This Pair of Smart Socks Got Me Into Wearable Tech

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Jul 3 2016, 4:00pm

Ahhh, wearable tech.

Is there a bigger buzzkill than that random person at the party telling you all about their Fitbit heart rate? We get it, you run!

As an anti-runner (come at me marathoners), I was a bit hesitant about how I'd fairly use and review the newly-launched Sensoria Fitness socks when I got my hands on them. The Sensoria socks aren't your everyday cotton gym socks. When paired with their corresponding anklets, the socks—with the help of a mobile app—track your activity while virtually assisting you "improve speed, pace, cadence and foot landing." So, you get to see your feet's form glow up accordingly on your screen while a virtual trainer (I chose one called Mara) tells you what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right.

Here's what's good about them:

  • The socks and anklets do a great job of accurately monitoring all they promise, like speed, steps, form, etc.
  • It's pretty amazing to glance at your phone and see your foot strikes in action as you walk or run.

Here's what's bad:

  • The gear got some funny looks from the neighbors….and the dog. The light up anklets are a bit SCRAM bracelet-like, albeit way sleeker.
  • My virtual coach Mara was a passive aggressive in tone. Yes, I know I'm heel striking. Give me time to adjust. :(

Bottom line:

If you can spring for this $300 ($150 per bracelet) complete activity monitoring system, it's a great all-in-one system whether you're looking to fix your running form, rehabilitate from an injury, or just track your leisure strolls' steps with some fancy wearable tech.

Image: Gabriela Barkho.

According to Forbes, analysts predict the wearable tech industry will hit $14 billion this year, a far cry from the flimsy step counters of the yesteryear. But in a sea of options with tons of bells and whistles, even the most experienced fitness junkie can have trouble choosing from these often-pricey wearables.

It's difficult not to feel intimidated by the most expensive pair of socks my feet have ever wiggled into. Not to mention, attaching the magnetic Sensoria anklet to the spiked socks suddenly put the pressure on to at least act athletic. Shoulders back, feet grounded, knees bent. Let's get fit!

Image: Gabriela Barkho.

According to Sensoria, the socks' "textile pressure sensor technology is infused directly in its smart socks, which connect via a Bluetooth enabled anklet." So yes, this basically means I describe these as my "Internet-connected" socks to friends and family, without a hint of irony.

On my first use, firing up the Sensoria iPhone app and connecting it to the socks/anklets via Bluetooth was quite simple—even for someone who's never used techwear before. Basically, if you've ever connected your Spotify to a speaker at a party, you should be fine doing this.

The Sensoria system promises to monitor my foot landing, contact time on the ground and cadence, and tracks other familiar parameters like heart rate, with a heart rate monitor (HRM). As well as monitoring the following:

  • Calories
  • Distance
  • Pace
  • Ascent
  • Descent
  • Altitude
  • Speed
  • Steps

I wasn't about to start training for a half marathon with these socks. But, given I mostly travel by foot around my neighborhood, my daily errands and trip to the park seemed like the perfect way to test out these obviously overtly high-tech features on such simple activities.

According to the company, "Sensoria Walk features an intuitive interface that highlights a user's progress history, goals, total activity time and other detailed analytics." This is mostly intended for users looking to get back on their feet by rehabilitating unused muscles from injury. But for me, Sensoria Walk is all about taking a stroll with the pup on his favorite trail around the neighborhood.

Damn, 41 seconds in and the sensor(ias) know my strike form is awful.

Throughout my daily walks, the Sensoria Virtual Coach literally monitored every step (and rather sternly) gave me audio and video feedback during my speedy walk. As Sensoria promises, "The virtual coach cheers you up to keep you motivated, but also provides reminders when your running form falls outside of preset parameters."

I'd beg to differ on the "cheer you up" part—perhaps the humid summer heat made it extra annoying, but hearing "your cadence is below goal" over and over again while you stop for coffee or hit the laundromat gets old very fast. Yes, I know I walk on my heels. Trust me, my high school soccer coach never let me forget it. I get that the audio is intended for serious form monitoring, but I really wanted to get a feel for the app while busy doing everyday activities.

Mara's not playing around. End of session report: Shocker, I'm 98% Foot Landing. Sigh. Image: Gabriela Barkho.

Maybe it was Mara or the fresh summer air, but a few days in I decided to….go for a jog. Not quite a run (let's not get crazy). By now, I'd already gotten used to the Sensoria interface and felt confident enough wearing chic #wearable #tech. Dare I say, it was quite an enjoyable jog! At this point, I'd become so concerned with my heel striking after reading its harmful effects that I decided to begin the journey of changing the way I land on my feet (after 26 years).

Of course, as any trainer would tell you, the correct way to strike is on the ball of your feet (thanks Mara!). And I'd like to think that by the end of my first week using the socks, walking "on my toes" began to feel almost natural. Baby steps.

FML There's a shoe closet on the app for different sneakers! Image: Gabriela Barkho.

All in all, I wouldn't say I've become a wearable tech aficionado after trying out Sensoria. However, watching my feet's form and athletic ability documented on the beautiful app definitely gave me a better idea of why tracking activity can become obsessive. Just don't talk people's ear off about it during a summer BBQ.

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