By Ethan Lee on April 27, 2010
After sitting around reviewing the latest products that made my life easier or satisfied some gadget craving, I thought it was time I punish myself with a treadmill review.
NordicTrack’s new X7i Incline Trainer was the perfect fit that allowed me to take in a treadmill while reviewing some reportedly good technical features.
Boasting of Google Maps integration, NordicTrack makes a good marketing pitch with the X7i. Who doesn’t think it’s cool to virtually walk a trail or race of their choosing? What person wouldn’t get a kick out of running the Vegas strip or some remote canyon?
The technology in the machine, iFit Live is supposed to make that possible.
After dropping around $2,000 in hard-earned dollars on this machine, our crate arrived several weeks later (two weeks late) and our first impressions were not good ones.
Out of the box the product wasn’t just broken, it was smashed. The trip from China had not been a kind one and a shoddy packing job made it worse. The product was scuffed and scratched, looking like it arrived from Goodwill.
While the main 350lb capacity treadmill seemed to be unfazed, the flimsy plastic cover for the computer had bits and pieces broken off of it and poor packing allowed pieces to vibrate on the treadmill’s belt and wear two quarter-sized chunks into the new machine.
Damage aside, I managed to put the machine together and get it in working order – but that was not without its challenges.
For the most part, the machine’s parts fit together, but there were a few issues that made it clear that NordicTrack had fairly loose tolerances in their machining operation.
One of the arms had a bad receiver for a screw that didn’t allow it to tighten fully. Additionally, the banged up cover did not align with the pre-machined holes for screws in the metal backing.
Thankfully, NordicTrack has a warranty on the machine and covered any shipping damage. However, even that came with a caveat.
Their support division quickly shipped out a new tread belt (although we at ConCrave can’t figure out how to put it on) and they also shipped out a new arm. But the plastic cover has been on back order for well over a month with no shipping date in sight.
Regardless of the aesthetic damage, I figured we could give it a good test.
Once we flipped on the power, things were looking up.
We setup our account with iFit Live, connected the treadmill to our Wifi network and within minutes our first tester was running up some random inclines in a far away place.
The fun lasted for about 30 minutes and the NordicTrack experience turned south faster than a downhill skier.
The first thing that was noticed was the construction all around was poor when you took a look above the deck itself. The uprights, arms and computer rattled and shook with every single step. When we tried to speed up above a brisk 3mph walk, the shake became a death rattle.
Forget about putting a book or any drink without a tight sealing lid on the console.
Figuring that couldn’t be right, we pulled out the massive machine, flipped it over and torqued down four screws with about 100 lbs of force.
That deadened the vibration a good deal but the shake makes reading while running nearly impossible.
Thinking the worst was behind us, we logged back into iFit Live to explore their programs and loaded up our X7i with the sights and topography of Americana.
As it turns out, iFit Live is still in “beta” and has just a few quarks that make owning an X7i a less-than-enjoyable experience.
First, the much touted Google Street view does not exist and I doubt it ever will. Random photos will pop up in the middle of your run (if you’re lucky) but nothing resembling Street View is there and it’s unlikely the X7i has the processing power to support it.
The iFit Live service is full of so many bugs, it’s really in “alpha” and far away from any type of a release candidate.
For the first several days, we were stuck with the same run because once you loaded in a workout, it could not be removed until it was finished. The sweet catch was that we couldn’t finish the run in one setting so we just had to let the sucker whirr away until it cycled through.
NordicTrack fixed that problem – kind of – but product bugs and quarks remain within the service not to mention an extremely limited number of X7i compatible workouts – eight to be exact.
Reviews on Sears and other sites show several very unhappy early adopters of the Jillian Michaels endorsed Incline Trainer due to the shoddy iFit Live service.
Buggy beta software aside, the X7i has several pre-programmed runs that were worth checking out.
And that’s where I personally began to throw up my hands in frustration.
NordicTrack didn’t even bother creating a bug-free console before shipping. If you program in a 3 mile run it will calculate your run time based upon your selected speed. If you change your speed in the middle of your run (which happens each time) the time will not adjust to the new speed.
Additionally, if you were to pause a workout, you lose your progress bar – quite literally, the bar of progress tracking your workout would stop progressing. This problem was resolved with a firmware update – which the average consumer would never run nor find.
All of the little technical glitches aside, we assumed that the machine would operate fine mechanically, it was a treadmill after all and we’re not talking about new technology here.
Not so fast.
The tread belt requires constant adjusting. It slides to one side or another, slips, stutters and groans. I found myself adjusting the belt four or five times in the middle of a run – requiring me to stop the workout, grab a tool and get on my hand and knees, sweating and cursing. Thankfully, being out of shape, the frequent adjustments were welcome.
Once I managed to get the slips taken care of, horrible sounds would start coming out of the machine at random. It would be fine for miles and then I would stop and restart and then for no good reason, it screeches like a banshee.
With all of the negatives above, there were some positive attributes carried by the X7i. First the tread deck is plenty long for running. Commenters on the Internet seemed concerned that it was too short but we had no problem stretching our (stubby) legs on the deck.
Also, the deck has good bounce and reflex making it soft, but not too soft. Perfect for running, walking or climbing.
Finally, the incline is INSANE. There’s no doubt you burn five times the number of calories at a 40% incline, the problem is that your legs won’t survive one fifth of the time.
Our final verdict is this . . .
If you want to pay two grand on a treadmill that supposedly does cool things with Google Maps, is well build and mechanically sound, don’t buy a NordicTrack X7i Incline Trainer.
If you like being a first adopter and spending big bucks on products that don’t work very well, then the X7i may be just what you’re looking for.
While we would like to test out some other unique treadmills (are you listening Mobia?) we’re too broke to buy another and too lazy to move this one again.