While other big brands like Nike and Adidas have dabbled, but ultimately decided to step away from connected footwear, Under Armour has extended its Hovr range of smart shoes and continued to bet big on the future of running shoes being smart.
Its chipped range now boasts a bigger line-up to suit a much wider range of runners. The shoes still track your runs and send the stats to your smartphone, but they now monitor new running form metrics and offer helpful post-run coaching advice via the MapMyRun app.
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These next generation Hovr smart running shoes are on sale now with prices starting at $120. Under Armour is very keen to point out that youâll pay the same price as you would for its regular running kicks, so thereâs no premium for those connected smarts.
But do we really want chips in our shoes? And what can our shoes teach us that our existing running tech canât already? We put the HOVR Infinite â the everyday run version of the new smart shoes â to the test to find out.
Under Armour Hovr Infinite: Design
There are five different designs in the Hovr range: the Infinite, Guardian, Velociti 2, Phantom SE and Sonic 2. These are all primarily for road, treadmill or track running rather than trail. Though weâre told that tech-loving trail runners can look forward to off-road shoes thatâll boast the connected sensors too. Those are in the pipeline.
Each shoe caters for a different running need. The Infinite looks after your everyday regular runs, the lighter and faster Velociti cover tempo runs and speed work, the Sonic 2 is a fast longer distance shoe but with more cushioning. The Guardian are the stability shoe in the line-up and the Phantom SE provide a plush cushioned ride.
Wareable verdict: Under Armour Hovr Sonic Connected review
There are gendered versions too with design tweaks that address the differences between menâs and womenâs feet. Womenâs feet, so weâre told, are more sensitive and so there are different, softer sock liners and cushioned tongues on some models.
We tested the Under Armour Hovr Infinite model and while weâre not going to do a full running shoe review here, the important thing to point out is that all of the shoes in the range look, wear and work just like normal running shoes. Aside from a little Bluetooth logo on the insole, youâd never know there was a chip inside. And thatâs a good thing.
These are probably Under Armourâs best running shoes to date and can certainly hold their own against similar competitor models. The Infinite are quite chunky shoes, but thatâs to do with the shoe style and not the tech.
The tech doesnât come at the expense of comfort or quality, and importantly it doesnât interfere with the way they run at all. Even after three months on the feet thereâs no sign of the presence of a sensor during a run.
Thatâs largely because the brains of the shoe is about the size of a US quarter, a 6mm thick proprietary sensor, weighing less than 30g. Itâs embedded into the middle of the right foot midsole and boasts an accelerometer to track your movement and Bluetooth to fire the data to the MapMyRun app on your smartphone.
The sensor is fully weatherproof and despite some pretty wild British weather, it's handled heavy rain and plodding through puddles with no problems at all. The shoes themselves have shown little signs of wear even after three months of use.
Interestingly thereâs only one sensor, so what you get is one-foot tracking much like Stryd. Under Armour told us this was done to keep the costs down and because it didnât currently feel that adding a second sensor brought much more to the party. Itâs also much more complicated to crunch effective data from multiple inputs.
Under Armour Hovr Infinite: The app, syncing and set-up
The other half of the design equation is the MapMyRun app integration. MapMyRun is a highly capable GPS tracking app with all the bells and whistles youâd expect and Under Armour has done a good job of making it stupidly simple to connect your shoes to the app and to see your data.
The app automatically recognises when connected shoes are nearby, shows you a photo of the model of shoes and with three taps youâre set up and ready to run. With new shoes, the whole process takes less than three minutes and once youâre synced, MapMyRun automatically reconnects with the shoes each time you open the app. So thereâs no pre-run faff, the theory is that you can just lace up, hit start on the app and go.
And in most case we found it that simple. Unfortunately there were a few occasions where the the shoes failed to connect to the app for reasons unknown. The good news here though is that you can run without connecting your shoes and sync the data later.
While the app integration is well thought out, perhaps one of the biggest flaws is that the HOVR shoes currently only work with MapMyRun. You canât connect the shoes directly to Strava or third-party apps and frustratingly MapMyRun app data canât be synced to Strava. The shoes donât even work with Under Armourâs other run tracking GPS app, Endomondo. So if youâre not one of the existing 45 million MapMyRun users, being forced to use this app might mean the Hovr shoes instantly lose appeal.
And if youâre one of the millions of users who use Strava to aggregate all of their training data, the prospect of having Hovr-shaped gaps in your stats wonât appeal at all.
Thereâs also currently no way to make your data appear on any of the major running watches, though weâre told that Garmin, Suunto and Apple Watch connectivity is on the roadmap. This needs to be solved urgently. There are plenty of metrics that are more accurately tracked from the foot, but unless that data can be sent to your wrist where you can see it in real time, the convenience of wrist-based tracking will always be more attractive, even if the foot offers more reliable readouts.
One thing we really liked was the ability to connect multiple shoes to the app and have it automatically recognise which ones youâre wearing. Most runners will use different shoes for different runs and this allows you to seamlessly swap shoes.
