Brooks Ghost 4 Review

20140111-195553.jpgI really, really love running shoes. I love trying new pairs out and seeing how they affect, or don’t affect, my running. The latest models can attract me with strong reputations among runners, long pedigrees, smart design, innovative technology, or even factors as base as newness, good looks, and slick marketing. I’m only human!

As much as I love running shoes, I just can’t get excited about the Brooks Ghost 4.

I think my first pair of Brooks was the Ghost 3 in the white, lime green, and blue colorway. Small pops of color, often seriously heinous color, was par for the course in running shoe design at the time, so I considered these shoes to be pretty neat looking. They also performed like champs, so I really couldn’t complain.

Fast forward to (I think) early 2012. I went to my favorite local running store for my first real shoe fitting there. Instead of just picking a shoe off of the wall based on a Runner’s World review, an expert would analyze my gait and make some shoe recommendations tailored to my needs. I’d been running in the O.G. Brooks Pure Flow and I was looking for another minimal-esque shoe. The store employee who handled my shoe fitting didn’t listen to me. He served up the Brooks Ghost 4 for its mild pronation control and not only was it the most boring looking shoe on the wall, but it was way more shoe than I was looking for. Not wanting to ignore a pro’s advice, I bought the shoes despite not really digging them. I’d had a good experience with the Ghost 3, so the Ghost 4 probably would work just as well once I got over what I perceived as their lameness.

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Problem was, I didn’t get over it. I ran in the shoes for a little while (this was when I ran only a couple of times per week) and went back to the same store for another fitting at the same store. A different employee helped me and I walked out with a pair of shoes I loved, the more performance-oriented, flashier Mizuno Wave Elixir 7 which I loved so much I stuck with through version 8, after which the model was discontinued. I have a pair of Elixir 8s that I wore for one ten mile race that I’m hoarding until quit grieving and give in and try the Wave Sayonara (maybe before the Sayonara 2 comes out?). But I digress!

Point is, I never really gave the Ghost 4 a chance. In 2013 I realized that I wouldn’t feel good about throwing this shoe away or giving it away since it was still in such good shape. So I put it in my rotation…occasionally. And that’s where it’s stayed. I run in this solid workhorse trainer only every once in a while. Because I think it’s ugly. Yes, really.

And seriously, isn’t it?

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The Good:
-Price: If you can find this discontinued shoe, it’s sure to be steeply discounted.
-Sole: Plenty of rubber which has held up well against my sole-chewing stride and which offers a sure-footed grip even in the rain
-Comfort: No pain after a 15-mile run when long runs weren’t a regular thing for me. Lots of protection and a bit of pronation control is a recipe for a run-all-day shoe. Despite the Ghost 4’s weight, I forget that it’s on my feet when I’m running. It doesn’t blow my mind with pillowy softness; it just quietly gets the job done.

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The Bad:
-Looks: Compared to all of the flashy competitive options available today, this conservative shoe is a snore.
-Laces: Ugly gray stripes (plain white would have been much better) and entirely too long. Strange that Brooks would whiff on something so simple.

The Bottom Line:
If you can get past the looks of these ugly ducklings, you’ll love how they fly, er, run. Sorry for the throwback review of a discontinued model, but hopefully this gives you a sense of what the Ghost family is like when you look at the current model. And who knows, maybe a comparison of the Ghost 4 and the Ghost 6 is in the future!

