I've done a bunch of running in these shoes this year. After getting a killer HURT discount on the Hoka Rapa Nui and later the Conquest at Kailua's awesome little running store 'Be Fit Kailua' I'd say I've found two of my favorite shoes. I just picked up a pair of Huaka's, and they seem fantastic, but I have got to wait and see if they are durable enough for the kind of running I do.
First the Rapa Nui. It's like a more svelt Stinson, and for me that's good, because I had trouble with the Stinson's large footprint and my narrow stride (too narrow?). It's got less cushioning than the initial Hoka models (Mafte, Bondi, Stinson), a narrower footprint, and nice medium lugs that cover the entire outsole. It also comes with speed laces and a set of traditional laces should you decide the speed system isn't for you.
My initial impression was of a nice trail shoe that seems pretty comfortable on the road, has good cushioning, and light weight. After a while you get used to the cushioning, and it's never as obvious as with a new set of Bondi's. Throwing on my Scott Kinabalu's told a different story though... the Hoka's have WAY more cush! The tread seems to be a good compromise for most trail conditions and the occasional road section (important here in Hawaii as I'll often connect very technical and/or muddy trails with sections of road). Uppers are not slipper-fit, but are comfortable with no obvious flaws.
My complaints with this shoe have a lot to do with the fact I have unique feet. Very wide across the toes! The shoes felt narrow from the start, and after the HURT 100 my toes were DAMAGED in a bad way. This was partially my fault for choosing Injinji toe socks that actually serve to widen my feet slightly.
The second issue was that I found my feet sliding around to an unusual degree after my feet got wet (even just sweat). This quickly causes 'bumper toe' blisters and lost toenails. I took out the inserts and that seemed to create more friction and held my feet in place better without tightening the laces unfomfortably. Speaking of which...
The speed lace system works ok, but when I really wanted to get the shoes tight (to alleviate the slipping in the uppers) and tried to cinch the laces down I found the plastic clip that the laces run through would abraid the laces and cause bulges that rendered the system almost inoperative.
Overall I love the Rapa Nui's. I'm on my second pair, and feel like they serve as an excellent long distance trail shoe. Small and light enough to feel fast and nimble, but with cushioning not available in shoes other than Hoka's!
On to the Hoka Conquest. This seems to be a higher tech approach to the simple plush of the Bondi. Still a large outsole, but not as obviously 'clown shoes' as the earlier Hoka models. You can easily go elsewhere for the specific technologies; I'll just cover my impressions.
Initially it's clear that this is a road shoe as there are no significant tread lugs. Same speed lace option as the Rapa Nui, similar midsole thickness as Bondi.
I found the upper to be tight across the toe box. Disconcertingly so at first. I quickly wore some blisters on my little toes, but after about 50 miles the shoes wore in enough that the problem all but disappeared.
The midsole cushioning is again not nearly as obvious as on the Bondi, despite the thickness. The feeling is similar to a normal cushioned trainer from any of the big companies. The difference seems to be in its longevity. My Bondi's quickly showed compression of the midsole. These Conquest's have run over 500 miles and the midsole looks... new!
There also seems to be some gentle stability control, and I feel less like my feet are rolling around in a pillow.
The uppers fit well (other than the afore mentioned narrowness), but drain sweat poorly. Not a problem in some areas, but here in Hawaii sweat accumulation will turn the shoes into heavy soggy like you've been running in the rain, and drying happens slowly. Drainage ports work well for getting the slosh out after a deep puddle, but feet just seem to stay wet forever.
Conclusions: I've enjoyed the Conquest, and they make a solid partner for all road running, and any dry/not slippery trails. The fact is I prefer the the Bondi's plusher feel, but the Conquest feels more stable, and lasts way longer.. an important factor when you're dropping some serious dough on new kicks.