For a serious runner, opening a new shoe box is like Christmas. The anticipation of the order, the excitement when you first try them on, and — sadly — the occasional letdown when you realize you didn’t get the right size or they aren’t as comfortable as you had dreamed. Luckily, that was not the case with the Under Armour HOVR Phantom Connected sneakers. These bright, coral babies fit like a dream from run number 1 and haven’t let me down yet.
Let’s be clear: These shoes are the techiest on the market right now — though a non-connected version is also available for the runner who prefers to not track every step. The fact that a non-connected version exists is proof that the HOVR stands out as a shoe, not only a piece of embedded chip technology. But if a sneaker is actually going to be able to take advantage of the technology built in, it has to fit and perform well enough to be worth running in. The UA HOVR Phantoms were surprisingly comfortable and include a slightly stretchy upper that accommodated my slightly wide feet. (Pro tip: Go a half-size up in these, as the length does run a bit short.) The sock-like ‘neck’ where your foot enters seemed weird at a glance, but it actually keeps the shoes so nicely in place that I was won over after a few miles.
Normally, I prefer a less cushiony shoe, but since these still maintained a neutral lift, I was fine with the heavier-than-usual layer of foam in the sole, and it actually was quite nice for most runs. It took a bit of getting used to, but I was impressed with how quickly these shoes were broken in. I respect these shoes for one reason: The tech embedded in them is clearly the showstopper and highlight, but the designers of the shoes themselves didn’t skimp on the R&D and the detailed work that went into making these a solid pair of standalone running shoes — period.
Now, onto the tech. First, I have to say, I am terrible with tech. I secretly loathe having to pair watches and heart rate straps to my phone and find it a tedious and annoying job. So when the shoes immediately connected to the MapMyRun app, that was an early win for this technophobe. The shoes deliver data on pace, distance, stride length and cadence, and after a few test runs wearing a GPS and a heart rate monitor, plus recording on another app, it was clear the shoes were recording accurate data.
After my first run, I excitedly went to the app to see what my stride looked like. At 83 strides-per-minute, I was right in the target range I should be in, and the number stayed consistent within a length or two as I continued logging miles over the next few weeks. From an accuracy standpoint, I firmly believe the shoes were measuring well. On runs with more downhill and flat roads, I was decreasing my number of strides as my stride length extended, and hillier days saw a slightly higher number as my stride shortened to get up climbs. I’ve had my stride analyzed in the past and knew that barring some minor knee alignment ‘stuff,’ my stride was pretty solid. I would have been shocked if I was in the too high or too low zone in the app, since I know my stride is efficient for me.
Another benefit: You can run untethered. The HOVR Phantoms are fantastic for someone like me who can’t help but want to check her email during every run — even if the point of the run was to get away from email for a bit. Because the shoes allow data-loving runners to leave phones at home and go off the grid — while still collecting the data — I was able to actually get out sans phone and enjoy being outside, even eschewing podcasts for bird sounds.
Most of the technology used in the HOVR Phantoms is similar to what was used in Under Armour’s original connected shoes, but it has since been tweaked and greatly improved. Anyone who tried the connected version of the Gemini should try the HOVR Phantoms: The improvement in reliability and accuracy is incredible, and while the original connected options were cool, these shoes have a whole lot more to offer.
I just have one last thing to address: the appearance. As a strictly all-neutrals-all-the-time person, I was prepared to hate the fluorescent pink color of these shoes. It is loud. They are bold. Take a photo of them and it practically lights up your Instagram … figuratively and literally. I came around on it pretty quick though. The shoes are vibrant, yes, but I loved that the laces and soles matched the hot coral upper, making it one incredibly bright unit that actually managed to look chic in a weird way. (For those who prefer a muted tone, though, there are tons of color options for these shoes that are less in-your-face!)
At $140, these may not be the least expensive shoes on the market, but they’re absolutely comparable with other unconnected high-end running shoes — and they’re well worth the investment.