“Why on earth do people need one of those things?’
That was my father-in-law, after the latest FitBit ad was shown on TV.
“Why don’t people just walk about more?”
I started to explain about counting your steps, and getting more active, but quickly realised it was never going to make sense to him.
We’re the Gamification Generation, constantly attached to our phones, always connected to our digital world.
Why would we just walk, when we can wear a piece of tech that tracks our steps, let’s us compete with our virtual friends and gives us a virtual high five when we meet our goals? (And now we can not only track our steps, but catch Pokemon on our journey as well!)
If I’d tried to explain to my father-in-law that my fitness tracker also tracks my sleep patterns…… well, let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t bother!
I have had a Jawbone UP24 for the last 18 months. I had been eyeing up fitness trackers for some time, so when an unexpected Amazon gift voucher came my way I decided it was time to join the fitness revolution.
At the time, a bit of Googling told me that the Jawbone UP24 was the device to go for. One of the big selling points was the sleep tracking and the smart alarm, which promises to wake you up during your lightest sleep phase, up to 30 minutes before your alarm time would normally be.
I was hooked right from the start!
(Although the first night wearing it I didn’t sleep well, as I was excited about waking up and seeing how well I had slept 🙂
I stormed through the first few days, smashing my move goal of 10,000 steps every day. Then I got busier at work, and my walks got shorter, and I think that’s where the real beauty of fitness trackers comes in.
If you are blasting through your goal everyday then my father-in-law is probably right – why do you need one?
But when you realise you are just about to fall short of your daily goal a strange thing happens…… you get a sudden urge to go for a walk! Especially if you are on a run of ‘good’ days – you don’t want to break the trend.
It’s incredibly addictive, surprisingly fast. I know people who have resorted to climbing up and down the stairs or pacing round their house just before going to bed to make sure they hit their target for the day. And if you start a step dual with a friend it can become incredibly competitive!
So while wearing it I became more focussed on myself, my daily movement, and therefore my health. I didn’t always meet my goal, but through the app I became more aware of periods where I was spending far too much time sat at my desk………….
Anyway, after 18 months of the Jawbone UP 24 I decided to upgrade and try out the newest devices on the market. I also decided it was time to trial Jawbone’s main rival, FitBit, so I bought a Jawbone UP3 and a FitBit Charge HR.
Here’s what I found…..
Both devices track your steps, and also allow you to add activities such as biking, swimming etc.
The Fitbit HR Charge will automatically detect certain activities over 15 minutes, such as walking, running biking and elliptical training, based on your movement patterns. It will then add these to your steps and ‘exercise’ graphs.
With the Jawbone UP3 you have to add these as timed activities manually via the smart phone app, but it is simple and straightforward to do. These are highlighted on the main ‘steps’ graph, but are not tracked separately.
The Fitbit Charge HR also tracks distance travelled and floor climbed. In my opinion the Fitbit is better for tracking overall activity.
Heart Rate Tracking
The main difference between these two devices is how they track your heart rate.
The Jawbone UP3 has 4 metal widgets that come into contact with your wrist and measure your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate, especially when measured just before waking, is a great way to monitor ongoing health, as a spike in resting heart rate could indicate the start of an illness.
The Fitbit Charge HR measures your heart rate via their PurePulse™ LED lights. The big difference is it measures your active heart rate as well, so when working out you can check to see if you are ‘in the zone’. It also monitors your early morning resting heart rate, like the UP3.
If you want a fancy graph that proves how hard your workout was, the Fitbit is for you. I like graphs, so the FitBit wins here for me.
Both the Jawbone UP3 and the Fitbit HR Charge automatically go into sleep mode when you, er, go to sleep.
Depending on your movements during the night, The UP3 will record light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep. I found this interesting, as I always have pretty crazy dreams, and the UP3 data seemed to confirm I spend a lot of time in REM state.
The Fitbit Charge HR has two sleep settings – normal, or sensitive. In the normal mode it will record big movements such as rolling over as restless/awake. The sensitive mode logs smaller movements as restless/awake.
I’m currently using the Fitbit in sensitive mode as I am about to test a new product from Lean Greens, the Drift Off Formula, and want to see if it has an impact on my deep sleep vs restless times.
