FitBit Flex vs. Jawbone UP Band

I started wearing the Jawbone band back in June, and then dropped it in favor of the FitBit Flex. Each individual post has my take on the band, mostly from my immediate and real-time reactions while wearing the devices. Here’s a quick comparison between the two, with a number of important items rated from 1–10.

Everything on my wrist at once for a test run. Ridiculous.

I don’t wear either of the bands anymore. The bands and data are intriguing, and I wish the impact of the wearing of the band matched the style and the potential. Right now the existing bands simply don’t change my life enough to justify the cost, hassle of wearing, or time and energy it takes to keep them charge and to sync and view the data.

There is some interesting movement in this area from new companies and from Nike with their new band, and I hope to try new offerings soon. Basis recently raised more funding, and has a head-start with it’s new watch that collects more data, such as HR and skin temperature). Even more important, Basis automatically creates actionable suggestions for users, which is an important effort to reduce the 80% of users who abandon mobile health apps within two weeks.

FitBit now sells a new band, the FitBit Force (buy from Amazon — affiliate link). The Force expands the functionality of the Flex with enhanced tracking functionality a new form factor. I’m interested in trying the Force because it has a clock, which means that instead of a health band being something else to wear, the Force might become my daily wristwatch.

Finally, Nike also released a new version of the FuelBand, which finally measures sleep, and adds some detailed exercise tracking features

For now, here’s a summary and comparison between the two bands that I already tried.

FitBit Flex from Amazon
FitBit Force from Amazon
Jawbone UP from Amazon
Please note: These are affiliate links to Amazon.

Specific Feature Comparisons

Jawbone UP 2/10: You have to plug it into your phone to sync. Once plugged in, sometimes the app opens automatically, sometimes it’s doesn’t. Once it syncs, it’s not too fast. Also, there’s no hardware component on the band that displays any measure of progress. (Note: The idle alert feature is helpful in this regard because it reminds you to get up if you’re sitting still for too long. The idle alert does not in any way fully compensate for the cumbersome syncing.)

FitBit Flex 8/10: The FitBit syncs wirelessly, a dream after using the Jawbone. Not a perfect score because sometimes it doesn’t sync in the background even when it’s setup to, and other times the sync is really slow — like you can’t believe the phone can’t see the band when they’re right next to each other.

Step Tracking
Jawbone UP 7/10: It’s hard to be confident that the step tracking is accurate, especially since it’s dependent on some type of arm movement. Jawbone does provide a calibration feature, which likely made the tracking better.

FitBit Flex 5/10: I was even less confident about the FitBit Flex because it didn’t have any calibration. Post-step analysis of three days shows that the two bands varied up to over 26%. I bet over a longer period of time the variation would be less. Despite the differences, you can see some consistency between the bands. To really test this, I need to wear both bands and a Garmin GPS watch. I’ll try to run that test soon, despite how ridiculous my wrist will look.

Three day comparison test of FitBit Flex and Jawbone UP Band

Sleep Tracking
Jawbone UP and FitBit Flex 2/10: I have no idea if the sleep tracking was accurate. More important, I know that the sleep tracking didn’t help me make any changes to sleep better.

Idle Alert
Jawbone UP 8/10: The idle alert on the UP band had the most impact out of any features across both bands. There could be more features and customization options.

FitBit Flex 0/10: No idle alert. (Note: The real-time display of progress on the band via LED lights is helpful because you can quickly tap the band to see how the day is going. The lights aren’t a full replacement for the idle alert because sometimes even little progress doesn’t prompt movement when a long walk is coming up in the future.) This is an easy feature to build into the band, and FitBit should include it in the next version.

Jawbone UP 6/10: Jawbone gets some points for effort because they have a “smart alarm” that is supposed to wake you up at an ideal time in a set range. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I still woke up tired and groggy.

FitBit Flex 6/10: The FitBit standard vibration alarm has an easy-to-use interface, wireless syncing (again, this is critical), and works to wake me up. No smart alarm, and nothing special. This is another easy feature, like the idle alert, to built in.

Jawbone UP 0/10: From my small sample size, no one I knew added me on the Jawbone app, and the service never prompted me to search for friends.

FitBit Flex 6/10: FitBit quickly guided me through the process of adding friends, and I ended up in a group and competing with about 10 people. The added human element made a difference, though it was limited by the simplicity of the app. For example, if I walked 10,000 steps in a day and did 60 minutes of intense cycling or weight lifting that’s still 10,000 steps, and I’m behind someone who walked slowly 15,000 steps.

