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Philips Activa Portable Fitness Device Review


_DSC0306Working out with the Philips Activa Portable fitness device is kind of like having a trainer, MP3 player, and pedometer combined into a tiny 1″ x 1″ smart product. If you’re serious about working out and monitoring your progress, you probably own a pedometer to measure distance, a MP3 music player to keep you motivated, and maybe even a friend or trainer pushing you to work harder. After you workout, there’s a whole other level of angst: writing down how many miles you ran or cycled and estimating how many calories you might have burned. Right off the bat, the Activa takes all of these elements and combines them into one sleek MP3 player / pedometer / calorie counter / trainer hybrid.

As an avid runner, I of course already own of these elements that I earlier described. The pedometer. The MP3 player. I own it all. I literally have to wear three armbands while running: one for my iPod, one for my distance meter, and one for my various doodads. It’s starting to be ridiculous. What I really like about the Activa is that it combines all of these elements, which simplifies my life but also makes it much easier for someone who’s not a workout technology super user to start monitoring and tracking your exercise progress. And we all know that  monitoring your workout progress really makes a difference in meeting your health goals; you can build your distances, improve on speeds, and feel good about yourself knowing that you’re not just logging miles on a treadmill but rather you’re actually meeting your goals whether they’re distance goals, calorie goals, or speed goals. The Activa is designed for both high level workout fiends and beginners–I love that.

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The Activa Portable fitness device comes in a clear plastic tube with everything you need, right out of the box. The device itself, an armband to wear while working out, “workout” headphones (you know, the ones that go over your ear), a gel skin case for the Activa itself, and a short USB cable for syncing with your computer. The first step was setting up the software that comes with the device, so I plugged the device into my computer using the USB cable. My computer recognized the device and took me through a five screen set-up process. After restarting my browser, I was able to launch the Philips Songbird interface. This is basically the control panel for your Activa where you can update songs or track your exercise progress. Once you open up the interface, it asks you some initial start-up questions. For example, the music player asked me if I wanted to import my music from my computer, which I did quickly and easily. As part of the initial set-up, the interface prompted me to choose a trainer and fill it in my stats like height and weight. Don’t worry, this isn’t designed to make you feel bad, but rather to accurately count how many calories you’re burning based your height and weight. Activa features a “trainer,” which is basically a voice that will keep you updated on your time, distance, and other milestones. Activa’s trainer basically prompts you to work harder throughout the workout with positive reinforcement, telling you that you can do it and pushing you forward. You can choose from four different trainers: the lovely “Caroline,” the hunky “Peter” or the super intense lady “Sergeant Callahan” and equally intense “Sergeant Miller.” Once you’ve chosen your trainer and put in some information, you choose between three different goals: “easy start,” “exercise regularly, starting twice a week” “burn 1000 kcal per week.” Part of your goals, the Activa will help you reach these goals through its tracking software.

The Activa as a MP3 Player:
The Philps Songbird interface (where all your music and workout information is stored) is much like iTunes with the added feature of also being a center for monitoring your workout progress. The system asks you if you want to upload your personal music collection from the get-go. Like iTunes you can sort your music by recently added, playlist, most played, etc. The sync process is also like iTunes where it shows you how much space on your Activa is devote to pictures, videos, and music as well as how much space you have free. The Activa has a few features that set it apart from an iPod, designed specifically for working out. You can download music through the interface and it uses 7Digital, a music recommender and Songkick to notify users when bands on their playlist are in town. One of the Activa’s coolest features is the TempoMusic feature. When you set the Activa to TempoMusic, the device automatically sifts through your music to find songs that match your workout pace. For example, if you’re sprinting, the Activa will choose upbeat songs to keep you going. Doing a walking cool down? The Activa will pick more relaxed songs. The other super cool feature is the “power boost” song. This is a song you choose and can deploy anytime when you really need some motivation to push your hardest. The Activa doesn’t have to be used just during workouts, you can access your music whenever and simply listen without worrying that Sergeant Callahan is going to chime in and demand you run faster stating “don’t tell me I got up for this!”

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The Activa as a Workout Tracker:
The Activa is a multisport product that is designed for everyone from workout newbies to dedicated athletes. What I like about the device is that not just geared towards running. You can also track indoor rowing, indoor cycling, or outdoor cycling. You can customize any workout based on distance, speed, calories, or choose “freestyle” and just wing it. After you’ve completed your workout, you connect your Activa to the computer and all your workout information is downloaded into the Activa Center workout tracker. You can view and analyze workouts from a specific day, week, month, or year view and track calories burned, length of workout, or distance. I like that the workout tracker is customizable based on what I’m interested in. For example, if I’m training for a 10k, I care less about how fast I went in my last workout and more about how far I ran. In the Activa Center I can view that. Within the Activa Center you can also edit the personal goals you set-up when you first opened the Philips Songbird program.