Each shoe gets its own data screen too, where you can see stats specific to how youâve run in that shoe. This includes the total number of steps and the cumulative distance youâve covered in the shoes, and the number steps taken and distance covered, both broken down to show during workouts and general activity outside of your run sessions. You can also see when you last synced that shoe and your latest runs.
Post-run, your data is synced automatically with the the MapMyRun app and you can access all the run stats youâd usually get, plus get your average stride length and average cadence displayed on the usual post-run screen.
Whatâs different for connected shoe owners is a little red shoe icon that shows youâve tracked your run with the footwear, and a bar that appears over the route map that you can tap for so-called personalised coaching tips based on your performance for the run youâve just done.
Under Armour Hovr: Run tracking and new insights
The pod does all the tracking so you can run phone free and sync your data later, with up to seven hours of activity stored on the shoe between syncs. In order to get real time readouts of your stats, however, youâll need to run with your phone, as thereâs no option to connect the shoes directly to a set of Bluetooth headphones.
When you run without your phone the shoe sensor estimates distance; when you run with your phone distance is tracked using a combination of GPS and data captured by the podâs accelerometer. The latter helpfully fills in any gaps in GPS tracking for improved accuracy.
In our runs we found both the phone-free and with-phone accuracy were spot on. And the fact that you could use the shoes on treadmills and have your indoor run data fed into MapMyRun was a bonus.
Two new stats you get are cadence and stride length. Both have been added to the basics of distance, pace and duration that we saw in the earlier generation shoes.
Cadence is a no brainer and stride length is there because Under Armour claims overstriding is one of the biggest causes of injury and inefficiency in runners. There are gaps though. For example, they donât cater for new metrics such as power or offer foot strike info, as you get with other run trackers like Arion. This does mean that the shoes donât currently bring much more to the table than you get with the app or a running watch. This will also need to be remedied to make the connected shoes a genuinely attractive proposition.
Weâre told the sensor is tracking much more behind the scenes so weâd expect other running gait metrics to be added, but the developers told us this would only happen when they felt the data could be reliable and accurate. Thereâs definitely a sense here that Under Armour is taking small steps.
The shoes can also be upgraded with over the air updates so we expect regular new features to be unlocked. Itâs a nice touch that your shoes can keep getting smarter after youâve bought them.
MapMyRun also enables pairing of third-party sensors so you can combine data captured by the shoes with heart rate, for example. In fact, you can think of the shoes as an accessory that brings more data to MapMyRun.
On the run you get pretty standard audio updates for things like duration, pace, distance and heart rate and thereâs âcoachingâ â basically an audio nudge â to guide you against targets that you can set for pace, speed, distance, duration and heart rate.
Whatâs peculiar is that thereâs no mid-run guidance for those new running form metrics, cadence and stride length â you only get to review your performance for these post run. And that makes this feature far less useful.
Ideally weâd want to know if our cadence or stride length was flagging during our run and get some advice on how to correct them. This kind of real-time coaching is offered by products like the LifeBeam Vi headphones, Sensoria and Lumo Run. Again, the Under Armour developers told us this is in the pipeline.
Under Armour Hovr Infinite: Coaching
Post-run thereâs a tips screen where you get extra insights and coaching advice on how you can improve. You can also review your average stride length versus a target range along with some advice on how you can improve.
We often found this to be a bit contradictory. For example, after a run where weâd been 100% in the target range for stride length the app said âYour stride was within the target range, but that might not mean itâs perfect for you.â Thatâs a pretty confusing message.
And the recommendation from the app was unhelpfully vague, saying: âIncremental adjustments are better than drastic change. Next time try adjusting your stride by just a few inches for a few minutes to see how it feels.â
You also get a chart that plots your stride length during your run against the target minute-by-minute which is useful to see whether perhaps you miss the target when fatigue sets in.
A third graphic then shows your average stride length over time â at least from the most recent four runs â and whether you were in the recommended range. These are also plotted against your average pace so you can see the effect of pace on your form.
Keep on running
You can also calculate your target stride length according to your pace. For example, it recommends 155â177cm range for us running at 7:15 min/mile and 184â206cm at 6:00 min/mile.
There are also three text-based tips that form the coaching element. From what weâve seen over the past three months, these tips are sadly not that tailored and on the whole, the coaching element feels a little rudimentary. The tips donât change enough and there seems to be a limit to the insights they currently offer.
Under Armour will argue that for most runners, fixing cadence and stride length is where the most useful benefits can be found but if youâre in the more serious bracket, there are devices that offer far more detailed running form insights.
Under Armour Hovr Infinite: Battery life
The sensorâs battery is built to outlast the life of the shoe so you never need to charge them. Weâve tested that as far as we can, in as much as our shoes still work after three months. Never needing to charge is a big win here. The shoes are ready whenever you are to run and the experience is pretty seamless. It also means that they can even plug a gap if your phone or watch run out of juice mid-run.
- Very simple, seamless set-up
- Phone-free run tracking
- No need to charge
- No real-time coaching
- Doesn't offer power metric (yet)
- Only works with MapMyRun