Hands-on with the MotoActv

Including the recent release of the much-hyped Nike+ Fuelband, there are more options out there than ever for the fitness guru who wants something high-tech to help them track stats and motivate. We took a hands-on look at one of the many options out there, the MotoActv.

This offering from Motorola is a large GPS-enabled fitness device that acts as an MP3 player, a workout coach, and a stat tracker. It has a swiping touch screen interface and a companion app that works on Android devices only. The MotoActv retails at $250 for 8GB or $300 for 16GB. We tested our device out with both the additional watchband ($30) and armband ($30). The device comes standard with a belt clip (and workout headphones), and users can also purchase a bike mount. 

The Basics

The MotoActv consists of a small (by some standards) touchscreen that has a headphone jack, a variety of functional buttons, and a small microUSB port for charging. The square design is slick and we like the black and red theme, but the device is big, and we’re not in love with that part. Sure, the touch screen is nice, but it felt pretty bulky when worn as a watch. It also comes with a pair of fitness headphones that are meant to stay in place during activities, and can also be used to answer calls if you have a Bluetooth-enabled Android phone. The MotoActv also features GPS tracking abilities, Wi-Fi for syncing, and a motion sensor, plus it is compliant with ANT+ devices, like an external heart-monitor. Depending on which version you purchase, the device can also hold up to 8 or 16 GB of motivational workout tunes. 

The touch screen has a swiping user interface that we found fairly easy to navigate. The different screens show you settings, a workout page, your music, notifications, and a default screen that brightly displays the time, date, and amount of calories you’ve burned that day, which is determined off of a base rate (calculated by age, gender, weight, etc.), plus any additional physical activity you’ve done while wearing the device. Users can scroll through these screens to see info about a particular workout, select workout music, and see any notifications. 

Put to the test

We tested the MotoActv during a few workouts, and were only mildly impressed with its capabilities. Since runners will naturally migrate towards the already-established Nike+ system, the MotoActv seemed like it might be a good option for other types of workouts. Because the device doesn’t have specific sensors that monitor your temperature or sweat, it can only do so much here. That can make for issues if your favorite workout routine isn’t one of the options offered.  

Your options are: running, cycling, walking, treadmill, elliptical, or stair-stepper, which is rather limiting. If you’re using a fitness tracker to motivate, you probably won’t want to be discouraged by the workout limitations of the device, which makes something more like the BodyMedia Fit–which will track calorie burn from any kind of physical activity–more appealing. 

The display is a highlight, and we imagine that the device would be attractive to runners, who can visually see a map of their journey on the bright screen. The phone aspect is highly lauded as well, but we didn’t have an Android phone handy during testing. It is also a good feature that you can set up alerts or voice coaching to read out certain stats, or tell you when to have a sip of water. The MotoActv is definitely not lacking for features.

On the music side it has a fun feature that lets users tag a favorite motivational song for tough workout moments, and the device also tracks your performance in relation to your songs, letting you know which tracks help you perform better and which don’t. 

On the functionality side, the MotoActv’s battery life isn’t very impressive. It functions well enough for tracking workouts without a problem, to be sure, but the idea of wearing it all day as a watch that tracks your every step and calorie burn doesn’t really work out very well when you get less than 8 hours of battery life. That makes sense for something with a bright screen, but it is worth noting the limitations, and it is really only useful for tracking specific workout sessions, not entire days. 


While the MotoActv is packed with features and performs well, there are several key things that would keep us from recommending that you buy one. The first is the $250 price. There are lots of fitness trackers out there and not one is as expensive as this. Some even offer more sensors for better calorie tracking. The price alone is already extremely high, and then tack on $30 each for the armband and watchband, which are essential to making the most of the device, and you’re well over $300 at that point. An iPod Nano costs a fraction of the price and contains many of the same GPS tracking features. A device like the BodyMedia Fit ($180) or Nike Fuelband ($150) would probably do a better job of tracking, and could easily be combined with an inexpensive iPod shuffle for music. 

The second big factor that turns us off from using the MotoActv is the size. It might be more comfortable on a man, but on slim wrists this thing is bulky. I already wear a relatively oversized watch and it is tiny in comparison to the MotoActv. Also, it’s not particularly comfortable, although it does do the job. If you need something with tracking and are hell-bent on having music, plus the ability to answer phone calls all built into your device, and you don’t mind the hefty price tag, then the MotoActv might work for you. Otherwise we’d stick to something on the smaller and less expensive side. 

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