Blog Post

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

Although Motorola(s mmi) 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(s aapl) 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(s goog) 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.

37 Responses to “I bought a MotoActv for running (but wear it all day)”

  1. Manesh Krishnan

    Great review. Im actually getting one of these. But you didn’t mention about how good is the battery life if you use BLUETOOTH HEADSET for listening music while running.

    • Sorry to have overlooked that. I actually run with music 99% of the time — even during races — and I have no problems getting through a half-marathon that way, which takes me about an hour and 40 minutes. That might use up about half the battery.

  2. Eddy Horn

    Overall I am not satisfied with the Motoactv. The music has been intermittent (stopping and having a hard time retstarting on long runs). Also, after each software update, the mileage becomes less and less accurate. Who can I contact at Motorola to either get a replacement or get the one I have fixed.
    Eddy Horn

  3. Disappointed customer

    Well, I bought this device less than two weeks ago and thought it was awesome. I used it every day even though it is big and not my style. A couple of days it I could not hear any music and first thought it was my headset so after doing a little trouble shooting I figured out it was the actual device.I called their support department and oh boy. These people wasted my time. No one really knew what was going on. I called a few times to get an update and I was told you have to wait up to five days for a response. I received an email saying we can’t fix your devise because of water damage. Water damage?? I never had this thing next to water and I sure did not perspire enough to short out my watch. I asked them to send me a picture of their findings and they sent something no one could figure out what it was. Their second level technical support even admitted it was a bad picture. Anyway, they are offering me 50% credit for a watch that is less than two weeks old. I asked them to re-evaluated because this does not make sense. Also, this device is not compatible with all droids only motorola. What a bunch of bull.

  4. youshless

    Great! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply and give me that valuable information. I’m from the UK and to buy the MOTOACTV here on its own will cost more than if I import it from US, with the bike sensor & delivery lol

    • Ah… the dreaded VAT is the likely suspect there. That works in my favor sometimes. I bought a Galaxy Nexus from a U.K. retailer and had it shipped here relatively cheaply because there was no VAT! ;)

  5. Scott Stinson

    I have exhausted all efforts to obtain proper support from Moto on this product. I have basically thrown it in the garbage. The final response was that the unit has been tampered with and had water damage. Be aware – this unit comes with an exposed jack for headphones with NO protection. Even though i ordered separately the plug immediately upon buying it and used it, this unit still had moisture damage per Motorola.

    I never ran with this unit in the rain and only cleaned it off as ANYONE would do with a sweaty dirty device. wet cloth and then dried.

    Therefore if you sweat, don’t run in the rain, but do clean your devices with a wet rag or towel, you will end up with a product that stops working.

    Motorola support is absolutely horrible. The return process did not even clearly state why the unit failed but in fact showed a Cell Phone error reference. I had to escalate the return of the device to me to second level support who after five days, called me back, left a message, and said the unit was damaged by me and it was my fault. They would do nothing else.

    I have used Suunto, Polar, Garmin, and now Moto. I will NEVER purchase a Moto fitness product again. I wasted nearly 300 USD in the unit and accessories for what was clearly a poorly designed product. Motorola has no business being in this fitness business. Stick with your Garmins and Polar and Suunto devices and carry a mp3 player. The Motoactv is garbage. go to the Moto forums and you will see similar complaints by others of this same problem. the rest of it is just gimmicky software for music and fitness.

    I bought it because the concept is a GREAT one by combining both music and fitness in one device and incorporating social networking.

    BTW – I will not even begin to go into all of the webportal issues, the workout bugs, battery life issues generally, and overall technically buggy nature of the device. If you are considering the device you should stop now, soley because the device WILL cease to function with normal everyday use and it will be considered YOUR fault. Bugs in software are tolerable so long as the company is actively releasing firmware to correct.

      • youshless

        Hi, is there any chance you could advice as to the best places to buy this product? I’m finding it everywhere at $250 :(

        I’m also very interested in the bike speed + cadence sensor. Are they easy to find? How much would a bundle of the MOTOACTV be with this accessory?

        Thanks, all the best :)

        • I think your best bet is to go with Amazon, which is what I did. Note that I bought an 8 GB version because I don’t need to carry that much music. That model is typically $50 less than the 16 GB model. Right now the best price on Amazon is around $225 for the 8 GB model, so prices definitely fluctuate given that I paid under $200. I later added the $30 watch strap for $18; again through Amazon. The bike accessory seems to be $60 on Amazon right now, but you might get some savings by building a bundle at the right time there. Hope that helps!

  6. davesieving

    I would like to see the MotoActv track sleep the way the FitBit Ultra does. I would also like to see a screenless version no bigger than a bracelet, i.e. a working version of the withdrawn JawBone UP device in the form of a comfortable metal bracelet that won’t wear out in a year and that won’t catch on body hairs. Having a Dick Tracy like watch is great for avid futurists but the screen size limitation competes poorly with a handheld device which is where the smarts of any such system should therefore reside. Design the device to silently and invisibly accumulate data and then just sync it to wherever you want as soon as it finds a familiar WiFi signal.

  7. 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.

  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).

    • 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.

      • Aaron Willard

        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

  9. David Ahn

    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?

  10. 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?

  11. dfetzer1

    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

    • 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.

    • Meoyskie Porter

      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.