MotoActv

Four-week Review

10 messages
22/01/2012 at 17:52

About a month ago I took delivery of the 8GB version of the new MotoActv device.  First impressions were that it's very slick.  It comes with almost everything you need to get started.  For the money it could do with a HRM strap, but at £250 it's in the right ball-park of a GPS watch (Garmin 305) and an iPod Nano.

It feels like a good quality device.  Build-quality is excellent, the touchscreen screen is bright & responsive, and the interface is pretty.  The wriststrap is also pretty good, and the device is smaller than the 305, so it can be worn all day quite comfortably.  If you do wear it all day it'll act as a pedometer, even when the screen's off or timed-out.  If you've got a Motorola 'phone you can connect it to the device (BlueTooth) so you can take calls and read text messages while working out.  That seems like a load of bollocks to me, though, because when you're working out you should be doing just that.  If you're the sort who can't go for a run without having to respond to calls and SMS you're not a proper runner.

The MotoActv web site is quite similar to Micoach or Garmin Connect - lots of slick design and interface features to ease the process of recording stats, creating workouts, and so on.  There's plenty of bugs in the MotoActv site, from missing data on some summary screens (such as the schedule) to complete loss of workouts, but Motorola is, allegedly, on the ball with those.  Since owning the device I've seen some of the reported bugs get sorted out, though some have been done poorly.  It's a complex beast, though, so maintenance & debugging might not be as straightforward as one would think.

22/01/2012 at 17:53

In use, though, the device is, on the whole, pretty poor.  It has all the features you'd expect, such as GPS, music, and all the in-workout figures you'd want, but it's just not done very well.

For example, the MotoActv site lets you construct your workouts, just like every other training device does.  You can set up workouts that are as simple as 45min at 4min/km, or intervals.  You can also set-up multi-activity workouts, such as 10min warm-up, 40min fast, 10min cool-down, again, just as you can with other devices.

This is where the problems begin.  Firstly, MotoActv represents that single structured workout as three individual workouts.  On the device, although it appears in menus as a single workout, when underway it's represented as three separate workouts, each of which needs to be stopped before you can move on.  MotoActv calls each part of the workout an "Actvitity".  So, to do that workout you do the following:

  • Select it
  • Start your music
  • Start the workout (the first activity)
  • When the activity comes to an end you press STOP, when you'll be shown a screen with two buttons: END and NEXT.  You tap NEXT, then hit the START button to continue with the second activity.  If you don't do this the second activity never starts.  You have to do the same to move on the third activity.  At the end of the last activity you press stop then END.  If you have screen time-out enabled, you have to switch the screen on before any other buttons respond, so you have to press at least three buttons to progress through each part of a structured workout. This is stupid.  All other devices I've used (Garmin and Micoach) roll from one activity to the next without any need for interaction, and that's how it should work - it should at least be an option.

This is even worse with interval workouts, which you create on the MotoActv site.  When creating interval workouts you shouldn't include warm-up or cool-down phases in the structure.  You just set up the high and low intensity intervals.  When you're doing an interval workout you start the workout on the device and then go.  When you think you've warmed up enough you press START INTERVAL, so you lose some of your workout stats.  You do get some voice instruction, but that's just to tell you that the interval has started and the pace at which you should be running.  During the intervals, both LOW and HIGH, you don't get any coaching, so if you want to check that you're in the right pace zone you have to check by looking at the watch or tapping the screen for audio feedback.  This is also stupid - it should nudge you, and Micoach does this brilliantly.  Once you're done with the intervals you end the workout and then do your cool-down.

The way intervals are handled becomes even more bizarre when you realise that there's an option in the settings to have the device move on to the next interval automatically!

Edited: 22/01/2012 at 17:57
22/01/2012 at 17:56

Coaching
Frankly, there isn’t any.  All it does is tell you that things are starting, about to end, or are ending.  There is a really gimpy synthesised voice after about 30 minutes that tells you to stay hydrated by drinking 300-600ml of water every half an hour - a pint every 30 minutes.  Feck me.  There are no automatic reminders or updates on your speed, pace, heart rate, distance, and so on.

Weirdly, as you approach the end of an activity, the voice announces something like “You’re nearly at the end of your workout.  One minute and forty three seconds remaining.”  1m43s - WTF!?

