Over the last few weeks I have charged a water bottle, charged a pair of sunglasses, and most recently – ‘turned on’ a pair of running shoes.
As part of today’s HealthBox announcement, Under Armour is announcing the next generation of the UA SpeedForm Gemini running shoes, the Gemini 2 variant. But as regular readers here know – I don’t generally do shoe reviews (well, ever really). So why would I be posting about these shoes? Well, they’re…alive!
Or, connected at least.
See, Under Armour technically has two variants of their Gemini 2 shoes, and the one I’m talking about today is the one that’s ‘Record Equipped’, which is a swanky marketing term that basically means it’s got smarts. Officially the shoe is known as the: UA SpeedForm Gemini 2 Record Equipped.
I’ve been using a pre-production unit (Perhaps it’s units because there are two shoes?) on all my runs the last few weeks, through snow, ice, and everything in between here, cold parts of Canada, and France. Let’s get started.
Oh, before we start, note that this isn’t a review. The shoes don’t come out till late February, and there’s a small listing of caveats on what Under Armour has allowed the press to discuss, which I outlined in my other Under Armour post for today.
What’s in the box:
Like my Polar Balance scale unboxing, the Gemini 2 is pretty straight forward from an unboxing standpoint. First, here’s the box:
Next, it’s got a space blanket…err…tin foil(?) inside to keep it protected. Or just to make a racket when you take the shoes out. Either way, it does look pretty.
Inside you’ll find two shoes, though only one of them is smart. The other is dumb. More on that in a second.
There’s also a few pieces of paper probably telling you not to stick them in the microwave or ‘Bad Things’ ™ will happen.
You’ll note on the front of the shoes there’s tiny little tags that say ‘Record Equipped’, allowing you at a glance to distinguish these from the non-smart version.
Let’s move on and talk about what ‘Smart’ really means though.
The Record Equipped Gemini 2 essentially contains a hybrid between an activity tracker and a footpod. This sorta goes back to the days of the Nike footpod’s that you could plop in certain Nike shoes. The main difference though being that with the Gemini 2, the pod is permanently located within the body of the shoe, there’s no method for re-use.
In the case of the Gemini 2, it’s the right (not left) shoe that has the pod within it. You’ll notice the shoe carries with it a small FCC compliance label indicating electronics inside:
There are essentially two modes to the shoe. The first is just as a normal activity tracker. Anytime the shoe is moving, it’s tracking your steps. No battery charging needed, it just does its thing. These steps show up in the Under Armour Record & MapMyFitness platform/app pages:
But most of us aren’t wearing our (likely wet and stinky) running shoes all day long after our runs. Or at least, not the same pair as the ones we just ran in. So given that, UA is really focusing more on recording your workouts.
There’s essentially two ways you can use the shoe in that capacity. One is assisted with the UA app, and the other is solo-style without any assistance. When using the app it’ll force start a workout and then track and communicate the details to you via the app.
But my favorite is the ‘Auto Start’ version, which automatically figures out when you’re running and then tracks that as a standalone workout – capturing pace and distance, as well as cadence.
You can see the ‘Auto Start’ option here. Basically by the time I got back to my phone, the app had already sync’d the run, rather impressive.
Now, I did run into one minor beta software snag, where my runs weren’t ‘counting’ once uploaded. There appeared to be a bug that if I ran with the UA Band on the same run, that workout would ‘override’ my shoe run. It’s a minor software bug that I’d imagine will be worked out by release at the end of February.
When I didn’t run with the UA Band at the same time, it happily showed my workouts as being ‘Record Equipped’ within the UA app.
The whole thing worked pretty flawlessly technologically once I understood what was going on. The only complaint I had is more of a shoe-fit item than anything else, which is definitely going to vary from person to person (for me, it rubs a bit on the upper right portion of one of my feet). But as any runner knows, finding the right shoe for them is going to be an overriding factor – technology or otherwise.
Oh, one last interesting note – the Gemini 2 does show up as a standard Bluetooth Smart footpod, and is recognized by 3rd party apps. I haven’t tried a run with 3rd party apps yet, but it seems to be going in the right direction.
Good to see the interoperability, but that doesn’t surprise me since MapMyFitness is pretty much all about interoperability.
It’s funny, on one hand, the technology isn’t really any different than a footpod or an activity tracker. Both of which are sorta old-hat to me. But it’s the insertion into the shoe that makes it oddly kinda neat. Even more so on the activity/step tracking front. I’ve been using the shoes a lot more for day to day walking as of late, just to accumulate steps – and it’s funny to not have to think about wearing a band at all to capture that data.
