How to: Root and Run Games on your MOTOACTV Android Smartwatch

How to: Root and Run Games on your MOTOACTV Android Smartwatch

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104_0822One of my fondest childhood memories was being able to play a (really dumbed down) version of Super Mario Bros. 3 on my watch. It was far from an accurate port; constrained to how many characters an LCD screen could print on a silkscreen at the time. Taking off the nostalgia glasses for a second, the game itself was terrible—a single-screened platformer experience that even the proper Game & Watch games could easily trump; this had nothing on the real thing. Still, that fact could not stop my watch from being the talk of the playground.

Growing up, I found myself obssessed with trying to play Super Mario Bros. on every piece of hardware that I owned. I considered this my personal “Doom Test” when buying new hardware, regardless of the function—I consider a tech purchase a good buy if I could run Super Mario Bros. on it. Check out that picture to the left from a few years ago—I took that using an old Minolta digital camera that (you guessed it) had the ability to run Super Mario Bros.

So when my girlfriend bought me a Motorola MOTOACTV fitness watch last month (seriously guys, it’s awesome; I can review the hardware if I get enough requests to), I didn’t take it as a subtle hint that I needed to stop being a fat slob for once. Rather, it was an opportunity to revisit this obsession with playing Super Mario Bros. on hardware that has no business running games. So today’s project—if you happen to own a MOTOACTV or are planning to pick one up—is to customize the underlying Android operating system and flash a different ROM to enable things like alternative app launchers and mapping the hardware keys to different functions.

ISONY DSCf you’ve been dorking around with Android hardware for awhile, you already know that developers like to release their own “flavors” of each device’s OS, sometimes customized for functionality, or perhaps stripping down unnecessary services that slow down the hardware. I like keeping my devices as stock as possible (which is why tacky resource hogs like Facebook Home displease me), so I went with a ROM called “DPRom for Motoactv” to flash on my MOTOACTV.

Pre-Requisites:

  • You need to have Fastboot/ADB installed on your computer; here’s a good tutorial on how to set this up.
  • Your device needs to be fully charged. Yeah you can live on the edge and flash things without being fully charged, but why risk it?

The Steps:

  1. Extract the contents of that DPRom file I linked to.
  2. Switch off your MOTOACTV and boot it up again while holding the volume down and power keys to boot into recovery mode.
  3. Plug the microUSB cable that came with your MOTOACTV to the computer. You should see a few device install prompts pop in and out; if you installed ADB on your computer this should take care of any required driver installs.
  4. Open a command line window—hit Win+R, type in cmd, hit enter—and navigate to the folder where you extracted the files in Step 1. If you don’t know how to do this; seriously kids, lrn2 command line.
  5. Issue these commands in order. Obviously hit enter after each command to send them over to the watch:
     fastboot -w
     fastboot flash boot boot.img
     fastboot flash system system.img
     fastboot flash preinstall preinstall.img
     fastboot -w
     fastboot reboot
  6. You should be good to go after this! After the watch reboots, you’ll be able to select your launcher. Simply hitting “Launcher” will send you to Motorola’s default app selector; while going to Zeam Launcher will get you to a more familiar (albeit scaled-down) Android experience. You can go back to either launcher by hitting the power button twice.

SONY DSCEmulators!

Time to feast. You can either sideload Android apps or install them via the Play Store, which will be a little bit of a challenge given the screen’s miniscule resolution. Either way, I’d recommend grabbing one of Robert Brogolia’s excellent .emu apps for your emulation fix. You can either use the on-screen controls to fumble through the action, or you can be a cool guy like me and use a Bluetooth controller such as a Wii Remote or the excellent iCade 8-bitty, which I originally recommended in this overview article. And trust me—nothing gets a chick’s panties wetter than someone busting out Super Mario Bros. on his frickin’ watch during a party.