Hello again, and welcome to my review of the 10 most interesting elliptical machines I tested and reviewed for 2017. I really did find a lot to enjoy about these devices, and each one earned a place on my list for a particular reason.
I will clarify with a few thoughts about my review process, so you can understand where I’m coming from.
I did not choose the elliptical machines solely based on price. Some devices here push close to $2000, others can be had for less than the cost of some personal electronics devices. Higher price does not equate to a higher place on my list.
Here’s the list and comparison of Top 10 elliptical machines for 2017.
We have classic ellipticals in spades in this review, but also a few unique machines that take a new approach to elliptical-style training.
1. SOLE Fitness E35 Elliptical Machine: A Durable Powerhouse for Intense Workouts
SOLE Fitness is a relative newcomer compared to more established brands like Bowflex and Nordic Track,
but they have been flexing their muscles and are seen as something of a hot new commodity in the home training fitness community.
SOLE showed their chops by providing a wide array of different fitness machines used in hotels worldwide. This was a solid strategy, because providing for the hotel market meant exposure to a wide variety of people who would become familiar with their machines while working out at these accommodations. Now, they’ve moved into the home fitness market, providing models that are the same as or similar to their more popular hotel-provided equipment.
- Variable, Powered incline
- Easy to Assemble
- Great Incline Range
- Definitely on the expensive side
- Huge, and not easily stored
- Restricted stride adjustment
2. Schwinn 430 Elliptical Machine: A Fun, Versatile Performer
Schwinn is a natural company for the elliptical market, because they have a great deal of experience with both mobile and stationary bicycles. The basic technology behind an elliptical is a variation on the idea of a bicycle; it’s simply been adapted to incorporate the arms and a standing motion as you work the pedals, rather than a sitting position.
Schwinn has developed a strong reputation for high quality exercise equipment, and their elliptical machines are equal to the status of their excellent bicycles.
Specifically, I’m talking about the Schwinn 430 elliptical machine. This is a really lovely device that I enjoyed working out with for this review, and a run-through of the features will show you why I liked it.
First, let’s talk about the preset workout routines. The Schwinn 430 elliptical lavish console offers users access to 22 different preset exercise programs. This also includes 20 different resistance levels to keep each of the routines fresh and challenging as you improve your fitness levels.
I mentioned the console, so let me elaborate there. It has an interesting little dual-screen display, and allows you to set up two user profiles. I honestly would have preferred more options there, but to be honest there probably aren’t more than one or two people per household who would dedicate a lot of time to fitness, so your mileage may vary. The console tracks calories, distance, and heart rate through the stationary handlebar sensors common to many machines.
- Ample preset exercise routines
- Generous electronic support
- Extremely sensibly priced
- Oddly noisy compared to other ellipticals
- Manual adjustment for incline
- No Heart Rate Chest Monitor Support
3. ProForm Smart Strider 735: A Bit of Everything, for Everyone
ProForm is a company offering a wide variety of elliptical machines for home use. Perhaps most interestingly, they have made a serious effort to offer a variety of entry-level machines, priced at affordable rates for people who need a compromise between workout capacity and budget sensibility.
The Proform 735 e elliptical is touted as the “middle” entry in ProForm’s entry level training devices. It isn’t intended to be a high-powered device for the physical training devotee, but to make a worthwhile, useful elliptical trainer available at lower price ranges, without compromising overmuch on performance. In this aspect, it succeeds admirably.
Unlike the Schwinn 430, the Smart Strider 735 elliptical offers powered adjustable incline. It only goes up to a 10 degree incline, but it doesn’t require stopping your workout in order to change things. This makes it very useful for adapting your workout on the fly, allowing you to keep up the pace. I found the adjustment easy and straightforward when I tested the 735 out, and it definitely made keeping to my planned exercise much easier.
As to the workouts, the Proform 735 e elliptical offers 22 pre-programmed workouts in its console, allowing for a similar range of workout activities to our top two entries. The variable resistance is solid, making it possible to build very flexible, challenging workouts that take full advantage of what this elliptical machine offers.
It’s iFit compatible, meaning you can download customized workout routines built by other users, allowing even more options and flexibility from your purchase. Combine this with Google’s street view, and you can have the experience of visually tracking your progress without the hassle of getting outside with the bugs and the dust. Since I live in California’s Mojave, I appreciated the ability to “escape without actually escaping.”
The foot pedals of Proform smart strider are quite adjustable as well, allowing for a wide range of foot sizes and types. Compared to more restrictive options, this one is very comfortable to stand and move in.
