Q4 Sports is new, but the designers aren’t. The Specialist is a shoe designed to make fast guards faster, and Q4 has a handle on what players want and need — but does it work? Well…
Every once in a while, a new company comes along trying to break into the basketball sneaker world with a product that is obviously not even close to a top performance model. Whether it’s the materials, the design, the cushioning — often, the new sneaker just doesn’t measure up. It could be resources, it could be design experience, or it could be the company making a money grab.
Q4 Sports is none of these. The love of the game is obvious from the jump, as soon as you open the box you know these shoes were designed by a player. But, even love isn’t enough to make a shoe bounce. Let’s go.
Yeah, it works, and honestly, it wasn’t the herringbone that felt like it was grabbing most — it was the circle under the ball of the foot and the white triangle on the lateral side. Those two areas feel like a different rubber compound and they are tackier and rougher for grip under the high-stress areas (Q4’s traction system is called Omni Grip, by the way).
Whether planting off screens for jumpers or sliding on defense, the traction was never a question…until dust happened. Like almost all shoes, add a dust element and the fun begins. However, one quick wipe, and wiping is easy because of the space between the treads, and you are sticking like glue, again.
Outdoors? Oh yeah. That is some thick, ’90s style rubber and even though I don’t play much blacktop, I do shoot and run some drills. Not only did The Specialist not show any wear, it gripped concrete as well as it did the hardwood.
It is still amazing to us that companies have been building shoes for years, decades even, and still can’t come up with a cushioning system that is consistent, durable, and feels fantastic underfoot. A full-length foam midsole, called KOMpress Lite, is the cushioning of choice here, and it is both plush and responsive.
From the very first step into the shoe it’s obvious there is something going on here, and after pulling the insole out, we have a start. Look at that thing — it’s magical. It’s thick, open cell OrthoLite foam with a heel crash pad with a stiffer arch/midfoot support. This is what a company that cares puts into a product (not that other companies don’t care, it’s just nice when a company makes it obvious).
Beneath that insole is a layer of poron over the Strobel board, for a little additional comfort, and then the meat hits the grill — the KOMpress foam. Let’s get this out of the way: KOMpress works. It is dense enough to be able to ride low to the ground but still able to give crazy response while cushioned enough to keep impact away from your joints. KOMpress is very much like Jetlon and Micro G. The Specialist felt quick, both laterally and forward, and changed directions on a dime. Again, this is Q4 Sports’ first series, and it already has a great cushioning system.
On another note, transition. When you first step into The Specialist, you will notice a severe heel to toe drop. This puts you on your toes from the jump, and makes the shoe feel fast and quick without even trying. You will get used to the feeling very quickly, so it won’t hinder your game at all, but at the first it is strange to step into.
Although they have a different name here, the materials are all tried and true from what we have been seeing the last few years. The Specialist utilizes a mostly mesh upper with fuse overlays in high-stress areas (and for needed durability).
Straight out of the box, The Specialist is comfortable, especially the interior, because there is a half-bootie construction from the front of the ankle down through the toebox, meaning the seams and hotspots are kept away from the foot. That’s a good thing, because the toebox and midfoot started off a little stiff and needed some break-in time. It wasn’t much, a couple of good games of 25 (or 21, whatever you play), but break-in nonetheless. The medial side of the shoe uses UltraVent technology, which makes an otherwise hot shoe (most fused shoes run hot) a little cooler.
One area that definitely gets some WearTesters love is that padded ankle collar. Thick ankle padding makes us remember the ’90s and we here love the ’90s. That padding locks the foot and ankle in and allows for no movement at all while providing a comfort level most companies are just coming around to.
The one area that could use a little improvement is the fit. The Specialist was ordered in my normal size, 10.5, and a pair of the 495 Lo was sent in a 10, and the 10 definitely fit better. I am a 10.5 in almost everything, but a half size down would have cut the extra length without making the width a problem.
Being a fused shoe, the upper won’t stretch, much, so if you are an extremely wide footer you should bite the length and stay true, but if you are normal size down .5. One problem with extra length, especially on a fuse shoe, is that rubber popping. It’s here, but after break-in, it mostly goes away.
The lacing system is set just right, allowing The Specialist to pull tight and cut any midfoot movement out, while the ankle collar laces just right to stop heel slipping. Even a half-size big, The Specialist was completely locked in and never felt unstable.
For a guard shoe, The Specialist is surprisingly stable and solid. Along with the great lockdown, the base (midsole and outsole) is wide and strong. Both sides flare out in an outrigger fashion to control ankle rollovers while playing and they do it without feeling clunky at all.
The midsole comes up around the foot and keeps you from sliding off the footbed on quick, harsh moves, making you feel quicker with no lag time to recover. Most think of support as ankle support, or midfoot support, to prevent injury. But support also comes into play by the shoe keeping its shape during serious play, not rolling over or bending when it shouldn’t or breaking out of moves before the player needs.
The Specialist holds true at all times. The heel counter works with the ankle collar and lacing to lock in and keep the heel upright without completely restricting movement, something a guard shoe should do.
I would love to say Q4 came out of nowhere, and actually, the company itself did, but the owner and lead designer have been here before, many times, and it shows. The attention to detail, to small parts that add up to make the overall performance better, are sometimes easy for us to see but difficult for companies to grasp.
Some have lost touch with performance for the sake of technology, or dollars, or appearances. Not Q4 — simply put, The Specialist is guard shoe, built for…no, it isn’t even that. The Specialist is a basketball shoe built for playing and grinding, working out and doing drills, all so you can bust the next team up. Because really, isn’t that why we play — enjoying watching the ball go through the hoop more than the other guy? The Specialist is for anyone who is serious about their game, at any position — from day one.