Saucony Kinvara 4 Review

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After a fall full of races in the plush Brooks Glycerin 11, I was looking for a lighter, more minimal running shoe that still had ample cushioning. I wound up purchasing the well-regarded Kinvara, now in its fourth iteration.
The Kinvara 4 is a reduced running shoe. That means that it’s less shoe than many traditional models, but it’s not at the extremely minimal (e.g. Vibram Five Fingers) end of the spectrum.
The Minimalist Features of the Saucony Kinvara 4
-4 mm drop
-Thin upper with few overlays (check out the thin heel cup in the images)
-Limited rubber on the sole located mostly in the forefoot area
-Light weight: 7.7 oz. in a men’s size 9 (per the Saucony website)
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A Bit About Me
-127 lbs, 5’4″
-35-55 miles per week
-Slight overpronator, worst pronation happens with the left foot
-Usually a mild heel striker or midfoot striker
-Prefer long distance (marathon, half marathon, ten miler)
-Training for a 50k
Runs Completed in the Kinvara 4 at the Time of This Review
-November 8, 2013: 1.43 miles, 11:23.33, 7:57/mile average pace, 5:45/mile max pace, hilly roads
-November 19, 2013: 4.17 miles, 38:18.48, 9:11/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 26, 2013: 4.10 miles, 35:02.74, 8:33/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-November 27, 2013: 4.12 miles, 39:06.54, 9:29/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 5, 2013: 8.24 miles, 1:20:54, 9:49/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks
-December 17, 2013: 6.40 miles, 57:59.90, 9:04/mile average pace, mostly hilly sidewalks and roads
-December 25, 2013: 8.22 miles, 1:07:07, 8:09.90/mile average pace, 6:58/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 6.28 miles, 52:00, 8:16.82/mile average pace, 6:44.49/mile max pace, treadmill
-December 27, 2013: 1.82 miles, 14:40, 8:03.52/mile average pace, treadmill
-December 28, 2013: 10.02 miles, 1:31:58, 9:11/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks
-January 1, 2014: 10.23 miles, 1:28:57, 8:42/mile average pace, somewhat hilly sidewalks and paved trail
Total: 11 runs, 65.03 miles
First Impressions
My first few runs in the Kinvara 4 weren’t that enjoyable. The shoe felt stiff underfoot, and very slappy; each footfall was noisy. (Bear in mind that I was accustomed to smooth transitions and a Cadillac-like ride in the Brooks Glycerin 11.) Not only that, but it made my legs tired. Curiously, the Kinvara 4 felt soft and comfy when I was walking into my house after a run — I’ve never before had a shoe feel better after a run than during the run, without even taking it off.
Current Opinion
Little did I know, the walk-around comfort was a sign of good things to come. All the Kinvara 4 needed was some break-in time. After a few runs, suddenly it ran like a dream. A noisy dream. The slapping sound at each foot strike persists, even while walking on hard surfaces, but the slappy feel and stiffness do not. Initially I was scratching my head at the popular assertion that the Kinvara 4 is a soft shoe, but I do find the cushioning to be moderately soft now. Not soft or plush enough to be my top choice for long distances or recovery runs, but it provides ample protection from the ground while still allowing for good ground feel. The ground feel contributes to a fast, nimble, in-control  feeling in these shoes.
I’ve come to expect perfection out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 took patience. I broke it in, and it broke me in. Eventually I adjusted to the lower drop which, based on the tread wear patterns, genuinely does encourage me to land on my forefoot.
The Saucony Kinvara 4 by the Numbers
Comfort: 7/10
Not at all plush, and not very comfortable for me out of the box, but the Kinvara 4 warmed up into a surprisingly comfortable shoe.
Performance: 8/10
The Kinvara 4 effectively encourages me to run on my midfoot and forefoot a bit more. However, there isn’t enough protection from the ground for me, so while I appreciate the zippy feel, I probably wouldn’t choose this shoe for anything longer than a half marathon, if that.
Construction Quality: 8/10
I had to dock Saucony a couple of points here because the Power Grid logo is upside down on my right shoe — what the heck? But otherwise everything seems to be aligned well. No glue spots or errant sewing. I’d prefer more rubber on the sole, especially in the lateral heel and forefoot areas (I think this is coming in the Kinvara 5), but I understand that the limited rubber saves weight. However, I’m hard on shoe treads and my high-wear areas aren’t all covered in rubber on this shoe.
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Materials Quality: 8/10
I can’t complain about the footbed or the moderately hard-wearing sole rubber, but I’m disappointed in the upper. It’s already ripping at the pinky toe area on both shoes. I’d been warned by other online reviewers that this would happen, but I really didn’t think that it would happen to me since I don’t typically put a lot of wear on the uppers of my shoes.
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Value: 8/10
I purchased the Kinvara 4 at full price at my local running store for about $100. I’m used to buying shoes on sale, but for a full-priced shoe, this is a decent price. However, the limited rubber on the sole and the fraying upper indicate to that the shoe won’t last much longer than 300 miles for me.
Overall: 8/10
A fun, fast shoe that’s a departure from what I usually wear. I’d even go so far as so say that I love them. With the notable exception of the durability issues and the less notable exception of their noisiness, these are great shoes, and I think that I gave them less than perfect marks because of my preference for more traditional shoes and my (unreasonable) expectation that these shoes would deliver a more traditional ride. I’m eagerly awaiting the Kinvara 5, which is slated to debut in June 2014.
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New Balance 870v3 Review