- Powered incline
- Variable Resistance
- Comfortable, adjustable footrests
- iFit Compatible elliptical machine
- Very, very noisy
- Somewhat unstable and shaky
- Not wireless heart rate monitor compatible
4. NordicTrack C 7.5 Elliptical: An Awesome Machine
NordicTrack is one of those companies I grew up hearing about. I remember commercials for their home-fitness “skiing” machine playing on my grandparents’ little 24″ TV. They’ve established themselves as a serious player in the home fitness market. They might not have quite the shame cachet as Bowflex, but the name is respected, because they provide very high quality products with a variety of solid, useful features.
NordicTrack’s C 7.5 Elliptical is another of the “middle entry level” trainers we’ll be discussing. Priced similarly to the Smart Strider, it has a very high confidence rating from user reviews on sites like Amazon.
The Nordictrack C 7.5 offers some truly excellent peripheral support. It’s MP3 player compatible, has a built-in fan that adjusts its intensity based on the intensity of your workout, and even has integrated speakers built into the console so you can access your workout jams as you get ripped.
The console itself is quite nice too, with decent storage space for drinks and devices. The screen has a very generous viewing angle, meaning people of differing heights can all enjoy the screen without need for adjustment or craning the neck.
Once again, I enjoyed the fact that the incline of NordicTrack elliptical was adjustable, and it adjusts to a full 20 degrees, which is much more in line with industry standards than lower incline rates. The preset workout routines were also dynamic and enjoyable, taking advantage of resistance and incline training options alike.
- Wide array of peripheral support options.
- Very reasonably priced, especially for what it offers.
- iFit compatible
- Controls require the console, without handlebar adjustments
- Range of motion felt stiff at times
- Lack of heart rate monitor support
5. Nautilus E616 Elliptical Trainer: Really Packed for the Price
Nautilus is another old standard in the training community. They produce a wide range of home and gym fitness options, and their equipment tends toward the “quietly competent” side of things. They don’t bury you in slick advertising, they just put out machines that work well.
The Nautilus E616 Elliptical machine is basically Nautilus’ entry into the low-price, entry level home workout market. At a hair over $600, it’s one of the most affordable elliptical entries on my top 10 for this year. Yet it doesn’t use the low price as an excuse to skimp on safety or general quality. It may not be the high-end trainer’s dream, but it is a great choice for the home workout crowd.
Let me start by saying I really liked the ability to set up 12 custom workout profiles. These can be geared toward pure calorie burning or toward endurance training, making Nautilus E616 surprisingly versatile in its price range.
The E616 console is very easy to read on the go, featuring a blue backlit screen. It’s still a bit on the small side, but with 2 separate displays it’s fairly easy on the eyes and makes tracking goals and progress comfortable enough. It didn’t quite take me out of the workout headspace like other displays would, though it could stand to have a little more screen real estate to work with.
Next, let me state that the workout was astonishingly smooth. I’ve gotten used to entry-level machines being a bit noisy and a touch jerky during my research into these elliptical machine models, but the E616 was both smooth and quiet to workout with.
The speakers were also really nice. Most workout speakers on elliptical machines are just average little things, with nothing to recommend them except that they obviate the need for headphones. These offered a surprisingly pleasant playback to my music. Honestly, if you’re going to work out with an entry level machine and need some music, this is a serious winner.
App support was also generous, synching to both MyFitnessPal and Nautilus’ own training and fitness apps. Between this and the 12 customizable profiles, the E616 does a decent job of substituting for a personal trainer. You won’t get everything in the world out of it, but it can help guide a newcomer into fitness training territory fairly easily.
Nautilus E616 elliptical incline is motorized, which is very nice and frankly surprising on a purely entry-level machine. In this case, it’s interesting to see a lower-tier piece of equipment offer something higher tier machines sometimes neglect to include.
- Smooth and Quiet
- Excellent Peripheral Support, including chest strap
- Strong App Support
- Powered Incline
- Limited incline range
- Obnoxious to assemble
- Absurdly short warranty
6. Bowflex Max Trainer M5 Cardio Machine: A beautiful, rules-breaking Device
Speaking of company names I grew up with, Bowflex is rightly regarded as one of the companies that sets the industry standards for home exercise equipment. They sell a wide variety of devices in the home gym style, but their M5 is an interesting little departure.
The first thing that struck me when I got it set up was that it was a lot more vertical than most elliptical machines. This is because it’s not exactly an elliptical. Rather, it combines the row/stride motion of an elliptical with the vertical stepping motions of a stair machine. The core mechanics are still virtually identical to ellipticals machine, though, so I felt it warranted a place on our top 10 list here.
