The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 looks like following current maximalist trend lead by Hoka but it is much more: it is based on new midsole compound (EVA based Fresh Foam) designed to deliver soft, plush cushioning although reality discloses a firm ride. With just 4 mm drop is ready to deliver a more natural running experience.
Definitely lead designer for Fresh Foam 980 loves hexagons: they show up in mesh, midsole wall and outsole, there is no way to get rid of them. Regarding mesh, it is composed of two layered with welded overlays providing good fit and enough breathability. Everything is seamless but the tongue, so be aware when running barefoot. Removable Ortholite® insole features great responsive cushioning and soft feel, it should be mandatory to include it in every running shoe.
Although marketing from New Balance highlights the "outstanding softness", firmness is what better defines riding the Fresh Foam 980 actually. One piece EVA based midsole has different wall design depending on the area for enhanced compression in the rearfoot. Despite 4 mm drop, full contact area outsole seems designed for heel strikers who will appreciate crash pad just separated by a flex groove. The downside is that soft blown rubber raises several concerns regarding durability.