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Motorola MOTOACTV: Thoughts and analysis

Last week I got a bit of a sneak peak at the new Motorola MOTOACTV sports/fitness watch/MP3 player that was just announced today.  It’s a pretty interesting device that actually seems to bridge across a number of different areas in both sport and entertainment – and more importantly, covers a wide range of protocols and communications methods.image

I spent time talking with the folks at Motorola, as well as the Elite Running Nut that is Dean Karnazes (sorry, but you qualify for the Elite Running Nut Status when you run 50 marathons in 50 days). And yes, I can still be envious of Elite Nut Status. 

While they didn’t have a unit in time for me to test prior to today, I should in theory have one next week, so these are my initial thoughts until I’ve got some hands on time.  Unfortunately, I just couldn’t fit Tuesday’s NYC launch event into my schedule.  Sorry!

The MOTOACTV is essentially a combination of an iPod Nano and a Garmin Forerunner.  It’s got GPS built in, but also has an triaxle accelerometer as well.  The accelerometer can be used for a wide range of applications down the road, but in the mean time – it’s being used to track progress on elliptical machines.  And of course, the GPS can be used to track everything from speed to distance.

The MOTOACTV is unique in that it’s the very first device out there that has both ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) compatibility in it.  It gets the BTLE compatibility via the Bluetooth 4.0 chip inside.  In addition (and this is where things get interesting) – it has WiFi connectivity, which is how it uploads data and workouts to your online account.  This means that as you step back into your home it’ll actually upload your workout for you automagically.  No computer interface to deal with or little dongle.  And, for fun – they also tossed in FM radio (which will talk about in a moment).

BTLE and ANT+ in a single device:

So why does it matter than it has ANT+ and BTLE?  Well there’s no denying that today ANT+ is ubiquitous in sports.  Everything from ANT+ heart rate straps (which is what your Garmin/Timex watch uses) to ANT+ power meters (Cinqo, PowerTap, SRM, Vector, Brim Brothers Zone, O-Synce, etc…, and of a myriad course speed/cadence sensors and even scales.  It’s here today and in a big way.  But what about the future?  There will invariably be BTLE devices that come out over the next 6-12 months.  These devices will likely start out as heart rate straps- but will ultimately branch into other areas.  This devices enables you to effectively ignore the protocols that your sensor is using, and instead just focus on using it.

Some folks have said that once BTLE adoption hits mainstream, it will spell the end for ANT+.  I don’t see that as the case.  In many ways, the two technologies can and should co-exist.  There are pro’s and con’s to both technologies.  Ultimately Bluetooth 4.0 will drive higher adoption numbers via cell phones, but from a sensor standpoint creating a Bluetooth device has a much higher licensing fees than an ANT+ device.  Ultimately this drives product decisions in smaller companies (like many of those involved in sports technology).  And as the guys from Sony Ericcson said during their ANT+ session “There’s no reason cell handset companies have to choose, it’s a single chip now doing both protocols”.  Let the individual sensor companies decide what’s best for their application, and you get to ignore it.

Note that I’m getting clarification on exactly which chip is inside.  I don’t believe it to be the WiLink 7 chip though since that’s a BT 3.0 chip instead of a BT4.0 chip – but otherwise it would fit the bill.  Will update once I’ve got clarification.

WiFi Sync:

While BTLE support will be cool down the road, it’s WiFi sync that’s cool now.  The unit supports the ability to simply synchronize to their web account upon entering range of your WiFi network.  This eliminates the need for any plugging into your computer and/or finding that special cable or USB dongle.  This is quite frankly pretty awesome.

imageIf you look at the Withings WiFi Scale – one of my favorite aspects of it is the WiFi sync functionality. The ability for it to automatically connect to their web service and site and upload your data to it.  This is also great in that it minimizes the amount of software you need to install on your computer.

In addition to syncing over WiFi, you can also just sync via your smartphone and an Android app they have.  This means that as you finish your run out in the woods, you can sync your workout immediately to your phone and then straight to the online site.  All without going home first.

For additional configuration and software updates to the device, there is an agent that you install on your computer (PC or Mac) – but it’s unnecessary for standard uploads (sync).

