3 also required you to manually put it in sleep mode and activity mode in order to track properly. To achieve this, users had to press and hold the front of the device, which worked maybe 1/10th of the time. The tracker also seemed to have an innate ability to put itself into the wrong mode, which often resulted in me looking down to see that it was in sleep mode during the day and desperately trying to tap it back into activity tracking mode. Another issue was the fact that the state of the art heart rate trackers that promised to deliver game changing biometrics were somehow only capable of taking a daily resting heart rate reading. That meant that during exercises, all you could track was the duration and step count of your workout, no feedback on heart rate zones at all. Overall, UP3 had some big disappointments, but I still loved the data and motivation to move, so I endured the setbacks willingly.

But then there was the charger. After only three months of owning my long-awaited UP3, the puny little three prong magnetic charger failed on me, simply refusing to charge my device. Customer service was kind and sent me a replacement, but after a few months, it grew finicky as well, only charging when the stars aligned perfectly. Given the hoards of manufacturing and hardware issues Jawbone had encountered, I decided my next wearable would need to be from a different brand, so I returned to researching the next best device.

That’s where I’ll pick up next time with Part 2 of the saga!

Reflections

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