To keep you motivated, Motorola touts the MotoActv's ability to monitor your performance while playing music and (over time) suggest a custom playlist of tracks that historically delivered your best results. You also can pick a song that really revs you up and use it like an audio nitrous boost when needed. If you need a break from canned music, the device has an FM tuner, too.
Much of the MotoActv's usefulness hinges on its accompanying Web services and fitness analytics. Once you've created a MotoActv account and linked the device to your profile, the MotoActv will measure details such as speed, time, and distance against body weight, height, and age to calculate calories burned. It'll also record the specific path you took when outdoors and the music that you played. The device transmits data automatically either over Wi-Fi or through a paired phone's cellular connection. The free service also provides training plans for 5K and 10K runs and multiple cycling regimens. A competition area holds regular fitness challenges hosted by members to spur MotoActv owners to action.
Motorola sells a number of accessories for the MotoActv, including a heart rate monitor ($69.99), bike mount ($29.99), and bike speed and cadence sensor. The device, though, will connect to other fitness sensors made by third parties as well over the ANT+ wireless standard.
In my short time with the Motorola MotoActv, my experience was mostly as advertised. Once powered up and with my Motorola account created, I slapped the device on using the watch strap. While the strap holds the MotoActv tightly in place, removing it is very difficult, requiring many minutes of prying, cursing, and grunting. Perhaps it's a subtle hint to hit the gym.
The device features multiple virtual watch faces running the gamut from classic analog and digital to designs framed by nuclear and skull symbols. They all felt tame and lacked real artistic punch. Apple's iPod Nano, for instance, boasts a selection of clocks that look much more attractive.
I found transferring tracks an acceptable if tedious process, especially if you don't use iTunes. Still, the MotoActv displayed songs with the appropriate album artwork, and porting of iTunes playlists is supported. Frankly that's the way to go. With a screen this small, flipping through menus is best avoided.
I then connected my LG BHS-700 headset to the gadget, which put a smile on my face. As someone who's killed countless headphones by snagging them on fire hydrants, garbage cans, and even doorknobs, wireless headsets are a no-brainer. Linking the device to a test Motorola Droid 4 (Verizon) was a cinch, too, using the necessary app. Since the MotoActv supports multipoint Bluetooth, it serves as a hub linking both the headset and phone through itself. Alerts for texts, missed calls, and voice messages were displayed on the MotoActv within the notification screen, but sadly I couldn't actually answer or initiate calls with the device.
I began my workout sessions easily by swiping to the Workout screen (one of the device's five screens), choosing my activity, and hitting the Start button. For complete disclosure, my fitness regimen does not consist of sweat-laden 10-mile runs, but mild walks on city streets dodging taxis and messenger bikes. Still, the MotoActv correctly logged my urban hikes, no mean feat in the deep concrete and steel canyons of Manhattan. If I stopped to pop into a store for water, a calm female voice explained that for a workout to be recorded I'd need to keep moving.
Workout stats uploaded to the MotoActv.com Web portal through both Wi-Fi and cellular connection without any problems. There I learned I walked at a rather unimpressive average pace of 2.6 miles per hour and on my 42-minute journey burned 266 calories. I'll step it up next time.
Motorola claims the MotoActv provides 20 hours of music playback and 13.5 days of standby time. Sadly, during my test period I observed about 25 hours of battery life, which mostly consisted of running in standby mode with the occasional walk and with Bluetooth active. If you're going to use it as a watch, I suggest charging it daily, like you would most Android phones.
One area where the MotoActv comes up surprisingly short is basic activity tracking. The device does measure steps taken all day along, with calories consumed; it places the info right on the home screen. Other simpler and less expensive products, however, such as the Fitbit ($99.99), log total daily steps and plot this against typical caloric intake to suggest how much you'll need to move to lose weight. While the MotoActv clearly is aimed at fitness enthusiasts and athletes, this type of functionality seems easy to include and fun for many types of users.
Comparing the Motorola MotoActv against other devices is a little tricky since it serves so many purposes. It's a portable music device, funky Android-powered watch, and state-of-the-art fitness gadget. To be sure, as an MP3 player it doesn't measure up to Apple's iconic Nano, which fills the microsize music niche like no other product. The MotoActv isn't a casual activity tracker and weight-loss vehicle, either, like the Fitbit or even Nike's FuelBand, though it could be in a snap if Motorola wanted it so. This device is more of the ultimate exercise companion, or at least aims to be. To that end, the MotoActv isn't a home run yet because of its steep price.