Tired of running with a smartphone, I dropped $199 for a MotoActv last week. Yet, I’ve unexpectedly found myself wearing it every minute of the day since I bought it. Why? It’s essentially equal parts FitBit health tracker, iPod Nano and exercise tracking app.


Although Motorola introduced its MotoActv health tracking gadget last October, I held off on trying one. The main reason was because I had heard about poor battery life, and also because I’ve been running with a smartphone in my hand for the better part of two years. Recent software updates reportedly boosted battery life for the wearable device, and frankly, I’m tired of running with a phone. So I dropped $199 for an 8 GB version of the MotoActv last week.

Ironically, instead of wearing it solely to track exercise, I’ve unexpectedly found myself wearing it every minute of the day since I bought it. Why? I didn’t realize until using the MotoActv that’s its essentially equal parts FitBit health tracker, iPod Nano and [insert your favorite smartphone exercise app here].

What makes this possible is all of the sensors and connectivity options found inside the MotoActv, which is a 46 mm (about 1.6-inch) capacitive touchscreen square that’s 9.6 mm thin. Here’s a rundown of what’s inside this watch-like gadget that’s based on the Google Android operating system:

  • Accelerometer
  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with ANT+ compatibility
  • FM radio

With this combination running on custom software, the device tracks your daily calories, as computed by your level of activity as well as your age and weight. Caloric data is reset daily at midnight and the device calculates calories even when you’re sleeping. The accelerometer counts your steps, just like a digital pedometer.


The GPS is used for outdoor exercise such as running or cycling, similar to smartphone apps such as RunKeeper, Strava, Endomondo and others. The key difference is that you don’t need the smartphone used by these apps due to the integrated GPS inside the MotoActv. And of course, with 8 GB of storage for the model I bought, I can listen to any number of digital music tunes I’ve loaded up.

Based on my limited use, here’s what I like and dislike about the MotoActv so far:

  • I love the ability to track daily calories and steps, even though that’s not why I bought the device. It’s an added bonus.
  • Once setup with a home Wi-Fi connection, the MotoActv automatically syncs all data to the MotoActv website for viewing. There’s no need to manually sync the device.
  • You can wear this as a watch if you buy the optional watch band. I didn’t as it’s slightly too big for my small wrists, but I could see many people wearing this on an arm. Also, there are several watch faces to choose from.
  • The device comes with a small clip, just like an iPod Nano, which is a great way for me to wear daily. Ladies: You can clip this to the inside of your pants or throw it in a pocket and nobody will be the wiser.
  • The GPS radio typically finds satellites in 15 seconds or less for me.
  • With an Android phone, you can receive incoming Caller ID, calendar reminders and SMS messages on the MotoActv.
  • The device tracks what music you listen to during workouts and can create a custom playlist of the songs that make you run or bike faster. Tap the lightning bolt icon when flagging during a workout and this turbo-charged playlist fires up.
  • The battery life drops to 80 percent on a day when I don’t exercise, which is great. On a 5k day (with music playing) it dropped to 70 percent. I’ll be testing it on longer runs such as 10 milers and half marathons in the coming weeks.
  • I can use my low-powered Wahoo Blue HR heart rate monitor with the MotoActv and add that data to my online log.
  • I don’t see the point of the Route view on the small screen. You can’t zoom or see anything meaningful.
  • The in-ear coaching is sometimes hard to understand and doesn’t yet give me the metrics I want during a run. Smartphone apps are often better in this regard, but this is a fixable problem if Motorola chooses to improve it.
  • Similar to other online exercise tracking platforms, I can see the map of my running route. However, I see no way to make the map private, meaning: If you want to share your running data (which I do), it’s an all or none share from what I can see.

Overall, I’m impressed with the device — as you can probably tell due to more likes than dislikes. It’s not quite perfect, but for the first time in two years, I’m comfortable leaving the smartphone behind as I run.

Even better, I’m tracking health-related measurements when I’m not running. These functions, combined with the fact that I can wear this device anywhere, make it worth every penny of my purchase price so far. After all, I wanted a wearable device to track exercise and I ended up getting that plus a smartwatch and an MP3 player.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

  1. Jonathan Cohen Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Have you tried to root it to put custom ROMs on it?

