First Step Into Fitness Gadgets: Review of the MOTOACTV GPS Android-Powered Smartwatch

Years ago, I blogged about what was probably my first ever fitness "gadget," or more accurately, fitness game--DDR. DDR, also known as Dance Dance Revolution, was my first step (pun intended) into utilizing technology to help further my fitness.

Since then, my primary gadgets for sweating off all that Thai food and beer have been MP3 players of some variety. I started with an Apple iPod Classic but found it too bulky, then switched to a Sansa Clip, which was later upgraded to a Sansa Clip+. Those little players have accompanied me on thousands of workouts, whether a simple elliptical session, a run through the weight circuit, kettlebell training, or even just a quick walk.

Recently though, partially inspired by my better half, who will be running a half marathon in September, I've taken up "running." I put running in quotes because I'm just a beginner and some may refer to it as jogging, but I digress. I like data, and therefore I like tracking, and one way to ensure I progress in my workouts is to log my performance each time--which I do religiously for my shovelglove and kettlebell sessions... and also wanted to apply to my runs.

I originally tried using my beloved Samsung Galaxy Note with the Google Tracks app and Bluetooth headphones. The Google Tracks app is pretty slick, and offers some interesting stats and a usable interface, but running with the phone in my pocket (or hip pack) was annoying and bulky. Plus, it was quite difficult to get an at-a-glance view of my current pace and distance without either dropping the phone or falling flat on my face while fiddling--not to mention the screen was very hard to see in bright sunlight (even when cranked to 11).

After several frustrating weeks of diddling around with this half-functional setup, I decided to purchase a device that would more accurately track my runs, eliminate the need to carry my phone with me, and function as an MP2 player--the MOTOACTV fitness watch. The MOTOACTV, as far as I can tell, seems to be flying somewhat under the radar. I don't hear much about it. There's a lot of squawking on the Internet about the Pebble watch, the Nike+ GPS watch, Garmin Forerunner products, and others--but not about the MOTOACTV. The device is so awesome, I'm surprised by that.


Considering that the MOTOACTV is built on Android, it's a pretty flexbile device, and has a lot of functionality built in. It can function as:

  • A digital watch with multiple dials to choose from
  • A pedometer
  • Workout tracker, including separate settings for walking, running, elliptical training, etc.
  • Golf tracker
  • Stopwatch
  • GPS tracker with dynamic moving map
  • Phone notification device via Bluetooth
  • MP3 Player
  • FM Radio

Motorola just added the golf features, so I imagine (hope) that even more functionality is on its way in future updates.

MOTOACTV Has Great GPS Tracking

Something the MOTOACTV does that my wife's Garmin Forerunner model does not is display a dynamic moving map of my route right on front of the device, complete with a moving cursor representing the wearer and the direction the wearer is headed. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me, and it's readable on the small screen, too. Plus, it's incredibly accurate (as good GPS should be)

MOTOACTV Has Awesome, Flexible On-The-Fly Workout Stats

The MOTOACTV is configurable and can display the statistics of your choice on the screen while you are working out. For me, I opt to have it display my current pace, my overall average pace, current time, and distance traveled. This makes it very simple for me to work on my pacing and to consistently determine my progress every time I go out. However, other users may want to see different statistics, such as heart rate (you need an external monitor for this, which I don't have), steps taken, calories burned, or other metrics.

MOTOACTV Has A Great Online Website, Plus a Mobile App, to Track Your Activities

Like other fitness devices such as Garmin and Nike+, the MOTOACTV portal gives users access to their stats for each workout. I can easily see an overview of my performance in each workout, tell my pace at any given point, and create a custom view of only the metrics I'm looking for.

I haven't played with the other features of the portal that much, but I do know that it can do a lot more than what I use it for, such as scheduling future activities. Plus, there's an Android app. I wasn't extremely impressed with it, as it doesn't always seem to sync properly and isn't nearly as good as the web-based app, but it's nice to have. (Note: I rarely use it.)

MOTOACTV is a Nice Piece of Hardware

I dare say that it's almost, if not at, Apple-like in quality. (Fanboys and fangirls, start your engines.) The screen is protected by beveled Gorilla Glass. The included wristband is sturdy and well-made. The unit itself is constructed of a nice brushed metal case and solid metal back and resembles a current-gen iPod nano. The buttons are nicely made metal snugly tucked into slightly raised openings and have a very reassuring click action, suggesting they won't be breaking down or falling off anytime soon. The touchscreen is as sensitive as my Galaxy Note or an iPhone, and is even reflective--meaning that it can be seen SUPER easily even in the brightest of sunlight, making it perfect for outdoor activities.

MOTOACTV Can Play Your MP3's, Too

I have to listen to music when I exercise. It isn't an option. I shut down if there isn't any music fueling my fire. Nothing helps me push through pain or exhaustion better than some (warning: loud audio links and some NSFW) epic metal blasting in my ears.

I still can't believe how easy this device makes it for me to listen to music while I run. Since it's Android, all one has to do is swipe to the Music tab (or use the hotkey button press) and browse through your tunes, pick one, play it, and progress to the Workout tab to start the workout. During the run, it's no problem to switch to the tab again and select a different song, album, or playlist--your workout will continue to track in the background. Alternately, the buttons on the headset or device can be pressed multiple times to advance tracks.

And no--it's not a problem to have the cable dangling from the watch while you run. It never gets in my way. The headphones come with a clip if the wearer wants to clip it to their shirt, and of course, Bluetooth headsets are supported as well.

MOTOACTV Is Rootable and Hackable

For Android lovers and those who just can't resist seeing all that a device can do, the MOTOACTV can be rooted and flashed with custom software. I have no desire to do this myself (I get plenty of action with my Note) but it's more than fast and capable enough to do so.

MOTOACTV Is a Really, Really Good Deal

When the device launched, it was a reasonable $250, a sum I would gladly pay for the device in its current state. The Nike+ SportWatch GPS, for example, is less than $250 but doesn't do as much as the MOTOACTV (including MP3) and the Garmin Forerunner 410 is $250--while it's undoubtably a fantastic GPS fitness device, it isn't as "cool" and it doesn't offer any MP3 functionality either, plus it only has a "touch bezel" and not a full touch screen. Speaking also as a watch lover (I own over 10 mechanical watches and 2 digital watches) I personally don't prefer touch bezels, and have found them difficult to use.

This brings me to the point--the MOTOACTV is currently only $150--less than both the Garmin and Nike+ products I mentioned. In addition, it comes packed with behind-the-ear headphones (which are designed to be sweat resistant and sound pretty decent) as well as the watch band and belt clip. In fact, Amazon has it for even less.


Overall, for less than $150 (shipped!) the MOTOACTV is a must have for anyone who wants an easy way to simultaneously listen to music and track their walks, runs, elliptical sessions, or even golf games. I still can't believe that a device that does so much, so well, can be had for so little.

I have heard and seen from some online sources that the MOTOACTV did have some reliability problems at launch. This, combined with the fact that the app originally supported only certain Motorola phones (and not all Android phones) as well as there being no iOS support, are what I'm guessing are contributing to the device's relative obscurity.

Don't let that faze you, though--the MOTOACTV in its current state is not only a bargain but a well-made, functional, solid fitness GPS watch that is likely to please all but the most demanding and professional runners.

(A final thought--the device is somewhat large when worn as a watch, and could be considered ugly by some. Those with small wrists or excessive fashion awareness might be better off using the clip.)

Buy one at Amazon for under $150!

Overview of MOTOACTV's Features


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