Moov Now’s athletic performance tracking: working hard

I blogged about an upcoming event that I am training for – see here.

I have now received the two Moov Now devices that I ordered and have started to use them to track my training. My order was part of a pre-order ‘early bird’ offer that enabled me to buy at a discounted rate of $49.99 per device. The normal price is $79.99. Since placing my pre-order and receiving the devices, Moov Now has become available in broad distribution across the US, UK and other markets. It’s also available in Apple stores. This reflects Moov’s iOS optimization – Android is second, other OSs are not supported.

Moov Now devices Moov back of package

Many activity trackers claim to track athletic performance, but few do. Smart watches are also muscling-in on this area; most can track steps and some can monitor heart rate. However the range of activities that smartwatches and activity trackers can monitor is limited. The level of sophistication in how they monitor movement is confined to tracking steps based on movement detected by the on-board accelerometer. Other information such as GPS data, for example, is imported from the smartphone.

Some watches – especially those made by companies like Garmin, Polar and TomTom, are capable of using native GPS data. These watches typically also include capability to track heart rate and other athletic performance data. Some, such as the upper tier products from Garmin and TomTom, can also provide detailed swimming related data – traditionally a sport that’s hard to track.

Moov is one of a new breed of activity tracker now coming to market that offers more rounded sets of performance data and guided coaching sessions. We have been testing the Moov Now tracker – the second generation of Moov’s activity trackers.

Prior to receiving the Moov Now devices. I had been using a Fitbit Flex for around a year. The Fitbit performs a decent basic job of tracking numbers of steps. The Fitbit app itself can receive more detailed exercise information from companion apps, for example Strava. However the range of information it is able to detail in the application is limited and doesn’t evolve significantly. After using for a few months, the novelty wore off – along with the utility. I found that I was increasingly leaving the Fitbit device off my wrist and not missing it. One immediate benefit is that the Moov Now devices are powered by standard CR2032 coin-type batteries that are claimed to last up to six months with normal use. This means there is no irritating need to constantly recharge the device – something of a nuisance with the Fitbit.

In terms of tracking activity, the Moov system is based on a different philosophy. It is designed around a relatively small number of specific sports or activities:

  • Running and walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • 7 Minute workout (essentially bodyweight exercises)
  • Cardio-boxing

The Moov device is small and worn either on the wrist or ankle depending on the sport being tracked. The device contains three sensors – accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer – that work together to provide highly accurate nine-axis movement tracking. Data from the device is used to reconstruct the user’s movements in 3D and forms the basis for providing feedback, not only on the activity, but also form – for example whether the user is performing a jab or hook in cardio boxing, or extending their stride properly while running. Moov claim the technology is used in strategic missiles. We have not verified this claim but the movement tracking, as rendered in cardio-boxing for example, is accurate and very sensitive with almost zero latency.

The really clever computational work is driven by the smartphone or tablet, rather than the Moov Now device; the device merely reports movement data that is then interpreted by the application – either locally, or in Moov’s cloud-based servers.

Rather than tracking activity in general – which the Moov Now device does do – it is optimized for the five activities mentioned above and provides real-time feedback and coaching advice – except when swimming. The user selects the activity and then a particular workout from a predefined set of possible workouts. The app then uses data flowing from the device to provide real-time feedback on performance and form, and encourages the user to improve any of a number of metrics.

Each workout is graded as a ‘level’ much as in game play. You can’t advance to the next level until you’ve completed the requisite number of reps or hit certain performance markers. This game play element is the key to keeping users engaged and coming back for more – even when the workouts are tough. There are currently 12 programs and 200 levels among the five sports. However Moov is updating this on a regular basis.

Surpassing the highest level is likely unachievable for most people as they’re based on the performance parameters set by some supreme athletes. For example in the running workouts Moov used data from Hicham El Guerrouj who is the current mile (1600 m) world record holder at 3:43 and a cadence of approximately 210 steps per minute. So to beat the toughest workouts requires something like world record performance levels. I won’t be troubling those any time soon.

In addition to feedback during the workout, the application provides detailed information that the user can review once the workout has been completed. The following are screens from one of my longer runs which featured a 5km race mid-way through.

Screenshot_2015-12-08-17-46-18Screenshot_2015-12-08-17-47-40

The co-founder of Moov, Meng Li was a competitive swimmer from an early age. Devices capable of tracking swimming activity are few in number. Garmin and TomTom’s top end devices do a decent job – but the Garmin devices, in particular, are quite bulky and expensive ($449 for the Garmin 920XT). The Moov device is minimal by comparison and relatively low cost.

However what Moov cannot do is provide real-time updates during the swimming session – the device has no screen. Unlike the running, cycling or other activities, you initiate the swimming workout in the smartphone application and then leave the smartphone in your bag or locker. Once the swimming session has been completed you sync the device with the application, whereupon you can review the workout details. The following are screen shots from a recent swimming session:

Screenshot_2015-12-08-17-44-45Screenshot_2015-12-08-17-45-22

Cardio boxing is not something I have engaged in for many years. I once attended some gym classes in cardio boxing. In the Moov Now version of Cardio Boxing two Moov Now devices can be used. With two Moov Now devices worn on the wrists the workout takes on a strong game play element with targets that need to be ‘smashed’ by using the appropriate punch. Points are awarded for a combination of power, movement precision and timing. The effect is quite addictive, though the workouts are hard.

It is this element of gameplay and engagement that has been missing from standard activity trackers like those from Fitbit.

Moov will not be alone for long

I have been impressed with the performance of the Moov Now devices and application. It manages to be informative, motivational but still fun. It keeps me wanting to come back for more.

Jawbone has been offering some coaching advice for some time, though not real time.

Fitbit however is not standing still and will likely release new devices that offer similar functionality to the Moov Now devices and applications – including coaching. In addition Fitbit will likely add to the heart rate monitoring it already offers in some of its devices. Additional sensors could, for example, monitor blood oxidation, blood pressure or stress levels.

I will post my observations as my training continues to progress.

By: Peter