Let me tell you up front, Bowflex Max Trainer M5 is a device for the serious trainer. The control system starts with 16 levels of resistance, which might seem low compared to other offerings. However, it can be configured with a variety of options. Eight training programs including interval training, calorie burning, fat burning, and fitness evaluation provide a wide variety of options aimed at pushing users to their limit. I work out almost every day, and I still felt pushed by the workouts on the M5.
As a first among our top 10, the Bowflex M5 comes with a wireless chest strap heart rate monitor included! As vital as this tool has become, it’s gratifying to see it properly incorporated “out of the box,” so to speak.
The foot pedals are quite adjustable, and are actually generously cushioned. The Bowflex Max Trainer is comfortable, smooth, and quiet. Using this device felt like an absolute treat from the moment I stepped on.
- Innovative workout method
- Smooth and Comfortable
- Extremely Challenging workout and resistance ratings
- Lack of Peripheral support
- Virtually nonexistent length of warranty
7. Horizon Fitness Evolve 5 Elliptical Trainer: A Compact Trainer For the Space-Aware
I have to be honest, I’m not hugely familiar with Horizon Fitness‘ other lines of equipment, and I couldn’t tell you from personal experience how their other machines stand up. I did like what I got out of their Evolve 5 Elliptical Trainer, however.
The first feature I really liked about the Evolve is that it is very storage-friendly. As a front-wheel design, it’s on the compact side of Elliptical machines to begin with. The real benefit is that it comes with a really nice hydraulic-assist folding mechanism. A touch and a lift, and it folds up into a relatively compact space. It won’t go into the average closet, but it can be folded up to make room if your workout space is fairly limited. It takes up less than 4 x 3 space when folded up to store, making it a great choice for the space-conscious.
The workout suite is pretty generous, with the usual solid array of training programs, variable resistance, and tracking support.
Also, Horizon elliptical has the warranty a good machine should, with a lifetime warranty on frame. The 5 year warranty on parts and 1 year on labor are less spectacular, but are also fairly close to industry standard.
The setup for the Evolve 5 is also pretty easy, consisting of a short, 3 step process. You can be up and running in 15 minutes with a little work, making it a good “out of the box” workout option.
- Powerful, challenging workouts
- Compact, easily stored design
- Solid base warranty
- Somewhat unstable
- Lack of Wireless peripheral support
- Uncomfortably fixed stride
8. Exerpeutic 1000XL Heavy Duty Magnetic Ellipticals: Exercise for Any Budget
Before I get too far into this review, let me say that none of the ellipticals I’ve looked at through this whole thing have had such a polarized reputation. This genuinely is an elliptical machine you either really love, or really hate, it seems.
Me, I didn’t have either reaction. Instead, I see a machine that, for what it costs and what it does, is a worthwhile choice. It isn’t for everyone, but it definitely has a place, and I’ve included it for that reason.
Let’s get the “cons” out of the way first, since they are genuine and do deserve a frank discussion.
Exerpeutic 1000XL is not made from top-quality parts and equipment. It’s a super-budget choice, and at under $200, it doesn’t make sense to make it out of high end gear. I can understand that choice, but it does mean this elliptical can be a bit unstable and wobbly at times. It’s also slightly flimsy – if you’re used to going all out like me, expect parts to shake loose.
The resistance settings are very limited, with a total of only 8 choices. Given that the standard is 20 resistance settings, this is almost painfully few. It’s not going to max out anyone’s workout for very long.
Setting the Exerpeutic 1000XL up was also annoying, with a lot of parts and fairly limited instructions. Further, the low-end quality of the parts means that this thing requires a good deal of maintenance – tightening parts, adjusting straps, etc.
So, if it’s so problematic, why did I include it on my top 10?
- Supremely affordable
- Modest options for exercise routines
- Very limited resistance settings
- Low-budget construction
- Almost painfully difficult to set up and get working
9. Body Champ Cardio Dual Trainer from Body Max: Two Birds with One Stone
The Body Champ is an odd little duck, but an endearing one. It’s another entry into the “super low budget” class of trainers I looked at during the research for this review, and one I found myself rather fond of.
The Body Champ offers an innovative dual-training mechanism. I’ve discussed before that an elliptical shares many motions and thus technologies with stationary bikes, and the Body Champ seems to have embraced that idea wholeheartedly.
