Smart Shoes: The Latest Wearable Phenomenon

Do you need activity trackers laced to your feet?

No, we're not talking about your favorite light-up kicks from middle school — smart shoes are footwear that promises to track your steps, help you in your training and all-around act as activity trackers on your feet.

The trend really stepped it up a notch (pun intended) at CES 2016, when Under Armour released its UA Speedform Gemini 2 Record Equipped Footwear, which is expected to debut in late February for about $150. The company also announced a comprehensive system for tracking workouts, called HealthBox. Of course, Under Armour wasn't the only company to debut smart shoes at the show; we also saw new products from iFit, Zhor Tech, and Digitsole.

Whether or not you're convinced a pair of smart shoes should be your latest activity tracker, keep reading for a look at what these products offer and what the current options are.

Smart shoes by Under Armour
 tomemrich / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Basics

First of all, let's not forget that Nike already offers Nike+ shoes that track basic stats like distance and speed. The difference with the latest batch of smart shoes is that they promise to step up the technology with additional stat tracking, and some of them integrate with other fitness devices to provide a fuller picture of your activity levels. 

Under Armour's UA Speedform Gemini 2 Record Equipped Footwear are a solid example of smart shoes that are focused on bringing more data to your workout routine. Much like a regular wrist-worn activity tracker, they include a chip that tracks stats like distance, pace and stride length. Also like many fitness-tracking devices, they can automatically detect when the wearer is running or otherwise moving, and they enter a "sleep mode" when the wearer takes them off and the shoes aren't in use. Perhaps coolest of all, the shoes will store info like how many total miles you've run in them.

As mentioned above, Under Armour is far from the only company trying its hand at this category of wearables, but it stands out for taking an approach that goes beyond shoes to include a wristband that measures resting heart rate, a scale that measures weight and fat and a chest strap that tracks calories burned and your active BPM. The idea is that your shoes are an extension of your fitness data system — which, while adding another expense, could paint a fuller, more active picture of your workout stats.

As for price, it seems like most smart shoes fall within the $150-$300 range. There are exceptions, like the $450 Digitsole, but this pair doesn't even appear to be focused on tracking your workouts. It's "smart" include step tracking, foot warming and automatic tightening at the push of a button. In other words, they're more about gimmicks than actually tracking every metric of your workout.

Do You Need a Pair?

While smart shoemakers may claim that their intelligent footwear offers more accurate tracking than devices you wear on your wrist, that's still not necessarily reason enough to make the switch to this type of footwear. For one, you'll want to make sure you're wearing the most comfortable running or exercise shoes possible — if smart shoes don't fit well, then what's the point of getting more stats?

Also, consider your fitness goals. If you're a professional athlete, you probably already have access to the cutting edge of tracking and stat monitoring. If you're a marathon runner, there are no shortage of specialized watches and trackers to help you as well. And if you're a more casual enthusiast, your wallet will be better served by a more budget-friendly device.

In any case, it's early days for the latest batch of smart shoes, so unless you're an early adopter, it might not be the best time to lace up.

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