Motorola chases the smart watch fitness market with MotoACTV

Motorola’s (s mmi) big news was supposed to be the resurrection of the Razr brand with the new Droid Razr but the manufacturer saved a surprise, introducing a fitness and music watch that drops Motorola into a fast growing market for mobile fitness and health devices.

MotoACTV is small, square 46mm device that attaches to a wrist band or fits on bike mounts, arm bands and shirt clip accessories. The idea is that it’s a purpose-built device designed for fitness types or people who want to improve their health. MotoACTV uses GPS, a 600 MHz processor running Google Android(s goog), an accelerometer and a Bluetooth 4.0 connection to help create a smart device that can track distance, steps and calories burned. It also works with a special sports Bluetooth headset that can measure a user’s heart rate.

Users can load up up to 4,000 songs on the device, which will come in 8 and 16 GB versions selling for $249 and $299. The songs aren’t just to pass the time: MotoACTV recalls what songs you work hardest to and builds a playlist with the songs that have the best effect on you. Performance data can be automatically linked to via Wi-Fi so your runs and other exercise can be tracked, analyzed and shared with friends. The online portal can analyze a user’s results and offer tips and training from experts based on their performance.

As a health device, it’s got an appealing size and because of its accelerometer and GPS sensors, it can do a better job than an iPod Nano (s aapl) in improving your health. It also looks pretty snazzy and should get buzz when people see it. Motorola said the device can run for five hours outdoors with the GPS on or 10 hours indoors without GPS and can run on standby as a watch for three days. You can also link the watch to an Android (s goog) device with a MotoACTV app so users can see incoming text messages and receive alerts for incoming phone calls, which they can take on their Bluetooth headset.

I played with the device a bit and found it very responsive, clean and appealing. You can set a song to play when you start workouts and you can view a screen with four metrics that you program to chart your progress. You can also tap on each metric to pull up a full screen. The device has volume buttons, a jack for a wired head set, a power button and two buttons, one for music and one fitness actions.

It’s not surprising that Motorola has gone this route. There’s a bunch of emerging devices aiming at the mobile health market. I’ve written about the Basis watch, which packs in a heart rate monitor into the actual device, as well as Jawbone’s upcoming Up fitness wrist watch, which will offer similar features to MotoACTV. And Affectiva, an MIT spin-off, also recently released Q, a wrist sensor that monitors motion, temperature and electrodermal activity, which can measure stress, relaxation and arousal. There’s also devices like Striiv, Fitbit and smartphone-based solutions like RunKeeper that are also tackling this market. And MotoACTV also pits Motorola against new smart watch makers like the team behind the Meta Watch as well as accessory makers creating wrist mounts for the iPad Nano. 

I’m not sure how popular MotoACTV will be at that price, which at a starting price point of $249 is nearly twice an iPod Nano. You’ll need to get the Motorola SF700 wireless or SF500 wired headsets with heart rate monitors to get the full effect and while they’re better than strap on heart monitors, they up the cost. Motorola will also have to ensure that its online service is robust because it’s not just about gathering data but it really comes down to analysis and good tools to break down exercise performance and tips to improve health.

Still, Motorola has a chance to take a leadership position in this new market if it advertises heavily and opens people’s eyes to the opportunity in using a wrist watch to improve a user’s health and connect to a smartphone as a second display. But overall, it shows that sensors are getting smaller and smaller and that it’s now inviting a lot of people to build sophisticated watches that take on a lot of tasks.