When it comes to inexpensive elliptical trainers, you're taking a bit of a gamble, but it may be worth it if you hit on a good one. Meeting those low prices means manufacturers have to cut costs somewhere; often that means less-expensive components and, we suspect, less-stringent quality control practices.
Some manufacturers in this price range try to draw your attention with flashy features that won't do you any good if the elliptical's mechanical components fail. Because of that, we're awarding the best-reviewed title to the most stable, sturdiest and quietest of the bunch: The surprisingly worth-it Schwinn 430 (Est. $600) .
Bargain-priced elliptical trainers tend to have short, choppy strides, so the front-drive Schwinn's 18-inch stride is considered high-end in this price range. It has 16 levels of eddy current resistance (another great feature for the price), and users say the motion is smooth and stable, even for those over 200 pounds. (The Schwinn 430 has a maximum user weight of 300 pounds.)
Eight heart rate control programs may be overkill, especially since the Schwinn 430 relies on handgrip heart rate monitors -- it's not compatible with a wireless chest strap monitor. The two user IDs and two custom programs, however, are welcome additions; the built-in speakers and fan receive so-so reviews.
The Schwinn 430 also has a USB port for data export to Schwinn Connect and MyFitnessPal.com; this doubles as a charging port for your portable gadgets. We found a couple of comments that the 430's moving handlebars might be set just a little too narrow if you're planning on holding onto the stationary handlebars as you pedal -- but overall, the Schwinn 430's quiet, smooth performance, excellent stability and good durability are all remarkable finds in this price range
The rear-drive NordicTrack AudioStrider 990 Pro (Est. $1,000) is a perennial favorite in the $1,000-and-under price range, and if having a lot of features to choose from is your highest priority, it's a great choice. The premier feature is iFit Live, which allows you to download or create Google Maps workouts and download many preset workouts from the Internet, including some coached by star trainer Jillian Michaels.
The AudioStrider 990 Pro's incline ramp adjusts between 10 and 30 degrees, giving you a stride length of 18 to 20 inches. It has 16 levels of "silent magnetic resistance" and a total of 25 preprogrammed workouts.
However, you should be warned that we found mixed reviews of the AudioStrider 990 Pro's durability and customer service. Opinions are particularly split on durability, with experts predicting great results and users saying that in actual practice, parts break frequently.
Finally, if budget really is your most limiting factor, consider the Stamina E1000 (Est. $100) . This mini-elliptical is as basic as it gets with just two pedals, a resistance knob, and a tiny one-button digital display mounted on a 12-by-20-inch base.
Don't count on much from the display (which only shows one metric at a time), and understand that this unit will break. User feedback makes it look like the interior resistance mechanism is largely plastic, so it's only a matter of time until something gives out. The 90-day parts warranty is so short that if something does go wrong, most users don't even bother to ask for repairs or a replacement.
Even with that said, many owners say the E1000 is a great value. They love that it's small enough to slip under your desk and use while seated, although you can also use it while standing. (Just how easy or hard it is to use the E1000 while standing depends, in large part, on your core strength.)
While the Stamina E1000's price is hard to beat, we still feel the Schwinn 430's superior stability and functionality make it well worth saving up for. The Schwinn elliptical's labor warranty is only a skimpy 90 days, but it comes with a much better parts warranty -- 10 years for the frame, two for mechanical parts and one for electronics -- that speaks of the manufacturer's [relative] confidence in this product.
If you're not sure you want to commit to an elliptical trainer at all -- or if not everybody who wants an exercise machine can agree on what type to get -- you might enjoy the ProForm hybrid trainer (Est. $400) . This rear-drive elliptical trainer's 15-inch stride length isn't much to write home about, but its ability to convert into a recumbent exercise bike -- complete with seat -- certainly is.
You won't get commercial-level durability from this machine, but owners say that as long as you scale your expectations to the price, durability is decent. It's quiet and smooth when in use at first, although it can get noisier as time goes on. A 90-day parts warranty doesn't speak of much manufacturer confidence in the product, but reviews indicate that customer service is decent; and if busting boredom (or choosing just one piece of equipment) is your primary concern, it's hard to beat the "neato" factor of this hybrid elliptical trainer/bike.