I bought a MotoActv for running (but wear it all day)

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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.

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