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I’ve officially run 65.66 miles in my New Balance 870v3s (note: I purchased these shoes myself) and I feel ready to render my verdict on them. I’ll start with a one-sentence review, gloss over a couple of specs, and then dive deeper (much deeper, seriously, grab an oxygen tank) into how I arrived at my opinion. This is, after all, merely my opinion. Your mileage may vary. I subscribe to the belief that there are no bad shoes, just shoes that aren’t necessarily right for you.

One Sentence Review: The New Balance 870v3 is an excellent lightweight mild stability shoe that disappears on my feet.

Specs: Weight

Per the New Balance website, the 870v3 weighs in at a svelte 9.8 ounces. Generally, the weights provided by manufacturers are for a men’s size 9. Naturally, the weight varies across the sizes, and sometimes due to manufacturing differences. My version of the 870v3 is a men’s size 8D in the creatively named “Silver with Yellow & Red” color scheme (I often opt for men’s models in order to steer clear of pink overload), and I imagine that it’s less than 9.8 ounces. I don’t have a postage scale and I don’t obsess over shoe weight (I raced my PR 5k in the Brooks Glycerin, which is by no means a lightweight shoe), so I’m not going to check this. In my mind, a shoe with stability features that is under 10 ounces is a light shoe for the category.

Specs: Drop

The New Balance 870v3 has a ~8 mm drop.

The minimalist/natural running craze of a couple of years ago (I think we can partially attribute this to Born to Run) brought about a focus on the heel-to-toe midsole stack height differential, also known as drop. Traditional running shoes have a heel that’s significantly higher than the forefoot (as much as 16 mm higher in some examples), which promotes heel striking because there is so much heel to the shoe, it hits the ground first during the gait cycle. Conversely, low drop and zero drop shoes promote a midfoot or forefoot strike. Minimalist runners maintain that a midfoot or forefoot strike is more natural and more efficient than a heel strike. There are forefoot- and midfoot-strikers can run with a forefoot or midfoot strike, respectively, in both low- and high-drop shoes, just as there are inveterate heel-strikers that will heel strike no matter what type of shoes they wear. Shoes don’t always make a difference in gait, but they can have an effect.

About Me

Knowing a bit about me will help you evaluate my opinion of these shoes, and how it may line up with (or not line up with) your own.

I’m 5’4″ and 127 pounds. As far as I can tell, I’m a mild pronator, which means that my feet roll outwards during my gait cycle than slightly inward as I make contact with the ground, with most of the motion happening in my left foot. Rather than toeing off directly at the front tip of my shoe, my left foot will often toe off on the left (outside) edge of the sole. Likewise, the right foot will sometimes toe off on the right (outside) edge of the sole. The pronation is relatively mild and causes me no discomfort, so I generally wear neutral shoes, or shoes with minimal motion control features.

Perhaps due to the pronation, I’m hard on the soles of shoes — the rubber gets chewed up very quickly.

