Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fitness tracker comparison: Jawbone UP3 vs. Fitbit Charge HR

Note: all opinions are my own and this is a non-sponsored post.

I’ve been using fitness trackers for a very long time, about 10 years. My favorite is still the Bodymedia (or “bodybugg”) armband, since it is the most accurate with its sensor, still to this day, although the company seems to have folded and no longer sells them directly (they’ve been bought by Jawbone). In the summer, I don’t like wearing the big armband and so I look for less obvious trackers. --- Last year, I bought a regular fitbit and a Jawbone Up. While they are ok and basically step counters, they lack the ability to track sleep quality accurately. This year, I was intrigued that the Jawbone UP3 had come out and has skin sensors similar to the body bugg. Since Jawbone had bought Bodymedia I had high hopes.


My gray/silver Jawbone UP3 arrived end of June, and I’ve been wearing it since. The good thing about it --- sleep tracking is really good. The negative: it does not do much with regard to activity estimation. The core of the Jawbone UP3 is that it works with resting heart rate. Therefore, I get detailed information on sleep patterns. When I go running it does detect the activity and asks me to confirm. However, if I have a day where I just run around a lot, it is basically a step counter, and does not add this information to my calorie burn. --- That started to be annoying to me--- I had to manually enter that I ‘walked’ for 1 h to get a semi-accurate calorie burn for the day. “For this, I paid $180?! It is all manual.” --- On Sunday, I was annoyed enough to decide to compare it with a Fitbit Charge HR. I will return eventually one of them, but turns out they are both not ideal.

The first thing that was negative about the Fitbit Charge is that I immediately got a skin reaction --- why, friends from Fitbit, can you not make a clasp without Nickel? You should know from the other fitbit models that have the same problem. This might be the main reason I will return the Fitbit. The Jawbown UP3, on the other hand, no problem/skin reaction at all.

Let’s compare:

First, sleep comparison --- this is where the Jawbone UP3 shines, plenty of detailed information, deep sleep, REM sleep, light sleep, wake up time and HR during sleep, even better than the Bodymedia armband. The Fitbit Charge HR, on the other hand, is quite useless. It classifies my restless tossing and turning as little sleep, and comes out with a number of “Only 5h 21m of sleep” while the Jawbone UP3 tells me “8h 4m” which is correct. --- Jawbone UP3 wins here by leaps.

Next up: Activity. Here, the Fitbit Charge HR has the lead. I do not need to enter anything, it takes my step count and HR to calculate how many calories I burnt. Not a lot, but running around all day still accounts for something. The Jawbone UP3 basically only takes my base caloric burn for my age, weight and height, and adds a bit extra, like 250 calories for 8000 steps. That is not accurate (<—my major gripe with the Jawbone UP3). (Note, this is actually an improvement because I wear the Jawbone up much tighter now, and I get 1500 kcal, while before it was more like 1370 kcal/day).


Fitbit estimates I burnt around 1620 calories for the day, which is something similar I would expect based on the Bodymedia armband. The Jawbone UP3 only estimates 1503kcal. One could say, so what, it is just 120 calories difference. But I ask myself “Why do I pay for an expensive smart fitness tracker when it is not smart at all and does not much more than step count?” I can get this for $20.
When I enter activity manually, the calorie burn seems ok, but still, annoyance that I have to do this manually.


So, the verdict is out --- which one will I keep? At the moment I wear both. I tightened the one-size-fits all armband of the Jawbone UP3, so that it sits a lot tighter and hopefully, gives me better measurements. The Fitbit armband is surprisingly short for the Small size. I have a fairly narrow wrist, but the medium size would have been better. I like that the fitbit has a display that I can tap and get the current time, and don’t need a watch. The Jawbone UP3 looks better, and I don’t get a skin reaction.

Update Sept 27 2015: Jawbone UP3 updated the firmware and software, and the Jawbone Up3 now automatically detects sleep mode, and is very accurate. This is a huge improvement. Unfortunately, the daily calorie calculations are still off about estimate more accurately the daily, non-heavy-duty burn.


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