Ultimately, I think that Motorola moved the bar here.  Given inclusion of WiFi is trivial from a chip standpoint (it comes on the WiLink 7 chips that have ANT+ and Bluetooth, albeit BT 3.0) it makes the curent USB plugging in of devices seem instantly outdated and clunky.  Even in cases where you may be out of range from a WiFi connection (such as a plane) – then just transferring the files via the standard USB cable (needed for charging) would be fine.  Either way – I think other sports technology companies should take note for their 2012 devices: WiFi downloading should just be the baseline.

Form Factor and Versatility:

As you can see, the base MOTOACTV is square – very much like the iPod Nano (side note: the name is a pain to type – it would have been nicer to just call it ‘Moto Active’ without all the crazy capitalization and shortening).  By itself the unit can use this little clip accessory to clip on clothing, similar to many other MP3 players that clip on.

imageBut that’s where things get interesting.  It can also mount in this wrist strap system, the bike mount, or the arm band.  They don’t appear to have a mount system yet for kittens or puppies.  The unit is IPX6 waterproofed, which means that it can handle some rogue water gun fights – but not a full on drowning.  Each one of those items will cost you $20 a pop (not the puppies or kittens though).

imageIn addition to having a standard headphone jack, they’re also selling some pretty interesting headphones that include heart rate data.  Yup, heart rate via your earbuds.  This means that no heart rate strap is necessary – you simply put in the earbuds to get heart rate (and listen to music too).  Of course, you can still a HR strap if you’d like.  In the case of the earbuds, the heart rate data is sent via Bluetooth wirelessly.  Note that these babies will cost you though, ranging from $100 to $150.

It’ll be interesting to see how the earbuds perform in real conditions and how much noise they block out.  In general, I’m not a fan of wearing earbuds outdoor exercising as it tends to cause safety issues and/or issues with folks just not being aware while running/riding on trails.  But again, you can always just use a normal ANT+ heart rate strap (or eventually a BTLE heart rate strap).  Battery life with the MOTOACTV is 5 hours of sport use outside (GPS), or 10 hours inside (no GPS) – or 2 weeks of standby.

imageFinally, due to the Bluetooth connection to cell phones, it can actually act as an intermediary and allow you to accept or reject calls coming into the phone.  This is similar in concept to what Timex demoed at the ANT+ Symposium around the concept of display caller information on their running watches.  Ultimately I love the concept of being able to be notified if a person is calling – even if I ultimately always choose to reject said person.

Of course, let’s try and avoid answering calls while cycling out on the open road…with Bluetooth earphones in place.  Ok?

New Fitness Site:

We chatted about their new site during my conversations with them – which was developed fully in house (as opposed to outsourcing it to either MapMyFitness or TrainingPeaks).  The goal was to slide in roughly in between the more basic Nike+ site and the more complex TrainingPeaks platform.  They wanted to include many of the social features of Nike+ (i.e. setting goals, community based events, etc…), but also combine some of the more advanced data analysis features of TrainingPeaks.  It won’t be a full on deep performance analysis site with deep stuff like quadrant analysis, but just some of the ‘best of’ pieces.

image

One area I asked about was data portability.  One of my major pet peeves that I highlighted in my recent keynote was companies (Nike) stranding your data (workout/health) on their sites.  They said not to fear, there’s a CSV export option from within the site – so you can export out your data whenever you’d like, and in turn upload it to wherever you’d like.  Good deal.

Review Soon:

I wasn’t initially planning on writing anything up until I had the real unit in my hand.  But I received so many e-mails/tweets/pigeon notes yesterday that I figured I’d give me initial thoughts on it.  While you can pre-order the unit already at $249/$299 (8GB/16GB) for arrival on Nov 6th, look for some more detailed thoughts from me prior to that release date.  I’m being told that they hope to get a unit out to me in the next week or two.  Based on that I’ll write up a full in depth review.  But thus far, I’m excited to see the product in person.  In the meantime, Engadget did have some folks at the launch on Tuesday in NYC, so you can swing by their page and see some more hands on photos of it.

Until then – feel free to ask any questions you’ve got and I’ll try and get the answers to them.