I prefer long distances and I am currently training for my first ultramarathon, which will be a 50k race. This fall I completed too many races for me to remember offhand, including eight weekends in a row with races of at least ten miles, including a four week stretch in which I ran two marathons, a half marathon, then another (and fastest of all!) marathon.

Because of my penchant for high mileage, I tend to prefer cushioned shoes, and I like to have as much material protecting me underfoot as is feasible.
However, my tastes run the gamut. My running shoe geekery is really just beginning. When I first started running in 2008, I wore innumerable pairs of the Mizuno Wave Rider 12, 13, 14, and I think maybe even the 15 — and while I believe in not fixing what ain’t broke, how boring is that?! I’ve since come to appreciate different styles of shoes, and I now employ a [large] rotation of different models that meet my varying day-to-day needs.

Runs I Logged in the New Balance 870v3

In order to accurately represent how extensively/not extensively I wear tested the New Balance 870v3, below are the eight runs I completed in my pair:

  • December 3, 2013: 4.12 miles, 37:33.57 (9:07/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 4, 2013: 6.27 miles, 56:00.70 (8:56/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 10, 2013: 9.05 miles, 1:25:57 (9:30/mile average pace) on some hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 13, 2013: 4.12 miles, 41:22.55 (10:02/mile average pace) on mostly hilly roads and sidewalks
  • December 14, 2013: 10.30 miles, 1:31:54 (8:55/mile average pace) on mostly steep, hilly sidewalks
  • December 18, 2013: 3.30 miles, 27:02 (8:11/mile average pace) on a treadmill
  • December 21, 2013: 18.44 miles, 2:58:39 (9:41/mile average pace) on a paved trail, a hardback/gravel trail, and some hilly sidewalks
  • December 22, 2013: 10:06 miles, 1:37:01 (9:39/mile average pace) on hilly sidewalks and a paved trail

I didn’t do any speed work and I didn’t run on any technical trails, so those are two gaps in my testing (and really, in my training as I would probably benefit from both).

Comfort: 9/10
The 870v3 has a medium-cushioned heel collar and a lightly padded tongue. It’s not plush, and it’s not spartan either. It’s just right, and it’s comfortable. It’s comfortable to the point of being difficult to review because after the first run, I didn’t notice the shoe during my runs; it melded so seamlessly with my feet that I simply didn’t think about it.

