Tuesday March 29th, 2016

Under Armour is jumping head first into the wearables game. After recently collaborating with HTC on the HealthBox the brand is now offering a “smart” running shoe  that has a chip embedded in the sole that can track your runs. Smart shoes are not a new concept, but Under Armour's Speedform Gemini 2 Record Equipped is the first standalone pair to market. They’ve been building a cache of connected apps and wearables and their latest foray is the most intriguing of the group.

While simple in design, the shoes look nice enough that you can just as easily wear them out casually—but all in all, they’re running shoes, not your latest pair of Jordans. More importantly, the shoe feels light on your feet, is comfortable to wear and adds some spring to your step. As far as being a pure running sneaker that I enjoy using, it’s already vaulted past all but one of my other running shoes, the adidas Ultra Boost. My one minor quip is that the mouth of the shoe has a plastic-like edge, and it felt uncomfortable wearing low-cut ankle socks while running with them.

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Setting the shoes up with the MapMyRun app (available on Google Play and iTunes) was simple enough, and more often than not, the shoes were able to seamlessly connect to the app. However, every once in awhile the connection process would hang up, forcing you to restart the app and start all over again, which was annoying when you were getting ready to start your run.

The chip in the shoes will activate whenever it senses motion. You can either shake the right shoe from side to side or simply walk around in them to wake it up. If you find yourself unable to sync the shoes up with the MapMyRun app, the chip is able to track up to five runs before the data is overwritten. This is great for those times when you’ve got the shoes but don’t have or want to carry your phone or tracker with you.

I was very skeptical over the step tracking, but my concerns were quickly alleviated after only a few runs. While not perfect, the tracking on the shoes were surprisingly accurate compared to my initial expectations, and you can even set it to track your runs on a treadmill. While running outside, I found runs tracking within 1/10th of a mile compared to GPS-based trackers; on treadmills, I found that the tracking was generally off by as little as 1/100th of a mile. The shoes were more accurate than two wrist-based step trackers I tested them against, which I suspect was due to the trackers accidentally recording movements that could unintentionally be recorded as steps. The tracking was reasonably accurate and consistent enough that I feel confident enough to continue using them without a phone or tracker on hand.

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If you have the shoes connected to your phone, you can set goals and the MapMyRun app can give you coaching advice to hit them. The app will also let you know what your pace and time is every time you hit a mile. On top of basic data such as distance, duration and pace, it will also tell you your cadence, which is something that all runners will appreciate. They also have detailed graphs breaking down things such as your pace vs. elevation.

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The battery on the chip is supposed to last up to three years or for up to 450 miles, which can be good or bad depending on how much you run. Regular runners or those training for a race will reach that 450-mile mark pretty quickly. During intense training periods, I can average upwards of 25 miles a week. If you were able to keep up that sort of pace consistently, you would break 450 miles in less than five months. Although, while you lose the connected tracking portion, the good thing about these shoes is that when the chip’s battery runs out you’ll still have a pair of nice running shoes. However, a replaceable sensor that you could easily swap out would’ve been a better and far more economical option.

Conclusion

The Under Armour SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped are comfortable, easy on the eyes and they come with the added bonus of tracking your runs even if you forget to bring your phone or tracker with you. As expected, the tracking isn’t hyper accurate, but it’s close enough to get the job done. Whether that’s enough to justify the $150 ($20 more than the regular version) it costs to purchase the shoes is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. Something else to keep in mind is that the shoes come with a one-year subscription to their excellent MapMyRun app, which is a $30 value. Either way that you look at it, the shoes are not cheap, but there’s some real value for runners here. The most glaring issue, of course, is with the somewhat limited lifespan of the battery. Hopefully this is an issue that Under Armour addresses in the near future because they’re off to a promising start here and the future of smart shoes looks bright.

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