Thanks for reading!

42 Comments

  1. Baz

    Hello! I discovered your blog after your in-depth review of the FR 910 XT... and it is amazing, great job and thanks for your valuable insights!!!

    Although by nature this device is not made for ultra runners, do we have an idea of battery life?

    Also, you mention that this is one chip handling both ANT+ and BTLE. Do you know who is the chipmaker by any chance?

    Reply
  2. nice design.

    The combined features makes me think a bit about the Vea Sportive, although that watch combines even more features (phone, mp3, gps) (see: link to peterdedecker.com - use google translation for the english version :))

    Reply
  3. Do you think the accelerometer would be able to give the stroke-rate?
    If so, that would be the perfect rowing watch...

    Reply
  4. Baz

    Ok, i have my answer, 5 hours battery life in real conditions. At least on the paper

    (link to androidcentral.com)

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I'm wondering if it would be possible to install some android apps on it (like Endomondo for instance)

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    From REI website:
    Built-in, rechargeable lithium ion battery provides up to 10 hrs. of indoor workout use, 5 hrs. of outdoor workout use, 20 hrs. of music listening and 325 hrs. of standby

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Hi Ray,

    I absolutely LOVE your reviews, thank you! I was going to email you last night and ask about the Moto, but you already covered it. Can't wait for the full review.

    Thanks again,
    Dan

    Reply
  8. MartinB

    Looks funky. The idea of having a built in mp3 player is enticing. Awaiting the full review with interest. Hope it doesn't turn into another Nike gps watch fiasco.

    Reply
  9. I want to know if this thing will be able to do what the Garmin Forerunner 305, 310, 405, 410, 610 can do as far as uploading courses to it and running against virtual runners. I'm assuming it can because why not and it's android. Maybe that won't be there right away though.
    I miss that function when I went from my 305 to 210.

    Reply
  10. I also need this to be able to be charged while running GPS. I have had reeeeally long runs where my 305 and 210 batteries die. I can charge the 305 while going but not the 210.

    Thanks for the early review!

    Reply
  11. Looks great! I've generally been quite happy with my Garmin Forerunners (most recently the 405 then the 310XT), but I'm intrigued by the advantages of not having to synchronize with a PC. I've got some tech questions for the Motorola rep that you were talking to. Any chance you could e-mail me his name (mark runinamerica.com)? Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for the pre-review Ray. Looks really interesting and I can't wait for your full blown edition.

    Reply
  13. > The accelerometer can be used for a wide range of applications down the road
    > but in the mean time – it’s being used to track progress on elliptical machines.

    Another device with built-in accelerometer. I am still very interested in getting raw 3-axis accelerometer data in e.g. 10Hz to be able to process afterwards in software (could then be used for all kind of interesting sports-related applications related to technique analysis). Any possibility for that from this watch? I asked the same about the Forerunner 910XT, but for the Motorola watch the probability might be bigger as this is a newcomer who want to differentiate, maybe? Any opinions - or possibility to ask directly? I'm sure you would get some interesting stuff built up around it in different sports over time...

    Reply
  14. Just to clarify my previous comment (as edit was not possible). What I want is just some simple software which does like this device does - link to gcdataconcepts.com (I've got one of those) - but then of course with GPS location stamps added.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    I just pre-ordered mine last night. I never purchase new electronics but I was going to purchase a Garmin 410 which cost just as much but couldn't get the BestBuy warranty so I figured I would pre-order the MOTOACTV. In addition I also purchased the $150 SF700 headset. I can't wait for you upcoming post to know if I purchased a keeper or if I will be boxing it back up and sending her home. Thanks

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Love your reviews. Really the most informative site out there for all these devices.
    What's the likelihood that the Strava app will run on this thing? Strava doesn't import CSV files yet...
    Also, since I am currently plugged in to the Apple ecosystem, does loading music go through iTunes?

    Reply
  17. Hi Jan-

    I think you might eventually see something there. I get the feeling that Motorola won't be trying to stop anyone that wants to do custom development on it, but they won't be offering up the keys to a marketplace either. I think that if they see interest there, they may change that position.

