Of all the elliptical trainers we evaluated, the front-drive Sole E95 (Est. $1,700) boasts the best combination of stability, durability, useful features, smooth, quiet resistance -- and, of course, affordability. "This is a very solid near-gym-quality machine. The heavy [34-pound] fly wheel gives it a very solid feel. We use it seven days a week, frequently twice a day," writes one happy user at Amazon.com.
The Sole E95 offers 20 levels of eddy current braking -- the gold standard for quiet operation and reliability -- and is backed by a solid warranty: Lifetime frame coverage, five years on parts, and two years of labor coverage. Sole Fitness has an excellent reputation for customer service; owners say they're prompt, efficient, and honor their warranty with no hassles.
In one notable example, an Amazon.com user and his wife subjected their E95 to heavy use for four years. When the incline motor stopped working, he writes, "Sole sent us enough replacement parts to practically build a new elliptical while we tried to figure it out, but after we had tried everything and it was still broken, they RMA'd our old machine and shipped us a brand new 2013 model. They didn't charge us a dime..."
The Sole E95 also has a plethora of proven features, including an incline ramp that power-adjusts between 0 and 40 degrees (adjusting the stride length between 20 and 22 inches); 10 workout programs, including two custom workouts and two heart rate control workouts; cushioned, adjustable foot pedals that angle slightly inward to reduce stress on your joints; a 9-inch LCD console that tilts for easier viewing; and handgrip controls for easy adjustments to both incline and resistance. Users say the built-in sound system and fan are just adequate -- the same feedback we see for these features on almost every elliptical trainer across the board.
A bit less expensive, the front-drive Sole E35 (Est. $1,300) shares the same excellent build quality, warranty, and almost all the same features. The LCD screen is just a little smaller (7.5 inches), the max incline is a little lower (30 degrees), and the flywheel is a little lighter (29 pounds instead of 34).
That's not to say that the Sole E95 and E35 are perfect. The most common complaint we found for both was persistent squeaking or clicking noises from the foot rails. Most users say lubricating the foot rails will resolve this, while others simply let Sole's excellent service department take care of it. Still, the E95 is happily free of the persistent reliability issues and customer service complaints that plague the rear-drive Smooth Fitness Agile DMT (Est. $2,600) .
Even though the Smooth Agile DMT draws more than its fair share of durability complaints, those who get a working model absolutely love the 12 different stride motions this machine guides you through, providing stride lengths from 19 to 24 inches and accommodating users of almost any size. They say that the electromagnetic braking system is usually smooth and quiet, and the Agile DMT is also rated for user weights of up to 400 pounds. Its preprogrammed workouts include heart rate control and five customizable workouts.
The lifetime warranty on the Smooth Agile DMT's frame and braking system is impressive, but there's a catch: We found numerous warnings that Smooth Fitness's customer service department is either unresponsive or unhelpful. We're also concerned by an evaluation from experts at SNEWS, who say that after three months of consistent daily use, four separate parts broke on their Smooth Agile DMT.
The rear-drive Smooth Fitness CE 3.6 elliptical trainer draws a similar combination of praise for its smooth performance, mixed with complaints about customer service and durability. Its fixed, 18-inch stride may be too short for some users. It does, however, offer a heart rate control program, iPod dock, workout fan, and nine different user IDs. Both the Smooth CE 3.6 and the Smooth Agile DMT support an optional Bluetooth module (Est. $129) which lets you control the elliptical and view interactive workouts from your tablet. However, we found some warnings that this feature is somewhat buggy -- so until Smooth gets their durability and customer service concerns sorted out, we'll stick with the Sole E95 as the best elliptical trainer for your home, and the Sole E35 as runner-up.
On top of its excellent warranty, Sole Fitness provides a 30-day money-back guarantee for its elliptical trainers. Smooth Fitness offers a similar 60-day guarantee on the Agile DMT and CE 3.6. However, your returns may be subject to shipping and restocking fees.