Lace Up and Go

Review: Under Armour’s First Smart Shoes


August 9, 2016 Tech By Photo by Under Armour
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Wearable tech’s last hurdle is to make us use it, unconsciously, all the time. If you look at any of the top fitness trackers — be it the Jawbone Up4, Misfit Shine 2 or Gear Fit2 — they still require you to remember to wear them. And while, yes, we’re able to integrate most of them into our lives fairly seamlessly, you do have to remember to put them on at the beginning of the day. But what if fitness trackers were built differently?

What if trackers were built into our attire, so we wouldn’t have to remember to wear them or turn them on? Professional athletes have been wearing fitness trackers in their shoes for years, but it’s taken a while for the tech to catch on at a commercial level. (Remember 2012’s Nike+ trainers? Neither do we.) Baltimore-based sportswear superpower Under Armour is hoping to change that.

Key Specs

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Weight: 10.4 ounces
Material: UA SpeedForm upper, Blown rubber outsole and carbon rubber heel
Offset: 8mm
Life Span: 400 miles
App Compatibility: Android and iOS

Earlier in 2016, Under Armour released their first-ever smart shoes, the SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped. The running shoes have a tracking chip built into their soles that you’ll never see or feel, and they work with UA’s popular MapMyRun app (compatible with both iOS and Android). Additionally, they never need to be charged; the chip’s battery is claimed to last longer than the shoes’ 400-mile lifespan. They also track data without being connected to a smartphone, meaning no more lugging your phone around with you on runs, and they look and feel, at 10.4 ounces, like the running shoes you already own. Bottom line: you probably won’t even remember you’re wearing a fitness tracker.

Once the shoes are paired with your smartphone, make sure to turn on the app’s “Auto Start” feature. This tells the shoes to automatically track your runs when you start running; i.e., you don’t need open the app to track your run. (If you don’t turn on “Auto Start,” the shoes won’t track your runs automatically; I learned this the hard way.) UA claims that the shoes will automatically track your run once you start running at a pace of 11 minutes per mile. If you take a break longer than three minutes, then start again, the tracker will count that as a new run. The shoes can store up to five runs at a time. To clear them, just sync them with your smartphone.

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But how accurate are its metrics? I was skeptical, so I also wore my Samsung Gear Fit2 wristband, which I normally use to track my runs. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two devices’ data, from the same run.

SpeedForm Gemini 2

Distance: 3.68 miles
Duration: 30 minutes, 23 seconds
Calories Burned: 388
Pace: 8:15 minutes per mile
Samsung Gear Fit2

Distance: 3.77 miles
Duration: 30 minutes, 57 seconds
Calories Burned: 411
Pace: 7.3 mph (approx. 8.22 minutes per mile)

It should be noted that both devices can track more than just the above stats throughout your run when paired with your phone. But the beauty of these devices is that you can leave your smartphone behind. It’s likely UA’s smart running shoes took longer to “realize” that I was running because it didn’t track as long as my wristband. As far as performance, the SpeedForm Gemini 2 running shoes seemed to hold their own against the Samsung Gear Fit2. Distance, calories and average pace were all about the same, if you adjust for the difference in duration.

So, who’d want smart shoes? If you want to track your sleep or calorie intake — pass. But it’s an obvious choice for the casual runner. The shoes cost a reasonable $150, which is about as much as you’d expect to pay for a new pair of running shoes in 2016. They’re plenty adequate at recording distance and time, and they don’t require you to remember to slap anything on your wrist or around your chest. There’s no charging and nothing you really have to do to make them work. Just go run.