    I can say that based on my discussions with a lot of folks in the sports tech industry, there's huge interest in a device like this that can be rapidly turned into a data collection device. Given the 8GB/16GB and ANT+/BTLE/WiFi, there's enormous potential for the market to take it and run. I just hope that Motorola can see that, in the same way that others have developed over 100+ apps for the Wahoo iPhone ANT+ dongle in less than a year.

    Hi Anon-
    RE: FR410

    Well, I'm not a huge fan of the FR405/FR410, but I think you made the right choice. Fwiw, I also pre-ordered the Motoactv as well (I'll also be getting a media trial unit, but ultimtaely I buy almost all products I review to help support q's down the road).

    Hi Anon-
    RE: Strava App

    See above, at the moment, not yet...but I think folks could push them (Motorala) to do it.

    Reply
  18. Peter De Decker mentioned the VEA Sportive which includes everything the MOTOACTV does AND a cell phone. But, it's over $700.00 -- unless you go to Sears where it's $167.00 (it's missing the branding, though - knockoff alert):

    link to sears.com

    It might be nice to check out that feature set at that price, if it's legit, though.

    Do you plan on reviewing the VEA Sportive?

    Reply
  19. I've become a regular guest on this site. I'm re-reading some of the posts and I guess this is THE NUMBER BLOG and also the site I've always wanted to find. Great job! Awsome insights! Amazing! You've also inspired me to start with triathlon, the sport I always loved, but I've never found the time.
    When you will post your predictions for 2012?
    How about Suunto?
    I hardly wait for new posts!

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    Thanks for the preview. I have read about it from a number of sources on the web. I am really looking forward to your review. I would appreciate when you review it if you could take the following use case into account

    I will use wireless earphones like the Jaybird Freedom when I use the Motoactv. What is the battery life using it outdoors with GPS and using the bluetooth function at the same time (Feedom's support regular Bluetooth, not the new bluetooth 4 protocol). Also how will the battery be effective when I constantly turn on the screen to view my real time stats? (I assume that the screen will power off to conserve battery power?).

    Finally I get bored listening to a song sometimes and want to press a button to skip to the next one. The button needs to be a physical button on the device rather than a touch screen function since navigating the touch screen while running is difficult.

    I look forward to your review!

    Thanks

    Gando

    Reply
  21. One thing that really interests me is the run cadence metric and how this can provide that statistic (if at all). I'm not convinced of the wrist or arm based stride tracking from the unit's accelerometer and was wondering if ANT+ footpods will be an option and how that stat will be tracked on the unit. GPS accuracy is another concern, but your reviews are always detailed in that regard (thanks!). Easily the best review site for exercise watches on the web.

    Reply
  22. It supports ANT+ so footpods should connect fine. The only question is if you have a GPS lock and a foot pod can the device only use the pod for cadence and not pace. I don't think my Forerunner 305 did that. It was either one or the other. I think my 210 does do that if you are still outdoors but want your cadence from the pod and GPS for location and speed...

    Reply
  23. Brent

    I was curious if you have received the MotoACTV unit. If you have, do you have any initial thoughts of the device? I have mine pre-orderedand was hoping to see a little update on how the device is initial before it is too late to return. Thanks for your thoughts thus far. If you don't have any I will understand.

    Reply
  24. I've been told my unit will arrive tomorrow morning. Looking forward to it!

    Reply
  25. Michael

    Here is a link to the manual, if anyone is interested:

    link to motorola.com

    Reply
  26. Brent

    Michael & DC,

    I was reading through the MotoACTV manual and on page 36 in the Use & Care section this is what it says: "Don’t expose your product to water, rain, extreme humidity, sweat, or other moisture. If it does get wet, don’t try to accelerate drying with the use of an oven or dryer, as this may damage the product." Hmm...this is a little interesting considering it is a workout product and that they say it is water resistant....Maybe this was an editorial mistake to leave this in as I'm sure it is generic for most if not all Motorola products.

    Reply
  27. Michael

    @Brent,

    Hopefully the moisture warning is just a generic warning so people don't do anything dumb with it like try to use it in the pool, etc.

