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Fitness fanatics just may have a device with enough power to capture and motivate them toward greater performance. At least that's what Motorola believes it has created in its MotoActv. A veritable miniature computer running Android, this gadget uses GPS, Bluetooth, music, and Web-based analytics to further the goals of dedicated athletes. Find out if it has the right stuff to be your coach and inspiration.
My first impression of the Motorola MotoActv was that it's a beefier, or perhaps manlier, iPod Nano. Measuring 1.81 inches tall, 1.81 inches wide, and 0.37 inch thick, it has a similar square shape but is blockier than the Nano with its slightly thinner chassis (1.5 inches by 1.6 inches by 0.35 inch). The Nano's depth also includes its clip, which the stock MotoActv lacks. At 1.2 ounces, Motorola's gadget is also heavier than Apple's 0.7-ounce ultraportable music player.
The MotoActv's macho look is further fortified by an all-black color scheme and robust metal construction. Two large, roughly ridged silver buttons, for Start and Music, occupy the MotoActv's top edge. On the right side are the volume keys and an oval power button. The left side houses a long rubber flap that covers a recessed Micro-USB port (for both charging and connecting to PCs), while below sits a tiny rubber plug capping the MotoActv's 35mm headphone jack.
Like the Nano, the MotoActv features a postage-stamp touch screen (1.6 inches, 176x220 pixels). Though a hair bigger than the Nano's display (1.54 inches, 240x240 pixels), the MotoActv's screen serves up a lower resolution and less pixel density. While the display isn't terribly sharp, it is very legible in direct sunlight. In fact, a light sensor automatically flips the screen into black-and-white mode for better viewing outside. A notification light above the display winks in white for alerts, and in the lower-right corner is a capacitive Back button.
To survive the elements and tough workouts, the device is both sweat- and water-resistant. The screen also boasts a chemically treated Gorilla Glass coating designed to shrug off scratches and cracks.
A host of accessories help the MotoActv morph into various forms, too. Inside the kit I reviewed was a clip for attaching the device to belts, sleeves, and shirts. A set of Motorola's wired SF200 Sport headphones is included as well so you can operate the device as a traditional music player.
My favorite part about its design is the band for strapping the MotoActv around your wrist for use as a timepiece. Let me be clear, though: rocking the MotoActv as a watch is a bold, or perhaps foolish, fashion statement. The band is very wide with dual rows of eyelets to accept the latch's double-pronged buckle. Aggressively styled in black with angry red highlights, the watch face is also massive, lending the whole ensemble a retro '80s sci-fi aesthetic. Frankly, it's right up my alley, but it's not for everyone.
Running a bona fide version of Google's Android OS, the MotoActv is more like a mini computer than an ordinary music player. It shares a kinship with the unique Wimm watch and possibly the upcoming Basis Band monitor. Like the iPod Nano, the MotoActv has an internal accelerometer that serves as a pedometer. Motorola also adds a GPS receiver for tracking your activity outdoors, a Wi-Fi radio, and Bluetooth hardware that supports the new Bluetooth 4.0 spec. The product comes in two memory capacities: 8GB ($249.99) and 16GB ($299).
Why all the technology packed into this gadget? Motorola told me that it's to address not only a consumer's interest in health, fitness, and well-being but also to eliminate the need to carry multiple devices during exercise. The target audience for the MotoActv ranges from hard-core athletes training for the next triathlon, to gym rats and casual runners and bicyclists. This is not merely a calorie/activity counter for couch potatoes looking to drop a few pounds; let's just say I'm not the ideal customer.
You can transfer music files to the MotoActv via USB connection using the MotoCast software, which is located within device memory. With the application, the MotoActv syncs tracks stored in the iTunes folder or can be mounted as a drive so you can drag and drop tunes manually.
There are 40 different types of exercise methods to choose from, including Running, Cycling, Walking, Elliptical, and Step Machine. More-exotic activities can be found on the device, too, such as Gymnastics, Fencing, Martial Arts, Snow Boarding, and even Yard Work. When you're outside, the MotoActv activates its GPS radio for location-based data. An especially slick trick is how the device pairs with wireless stereo Bluetooth headphones and Motorola Android smartphones such as the new Droid Razer Maxx and Droid 4 using the MotoActv app. This lets you view notifications on the device's screen without having to fumble for your handset.