Jawbone UP 7/10: The Jawbone band lasted almost a week without needing to be charged, and quickly charged up via a USB-AC adapter cable in a few hours.

FitBit Flex 6/10: The FitBit lasted a little less, closer to 5 days before needing a charge. It also charges quickly by pulling the actual “bit” out of the band and using a USB-AC charging cable.

Jawbone UP 5/10: The Jawbone’s rating is hurt by it’s plug-in-only syncing capabilities, which make it annoying to change settings, view stats, and set the silent alarm. Beyond the connectivity problem, it’s a great app: modern, functional, and easy to use. The Jawbone app lets you manually log food and emotions, which could be a great step towards an omni-life tracking app that delivers great recommendations. Knowing that I sept 7.5 hours with mediocre quality is barely helpful. Knowing that I slept for 7.5 hours with mediocre quality and that I was feeling frustrated within the 5 hours before I went to sleep is helpful: Now I can focus on actively changing how I feel before bed by changing activities, adjusting meal schedules, or even doing something like meditating.

FitBit Flex 7/10: The FitBit app is also modern, functional, and easy to use. It’s significantly easier to use the social features of FitBit and to set silent alarms. The FitBit app has food tracking, and is missing the emotion tracking. Overall, I used the FitBit app a lot more since it had basically real-time data from the background wireless sync. The Jawbone app is more powerful, but less useful. Both apps are basic, and have a lot of potential for improvement. Fortunately, both start with a good foundation to build on.

Fit and Design
Jawbone UP 6/10: I wore a Jawbone in medium, and the size matters a lot. The band has a great design, where it expands and contracts automatically based on the width of your wrist. The Jawbone is comfortable to wear on your wrist. The band becomes quite uncomfortable when it hits anything else, whether it’s your computer keyboard or even a firm mattress. It also has lots of sharp corners that hurt. The design looks awesome. It works good, not great. Also, the colors are beautiful, but you can only pick one.

FitBit Flex 8/10: The FitBit comes with two interchangeable bands, each adjustable to multiple sizes. It’s a more static fit than the Jawbone band, and a more rigid design. I found it more enjoyable to wear because it felt more lightweight, less sharp, and, and more comfortable for daily wear. The FitBit doesn’t look as sleek or modern as the Jawbone, but the design works better. The original colors are more subtle (black and dark grey), and the additional bands brighten things up in bolder colors.

Buying Advice
Buy one of these bands if you can’t get enough data, and especially if you’ll use it in raw form to improve your life. Consider the Jawbone UP band if you have trouble waking up, and are willing to try anything to make mornings better. If you have trouble waking up in the morning, and the smart alarm works well for you, that’s a winner. Buy the FitBit Flex if you’re keen on tracking steps and sleep, or are looking for a well-designed silent (but not smart) alarm you can control with your smartphone. The FitBit Force is a new option on the market, and a great way to combine your watch and tracking band. I would skip the original Nike FuelBand (doesn’t track sleep), unless you’re looking for more limited tracking focused on fitness. The new FuelBand will have similar features to the Flex, Force, and UP.

I recommend buying the the bands from Amazon (unless inventory controls puts a premium price on them above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price). The price will likely be these same, based on inventory, and returns are easy (returning an UP band to Jawbone was more difficult than any Amazon return I’ve ever done — I wish I had purchased the UP band from Amazon instead of directly from Jawbone, though Jawbone does have a 60 day trial period, compared to Amazon’s 30 day return policy).

In the end, I stopped wearing the FitBit Flex too. I liked having the data about steps, and the LED lights on the band did prompt me to be more conscious about walking. I still didn’t walk that much more, especially since my goal is to exercise more, which is rarely captured by the band. The sleep data was interesting, but I couldn’t change a single thing about my behavior to make it “better,” except go to sleep earlier — and lack of sleep was not the problem. There is a huge potential for quantifying devices like the UP and Flex to have a significant impact, and I hope we get to that point soon. The Basis could be a great start. For example, a basic algorithm could look at my step, exercise (based on HR), and sleep patterns over a week, and try to draw connections between those activities. The algorithm could be enhanced with one or more user-added measurements, such as mood. Imagine if FitBit could tell me that I slept more soundly and more effectively when I walked at least 9,800 steps per day and did at least 20 minutes of intensive exercise, and that my mood was better when I did at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day. When we get to that point, and if those devices are enjoyable and easy to use like the Flex and UP bands, I’ll give it another try.