    1. Not yet as I always use a device for it’s intended purpose first.

      1. Hi Kevin, I just bought the Motoactv 8G unit last week and I love it. Thank you and Matt for the recommendation. Question, is there anyway to see your Motoactv data on a iPhone or iPad?

  2. 252 cal for a 3 mi run seems very low – i ran 3 mi yesterday and the treadmill and nike + said over 500…

    199 is very expensive for what this does

    1. The formula I’ve always used for calories burned in a mile when running is .75 x your weight. I weigh 123 pounds which works out to roughly 90 calories a mile. So the MotoActv doesn’t seem off to me. As far as what it does for the money, that’s a personal decision. It replaces three devices that combined cost far more, so I see it as a good value for me.

    2. Meoyskie Porter Thursday, April 12, 2012

      Actually compared to devices that offer similar functionality(sports watches), the device is relatively inexpensive considering all of the added functionality above those similar devices. Kevin I agree that the map display is pretty useless, but it did help me find my bearings once on a run where I got somewhat lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood. My only complaint is not being able to ‘advance’ backwards on music tracks when using the controls on headsets. The algorithm that determines music for motivation is superb. I swear my Motoactv plays the exact right song to make me push it up when my pace decreases where it shouldn’t.

      1. FYI, three quick clicks will put you back to the beginning of the current song. Another three will return to the previous song.

      2. Hi Meoyskie — On your headset, press the button three times and you can ‘advance’ backwards.


  3. Sohrob Tahmasebi Thursday, April 12, 2012

    I’m sorry but this really doesn’t concern me. I want more Apple stuff, not Motorola junk devices.

    1. It works pretty well for me; maybe you could just put an Apple sticker on it? ;)

      1. i want more Apple devices? Ludicrous, what has the manufacturer got to do with whtehr an item is worth it or not. Ever heard of the emperor’s new clothes?

    2. Ernesto Eduardo Cedeño Gonzalez Tuesday, July 10, 2012

      Too bad Apple can’t seem to keep up with technology…

  4. I think you need a Motorola phone in order to get SMS or Calendar alerts…other Android phones only get phone call notifications/ID.

    1. Until recently, that was the case. At the beginning of this month, a software update was made available so the notifications work on any Android phone: http://www.motorola.com/blog/2012/04/02/motoactv-app-update-available-for-all-android-smartphone-users/

  5. Since this has Bluetooth 4.0 and the iPhone 4S (and new iPad) also has BT 4.0, wouldn’t it be possible to write an iOS app to communicate with this watch and fetch information from it, or is it closed / proprietary protocol?

    1. It could be done, considering the new Pebble E-Paper smartwatch does it. But the folks behind Pebble became part of the MFi or Made For iPhone developer program, which is required for that support.

  6. i have been looking into the Fitbit Ultra or the Nike Fuel Band. as an iOS device owner, I had already crossed this one off my list. how does the MotoACTV function for non-android users?

    1. David, the device is completely a standalone product so you don’t need a smartphone at all. The only feature you’d miss as an iOS user is the phone notification function.

  7. Do you know if it’s water resistant or if there are water resistant covers available?

    1. Motorola says it’s “rain resistant” and “sweat proof” although I haven’t done any testing with water. The microUSB port has a rubber flap to keep moisture out, but I don’t see any protection around the buttons themselves.

      1. Aaron Willard Saturday, June 9, 2012

        I just ran with it in the rain with the watch strap and it was unharmed 2 days later, so I’m assuming it is indeed water resistant. The manual does warn against submersion of course

  8. The second these things include a 3g capability, I will get rid of my phone and switch to watch. Whatever really needs a big screen, will do with a folding pocketable 7″ device (in that future).

  9. Sounds pretty awesome…Though $199 is more than I want to spend on a device…I already bought a Zeo a while back (yes, totally different – but still, it cost $200…so I’m waiting)…I’m waiting till there is more unification and standardization across the devices. I don’t want to have more than one device to measure all aspects of my self.

  10. Do you find the step counter to be accurate?


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