To keep you motivated, Motorola touts the MotoActv's ability to monitor your performance while playing music and (over time) suggest a custom playlist of tracks that historically delivered your best results. You also can pick a song that really revs you up and use it like an audio nitrous boost when needed. If you need a break from canned music, the device has an FM tuner, too.
Much of the MotoActv's usefulness hinges on its accompanying Web services and fitness analytics. Once you've created a MotoActv account and linked the device to your profile, the MotoActv will measure details such as speed, time, and distance against body weight, height, and age to calculate calories burned. It'll also record the specific path you took when outdoors and the music that you played. The device transmits data automatically either over Wi-Fi or through a paired phone's cellular connection. The free service also provides training plans for 5K and 10K runs and multiple cycling regimens. A competition area holds regular fitness challenges hosted by members to spur MotoActv owners to action.
Motorola sells a number of accessories for the MotoActv, including a heart rate monitor ($69.99), bike mount ($29.99), and bike speed and cadence sensor. The device, though, will connect to other fitness sensors made by third parties as well over the ANT+ wireless standard.
In my short time with the Motorola MotoActv, my experience was mostly as advertised. Once powered up and with my Motorola account created, I slapped the device on using the watch strap. While the strap holds the MotoActv tightly in place, removing it is very difficult, requiring many minutes of prying, cursing, and grunting. Perhaps it's a subtle hint to hit the gym.
The device features multiple virtual watch faces running the gamut from classic analog and digital to designs framed by nuclear and skull symbols. They all felt tame and lacked real artistic punch. Apple's iPod Nano, for instance, boasts a selection of clocks that look much more attractive.
I found transferring tracks an acceptable if tedious process, especially if you don't use iTunes. Still, the MotoActv displayed songs with the appropriate album artwork, and porting of iTunes playlists is supported. Frankly that's the way to go. With a screen this small, flipping through menus is best avoided.
I then connected my LG BHS-700 headset to the gadget, which put a smile on my face. As someone who's killed countless headphones by snagging them on fire hydrants, garbage cans, and even doorknobs, wireless headsets are a no-brainer. Linking the device to a test Motorola Droid 4 (Verizon) was a cinch, too, using the necessary app. Since the MotoActv supports multipoint Bluetooth, it serves as a hub linking both the headset and phone through itself. Alerts for texts, missed calls, and voice messages were displayed on the MotoActv within the notification screen, but sadly I couldn't actually answer or initiate calls with the device.
I began my workout sessions easily by swiping to the Workout screen (one of the device's five screens), choosing my activity, and hitting the Start button. For complete disclosure, my fitness regimen does not consist of sweat-laden 10-mile runs, but mild walks on city streets dodging taxis and messenger bikes. Still, the MotoActv correctly logged my urban hikes, no mean feat in the deep concrete and steel canyons of Manhattan. If I stopped to pop into a store for water, a calm female voice explained that for a workout to be recorded I'd need to keep moving.
Workout stats uploaded to the MotoActv.com Web portal through both Wi-Fi and cellular connection without any problems. There I learned I walked at a rather unimpressive average pace of 2.6 miles per hour and on my 42-minute journey burned 266 calories. I'll step it up next time.
Motorola claims the MotoActv provides 20 hours of music playback and 13.5 days of standby time. Sadly, during my test period I observed about 25 hours of battery life, which mostly consisted of running in standby mode with the occasional walk and with Bluetooth active. If you're going to use it as a watch, I suggest charging it daily, like you would most Android phones.
One area where the MotoActv comes up surprisingly short is basic activity tracking. The device does measure steps taken all day along, with calories consumed; it places the info right on the home screen. Other simpler and less expensive products, however, such as the Fitbit ($99.99), log total daily steps and plot this against typical caloric intake to suggest how much you'll need to move to lose weight. While the MotoActv clearly is aimed at fitness enthusiasts and athletes, this type of functionality seems easy to include and fun for many types of users.
Comparing the Motorola MotoActv against other devices is a little tricky since it serves so many purposes. It's a portable music device, funky Android-powered watch, and state-of-the-art fitness gadget. To be sure, as an MP3 player it doesn't measure up to Apple's iconic Nano, which fills the microsize music niche like no other product. The MotoActv isn't a casual activity tracker and weight-loss vehicle, either, like the Fitbit or even Nike's FuelBand, though it could be in a snap if Motorola wanted it so. This device is more of the ultimate exercise companion, or at least aims to be. To that end, the MotoActv isn't a home run yet because of its steep price.