Giving MOTOACTV a Test Run at the NYC Half Marathon

NYC Half Marathon, MOTOACTV

MOTOACTV by Motorola is a GPS watch and MP3 player all in one. (Photo: MOTOACTV)

On March 18, I’ll be running the NYC Half, a 13.1-mile tour of Manhattan from Central Park through Times Square that finishes at South Street Seaport. Not only am I running the race, but I am also one of four MOTOACTV NYC Half Marathon Ambassadors.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be training with MOTOACTV, the official entertainment partner of the NYC Half, a race organized by New York Road Runners. MOTOACTV is a new dual GPS fitness tracker and MP3 player all-in-one made by Motorola. I’ll be giving the device some test runs and running the race with it.

MOTOACTV, provided to me by Motorola, is the first GPS device I’ve ever owned. I’ve been a GPS holdout for a few years for three main reasons.

1) I didn’t want to wear yet another thing on my body while I run. I usually train with my iPod so I can listen to music; though I never race with headphones. Sometimes I also run with a hydration belt, wallet belt or an arm wallet. The last thing I wanted to do was strap a watch around my wrist too, especially when I could use Nike+ to track my runs on my iPod with its sensor and shoe pod.

2) GPS watches have long been clunky and I’ve been waiting for them to slim down. I have small wrists. Case in point, the MOTOACTV watch strap fits me on the tightest possible setting of 12 notches.

3) Not just clunky, GPS watches are also, by and large, ugly. I’ve been waiting for a GPS watch that comes in a poppy color like fuchsia, chartreuse, neon orange, or any of the other fun colors that have invaded the running shoe market.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. MOTOACTV nicely solves the first two issues I had with GPS watches. By combining GPS with an MP3 player, I only need to wear one device on my arm, and I can retire my Nike + shoe pod that forever needs recalibrating as I get faster and my stride changes, as it has many times over the years. And clocking in at just 35 grams, MOTOACTV is lighter than my fourth generation iPod Nano that I usually run with, which weighs 36.8 grams.

Like the vast majority of GPS watches, MOTOACTV is black, albeit much better looking than most on the market. I guess I’ll just have to keep dreaming of a neon GPS watch. I can live with that if it means running to my power songs while I train and tracking my runs all in one slim gizmo.

NYC Half Marathon, MOTOACTV

MOTOACTV can be worn as a watch or armband. (Photo: MOTOACTV)

The device itself is 1.75 inches square by about .25 inches deep with a touch screen glass display and sweat proof and scratch resistant housing. It can be worn three ways: on a clip, on a watchstrap, or in an armband. And after your workout, you can upload and track all of your runs online at Perhaps coolest of all, the MP3 player gets to know you. MOTOACTV tracks which music motivates you most during your workouts in order to create smart playlists of the songs that get you running fast.

Out of the box, MOTOACTV had minimal setup. Just charge it and go. Or if you want to upload music and nerdily check out all of the bells and whistles, like I did, it’s easy but does take a bit of time. The device comes in 8GB and 16GB versions. I got the 8GB one, which meant I had to cut in half my 16GB running mix that lives on my iPod. That took a bit of doing. But I suppose it’s my own fault for having one monster running mix that I shuffle through.

Before taking it for a run, I cruised through the settings, adjusting them to my liking. Nicely, there is a lot of optionality in there. I optimized the battery to last longer—you can choose from normal, extended and marathon battery settings. In order to clock laps, I set the lap counter as well—instead of manually tapping laps like a regular watch, you can set it to auto clock your laps from .25 miles to 3 miles per lap (or choose meters if you like). I also set the device to give me verbal feedback every lap, and picked which metrics I want displayed during my run.

All that was left was to try it for a run. So I decided to test the built-in motion sensor with an indoor run on a treadmill, which I do at least once a week. After calibrating my walking, jogging and running speeds on the treadmill, I gave it a shot with a 20-minute easy jog. It nailed my pace as I changed speeds and came out with an accurate distance reading.

Overall, MOTOACTV was really easy to use on the first try. I purposefully didn’t read how to control the music or workout; instead, I wanted to see how intuitive the device is. I was pleasantly surprised as I surfed through music during my workout, checked which artist a particular song was by, skipped songs, and upped the volume. I did the same with the workout—paused, restarted and tapped various metrics to read them larger. Best of all, it automatically clocked my mile splits for me as I’d programmed it to do.

Now, I’m ready to take it on the road. So stick with me as I train for and run the NYC Half on March 18 with MOTOACTV. I’ll bring you a few more pre-race reports and let you know how it goes on the big day.

Karla Bruning is a veteran journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


03 2012

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    You are so right about the GPS watches needing to come in awesome colors.
    Good luck next Sunday! I will be running, too!

  2. Karla Bruning
    Karla #

    Thanks, Abby and good luck to you! We can’t be the only ones who want GPS watches in something other than black. Have a great race!

  3. Angcorrado #

    Any updates on the MOTOACTV? How has it faired long term?

    • Karla Bruning
      Karla #

      I am completely in love with it. Ran 16.6 miles with it today! Since I originally posted, they came out with a few updates to the device that have made it nearly flawless in my estimation. I get a GPS signal right away, even in NYC, I can clock my laps with a simple touch of the screen and customize the settings about a million different ways. I’ve completely retired my iPod. I love having the GPS and MP3 all in one device, and the online interface is really great, complete with wireless syncing. It definitely gets two thumbs up from me.


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