You can use Body Champ Cardio Dual Trainer as a standard elliptical machine, in which case it performs very similarly to the Exerpeutic 1000XL. It doesn’t have a massive host of resistance options or powered incline assist; it’s a low budget option, remember. It will help beginners, young people, and the budget-conscious get their daily workouts in.
Where it shows a worthwhile degree of innovation is in the fact that you can sit down on a chair and use it as a modified stationary bike. If you find your legs just aren’t up to supporting you at the end of an elliptical workout, this makes a great post-exercise cool-down routine. Alternatively, you can warm up on the bike, then rise up into a bit of an elliptical workout.
- Innovative two-type workout system
- Very affordable, comparable to a decent tablet or cloudbook computer
- Easy to transition between workout modes
- Uncomfortable seating and use
- Restricted stride
- Lack of Adjustment Options
This is very much in the vein of your standard elliptical, and illustrates very well what features must be traded for pricing.
Firstly, the incline is restricted and in-adjustable. What you get out of the box is what you have to work with. Further, the resistance settings are not dynamic. Rather, they are adjusted with a small hand knob on the side of the device. Thus, a variable workout is not what you should be looking for in this particular product.
The display is quite limited, being a simple non backlit LCD. It can however track the basic metrics such as distance, calories, and even heart rate with the industry-standard handgrip sensors. Again, it isn’t precisely lacking, but it isn’t stellar.
- Decently Comfortable
- Very limited workout adjustments
- No Warranty
Elliptical machines offer a wide range of options for those looking to work out. We’ve explored high priced, intensity-focused machines that can push you to your limit, and devices that don’t offer a whole lot, but are readily affordable even on a college student’s budget. What I’m getting at is that there are many options out there, and there’s probably something for just about everybody.
Elliptical Machine Buyer’s Guide
So, let’s have a few words on the nature of buying an elliptical machine, shall we? Any purchase of exercise equipment is a substantial investment, so you want to know a bit about what to look for in general, as well as what I thought about the particular machines mentioned above.
Well, Socrates taught that asking questions is the best way to get to know something. If you ask, you can learn! So here are the top 5 questions you should ask yourself before looking for an elliptical machine.
Q. Can my body handle an elliptical workout?
Ellipticals are wonderful in that they offer very low impact exercise. The gliding motion means you aren’t thumping up and down onto a hard surface as with a treadmill. So it might seem odd to ask if you can handle it, but it’s a fair question.
Ellipticals move your whole body, while standing upright. You have to support yourself, and you’re moving your arms and legs at a pretty brisk pace once you get moving. It can be very demanding on the heart and lungs the first time out. Be sure you’re ready for a fairly intense workout if you’ve never used an elliptical machine before.
Q. How much space do I have?
An elliptical is a pretty big machine. You need to have the space available to use one if you intend to get it, because even the most compact elliptical machine can take up a lot of real estate in your home. Look into your space considerations and figure out where you’re going to put it before you buy it. As a rule of thumb, make sure you have a space at least five feet long and three wide available.
Q. What is my budget, compared to my needs?
Exercise equipment is expensive. I’ve mentioned several budget elliptical machine models here, but remember that they come with significant limitations on their performance levels. If you are a fitness devotee and want to get into ellipticals, you might be wasting money going for a budget option since you’ll likely outperform the machine in a shorter time than someone just looking for a way to add a few minutes of exercise each day.
Q. What sort of peripherals do I want?
Peripherals are anything not related to the core function of the elliptical machine. This includes speakers, iPod/Mp3 support, and fitness apps that track your progress as you work out. At the core, all you need is the machine to provide resistance and perhaps varied exercises with the console.
However, as I’ve said before I like my workouts to engage my mind. I can’t simply exercise without something to occupy my mind as well; I get bored very easily. Some classic rock to warm up, Power Metal or Punk to get my heart rate up, and some RnB to cool down make my workout sessions a whole lot easier on my brain.
So ask yourself if you’re the same way, and if a peripheral-focused elliptical machine might help you achieve your workout goals. Just realize, you often pay a premium for these extra little services.
Q. How important are Metrics to me?
I’m an info-junkie. I test my resting heart rate several times a day. I monitor my blood sugar, since my family has a history of diabetes. I like to test my average workout heart-rate consistently, so I can see if it’s improving. I’m never happier than when I see a high “calories burned” number at the end of a good cardio session.
So, ask yourself if this information is important to you. If it is, you may want to consider an elliptical machine with chest-strap heart rate monitoring support, or Fitness App compatibility. Some even let you download other profiles and compare yourself to teammates and exercise buddies, allowing you to indulge a competitive edge if you so desire!