Working Out with the Activa:
So you have the Activa clipped into the Velcro armband and you’re ready to go. When you start your workout you click on “move” and choose your exercise of choice. Let’s say you choose “running,” you now must choose what your goal for the workout is: open ended, compete against yourself (try to beat your personal best from previous workouts), calories, time, or distance. Once you decide your goal, you can adjust the settings (for example, how many miles you want to run). Ok so you know you want to run five miles, now you have to choose whether you want no music, shuffle, or playlist. After you chose your music (or lack thereof) the device prompts you to warm up. Interesting. This is something that I’ve never really seen. When you feel sufficiently warmed up, just click through and the device will start calculating how far you’re running. It doesn’t use a chip or sensor in your shoe but rather counts how many times you bounce up and down to calculate stride and speed. If you need a boost, you just press the button on the bottom of the device. What I really like about the Activa is that you press the screen – so unlike the iPod, which is much more difficiult to manuever when you’re running, you literally have controls directly on the device’s screen. Click the screen to the right to skip to the next song or click to the left to pause your workout or end. The only problem is that if you want to go back to an older song you have to click to the right, go into the music section, and then change it as compared to an iPod, which makes it easy to view your playlist and return to songs earlier in the playlist. This required an extra step, but then again it’s more designed to track your workout and just play your hottest jams while you workout. It also took referring to the manual to figure out how to change the volume. When you’re finished working out and plug the Activa back into your computer, you’ll see exactly how far you went, your speed, and can keep track of your workouts on a calendar view. I love this because you can really refer back to especially great workouts you’ve had and feel good about the mileage you’ve accrued or calories you’ve burned. It’s both a “pro” workout tool and a beginner tool to really get you into working out.

I like the Activa. It’s an all-in-one MP3 player, trainer, and workout tracker. Having used Nike Plus technology for years, a device that connects to your iPod to track your workout through your iPod, there are specific things that stand out about the Philips Activa when you compare the two. Nike Plus requires you to wear a chip in your shoe, which you can feel while working out, whereas the Philips Activa measures strides based on the premise that you bounce up and down everytime you step, so all you have to wear is the device itself clipped onto the armband. I also like that this device has features like speed and distance that can be appreciated by someone who runs a lot and wants to beat their personal best or improve, but it can also be used by someone who’s just starting to workout. If used regularly the Activa can truly be like a personal trainer helping you track your progress and push harder throughout your workouts. The Philips Songbird interface is intuitive and easy-to-use, making it easy to manage your music, especially if you’re already an iTunes user. I think this device is ideal for someone who wants to start tracking their workouts and doesn’t already own a MP3 player and pedometer. For me, I’m not sure if I’d trade in my Nike Plus at this point for the Activa just because I use my iPod when I’m not working out as well. I can’t imagine using my Activa as my sole MP3 player, just because the screen is much smaller and doesn’t offer the same level of usability as the larger screened iPod does. Also, it’s just not as sexy as the iPod. The graphics on the Philips Activa are a little dated–you know, flames flying in the background of your calorie counter and the voice prompts are a little cheesy. If you’re evaluating the Activa as a workout companion and workout tracker – it’s great. It’s easy to go to the next song thanks to the pressable screen and it’s pretty fast to set-up and intuitive to use. The Activa is perfect for someone who doesn’t already own an iPod and pedometer combo. If you’re already using iTunes and your iPod on the reg, then I don’t really see people trading in this technology for an Activa. If you’re someone who isn’t completely attached to your iPod and don’t already use Nike Plus, then the Activa is an awesome choice. It’s comparable to Nike Plus and it’s all-in-one so you don’t have to worry about chips or attachments. The Philips Activa Portable Fitness Device retails for $129.99 and is available for pre-order at Amazon.

The Good

* All-in-one music player, pedometer, and trainer
* Customizable based on your workout goals (calories, distance, time, etc.)
* Good for beginners or expert athletes
* Activa Center is a great way to track your workouts and feel good about your workout
* The included headphones are designed to stay on your ears and they have a clip so the chords not flying everywhere
* Syncs with all your music

The Bad

* Graphics look a little dated. Reminds me of a human looking Tamagotchi.
* Sound quality is not phenomenal, but will get the job done
* Small screen makes navigating through your music a little difficult

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