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During that first run in which I somewhat noticed the shoes, what I noticed most was the marshmallowy softness of the heel foam. It wasn’t that the midsole foam was too soft, or lacked responsiveness — it was just cushier than I was accustomed to.
The tightly woven exterior mesh has managed to keep my feet comfortable through chilly winter mornings. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that if I’m dressed appropriately for a run in the cold, I’ll be uncomfortable for the first mile or so and then warm up to the approximate temperature that I’ll be at for the duration of the run. I can accept a cold face, and to some degree, cold legs, but I just can’t countenance overly drafty shoes. The 870v3 hasn’t let in a single gust and my feet haven’t sweat any more than usual in them. I may not be so appreciative of this warm construction during blazing summer runs, but I’m thrilled with it for winter comfort.
Until recently, I didn’t wear running shoes casually. I now exclusively wear running shoes as my casual sneakers. I like the look of retro runners and I like the supportive comfort they offer. Since I don’t like putting unnecessary wear on my gear, I stick with a pair of Nike Pegasus 83/30s that I bought for a song (between My Coke Rewards points turned into a Nike gift card and a warranty voucher for a product I’d originally bought using a Nike gift card obtained with My Coke Rewards points, these sweet retro mashup Pegs cost me $12 and were shipped free — running gear isn’t cheap, so I save where I can).
However, when traveling light a couple of weeks ago, I wore my New Balance 870v3s in order to save space in my overnight bag. They have a very different feel as a walking shoe — the two tread pods under the lateral side of the arch are somewhat noticeable. I consider the feeling more reassuring and supportive rather than irritating, but I found myself stopping to check my soles for pebbles until I figured out what was creating the nagging sensation of something under the arch.
After spending too long in a pair of boots, I stepped into a pair of ultra-cushioned running shoes and literally sighed, “Ahhhhhh” in relief. That feeling is my benchmark for a perfect comfort score (10/10). The 870v3 hits the Goldilocks sweet spot of unobtrusive comfort, but isn’t quite enough shoe to be my go-to choice for a recovery run, so I give it a 9/10 — very high marks for comfort.
Responsiveness: 8/10
The flexible forefoot of the 870v3 has plenty of zip for me. You know that joyful, light-footed, bouncy feeling you get during the best part of your run? For me, that’s usually at least eight miles into a run; I suffer through my first three or four miles so I can get to that joyful place. These shoes are good for that: when you’re feeling it, they can fly high and, to steal a phrase from the marketing folks at Brooks, they can run happy.
I like feeling the road, and feeling connected to it. The 870v3 has plenty of midsole and outsole material to protect feet from harsh rocks and cracks, but still allows for ground-feel.
Matched up with the shoe’s overall light weight, the soft (but spring, not mushy) midsole material lends this shoe a very nimble feel. I had no trouble dodging thick crowds of pedestrians, even late into my longest run in the shoes.
These aren’t the lightest or pop-iest shoes around; I tend to think of firmer shoes as being zippier. When I first stepped into a pair of Mizuno Wave Elixir 7s, I thought, “Now this is my running shoe!” I immediately fell in love with the Elixir 7’s mostly-firm feel underfoot and the bank vault-like heel lockdown. For me, the New Balance 870v3 isn’t quite that much of a lean, mean performance machine, but it is my current favorite high mileage option for its adequately responsive, bouncy midsole. I give it 8/10 for responsiveness.
Durability: 6/10
I can’t fault New Balance for the construction of the 870v3. No seams are ripping and no parts of the sole are delaminating — it’s put together well, but the materials themselves aren’t particularly durable.
However, the outsole is far more chewed up than I’d expected it to be at this point. I know I’m hard on outsole rubber, but I’ve never gone through the forefoot of a shoe as quickly as I have in the 870v3. When I blow out a shoe, it’s usually in the lateral heel first.

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The rubber is soft — grippy and sticky, rather than hard and tire-like. If the wear decelerates throughout the life of the shoe, I may get more miles out of it, but at this point, it looks like a 250-mile shoe, maybe 300 miles if I’m lucky.

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Another negative surprise with the 870v3: the upper over the lateral forefoot, just below the pinky toe is starting to fray slightly. I’ve never busted through an upper in a shoe ever, so this is completely unexpected, and completely disappointing if it turns into a hole.

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Given the chewed up upper and chewed up outsole, I had to dock this shoe several points: 6/10.

Looks: 8/10

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I like loud, flashy running shoes. The 870v3 is fairly conservative, relative to some of the other shoes in my collection. The yellow midsole of my pair gives this colorway some interest, but isn’t a real wow factor. However, the clean lines and silvery mesh make this shoe look sharp, so it earns its 8/10.

Overall: 9/10
Comfort and responsiveness push this score into the excellent range. So far the New Balance 870v3 is proving to be a stellar lightweight, supportive distance trainer for me. I’m hoping that it continues to hold up…in the long run.

First Look: Adidas Adios Boost

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The Adidas Adios Boost is the shoe that crossed the finish line first in the 2013 New York City Marathon, strapped to the fleet feet of Geoffrey Mutai. Because it was the shoe of choice for a major marathon winner, the Adios Boost has surged in popularity and can be a bit hard to find in the United States. I managed to snag a pair, and I’m adding them to my rotation with the goal of posting an informed review in time for you to decide yay or nay when these beauties are back in stock.

In the meantime, here are some detail images.

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Brooks Launch: We Have Liftoff

20131216-224823.jpgI really need to get a shoe caddy to hang over my door. As it is now, I’ve got a huge pile of colorful running shoes in the corner of my room (“There, that’s clean! It’s clean now!”).

