Startup Smackdown: Fitbit vs Jawbone UP

By November 11, 2011

How well do you sleep? How much do you exercise? What foods give you energy or make you groggy? The answers to these questions are steps to a healthier, more productive life, and a new wave of health tech products are trying to help you find those answers.

In today’s Startup Smackdown, we feature two of the hottest health tech products, Fitbit Ultra and Jawbone UP. Fitbit is a pedometer on crack and tracks everything from the steps you take and the stairs you climb to how well you sleep. UP does much of the same, but does its job while wrapped around your wrist instead of attached to your front pocket. Both devices cost $99, and Fitbit offers a premium feature on its website for $49/year.

Let the games begin!

Round 1 — Diet

Fitbit and UP take two very different approaches to tracking food. Neither allows you to track what you eat on their device, so you have to use the supporting mobile app (or Fitbit’s website) to do it.

Fitbit’s approach involves searching a database of 10,000 foods for what you have eaten. It then provides you with caloric and other nutritional information. I have tried (and failed) to track my food using a similar approach on the DailyBurn, but it is too tedious to enter your foods — especially if you make something with a lot of ingredients.

UP, on the other hand, takes a novel approach to food tracking. Instead of entering what you have eaten, it asks you to take a picture of your meal with the mobile app. A few hours later it will alert you and ask how you feel — the goal being to help you understand which foods keep you alert or make you groggy. It is a qualitative approach to food intake rather than a quantitative one, which could appeal to less number-hungry consumers.

Winner: For this round my vote goes to UP’s novel take on controlling your diet. I am not sure that it works, but I am sure that Fitbit’s approach is lacking.

Round 2 — Exercise

In this category, Fitbit offers a variety of tools to help track how much you have moved around during the day. Like a traditional pedometer, it tracks how many steps you have taken. It also lets you know how many stairs you have climbed. (I hate stairs, so I know climbing them must be good for me.) Fitbit also has a flower LED screen that shows you how active you have been during the day. The longer the flower, the more you have moved around.

Jawbone’s lack of display costs the product major points in this category. While it also tracks steps, it has no way of updating you on your progress unless you take it off and sync it with your phone. One redeeming feature is a timer that will cause the device to vibrate if you are inactive for a long period of time. You can turn it on and off, so it won’t be vibrating while you are sleeping or at the movies.

Winner: The clear winner here is Fitbit with its display features and stair tracking. If seeing your steps would motivate you, Fitbit is the product you should buy.

Round 3 — Sleeping

This is the category I’m most interested in, because I always seem to wake up at the worst time. Both devices track your sleep, but I am more interested in the data they provide and how I can use it to wake up feeling refreshed.

Fitbit usually clips to your pocket, but in order for it to track your sleep you need to put it on a wristband that comes with the product. It lets you know how long you have been in bed, how long you have actually slept, and how many times you have woken up.

Jawbone UP provides data about light sleep, deep sleep, and total time asleep. It also provides a percentage indicating how well you slept (compared to what?). That is all well and good, but the killer feature here is the vibrating alarm. If you set your alarm with UP, the device will rouse you up to 30 minutes earlier than your alarm time if you are in a state of light sleep. This means that you can wake up more refreshed and ready to go.

Winner: Once again, the clear winner here is UP. Anything that can help me wake up more refreshed is poised to get my vote and my money.

Final Count: Fitbit 1. Jawbone UP 2.

I did not discuss the challenge or community aspects of these products. I believe that your health is a very personal thing and I am not sure that it is something I want to share with my friends. But if you find motivation and accountability through including others in your fitness regimen, more power to you.

Congratulations Jawbone on your glorious victory!