Sensoria Fitness' smart socks -- two pairs of which you buy in a bundle along with the necessary "anklet" and an app -- is one of those great ideas whose real-world execution doesn't size up. It pains me to say it: the bizarre, expensive system for tracking some very specific running behavior trotted itself out of the lab a bit too soon.
In many ways, the smart socks' sewn-in sensors do live up to their promise of collecting more specialized data about runs than most fitness bands can achieve (cadence and foot-strike, anyone?) I also like that you can use a metronome to help keep pace and parse workouts by your shoe selection, if you tend to alternate kicks.
However, the unsightly clip-on anklet makes you lopsided, and mine popped off once, with no way to track its whereabouts. That Anklet of Awkwardness goes toe-to-toe with the semi-unintuitive, sometimes-buggy software that hindered my early runs as the system's Achilles' heels.
Sensoria's price tag doesn't help either. It costs $200 (£133, AU$349) for a starter pack with two sock pairs and that anklet. That's pretty steep for a tracker that really only monitors running and walking (but it's really intended for runs).You can buy two additional sock pairs for $50 or AU$80; That works out to roughly £33.25.
For serious runners with deep pockets and a willingness to shrug off a little ridicule in their footwear fashion, the socks might be worth it for the data-gathering alone -- if you don't require a sophisticated data dashboard. For everyone else, these wearables are a step in the right direction, but need work in terms of comfort, practicality and data presentation before the smart socks achieve their full potential.
Before the run: Setting up the gear
You'll need to make sure you've got the socks, ankle cuff and app squared away before your first run.
If you prefer to run with barely there ankle socks, you're in for a rude awakening. Sensoria's socks aren't just taller, they're also much more conspicuous both on the foot and off. First, they're embroidered with "LEFT" and "RIGHT" labels, which are important for tracking the performance of each foot (one might produce slightly different results than the other).
Next, the sole of each sock has three sensors stitched on the underside -- two located on the ball of your foot and one near the heel -- which I feel when walking in the socks on hardwood floor. This is a necessity, since the sensors are doing the hard work of mapping your pressure points when you run -- something that a wrist-worn device just can't do. After a while, you forget that they're there.
The socks are thankfully antimicrobial and fully machine-washable. Sensoria stands behind a lifetime of at least 60 washes before the textile sensors deteriorate, and estimates that four pairs of socks will carry you through three or four workouts a week for a full calendar year. (That means prepare to buy a supplemental sock pack about six months after after investing in the starter kit.)
More bizarre than feeling sensors underfoot is the Bluetooth-connected anklet that you have to attach to the sock, via magnetized studs that spring out of the material in a little constellation. It doesn't encircle your ankle, but it does hug the curve of your shin. Then -- this is the best part -- you tuck down the sock over the anklet before you start your jog. Sports fashion it is not.
Oh, and here's another condition. A single anklet tracks your movement on one foot, right or left. To measure the other, you'll need to switch sides, or splurge for a second gadget.
That rubbery strip measures roughy 2.5-inch (6.4 centimeter) It's this tool that collects and stores your foot strike data, and shares it to the Sensoria app through a Bluetooth connection. If you have two anklets, you can track both feet; if you have one (like I did), you pick one at a time.
To use the socks, you pull them up along the lower calf, securely affix the ankle cuff, then fold the top of the sock down over the hump to your ankle. Better fold over the other sock too, for good measure.
It looks ridiculous, but how does it feel? Not terrific. The anklet's heft is noticeable (0.96 ounce, or 27.2 grams) and if you're only using one (like I suspect most people will), that makes you feel bulbous and lopsided as you initially put it on. Still, it's cool to watch the pressure sensors do their thing as you follow along in the app.
I should also mention the charger, which is USB on one side and a proprietary blunt-spiked ring on the other. It looks like a tiny spiked bracelet for a goth baby. I'd prefer a more standard charger, like a Micro-USB (or!) setup in case you lose this quirky monstrosity.
Sensoria says that be battery lasts approximately 6 hours of continuous use, enough for many to finish a marathon, or complete shorter training runs during the week. The battery should last about a month on standby, and takes about 1.5 hours to fully charge.
Before you run, you have to make sure you correctly set up the free Sensoria Fitness app, for Android and iOS, and pair the anklet. I didn't do this right the first time, which made my entire data-gathering jog a bust. To be fair, there's a tutorial onboard if you get stuck (and I recommend digging into it), but an app should be clear enough to get through unaided.
Proper setup means you're pairing the anklet on your right and/or left sock to the app. You can also pair a heart-rate monitor if you have one of those, too.
You'll need to build a profile as well, with your height, weight, shoe size, and a bunch of foot- and gait-specific details, like foot width and arch type, pronation and supination tendencies (if your toes turn in or out while running), and additionals like foot rotation, and if you tend to stand and run with your knees pointing straight, inward, or outward.
This is where you also pick your shoe type. Some runners alternate with, say, minimalist footwear or trail-runners. Picking your shoe before a run helps tease out your performance, say if you strike on the ball of your foot more with a low-rise shoe and default to your heel with heavily-cushioned kicks (and also track your mileage per pair). The only problem here was that the app didn't confirm or otherwise indicate that it recorded my shoe until I exited that screen, so I wound up adding the same pair four times -- boo.
The app collects data on your foot landing (ball or heel), cadence (the number of steps you take per minute), pace (how many minutes it takes to run a mile), calories, distance, speed, ascent and total steps. Sadly, it leaves out other data on your running form, like how often you rotate your foot as you tire.
Before you start, you'll also choose your activity (running, walking or other), if your terrain is indoor or outdoor and select the intensity of the virtual coach (from silent to very chatty). Then, you decide if you want a metronome to tock-tock-tock when you're off-cadence. You can also add goals, like a distance, though the sliding scale only gives you targets of 1, 3.1 or 6.2 miles, or a marathon or half-marathon. If you're trying to run 7 miles, too bad.