Bugs

  • The built-in map displays a blank screen during a workout, regardless of the zoom level.
  • The MotoActv portal displays random workout data, seemingly from other people’s workouts.
  • The portal mis-matches timing data with maps.  For example, I have a 10min running workout that shows a map of 11km.  I’m not that fast.
  • The watch shows a countdown for the first activity, then counts up for subsequent activities.
  • The portal loses workout data.  Once the data’s lost it cannot be retrieved, even if it still shows on the device.
  • The portal lets you create WORKOUTS that contain ACTIVITIES, but the device refers to workouts as WORKOUTS and activities as WORKOUTS, even in the voice announcements.  So, when you reach the end of your warm-up ACTIVITY, the device announces, “Workout complete”.  That’s inconsistent and confusing.
  • The portal gives stats to show how well you run to each song.  It’s way off - all of my songs show that I run at 9min/km (yup - nine minutes per kilometre).
  • Although you can add a Carmichael programme to your schedule you can’t see what’s in each workout on the portal.

Missing Features

  • You can only export workout data as CSV, so getting it in to SportsTracks, TrailRunner, RunKeeper, etc is difficult. I wrote a script to create a Garmin TCX which, although limited, works pretty well for most people who’ve given feedback. The limitations are passively imposed by the format and content of the CSV file - “Cadence”, for example, is present but incorrect.
  • You can’t export a multi-actvitity workout as one file, so if you do a structured workout and import that data in to RunKeeper you have three activities to post.
  • Proper in-workout coaching, especially for intervals.  It needs to remind you that you’re below/in/above the specified zone.  Even my 305 does this in its own beepy little way.
  • There’s a few sets of Carmichael training programmes available on the MotoActv site, but these are for 5km and 10km only - nothing longer.
22/01/2012 at 17:56

The built-in Wifi is a marvellous idea.  Runs are generally sync’d before I get in through the door - they sync as soon as you’re in range of your configured Wifi networks.  Or that’s how it should work.  Sync has been broken for about four days, both over Wifi and via USB, so nothing’s syncing at the moment.

On a daily basis I get about 22 hours out of mine, and that includes wearing as a watch with the screen time-out set to 15s, and for about 60 minutes’ activity with the screen time-out disabled.

If you log a support ticket you’ll be told to do a factory reset regardless of what your ticket is about.  I submitted one because the web site failed to display my workouts.  Even though they’d been sync’d and showed up on the site, when viewed they just reported “No raw data found”.  Once a workout has been sync’d it’s gone - you can’t re-sync it like you can with Garmin.  There’s a method around this in Nike+ and, I think, Micoach.

I looked at many reviews of the device before buying it, including a couple of in-depth reviews.  However, they all failed to address multi-activity workouts, and I suspect knowing how they work would put many people off.  It’s clever or Motorola to prevent access tot he MotoActv site to people who haven’t bought the device - you create your account with the desktop application, not via your browser.

It’s a nice device.  It brings GPS and music (with and without iTunes) together, but for someone who’s after something to help with structured training it’s junk.  As it’s built on Android there’s plenty of scope for Motorola to sort this out, but until they do you should really look elsewhere for a training aid.  I reckon Motorola has released a beta version, perhaps even an alpha, so that, rather than getting athletes involved on the payroll, they can get feedback from customers who’ve already shelled out £250 on their hardware.

22/01/2012 at 20:57
Great review as someone who was considering this device, I really appreciate the ti e you to to write such an extensive review.
23/01/2012 at 12:51
Aye carumba! Thanks for taking the bullet for the team on this one. Can you return it?
23/01/2012 at 17:12
@Renur - I bought it from Evans Cycles, and they have 28-day return policy, so I'm just within that. I'm returning it under SOGA, though, rather than Distance Selling or EC's (generous) terms & conditions.
08/10/2012 at 07:16
I was thinking of buying this while I'm on a trip to the US next month. Can you tell me if any of these bugs/shortcomings have been fixed in the last 9 months? Thanks.
08/10/2012 at 08:13
No idea. I sent mine back for a refund in January-
08/10/2012 at 08:18
Ok. Thanks anyway. The price has come way down now and it only costs about ??100 in the US. Thought it might be worth it for that price.

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