    I found it interesting that there is at least some sort of map integration. This wasn't shown at all in any of the preview videos I watched. You can't really tell from the manual how detailed the maps get, etc but definitely would be a nice feature for cycling (both road and mt), as sometimes its easy to make a wrong turn when you are out there. And who wants to pull out a paper map to double check constantly...?

    Reply
  28. Brent

    Michael,

    I agree, I never knew that there was map integration either. I am surprised that this was never shown. From what I saw you create your route and then upload the map to your device, then it will show you how far your route is and where you are in your run. The map integration is another great motivational tool.

    Reply
  29. Brent

    I asked Motorola about the manual with conflicting information about sweat and rain this is what they wrote back. "Hi Brent, the MOTOACTV device is sweat proof and rain resistant, but in general the device should not be exposed to extreme levels of rain and/or perspiration."

    Reply
  30. Got the watch today.

    Well, actually, got two watches today - one from the PR folks, and one from Best Buy.

    That said...

    The unit is IPX6 waterproof, which is protection against rogue splashes, but not as much protection as say a Forerunner with IPX7, or a fully waterproofed Forerunner 310XT/910XT/Timex Global trainer - which goes to 50 meters.

    I'm interested in getting some more clarification on this one...as well as perhaps a few tests with the Best Buy unit. :)

    As for maps - yup, and it's really darn cool.

    The unit has a basemap for all of North America plus Central America, Greenland, Bermuda, Argentina, Brazil and the US Minor Outlying Islands, right on the unit itself from the factory. You can see these basemaps in the mapsDB folder - all OSM maps with EBMD files (TravelDroyd). There are also two SMD files (World Overview and World RoadCity) - MapDroyd files.

    1.3GB of maps in all.

    Unclear at the moment if I can just drop EBMD files into it and make magic - will find out.

    Reply
  31. Ok, answering myself on maps.

    Once you get into the site you can download other maps. At the moment it also shows a slew of European countries, though no Asian/African/Middle Eastern ones.

    Reply
  32. Michael

    Thanks for the notes Ray.

    Did you also get the heartbeat headphones to test? Can't wait to read the review!

    Reply
  33. No hearbeat headphones included in the package unfortunately.

    I ordered a pair online via Amazon, but unclear on ship date (no estimate given). Will ask the PR folks tomorrow morning.

    Reply
  34. Kevin

    Thanks for the information on this, I've pre-ordered one! Motorolla's site says coming soon for both the heart rate capable headphones, no option to pre-order. I'll be interested to hear if they give you a date on them.

    Reply
  35. Kevin

    Thought of one more question, on the motoactv site they are still showing the registration as coming soon. What's up with that, the watch is released now right?

    Reply
  36. Registration is a bit funky. You actually do it with the watch attached, via the computer. In other words, you can't just create an account online - you've gotta have the unit, and have the software functioning.

    I do wish it were the other way around...

    Reply
  37. Could anybody tell me if I need to purchase the headphones for the calorie count and other features to work? I hate earbud headphones (they hurt my ears) so I would hate to invest in this product and not be able to use the functions.

    Reply
  38. You can use any ANT+ or BTLE compatible HRmon with this device.

    Reply
  39. Bryan D.

    you can pair you BLE HRM with the motoactv, but it will not work, as the workout applications (all of them) crash when you use this feature. the only way it will work is using the "auto run" feature, but then, all you can use the device for is running, cause the autorun shuts off if you stop running.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      You can actually go back one firmware version (prior to the last one they released). It works in that version oddly enough.

      Reply
  40. I realize this is an ancient post...but as an avid MOTOACTV user for years I was disappointed this week when Motorola shut down motoactv.com without giving users the chance to export years of data. This is a terrible disappointment and basically renders the product useless for running or cycling (my primary use).

    I'm super annoyed that all my data is now inaccessible.

    Now with my gripe out of the way, what do you recommend as a replacement product? I enjoyed the functionality and readability of the watch....especially that I can hit two buttons and be off. I also liked that I could view my route on the watch. Awesome blog!

    Reply
  41. Karl

    The new Times GPS watch that was just reviewed looks like it could come close.

    Reply

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