It's rare to go an hour without a gadget vibration, whether it's your smartwatch reminding you to move or the constant stream of messages on your smartphone. But thanks to Israeli startup Upright, a different kind of buzz is aiming to correct poor posture and improve health and wellbeing.
After tackling lower backs with its first device, the company successfully raised over $1m on Kickstarter earlier this year and is now delivering its second posture wearable, the Upright Go, and targeting slouching in the upper back.
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We've been living with the device for the past few weeks in order to see just how it aims to correct your form, and whether its brand of haptic feedback and personalised training can help you sit up straight in the long term.
Blink and you'll miss it
The last thing anybody attaching something to track their back wants is a device that people can easily notice. Thankfully, following the same design as its first posture solution, the Upright Go is a small, unobtrusive tracker - breathe a sigh of relief, this is no brace-like wearable.
Sitting at around 55 x 33 x 11mm, it's under half the size of a ballpoint pen, while also offering a similar kind of thickness. And with a sticky adhesive tab securing it to your upper back, its 12g weight is largely unnoticeable. Unless you happen to reach around, it can be easy to forget it's still on.
These tabs do have to be changed after a few weeks, Upright says, though we haven't had long enough with the device to see just how long you can stretch this out. However, we can say that after cleaning with the provided alcohol wipes, the adhesive is just as effective.
The casing is a bright white, but generally this isn't something that sticks out or catches on your clothes if you position it between your shoulder blades; only users with tight t-shirts will be going noticed when the Upright Go is in action.
The LED light which is used to help you sync and power the device also handily doesn't flash when the device is on your back - good for if you don't want to look like a cyborg - and the only button on the device is difficult to miss-press.
Get flexible and set it up
Since the Upright Go itself is essentially just a sensor, the biggest part of setup here — aside from testing your flexibility and reaching to your back — is getting set up with either your Android or iOS device.
Once you've charged up your device, paired it via Bluetooth to your phone and gone through the initial information input that sets up your personal plan, the next step is placing it on your back and calibrating. This takes a few seconds before everything's confirmed and you're met with an avatar which represents your posture.
When everything's good, meaning your shoulders are back and your not slouched over looking at your phone, the avatar shows this and is green. But even a slight slump over will see this shown in real-time on the avatar, which then turns red.
You're then greeted with two different modes, tracking and training. The latter is the more engaging of the two, and also the setting that buzzes you when you lean out of line. However, this setting, which forms the Upright Go's training programme, only represents a small amount of the day.
An increasing amount of minutes — ramping from one 10 minute tracking session on your first day of the programme to, say, two 12 minute sessions on your seventh day — is used in order to train your posture over the course of a number of weeks, while the tracking mode will form the rest of the day and give you an overview of when you were in the red and when you had good posture.
Overall, this is a straightforward and intuitive process when it works. However, it hasn't been without its issues, either. Oddly, after a week or so, we faced a situation in which the app stated the Go was both disconnected and connected to the smartphone at the same time, while the tracker itself was persistently flashing green.
Handily, Upright's app has easy access to its support team built in. They can handle any queries via DM, but the root of this problem was, it turns out, trying to connect the Go while the phone was connected to Wi-Fi. As soon as we switched over to 4G, it synced immediately. We're not quite sure why this is proved to be an issue, but it's certainly something to keep in mind if you're having trouble. Upright needs to get on a fix if this is a widespread problem.
Feed it on back
In broad terms, that's all there really is to getting started, but it's how you use the feedback in order to change your behaviour that's important. Initially, I was a little surprised I wasn't going to be buzzed every time I entered the poor posture zone, but while the training mode would always help me achieve a higher Upright Percentage (the metric that's used to give you an overview of your day), it also isn't vital.
There's no doubt I'm more mindful of how I sit and walk
The thing about living with this device is that the form of good and bad posture is locked into your head pretty quickly, even when you don't have it on your back. In that sense, receiving a buzz every time you step out of line for two seconds isn't necessary. We also suspect that doing so would be a bigger drain on battery than a simple background tracking session, not to mention no doubt becoming incredibly annoying day to day.
Crucially, you can also alter the immediate feedback. If you want to be allowed a certain amount of seconds in the red before getting buzzed in training mode, you can change this. And if you want a lighter buzz that won't have everybody in the office looking at you every time you lean over to your desk, you can adjust the intensity, too.
For those who don't want to spend your whole day with the smartphone app open, Upright Go has an Apple Watch app which gives you the same live avatar look at your posture.
Generally, though, you'll spend most of your time looking at which parts of the day you hit red through the main app. And when you look back on the tracking data from your day, this is generally in big blocks. Personally, once I got into a slump at my desk - usually in the afternoons - I'd stay that way for a couple of hours, if not more.
While this kind of feedback does help you to realise when and where you're going wrong, it'd also be a helpful addition to potentially receive a vibration or notification on your phone whenever you've been in the red for a certain amount of time - even in tracking mode. As we said about the annoying nagging, this could be an in-app option to turn on and off. And while the daily feedback is solid, having a more general overview would also be handy for those who want to see how your certain weeks or months compare.
So, when it's all said and done, does this system work for those looking to track their posture and, in turn, make a change?
In a nutshell, yes. Not only does this fit the bill with regard to offering an unobtrusive design and being straightforward to set up, but it also brings an effective way to alter how you sit. After wearing the Upright Go for a couple of weeks, there's no doubt I'm more mindful of how I sit and walk.
That doesn't mean it's perfect, of course. Battery life is still only eight hours, which, while enough to track your 9-5 day in the office, means you still have to add it to the list of devices you have charging on your nightstand. And while I personally got over the fact that this isn't a continuously buzzing trainer, I can see if others would prefer feedback for more than a couple of small sessions per day.
We expect updates to rectify the likes of the Wi-Fi/4G issue we faced and the data overview to become more fleshed out, but even at its current level the Upright Go is an effective way to improve your posture and your general wellbeing.
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