On the flip side, there are definitely some downsides to having the pod in the shoes. First is price, the Gemini 2 ‘Record Equipped’ version will retail for about $150, approximately $20-30 more than the non-smart version. Most of us retire our running shoes after about 500 miles or so, meaning that you’re throwing out a perfectly good footpod & activity tracker well before it needs to die.
Most footpods are in the $40-$60 range, so basically you’re talking 2-3 pairs of shoes worth, and most footpods will last years on $3 coin cell batteries before you manage to kill them in ways that a simple battery replacement won’t take care of. If you’re doing 500 miles every 3-5 months (a safe bet for most runners), that means things get expensive quick.
If I was in UA’s position being the only company with a footpod/activity tracker baked in their running shoes (to my knowledge), I’d have simply made that be the baseline. It would have been a marketing differentiator for a company that isn’t really known as a big running-specific footwear brand (or even much of a major shoe brand at all). Given UA’s current stance that sports technology is a critical market for them to capture going forward (and they’ve spent massive amounts of money towards that goal), I’d have thought that luring folks in early would be an easy play for them.
Still, the week at CES here is still young – so you never quite know what it’ll bring on the connected footwear space. But I’m pretty sure it’ll definitely be an interesting year for it.
With that – thanks for reading!
Don’t forget to check out all of the DCR CES 2016 coverage, as well as a slew of updates that were only seen on Twitter. It was a crazy busy week!
It would be nice to have sensors in both shoes to show L/R leg balance. Does NIKE+ still exist?
Ray, Will you be at ISPO in Munich?
Still deciding. Right now the trend I’m hearing is more sport tech/wearable companies are looking towards a shift to MWC (versus even CES announcements), due to just so many announcements at CES burying their product announcements. I expect to see a significant jump in MWC announcements this year (from being relatively minor in years past).
All of which impacts ISPO, since it wasn’t too much of a tech announcement realm in years past, I think only Polar did the V650 there a few years ago.
In any case, for me, that’d be a last minute thing. If I hear through the grapevine of something that requires my presence, then yes. But otherwise, I’d likely just work with companies to have products ahead of time.
What do you think of the actual shoes?
When it comes to things like deciding on shoe fit/feel, or how a bike ‘feels’, I’m horrible at it. Sorta like cars – does it roll? Ok, I’m good.
That’s kinda the same here. The ‘only’ issue I had as noted was just a fit-type issue on the top-right edge of the shoe on my right foot creating a hotspot. May be just slightly different size feet.
I wonder how you dispose these things. Seeing, as there has to be some sort of battery in the footpod, you can’t really throw them into the garbage (well – you can, but shouldn’t). I assume this is not ‘green technology’ 😀
The Chinese are polluting the air ten-fold and you’re worried about a small battery?
Cool idea but just seems like lots of money for shoes that will be rotated out once you get x number of miles in.
“being the only company with a footpod/activity tracker baked in their running shoes (to my knowledge)”
similar concept: link to xiaomi-mi.com
This looks more like the Nike+ footpod concept ie not baked-in but inserted in a pocket in the sole.
How are you supposed to recycle these?
It seems from the screenshots of the App and the box itself that the unit will give you audible updates (like the Moov). Is this the case or do you have to look at your phone for running stats?
Not sure why UA doesn’t just make a footpod that you can attach to your favorite shoe. Sure, they want to sell more shoes but we’re pretty particular to the brand/model that works for us (you can pry my Saucony’s from my cold dead feet).
Yup, correct, it will give audio updates.
Interesting how it decides automagically when you’ve stopped running and posts the run.
I wonder how that will work if you walk in the middle of a run like run/walkers or just taking a break.
I’d think Gen 2 might be where things get good.
If it was me designing this; I’d put the pod in both shoes, make it removable to a new pair of shoes and add in some running dynamics.
That would make it really interesting.
Great summary, Ray!
There is (will be) another one, the Altra IQ (which is similar, yet, a bit different concept).
I know it’s not your thing, but might be interesting to compare them once both hit the shelves.
+1 for altra IQ impressions
ok, i’ll admit it: sometimes i’m reading your post only to find out things such as: ‘Bad Things’ ™.
could not sotpo laughing .
thank you so much
I don’t see how these are going to sell–it’s like buying a foot pod you’re going to throw away with the shoe. If there were some power metric, that might make things interesting. Perhaps UA could figure out how to integrate a power/cadence pod into an insole that could be re-used several times. That, I could be interested in.
