The Echelon Smart Rower is a great way to get a full body workout without leaving the house. The foldable design makes it easy to store between sessions, and the Echelon app has thousands of on-demand lessons.
However, unlike many of the best rowing machines, the Echelon rower does not come with a display. Instead, you need to install the Echelon app on your smartphone or tablet and place it in the device holder of the machine.
Resistance Type: Magnetic
Resistance settings: 32
Display type: No
Dimensions: L 84 inches (213.4 cm); W 21 inches (53.3 cm); H 45in (114.3cm)
Heart rate measurement: Echelon Fit app supports Bluetooth heart rate monitors
App Compatibility: Echelon Fit
Guarantee: 12 months
It’s an interesting design choice, but it means the only way to view your workout stats is through the app. And if you cancel your app subscription, you can still use the machine, but you won’t be able to track your progress.
We’ve tried the Echelon Smart Rower – from beginner-friendly workouts to high-intensity sessions – to help you decide if it’s right for your home gym setup.
Price and release date
The Echelon Smart Rower retails for $1,299, or £949 in the UK. This is the cost of the machine, but you’ll also need to take out a $39.99 / £29.99 monthly membership to access the Echelon app. This makes it more expensive than traditional machines without virtual training, such as the Concept2 RowErgbut still cheaper than other connected machines, including the Hydrowwhich has an integrated display.
The Hydrow has a similar pricing mode (hardware investment plus a monthly digital subscription) but if you cancel your membership, the rower still has a Just Row mode for independent workouts.
The Echelon Smart Rower looks like many other rowing machines: the resistance mechanism and handlebars in the front and a slider and seat attached, but we found there are differences that set it apart.
There is a flexible hinge in front of the seat, which allows the slider to be folded vertically and stored easily. We were worried this would be a challenge to use, but the quick release mechanism made it easy.
However, this did not affect the durability of the machine. Once the slider clicks back into place, the Smart Rower is stable, even during intense workouts. The adjustable footplates keep you firmly in place during exercise.
The Smart Rower has 32 levels of magnetic resistance and you can move between them using the handlebar-based controls. This is useful and helps you to focus on your training.
Above the handlebars is an adjustable arm and device holder to keep your phone in view during your workout. It is suitable for tablets, which is useful because the app is difficult to view on your phone’s screen. You’ll also need your device to view your workout stats, but connecting the machine to the app and the resistance controller to the machine consumes power, so you’ll need to plug the Smart Rower into AC power as well.
Easy to use
When it arrives, the rower is in two parts – so it must be assembled. Echelon has made this easy, using just a few large screws to connect the sliding and resistance mechanism and attach the feet. The machine is heavy (108 lbs/49 kg), so it’s worth having someone help. Although I managed it on my own, handling the resistance mechanism (where most of the weight is) was a challenge.
Fortunately, this is a one-time process and once done, the Echelon Smart Rower is a breeze to use. The magnetic resistance mechanism requires little maintenance.
There is no integrated display, so you have to navigate through the Echelon Fit app on your smartphone or tablet. The design of the app is functional, which doesn’t affect your workouts, but makes it difficult to navigate. We found this to be the case when using the smartphone version, as the different menus and filters are better suited to a larger screen device, such as an iPad or other tablet.
Functionality and performance
Many people first experience air-based rowing machines in the gym or fitness center. These are effective, but can also be noisy, so they’re not great for exercise at home (opens in new tab)† However, the Echelon’s magnetic system is almost silent.
We found that this was consistently the case, even when we used the handlebar controls to cycle through the machine’s 32 resistance levels. The steering wheel was comfortable in the hand and did not cause blisters.
Echelon has taken the smaller details into account: often-overlooked features like the foot straps have grips on the end to make them easy to tighten and loosen when you’re done.
Since you use your own smartphone or tablet to stream the lessons, you can use headphones if you want to muffle the sound even more. This is useful, but it is a shame that there is no integrated screen.
The app gives you access to a library of thousands of on-demand lessons and to participate in live sessions, but it feels like an afterthought, especially compared to the premium feel of the machine. The layout is confusing and it’s hard to differentiate between live and on-demand classes. In addition, there are few integrations with other fitness apps like Strava or fitness watches like the Apple Watch.
But once you got all that out of the way, we enjoyed the Echelon workouts. The instructors were energetic, clear and motivating, while the routines were challenging but achievable.
Value for your money
The Echelon Smart Rower is a mid-range rowing machine, but that doesn’t necessarily make it value for money. We were impressed with the equipment, but the reliance on the subscription-based app makes it expensive in the long run.
Rowing machines like the Concept2 RowErg are popular because they’re durable, but to get the most out of your Echelon rower, you’ll need to get a monthly membership to the Echelon Fit app if you want access to the on-demand and live classes. This will set you back an additional $39.99 per month.
Everything about the Echelon Smart Rower feels well designed. The streamlined machine features an easy-to-use folding mechanism, near-silent magnetic resistance and convenient handlebar resistance controls.
It’s a near-perfect machine at a competitive price, but the lack of an integrated display complicates things. You will need your own device to access the Echelon Fit app, which has an extensive library of on-demand and live classes.
There are also plenty of choices, so whether you’re a novice rower or an experienced rower, you can always find a lesson that’s right for you. We liked that it was also easy to filter by training styles and instructors.
But to access these sessions, you need to take out a relatively expensive monthly Echelon membership on top of the machine’s initial price. And if you cancel your subscription, you will also lose access to your training stats.
However, when the device, app and foldable design are taken as a complete package, the Echelon Smart Rower is an excellent way to get a full-body workout without leaving the house.
If you’re looking for a more integrated experience, it’s worth checking out the Hydrow rowing machine (opens in new tab) (above). It’s not foldable like the Echelon, but it does have a 22-inch display for streaming live and on-demand workouts. And if you choose to cancel your membership, you can still view your workout stats in Just Row mode.
You may also prefer a more time-tested traditional rowing machine like the Concept2 RowErg (opens in new tab)† Industry standard metrics and durable design make this a popular rower that can be found in gyms around the world. Due to the air resistance, it is not so quiet, but it is an effective way of training.
How we tested
We had the rower in our house for several months and used it at different times of the day to see how quiet the magnetic resistance system was and if you could exercise without disturbing others in your household.
We also thought about how the machine felt to use and the virtual training experience. We paid a lot of attention to the physical design, such as the comfort of the handles, the ease of installation and the effectiveness of the controller.
We used the Freestyle Ride mode to complete independent rows, shorter distances (500m) and longer sessions up to 5km. We also tried a range of classes to experience different instructors and training styles.