- Connecting and syncing is a dream
- Excellent untethered auto-tracking
- No need to charge
- Better coaching yet to come
- Limited lifespan
- More styles would be nice
When did you know you were living in the future? For me it was the moment I got a notification tell me to update my shoes with the latest software. The Under Armour Hovr Sonic and Phantom Connected running shoes are smart: they track your pace, distance, time, cadence and stride length, either with or without a paired smartphone. These shoes can shoulder many of the tasks of your smartwatch or fitness tracker, meaning you don't need to strap on any extra gear.
Which all sounds fantastic, but I've always been a bit of a smart running shoe skeptic. On one hand they seem incredibly convenient; why slap on a running watch when the shoes can do the job for you? On the other, running shoes are temporary things that you'll retire after 300 miles or so. We've tried Under Armour's previous efforts as well Altra's first smart running shoe and we've yet to be sold on the idea.
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And that's no different for the Hovr Connected shoes, which succeed Under Armour's SpeedForm Gemini 2. But the other benefit of putting this tech inside the shoe is that it should be more meticulous in tracking movement, whereas wrist and head-worn devices must do more guesswork with certain metrics. Does it work in practice and does it do a better job of selling smart running shoes to us than Under Armour's previous collection?
Here's our verdict on the Hover Sonic Connected shoes.
Under Armour Hovr Sonic: Design and comfort
Under Armour has produced two connected shoes for Hovr, the $110 Sonic and the $140 Phantom. Functionally they're identical, but there are some differences in how they're put together. For this review I've been using the Sonic: these have a knitted design that wraps all around the foot, and seem to be the more ventilated of the two.
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The Phantom have an additional knitted collar for a more snug fit, though I can't speak to how comfortable that is. Both shoes have an external heel counter that extends about two thirds up the foot; they feel nice and supported. They both of course do showcase Under Armour's new cushioning system that aims to offer a cushioned ride but also energy return.
You'd think Under Armour would know what it's doing when it comes to the fit and comfort of the shoe at least, and you'd be right. The Hovr Sonic are light (despite the additional tech), and mold nicely to the foot. But like any shoes, fit is a very personal thing, even more so when you're going to be clocking up a lot of miles in them. It's not going to be the perfect fit for all, but if you're used to running in Under Armour's running shoes, you're well catered for here.
So where are the brains of the operation? Hiding in a pod inside the soles of each shoe. It's something you'll never notice or have to deal with, as the shoes don't need to be charged. Under Armour says this tech should outlast the life of the shoes themselves. How long will that be? Well, it depends on individual usage patterns (which are affected by things like weight) but the company told me the Hovr are supposed to last longer than a typical running shoe which, generally, is in the 300-400 mile ballpark range.
My only criticism right now is that Under Armour needs to scale this tech to much more of its running shoes. The Connected models are only slightly more expensive than the non-smart variety, even close in cost to the Gemini 2, so it makes sense for UA to push this tech more widely across its catalogue. Not only would it get more people using the tech, but it would mean a better variety of designs.
Under Armour Hovr Sonic: Tracking, coaching and accuracy
So how do the shoes do when it comes to tracking? Pretty well, it turns out. The shoes connect to your phone through the Under Armour MapMyRun app with a lightning quick pairing process - and a short aforementioned software update.
From that point on, every time you open the app with the shoes nearby they'll instantly pair, and you'll be notified that by a little picture of the shoes with a green tick in the top right corner, which tell you they're connected. The beauty of these shoes is that you don't need to push any buttons or plug anything in to sync; after the initial pairing process they connected automatically and instantly every time you open MapMyRun.
So you're good to go, but if you'd prefer you can go running without having the app open - or even without your phone - and still have your workout tracked. It's a convenience in more ways than one: there have been countless times where I've wanted to go for a run only to find that my running watch or fitness tracker was out of battery, a problem you're not going to have with these shoes.
So let's talk tethered running first. The good news is that, when foot was put to pavement, the shoes did a decent job of monitoring my runs. GPS is tracked through the app, but I put the shoes up against the Garmin Fenix 5 to check my speed, distance and cadence weren't wildly off the mark. Now naturally two GPS readings are unlikely to align perfectly, so I'm taking into account some discrepancies for that, but even so I found that my pace and cadence were very closely matched each time when put up against the Garmin reading.
The added benefit was being able to see my stride length and the breakdown of my stride per kilometer/mile. That's what makes these shoes stand alone from most other body-worn devices that either try to infer your stride from other metrics, or need you to enter your stride length manually (which is subject to change throughout a run, and often does).
As for running sans app, the performance was just as impressive. On one run against the Fenix 5, the difference in total tracked distance was just 0.3 miles higher on the Garmin - and that was without the shoes tracking GPS. Naturally you don't get a map in your post-run results when you do it this way, nor do you get elevation gain, but everything else is there in the post-run data, including splits.
Some of these, like cadence, weren't trackable when untethered in previous models, so that's an improvement. Under Armour also told me that untethered running also works at any running pace, whereas before it required a minimum 11-minute mile pace to kick in.
One final thing I should add: the shoes won't track your steps when walking around as they require a certain amount, and consistent amount, of force to track steps. As I discovered by wearing them around my apartment, I was being severely underscored. When it comes to tracking, these are solely for running purposes.
Under Armour Hovr Sonic: App
All of this data is there to pore over in the MapMyRun app, which Under Armour has been the proud owner of since 2013 (among the other MapMyFitness apps it acquired when it bought the company). I really like MapMyRun; the app has been tweaked and prodded over time to simplistic near-perfection, and as mentioned, the way it seamlessly connects and syncs with the shoes is marvelous. You can really dig down into the data too, with line graphs for pace, stride length, elevation and cadence available.
The app also offers some light coaching, which you'll be able to use in sync with the shoes, though this means you'll need to take your phone with you to use it. I was able to set a target pace in the app, and how frequently I wanted to be updated on how well I was doing to keep up - or how badly I was falling behind.
It's a bit simple for now, but Under Armour says more in-depth coaching is coming that will take factors like stride and cadence into account. This is something the LifeBeam Vi's coaching did when I tested it, giving me advice on the size and pace of my steps, but that was lodged in my ears. By reading my exact foot movements, Under Armour could offer incredibly accurate feedback if it gets it right. I'll be sure to come back and update this review when I've got to try it.
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