Having tried both devices over time, the stats recorded seem similar. I think the Jawbone UP3 wins here for the REM tracking, although how useful it is to know about your REM sleep I am not sure.
Since these devices are designed to be worn all the time, even at night, comfort is key.
The Fitbit Charge HR fits like a watch, and is pretty comfortable for all day wear. It can get a bit hot and sweaty in the good old British summer, but just take it off for a few minutes and you’ll be good to go. It comes in 2 sizes, small and large. If you buy it in store, the box has a wee guide on the side to lay your wrist on to check the fit. It looks like the large will be suitable for most people.
The Jawbone UP3 has a very awkward fastening, although I’m sure you’d get used to it after a while. It has to be worn quite tight for the heart rate monitoring to work, and the metal contacts leave wee indentations on your wrist. It comes in one size only.
Overall, I found the Fitbit much more comfortable and easy to wear.
The Jawbone UP3 smart alarm is wonderful.
Now, I have no problem sleeping. It drives my husband, an insomniac, nuts, as I generally fall asleep within 4 minutes of my head touching the pillow. But in the mornings, when the alarm wakes you up with a screech? It’s a horrible way to start the day!
The smart alarm changes all that. You set the time you have to get up at, and then set a ‘window’ of up to 30 minutes earlier. As the band tracks light and deep sleep, it can then decide when the best time to wake you is.
So, for example, I set my alarm for after 6am, 6.30 at the latest. If I enter a period of light sleep just after 6am, the band will vibrate gently and wake me up. Being woken during this phase is much less of a shock to the system! If I’m still in a deep sleep phase by 6.30, the band will vibrate to wake me up anyway.
Now it doesn’t have a snooze function, but if that’s something you worry about you can set up to 4 alarms.
The Fitbit Charge HR doesn’t have a smart alarm, just a regular time setting. Like the UP3, a ‘gentle vibration’ wakes you rather than a screechy alarm noise. However the vibration of the Fitbit is a lot less gentle than the Jawbone, and combined with the display flashing it is a pretty harsh way to be woken up.
So the Jawbone UP3 wins the battle of the alarms hands down.
What is the point of gamification if you are only playing against yourself?
If you are considering getting an activity tracker I would highly recommend checking what your friends have first. All the apps are independent, so the Fitbit app will only let you be friends with your Fitbit wearing friends etc
So if you would like to enjoy the social aspect of these devices, like step duals, you will probably want to go with the crowd and get a device like your friends have.
The Fitbit Charge HR has a simple display. Lift your wrist and the time will show. Tap gently to scroll through steps, heart rate, distance and calories used.
The Jawbone UP3 doesn’t have a display at all – all data is displayed via the smartphone app.
Both devices connect to an app on your smartphone, and sync wirelessly via bluetooth.
FitBit also has a dashboard you can view via their website, which is useful if you’d like to look at a bigger version of the funky graphs.
The Jawbone UP3 has a battery life of up to 7 days. In practice, I found it to be around 5 days. Charging is via a magnetic connection to a USB adapter. I found it awkward to maintain a consistent connection on my laptop due to the angle.
The Fitbit Charge HR has a battery life of around 5 days. However, because of the display this can be reduced if you keep looking at the time, and initially I found it was only lasting about 3 days.
After checking for some tips on their website I changed the app to sync only when I asked it too, instead of regularly through the day. I also changed the display settings not to react to a ‘wrist flick’ – I now press the button or tap to wake up the display.
These 2 small changes increased the battery life to the advertised 5ish days.
Connection is via a USB adapter, but unlike it’s a ‘click’ rather than a magnetic connection. This makes it much easier to charge, so the Fitbit wins again here.
Almost forgot this part!
RRP for the Jawbone UP3 is £130, but depending on the colour you want you can find it on Amazon for as little as £60.
RRP for the Fitbit Charge HR is £120, but seems to retail online and in store for £99.
Having tried both devices, my personal favourite is the Fitbit Charge HR (despite the higher price tag), for the following reasons.
- Real-time heart rate tracking
- Better all-round activity tracking
- I have more friends with Fitbits, so a bigger community to inspire me to get off the sofa!
If you are not looking for a heart rate monitor then I’d recommend the much cheaper Jawbone UP24
Do you have a different Fitness Tracker that you would recommend? We’d love to hear your thoughts!