Running shoes, as you probably knew them 24 or so months ago, just aren’t the same anymore. American Company Under Armor probably reflects that change better than most. The company’s latest line-up of shoes includes the HOVR Sonic2, and these aren’t just any other running shoe. These can be categorized as “smart”, and not in some ambiguous sort of way. The HOVR Sonic2 will pair with your phone, track your steps, the distance covered and get you the health stats that you might have needed a wearable to track otherwise. This technology is called UA Record Sensor. The best part perhaps is, that you don’t need to charge these shoes or worry about the battery life—we will get into these specifics in a bit. Now you must be wondering how much these truly smart running shoes must cost. Quite a bit, perhaps? Actually, you might be surprised. Along with the brilliance of genuine smartphone connectivity and the use of top-notch build and materials all through, Under Armour have priced the HOVR Sonic2 at Rs 9,999. At this price, the very concept and its implementation makes this worth your time. And money. Without damaging the bank account.
The Under Armour HOVR Sonic2 is available in as many as 7 colorways—including a wire/ash grey with red inserts, royal blue, white and the black and white combination. That is a wide range to pick from, and surely you would have something that matches your preference. The design of the HOVR Sonic2 is quite eye-catching, and not in a blingy or the look-at-me shouty sort of way. And definitely not for the black and white colorway that I was wearing. The design of the upper is what you will surely look at a second time. And a third too. The reason is this is a micro-thread upper, which is incredibly smooth to run your fingers over inside and out. Yet it feels very light too. Good time then, to slip your foot inside the Under Armour HOVR Sonic2. You will immediately notice how plush this place is, for your feet to nestle in. The upper itself is quite breathable, which means there is great ventilation. The inner lining of the HOVR Sonic2 is a single layer with no joints of stitch linings—therefore, these shoes can be comfortably worn without socks as well.
That said, these shoes are slightly narrower (you cannot visually see the difference, but only notice it when you wear it) than quite a few of the rivals, which affords a better fit. And all this, with generous amounts of cushioning at the right places. The UA Speedfit tech does its job well, giving your foot a planted and well locked in fit. The forward or slowing down movements or even direction changes, at no point does the foot feel like it is moving around inside the foot.
Set off, and the HOVR Sonic2 immediately impress you with what can only be described as an incredibly light build. These weigh 283 grams, which for running shoes, is certainly on the lighter side. As with this genre of footwear—the lighter, the better. Beneath your foot is the UA HOVR foam, which we have to say is perhaps the most underrated midsole technology and composition in the ecosystem right now. You get the full HOVR treatment, the full length of the shoe. It is just the right amount of suppleness, right amount of cushioning and the right amount of energy feedback. In fact, this is the sort of combination that makes me believe that you could end up using this shoe for a variety of running as well as training activities—the versatility isn’t something a lot of its rivals are able to offer without compromises, except perhaps the recently updated Reebok Crossfit Nano 9.0 (around Rs 9,990). At most times, this midsole absorbs what would otherwise be fairly harsh feedback if you are running on an uneven surface. On a harder surface, I was quite astonished to find that the HOVR foam does an admittedly great job of isolating the vibrations and the jarring response that one usually gets whole running on a concrete surface. On something like a treadmill or a softer outdoor running surface, the energy feedback, grip and comfort is just pristine. The proverbial cherry on the cake—the HOVR in the Sonic2 doesn’t look like the visually unappealing Thermocol-esque material from the outside. Plus, you can’t miss the ventilation panel for the midfoot. The 8mm offset is at par, and that will not pose a learning curve.
The outsole has to be given its share of the credit as well. There are blown rubber insert under the toe and the high abrasion rubber placed under the heel play their part. Under the heel, there is also a circular insert that, if nothing else, adds the visual value. Even on lightly moist, fairly damp and surfaces with some amount of standing water, I noticed the grip was absolutely spot on. That inspired confidence, because as a runner, it is important to know that you don’t really need to change your running speed because of varying surfaces during your runs.
Now for the smartness bit. Embedded in the heel beneath your right foot heel is a tracker that does the fitness tracking bit for you. This pairs with the UA Map My Run app (free for Android and iOS as well as the Apple Watch) and does the effort of logging the steps done, distance covered and managing your activity routine. The process to sync the shoes to the app is quite simple, and that includes a first firmware update immediately after the setup. On the iPhone, you can enable the app to have access to the iPhone Motion Sensor data and location data as well, which simply adds more value to the entire fitness data tracking regime. The app syncs up with the Apple Health app as well, so that you have a complete compilation of your health and fitness data in the Health app as well. The app, I must note, is rather well designed and it is easy to get used to the layout as well as the options at your disposal. It is good to see that UA haven’t restricted the app, and the fact that it talks to your other fitness apps, latches on to additional hardware for data and isn’t an isolated ecosystem means it can seamlessly integrate with your existing fitness data collection habits.
Now the question of the battery life. Do you need to charge your shoes regularly? The answer is a resounding no. UA says that the Bluetooth chip and the integrated battery will last up to 4,000 km of run tracking, which should pretty much last the lifetime of the shoe. Once you take off the HOVR Sonic2 and leave them in a resting position for a while, the Bluetooth chip goes into a power saver mode, till you move the shoes again.
As far as running shoes go, not many have as simple a conclusion as the UA HOVR Sonic2. This is a must buy, in my book. The design, fit, finish, cushioning, comfort, grip and overall versatility is something that no other shoe in this price point offers with such aplomb. That is before we even factor in the true smartness aspect. The ability to pair with your smartphone and to log fitness and activity data is something quite priceless, considering the sheer slickness and simplicity of it all. I never thought that truly usable smart shoes would be so affordable, but it is a delight to have been proved wrong by Under Armour with the HOVR Sonic2.