Seems like a wasted opportunity not to have a full suite of sensors, if you’re going to the trouble integrating electronics into the shoe. I’m thinking full sole force sensors for gait cycle analysis, running dynamics and the aforementioned power and L/R balance. They need to offer something way beyond what can be found in a footpod to get hardcore runners to switch to another brand.
I agree but it’s still going to boil down to personal preference. some people won’t buy UA because they aren’t mature running shoe brand or they don’t know how they will perform. I think a much better idea would to try to make the same pod in an removable insole, that a runner could put into his favorites shoes. Probably not possible due to the thickness of the pod and the insole, but tying it to the shoe seems kinda asinine. I mean I rotate shoes and certain use different shoes for race day, at the very least.
I have to say I can’t get behind this at all. I find it overall incredibly wasteful. The Nike+ idea was much better. You could move the pod from shoe to shoe as you purchased new ones. I don’t see much value in the footpod at this point anyway with GPS & accelerometers in my watch & HR strap. I don’t wear a Vivofit to count my steps so much as to tell me when to get up from my desk through out the day.
I really don’t see this going anywhere and I don’t really think this is the future of running shoes either. I would hate to throw something like this away every few months.
for an extra 5-10 I would be interested… but $30…silly.
OK- I figured it out. Nobody that frequents this forum, or who is a runner/triathlete tech geek is going to buy this. it just makes no sense. Instead- This is going to be sold to people who walk into the mall athletic shoe store, and who has never considered or thought about an activity monitor. I can see the salesperson saying “but if you choose this pair of shoes- it will talk to your phone and tell you how much you ran during your basketball game.”
True. And that’s OK. The challenge has is that segment of people who go to malls and buy stuff is declining. Decisions are made online, and people are getting smarter and smarter about what they buy (it’s kinda neat).
That said – I really do think the shoes are a cool idea, I just think the price is missing opportunity.
Would be interesting going through airport security with electronics inside the shoe.
Ask and you shall receive!
Dirty little secret: I was wearing them here in this post through the airport security coming back from my run: link to dcrainmaker.com
No issues at all. The electronics for a footpod are tiny, smaller than most activity trackers (which you don’t generally remove).
And if they did x-ray it, which they often do at random. I wonder how they would react, could be an interesting discussion.
And then on the airplane, the cabin crew would ask all passengers to put their phones, ipads and shoes into flight mode.
Ray will you be doing an in depth review when released in February?
I am guessing not but if you do I am hoping it involves scissors and cutting out the pod to see what it looks like. Would like to see you getting into tech tear downs 😉
What was the accuracy of the mileage during the standalone workout (without the phone)?
UA has just removed itself from the list of running shoe companies I would consider when buying my next kicks. Another basically “throw-away after limited use” tech item is not something we need in the 21st century. If the unit was able to record useful advanced metrics I maybe could accept the throw-away part but it doesn’t seem to do more than any ordinary activity tracker of foot pod – items which you buy once, can use for years to come, and dispose correctly as electronic garbage.
They also sell a version without this gimmick. A friend who is a running shoe geek actually recommended these shoes to me. No, I wouldn’t even consider buying a shoe that has a bluetooth FCC label on it 🙂
The footpod in the shoe idea isn’t really new either – this just seems like a glued in version of the insert able Adidas micoach pod as well… it seems like taking the best bits of a food pod and forcing you to throw them away…
Unless there’s a lot in there you aren’t allowed to tell us about then this seems like a spectacular flop product.
Non-removable sensor is a deal breaker. Just wasteful to throw it away, this is not inline with modern thinking and this seems like a gimmick. It doesn’t give you anything truly useful you can’t get from your smart phone already and most people into running will already have a Garmin or Fitbit like device anyway. I realise that a company needs to start somewhere and this is probably just the first step, I’ll look forward to see them coming up with something truly useful and innovative (and environmentally responsible).
They should really do a trade-in program with these. When it comes time for a new pair, you could trade in your old ones and for say $100, you get a pair of new ones with used electronics.
Does make some sense as an activity tracker, providing you can wear them during a normal day and aren’t in office dress shoes or safety boots. Makes more sense to me having an activity tracker, counting STEPS somewhere around your feet, not on your wrist.
Ankle ones would work but I don’t really want anyone thinking its there because of a Judge says so!
Will the running shoes create any metrics that are displayed on the UA band?
No, it doesn’t.
Can anyone confirm if these can be connected to other devices (aka a Garmin Vivoactive) outside of the UA world?
I’d like to know this also.
Remus – I chatted with an Under Armour customer service rep, who said these were only compatible with UA software/apps. I don’t know if that is entirely accurate, but that is what I was told.
Does the shoe record while riding a bike?
Where can I buy these please
That look like very nice