Curious about screen-based fitness machines? Here are the best weve found Ars Technica

Curious about screen-based fitness machines? Here are the best weve found

A home gym makes working out convenient, which will ideally lead to consistency, the key to any exercise regimen. There are a few key points to setting up a home gym that will engage you and fit your space. Mirror- and screen-based fitness devices aim to roll these solutions into one device that delivers diverse, engaging training.

These systems can make exercising much more fun and convenient while providing a solid foundation for every level of exerciser to build on with different hardware packages and progressive content. The devices can range from around $200 all the way up to $6,000 or more, and thats without mandatory subscription fees for content.

The device manufacturers swear by the engagement, convenience, and resultant efficacy of such machines, and theres a case to be made for how these initial expenditures can save you money compared to a traditional gym-based experience. We tested a bunch of mirror fitness devices with a wide range of prices to see where the sweet spot lies and determine which could be worth the money for different types of people.

Best for most people: Tempo Core

Runner-up: Peloton Guide

The best mirror fitness device for most people is the Tempo core, but it’s a close call. Tempos Core Starter pack ($245) doesnt use a mirror or display with sensors. Instead, it lowers the entry fee by using your iPhone camera (XR or higher) as the sensor and a TV as its main display. Pop your iPhone on Tempos dock, set up your included weights, and youre ready to go.

If you dont already have a TV to plug into, the upgraded Tempo Studio incorporates a 42-inch touchscreen into an easel-like structure with a Microsoft Azure 3D camera, speakers, and weight storage for $1,695. If you have a TV, go for the Tempo Core, as the screen is the most consequential difference.

In terms of hardware, the Core Starter package gives you great value with the weight set, as the dumbbell and plates can be adjusted to create eight pairs of dumbbells from 7.5 to 25 pounds on each, with two-and-a-half pound increments in between. You can also add more weights, a workout mat, and even a barbell with plates.

Tempo offers over 1,000 classes, both pre-recorded and live, in three main categories (strength, cardio, and recovery). Theyre further labeled with tags like boxing, yoga, functional movement, and more. You can also search by muscle group or body area if youre looking to hit specific areas. There are filters to help those with previous injuries or sensitivities to certain movements, including wrist-friendly, knee-friendly, and pregnancy excercises. Unfortunately, there isnt a way to replace movements within a class, as you can with Tonal and Peloton.

The Peloton Guide, another camera-based, TV-connected strength training device, is the Tempo Cores closest competitor. The Guide has a slightly higher $295 MSRP (currently down to $195), and thats without weights or any accessories. Since the Tempo Core is essentially just a phone dock with weights and requires an iPhone, it keeps costs down and adds value with an adjustable weight set.

Even Peloton Guides largest bundle ($695 for six pairs of dumbbells, a workout mat, a water bottle, and a heart rate strap, along with the Guide) is still two dumbbell pairs shy of the Tempo Core. Tempo gives a big leg up to beginners, saving them a substantial upfront cost. Features like rep counting and automatic visual weight recognition on all workouts make the Tempo Core an attractive option for beginners and users of all experience levels.

Going with Peloton over Tempo saves you on the monthly cost$24 per month versus $40. But Tempo offers upfront pricing for as little as $30 if you sign up for a two-year subscription. Tempo also saves you at least $150 upfront over supplementing the Guide with a comparable weight set from a third-party manufacturer. The Guides bundled weight sets send the cost way out of the Tempo Cores league. The value propositions are similar in the one- to two-year run, but Peloton will save you a few bucks a month in time, while Tempo will save you upfront costs.

Ultimately, youll be well-supported and engaged with classes from either camp. Both offer over a thousand classes, with live and on-demand options added every day. So if youre an iPhone owner who values rep counting, automatic weight recognition, more dumbbells, and paying less upfront, the Tempo Core is the way to go. If you favor having exercise replacement options within workouts, a lower monthly cost, and a bigger overall library of contentand you dont mind starting out with fewer weights (or buying them elsewhere)Pelotons Guide will serve you well.

Tonal is my favorite all-in-one mirror fitness device.
Enlarge / Tonal is my favorite all-in-one mirror fitness device.

The best all-in-one machine for most people: Tonal

If you want the most versatile and complete workout system for your dollar, the Tonal is your best choice. Simply put, its like having a Peloton thats a full cable machine instead of a stationary bike.

The Tonal is a wall-mounted steel and plastic box that houses a 24-inch touchscreen, 200 pounds of weight attached to an electromagnetic rotor, and adjustable arms that facilitate cable strength training. Unfortunately, Tonal doesnt include the smart accessories you need to use the device, instead selling them separately for $495. That bundle includes the T-lock smart handles, smart rope, barbell attachment, a flat bench, workout mat, and recovery roller. Without this package, youd have to buy T-locking handles separately to use the Tonal. Unlike third-party options, Tonals smart accessories have gyroscopic sensors to provide real-time form feedback, among a suite of other features that make the $500 upgrade necessary on this $3,500 smart training machine.

On the handles, youll find a button to activate and deactivate the weights. Its easy to reach with a thumb or finger if youre struggling on a rep and need to remove the resistance quickly and safely. Theres also a Spotter Mode that can automatically sense when youre struggling with a rep and release you from the weight as a good human spotter would. Thats one of the five core features of Dynamic Weight Modes. Eccentric and Smart Flex modes intelligently add weight during each rep at the point where youre strongest in the range of motion. Thats something no human, including yourself, can do for you: Maximizing your reps and time under tension. Tonal also keeps track of your progress over time and can recommend higher weights if it feels you can do more.

