Under Armour's HOVR Machina is rife with buzzwords: Carbon! Bluetooth! Foam! But can it pull it all off at once?


Basics: Under Armour’s new HOVR Machina has bells-and-whistles aplenty: Bluetooth connectivity, carbon plates, and tons of foam.
Pros: Not just gimmicks, this is a great shoe that hooks up well with the MapMyRun smartphone app and many smartwatches
Cons: MapMyRun does not always play well with other platforms


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Right off the bat, it’s important to note that Under Armour’s new HOVR Machina uses just about every tech buzzword in the endurance business: There’s a carbon-filled Pebax “spring plate” in the sole (check); there’s Bluetooth connectivity via a built-in stride sensor in the sole (check); there’s a ton of—20% more!—”HOVR” foam in the midsole (check). That’s three big hot-button checks in one pair of shoes. On one hand, that’s a whole lot of cool stuff built into a pair of running shoes, but sometimes when you jam a bunch of gadgets into running shoes, you get a pile of gadgets rocking around inside an expensive pair of shoes that you hate to run in. The surprise here is that this is actually a pretty nice pair of shoes—all gadgets aside.

Under Armour HOVR Machina: The Carbon

So let’s break down what’s going on inside this pair of shoes. First, Under Armour has installed a carbon-filled propulsion plate in the midsole of the HOVR Machina (hence the “Machina”). Of course UA isn’t the first, or even the fifth, running shoe brand to use the sort of springy carbon plate that Nike popularized with its “percent” line. That said, UA has done a good job of not getting carried away with a ton of springiness or anything that would make this an unusual-feeling pair of shoes.

Some have complained that carbon-plated shoes feel best only for fast running or only for slow running or only for something in between. Some of these models are way out of “tune” and create a strange, and not entirely pleasant, road feel. The big news behind the HOVR Machina is that you get a responsive feeling pair of shoes—particularly when running on your mid foot/forefoot—that doesn’t alter your mechanics. This isn’t easy to do when brands get all excited about their carbon plate and want it to really “pop” without considering what that does to your stride. The HOVR Machinas feel like a lightweight trainer that likes to go fast, but doesn’t freak out when you slow down. This is not a pair of “tempo-day only” trainers.

Under Armour HOVR Machina: The Foam

Again, the heavy-foam-plus-carbon thing isn’t exactly breaking new ground—over the past two years, nearly every running shoe brand has tried it to varying effect. The idea is that the foam helps provide some stability, durability, cushioning, and impact protection around the neat carbon “spring” that lives inside. Under Armour uses its own foam called “HOVR” that its had in many of its shoes for the last couple of years. The HOVR Machina is one of their “foamiest” offerings, but surprisingly it doesn’t feel that way—this is another good thing.

Take for instance one of the foamy shoes that doesn’t quite deliver what you’d expect, the Nike Infinity React. These were supposed to be Nike’s injury-beating answer to their Structure line, but instead they ended up being a pretty mushy shoe that offered almost no stability. While the Infinity Reacts might be a good shoe for some people, they were a surprise to others. Here, the HOVR Machinas do a good job again of being predictable in the sense that the extra foam does actually give more cushioning on impact—particularly on downhills—but doesn’t squish around and cause instability.

Under Armour HOVR Machina: The Bluetooth

Here is a part of the HOVR Machina that’s not entirely unique to this shoe, as UA has featured their in-sole stride sensor for a couple of years. The idea is that you basically get a free built-in foot pod that captures data like cadence, stride length, ground contact time, and (my favorite) foot-strike angle. Nothing super technical like power, but I can imagine that’s not too far off. It’s Bluetooth, so there’s always a question mark when it comes to electronics that you can’t access, but UA says the chip inside is meant to far outlast the life of the shoe itself. That said, my sensor connected up to my smartphone (iOS for me) super quickly for every run I tried. I was a little nervous about using something I couldn’t get to, but the connection was pretty much rock-solid in terms of staying linked during the run and waking up and syncing quickly when it was time to go. It’s also very cool that it tracks how many miles you’ve put on the shoe, so you know when your shoe is “dead.”

The new news on the built-in stride sensor is that it connects to the MapMyRun smartphone app (more on that later) and not only records your info, but the app will also give live “coaching” feedback as you run via graphical representation and voice instruction. While we’ll talk more about the app below, the “Form Coaching” feature on the app is pretty cool, but just know that it basically tells you when your cadence is out of a preset range for the speed you’re running at. That’s about it. While it does give a few limited pointers on how to increase or decrease your cadence (“Swing your arms more,” etc.), you won’t have your form magically transformed more than that. With that said, it is helpful as you near the end of your run to have “someone” reminding you to keep your cadence up, and it definitely helped me a few times when fatigue was causing my cadence to drop. Don’t worry, you can turn it off if it gets annoying.

Another great function is that you don’t even need a smartphone to record all of the data for post-run analysis, so if you’re ok with ditching the Form Coaching and other live stats, you can just head out for a run and check out the results afterwards—a surprisingly freeing experience for those who might not be too focused on their training specifics right now but still want to log the miles. Also, though UA doesn’t seem to advertise this much, the built-in foot pod does sync up Garmin, Suunto, Polar, and a few other Bluetooth-enabled smartwatches to display some very basic live data like cadence. Though you won’t get the voice prompts or the graphical stuff from the app, it’s a way better option if you don’t like running with your phone.

Random Other Things

This is a cushy-feeling shoe from top to bottom. While the foam isn’t annoyingly squishy like some other heavily foamed models, the back of the midsole is plush—with not much rocker to speak of, you don’t get that rolling propulsion you would from something like a pair of Hokas. In that same vein, the fabric and contraction of the upper is also quite plush with a very very puffy heel/opening area. This wasn’t a problem for me, but it was noticeable. This combined with the lack of a heel tab make me nervous for race-day wear, as I’d worry that the HOVR Machina might absorb a lot of head-dumped water if you were racing in a hot area.

Challenges

As I said above, this is a great shoe—even without the bells and whistles—but the only downside comes with some of the app “stuff.” I struggled with the inability to get the MapMyRun data from the MMR app directly into an external service like Strava. In a world where all devices pretty much sync up to most platforms and connect seamlessly, the only way to get your MMR run to your Strava account is to download it on your computer as a .tcx file, then upload it manually to Strava or whatever platform you like to use. (Beware! Pro tip: Mac OS will try to make the file a .txt upon download; even if you change the suffix, you’ll still have to change the file type in the Finder’s “Get Info” box for that file.)

Conclusions, I’ve Got Some

I went into this review thinking that I was going to be super let down by all of the crazy tech inside these shoes: The carbon plate was probably going to be weird; the foam was probably going to be funky; the Bluetooth connectivity was probably going to be trash. But instead—aside from a few little inconveniences in the MMR app/platform—this is actually a pretty serious pair of running shoes with some neat features that are quite useful. Now obviously all of the form stuff won’t magically make you a great runner, but when used with a pinch of knowledge and realism about what a foot pod can and cannot do, it’s actually really nice having some cool tech ready to rock out the door right when you are. Color me impressed by this pair of fancy buzzword-bedazzled shoes.