Running nutrition arguably makes a bigger difference in my running performance, but no other running gear item excites me quite like running shoes do — each model is a design and engineering marvel. There’s only so much apparel companies can do with tights and shirts, but there are limitless possibilities when it comes to shoe innovation.

When I see that pile of running shoes, I get motivated to run. Running, even in the bitter cold, feels like a ‘get to’ rather than a ‘have to’ — I get to wake up at 4:00 am and play outside while everyone else is sleeping!

The Brooks Launch, the shoe so beloved by runners that they convinced Brooks to un-discontinue it, has been sitting in my pile for about a week. The just-short-of-rioting-in-the-streets furor surrounding the planned demise of the Launch piqued my interest. There’s inevitably grumbling when a company updates models in its line, but this was beyond grumbling, and it was loud enough, and passionate enough, that the company capitulated. I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

There are other shoes in my pile that I need to run in, so I can write informed reviews of them sometime this…decade. (I’m getting close with the New Balance 870v3 and I’m thinking about doing a video review. Chew on that crumb of teaser!) But the Launch has been calling to me, insofar as a shoe can call to a not-insane person. With a bright teal and salmon colorway straight out of Miami, the Launch not only has the mystique of a shoe brought back from the dead, it looks like fun.

So I gave in: against my better judgment, I took my brand spanking new Launches out for a ten-mile run without even walking around in them first.

The running gods didn’t strike me dead. Even better: I get it now; I get why people lost their freaking minds when this shoe was pulled. The Brooks Launch is an awesome shoe. One run, and a mere ten miles in, I’m calling it. Awesome.

Some thoughts:

-Firm ride with good road feel, but enough material underfoot to protect my feet and joints during the punishing downhills on my running route.

-Lightweight upper with few overlays — the lightness of the Launch was most noticeable, and appreciated, during the turnover part of my stride.

-Cushy heel cup — I’m a sucker for a plush heel cup. This isn’t the most cushioned heel cup I’ve encountered in a shoe, but it manages to be plenty soft, supportive, and cozy without being huge or overstuffed.

We’ll see if/how my feelings evolve as I get to know this shoe, but as with all launch countdowns, the Brooks Launch started with a ten.

First Impressions of the New Balance 870v3

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Today I took my New Balance 870v3s for a test drive — probably my first-ever pair of American-made running shoes. My first impression was very favorable.

This past Saturday I went to a Crossfit BFit class (not even actual Crossfit) which kicked my butt pretty soundly. Later that day I went for my 12-mile run. Sunday morning I hurt. I complained to Jenny that I might be “grievously injured.” But I still went for my 8-mile run.

(Turns out I wasn’t grievously injured.)

I rolled my legs out with a lacrosse ball during my Monday rest day, which helped a lot, so I was at about 70% for my run this morning. Still some nagging tightness in my legs. I preface my impressions with these comments because I think it’s important to note that I wasn’t trying these shoes on my best day. Not every running day is going to be my best running day, so I think that’s reasonable.

Bottom line up front: I liked these shoes.

When I first laced them up, I really noticed that the interior wasn’t very roomy. I don’t have tall or high-volume feet, but I felt that the 870v3s short height-wise: sole up to laces (not short toe to heel, the length was good). The low interior volume disappeared during the run into snug comfort. I expect more roominess as the shoe breaks in. These shoes aren’t as plush as my Brooks Glycerin 11s, and I didn’t expect them to be, but they do boast a cozy and supportive upper.

Best of all: no pain, even with a creaky body and a probably messed up stride. I enjoyed smooth transitions and a soft heel. The Abzorb foam in the heel is mushy to the touch and that softness is felt underfoot. Nice and soft, not sloppy. The heel isn’t exactly a push-off zone in my stride, so I’m not worried about responsiveness there.

First shoe impressions often hold, but my opinion of the 870v3 may change when I put more miles on it. Check back later for a full review.