Tonal's smart accessories are an integral part of the experience.
Enlarge / Tonal’s smart accessories are an integral part of the experience.

Having a cable machine as your sole, full-body workout equipment is the best you can do for one device. Tonal gets creative to cover the 245 movements it offers. Exercises like dumbbell curls and bench presses are achieved using the adjustable arms and either a handle or barbell attachment. It can take a little getting used to since movements like bicep curls are usually done with free weights instead of on cable machines. Theres also something to be said for the stabilizing muscles you activate using free weights versus cable machines, but if youre that serious about your physique, you’ll probably want to incorporate more equipment than just one machine into your workout regimen, even one as versatile as the Tonal.

It’s an intuitive and versatile setup. The only functional complaint I have is the Tonals tendency to carry momentum in the cables and tug back a bit after each rep. Thats not something youll feel on a regular gyms cable machine. This is more prominent in some exercises than others, and it depends on the weight youre using. But if its a weight you can lift in a swift, explosive motion, expect the weight to yank back at the end of each rep.

Tonals membership is $60 per month, with a minimum 12-month initial contract. That gives you access to live and on-demand classes, similar to Peloton. There are thousands of on-demand workouts, and more are added weekly from livestreaming sessions. These run the gamut from cardio workouts like boxing and HIIT to Pilates, recovery, and, of course, strength training.

Best of all, for my injury-prone body, Tonal offers a variety of movement replacements if you run into an exercise thats giving you pain or otherwise doesnt work for you. Its quick and easy to tap a movement and view its alternatives, complete with pictures and video demos.

For enthusiasts who prefer one-on-one training: Forme

Generally, there’s no value in buying a mirror- or screen-only device for $1,000-plus when devices like the Tempo Core and Peloton Guide existunless you dont have a TV to plug them into. But Formes fitness mirror puts a spin on this proposition in two ways.

First, its the only mirror fitness device that offers 60-minute, one-on-one personal training and trainer relationships. (Lululemons Mirror Studio subscribers can buy 30-minute personal training sessions a la carte for $40 each, but thats on top of the monthly $40 membership fee.)

Second, it also offers people a modular experience in that you can equip the Forme Studio with a wooden barre attachment for an additional $295 (and take dedicated classes with it) and/or add arms and weights to the mirror to create a cable strength-training machine similar to the Tonal. Its called the Forme Lift, and it balloons the Studios $2,750 cost (with installation) to more than double$6,500 with installation. This is the closest single machine you can get to training in a full gym with a personal trainer, and the price tag reflects that. Still, it can compare favorably to a gym membership and personal training in as little as a years time, depending on the package you get and what your local gyms offer.

Forme memberships cost $50, $150, or $400 a month. All of them are focused on one-on-one personal guidance; the difference between the packages is how involved the trainers become. At the $50 tier, you get access to over 700 on-demand workout classes (new ones are added weekly), and an initial interview with Formes Fitness Concierge team to understand your needs and define your path. From there, youll be sent weekly programs curated from the existing library of classes and aimed to help you achieve your goals. You can also communicate with the team to make any changes to the program.

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Enlarge / Forme Lift adds arms to create the cable machine functionality, like that of the Tonal.

Going up to $150 a month gets you a dedicated personal trainer whos matched to your needs. That tailoring can be as specific as avoiding specific exercises due to injury and focusing on building strength around that (as was my case) or as broad as simply wanting to get stronger. It all depends on what you want.

Your trainer creates a months worth of customized workouts for you from scratch. You can communicate with your trainer daily to ask questions, provide feedback, or ask about whatever may come up, and the trainer may update your program accordingly. At $400 a month, you gain four hour-long, one-on-one sessions with your trainer on top of the features of the $150 plan.

Formes subscription compares favorably to prices at my local Los Angeles gym, where personal training rates range from $100 to $190 an hour. Having a Forme also means you wont be restricted to only working out when your trainer is physically present. If you want to use your gym without your trainer, youll need to pay a monthly subscription, too. In my case, that would be $150 per month. For me, one year of gym membership with four personal training sessions a month would cost at least $6,600 a year. My local chain gym, Anytime Fitness, goes for about $4,300 a year.

A year of using Forme Studio with the same training schedule costs $7,600, but the second year drops to $4,800. The upfront cost is a major consideration, but for some, a Forme Studio can start saving you money within the first two years. It will take a bit longer to break even with a Form Lift. But if youre prepared to splurge on personal training and an unparalleled at-home gym experience, Forme is where you should be looking.

Forme is a smaller company than Tonal, so that’s something to keep in mind if youre afraid of these machines becoming expensive dead weights. Even if one of the companies goes under, though, you should still be able to use the prerecorded videos. Tonal also has a mode that allows you to create your own workouts, and both Forme Lift and Tonal offer the ability to use them without videos as sleek, high-tech cable machines.

A home gym is the ideal gym for me, but its not for everyone

With mirror fitness devices, Ive found a deep appreciation for bringing some of the best aspects of the gym home. Convenience is the obvious selling point here, but fun and usefulness keep people engaged with these subscription-based exercise regimens. Its why even as Pelotons sales have slumped, its subscription churn rate remains extremely low.

Tapping a button to jump into a professionally constructed workout with gym-level equipment in your home isnt just convenient; with the right trainers and guidance, its engaging and fun, and it can be totally personalized to your needs. With Tonal, Ive found it hard to return to the gym because I have a full cable machine in my living room. But for those who can afford personal training, Forme Lift is a better option. With systems like Tempo, Tonal, Forme, and Peloton, you can have pretty much any gym experience from the comfort of your own home.

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