Echelon Smart Rower Review: A Slick, If Expensive, Machine For Rowing Beginners
If exercise bikes and treadmills don’t do it for you, the unique hit of cardio and strength training a rower provides may get your juices flowing. And if that appeals but you don’t really know where to start, a smart rower with an accompanying app to direct your training can help you get more out of your time on the rower.
That’s what Echelon offers. The company began by selling a Peloton-rivalling smart indoor spin bike coupled with on-demand and live classes in your home. Now it’s applying that format to rowing machines.
It requires a serious and ongoing investment, however. The rower alone will set you back £1,199, making it more expensive than the choice of many serious rowers – the Concept2 Model E (£1,060). For access to the classes, you’ll also need to subscribe to the Echelon Fit app (£24.99-£39.99 a month, depending on whether you buy a rolling, one-year or two-year membership). Without this, though, you can still use it as a normal rower when plugged in.
As on its spin bike, Echelon’s Smart Rower requires you to supply the screen in the form of either a smartphone or tablet. This was an advantage on the bike, which contributed to it being substantially cheaper than Peloton, and if you didn’t have a tablet already you could use the money saved to buy one. Few rowers come with integrated screens, however.
First prepare for the delivery of a big box, and ideally line up someone to help manoeuvre it into your home. Even getting it out of the box was a tall order and I needed to sit the box on its side to slowly nudge out all of the pieces.
Getting it put together is more straightforward. The instruction booklet is easy to follow and the sets of screws are clearly labelled and separated to make sure you’re using the right ones at each stage. The flywheel is on the heavy side and you’ll need to rest it on its side to get the front legs on to it. A couple of big cushions propping it up did the trick for me, but it would’ve been easier with someone to hold it in place.
The rail can fold up to save on floor space, though it retains a big footprint. While there are wheels up front to make it easier to move, at 49kg it’s still on the heavy side. If you have room to keep it permanently unfolded, that’s the best scenario. It is easy to unfold, though, and if you forget to wait for the click to signify it’s securely locked in place – as I did a couple of times – it’s quickly obvious so you can rectify the issue before doing yourself a mischief.
The build of the rower looks and feels more high-grade than Echelon’s bike. It uses less plastic, it stayed firmly in place during rowing sessions and it feels like it’s built to last.
The screen holder securely locks your device in place and you can adjust the angle to get a more comfortable view of the classes.
The foot pads are wide enough to accommodate big, bulky trainers and use Velcro straps to make it easier to get off the rower quickly. This is useful when following some of the app’s strength classes, which break up the rowing with dumbbells and bodyweight sections. (You’ll need to supply your own dumbbells.)
The Echelon App
The rower connects to the app using Bluetooth and works well. I had no issues pairing with several Android phones and there were no connection drop-outs during classes.
The app is split into Featured, OnDemand and Live sections with a Progress tab to keep track of the classes you’ve completed. You can also connect to Strava and Fitbit accounts to send your data to those platforms and I found it synced with my Strava profile swiftly after I completed a session.
There’s more than 900 on-demand classes available, which can be filtered by duration, experience level and instructor, and there are live classes broadcast throughout the day. The schedule is not as full as Echelon’s live cycling classes, with something like three to five live rowing classes a day. That does make for a bit of a wait at some points, though you can set up notifications to remind you about upcoming classes.
During a class, there’s a live leaderboard to see how you rank against others, as well as rowing metrics like resistance level, stroke count and overall output. You can also see a breakdown of distance covered and speed, and you can pair up a heart rate monitor via Bluetooth as another way to measure effort levels. It quickly picked up both MyZone and Garmin chest strap monitors I used to deliver the most reliable real-time heart rate data.
There are also scenic classes which let you virtually row on a river in places like Thailand and Dubai. Echelon also offers FitPass classes, which are performed off the rower and cover the likes of yoga, meditation, barre and HIIT.
Surprisingly, the rower operates in a very quiet manner, which your housemates and neighbours will appreciate. There’s no rattle from the resistance changes and the very little noise it does emit comes from sliding your body up and down the rail as you row. That’s in contrast to when I put JTX’s Freedom Air through its paces. While having a bigger screen would have made for a more immersive experience, I found I could keep my focus on classes using a phone and headphones.
I tried a range of on-demand and live classes working on strength, endurance and sometimes a bit of both in fusion sessions. The workouts were testing even though they don’t go beyond the 45-minute mark. While many do require jumping off the rower for short periods you can continue rowing if you prefer and you’ll still manage to get a good workout. For most people, a few 30-minute workouts a week that mix resistance work with rowing will have a positive impact on their fitness.
The classes are well structured and thankfully the instructors have toned down the over-exuberant style in some of Echelon’s spinning classes. There’s a welcome emphasis on correct rowing technique to ensure you get the most out of the sessions, although at times it can feel like it cuts into some of the shorter classes. It will, however, make sure you’re using the right resistance levels and stroke rate.
The rower offers 32 levels of magnetic resistance, brought to life through magnets and a 3.5kg flywheel that combine to offer a wide range of resistance and a smooth, quiet operation. That resistance level can be changed using two buttons in the centre of the handles. It’s a smart place to put them because if you row with a narrow grip, you can reach them with your thumbs and not interrupt your stroke rhythm. Even with a wide grip, it’s not too much effort to stretch over and reach them.
I found the resistance levels pretty light until you get into the high 20s and 30s. I’m a regular runner and swimmer so I keep relatively fit and didn’t find it too challenging to move up to the tougher resistance levels. That does mean it’s going to be more suitable to someone who’s new to indoor rowing, offering the potential to progress to tougher resistance levels.
The Echelon Smart Rower is expensive whichever way you slice it, but it is a robust and good-looking machine, and the platform is easy to use and set up. The classes give you an effective workout and promote better rowing technique in the process. The library of workouts and live classes is smaller than what is on offer for Echelon’s bike, but hopefully that will quickly grow and there’s enough there already to put your fitness to the test.
Before buying, make sure you’re OK with the ongoing cost of subscribing to the app, even if you do also have the option to jump on and use it outside of a class. The classes are really what will make you want to use it regularly.
That’s not a problem with the slightly cheaper Concept2 Model E rower (and the Model D is even less). While that’s aimed at serious rowers, it does now also offer greater support for coaching and training apps like asensei, which is available for a cheaper monthly fee.
All the same, we’d recommend the Echelon Smart Rower as a strong option for anyone that likes the idea of getting fit on a rowing machine but needs some guidance to make best use of the investment. If you put the time in, you’ll soon justify the cost.
Buy from Echelon | £1,199.99