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Motorola MOTOACTV hands-on (update: video with Dean Karnazes!)

So when Motorola teased its "faster, thinner, smarter, stronger" event we were pretty sure that was a not-so-subtle reference to the 7mm-thick Droid RAZR. As it turns out, the company was also being quite literal. Instead of a Xoom 2, the outfit rounded out its New York City presser with MOTOACTV, an iPod Nano-like touchscreen device that plays music and keeps track of your various fitness vitals. While we couldn't take it more than a few feet away from the pedestal where it was on display, we did get to poke around its UI for a few minutes and put that 600MHz processor to the test. You know the drill: hands-on photos below, along with impressions and a short vid after the break.
Joseph Volpe and Zach Honig contributed to this report.


If it sounds like we're pitting the MOTOACTV against the iPod Nano it's because... we are. With its square shape, 1.6-inch touchscreen and raft of fitness features, it's impossible not to draw that parallel as soon as you even read about the thing. Without the clothing clip attached, they're similarly, sized, too, though that clip obviously adds some bulk. In the box, you'll find that clip, along with a wired headset with inline controls. (That red-and-black rubberized watch band you'll see in our hands-on photos comes separately.)

Moto also did Apple one better with some much-needed physical controls to help you cut down on the time you spend tapping the screen with sweaty fingers. Up top, there's a button that brings you back to whatever activity you're doing (say, running), while another shortcut key whisks you into to the music app. As for music, by the by, Motorola says this will work with iTunes and Windows Media Player, something we'll have to revisit in a full review. The device also has your requisite volume buttons and a 3.5mm headphone jack, though it's also compatible with stereo Bluetooth headsets (including, of course, the two that Motorola announced today).

Software / UI

As you can see in those photos, the UI is dead-simple, with a variety of home screens that you can swipe through, bringing you to the music app, settings menu, et cetera. Equally obvious: just tap one of those glossy, candy-colored icons to enter the app. From there on out, it's organized just as you'd expect it to be: you can browse music by artist, for example, and also run through an alphabetical list of physical activities. In addition to the usual suspects such as running, you'll see lots of indoors favorites represented, including the elliptical machine and Stairmaster.

What makes the device for us, though, is that back button tucked in the lower left-hand corner of the bezel. We did notice a bit of lag as we exited screens and switched apps, but that said, we could instantly see the value of having that shortcut there for the tapping.

And then there are things we weren't able to test today: WiFi syncing, along with a so-called audio coaching feature that whispers sweet nothings about your pace and distance. And, you know, how long the GPS radio takes to lock in your coordinates.


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So there you have it. While this isn't exactly the second-generation Xoom we were hoping to see today, it's clear Motorola has put some thought into the design and UI here. Still, we have to wonder: with a starting price of $249 for the 8GB number, is this worth the gargantuan premium over the 8GB iPod Nano, whose price just fell to $129? Even with the added cost of the Nike+ kit for iPods, that's not a trivial difference. True, the Nano doesn't have GPS, but you'd have to be a fairly serious athlete to be okay with paying so much more. Or, at least, a multi-faceted jock -- after all, if you're a single-sport kind of person you can get, say, a GPS-enabled Garmin Forerunner for less than $250. Obviously, yours truly (a marathoner by night) is itching to take this thing for a three-hour run, but until then, have a peek at our gallery, if you haven't already, and check out our video walk-through with ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes below!