The First Degree Apollo Pro 2 (or written as 'II' in some places) is one of those rowing machines that catches the eye right away. Yes it looks like a WaterRower with it's choice of materials for construction - but who doesn't love natural wood!
It's been a while since I've reviewed a rowing machine that;s not at the budget end of the market - so this was something I was really looking forward to getting on and putting it to the test. And I wasn't disappointed.
First Degree are one of those brands that deliver quality with the majority of their models. From the top commercial machines that cost several thousand, to models aimed at the home user, you know you're getting a good rower. The Apollo Pro 2 is actually a commercial-grade machine that also slots nicely in at the top end of the home equipment range - and it's a beauty.
First impressions? Well it's obvious - constructed with hand-lacquered, sustainable American ash on a high-quality steel frame it's built to last. .Does it perform as well as it looks? Hell, yes. And all with a pretty reasonable price tag.
So on to business. The rowing position is good with the seat at a good height and comfortable for those long sessions. It slides smoothly and quietly up and down the solid beam and with a maximum user weight of 330 pounds, feels rock solid even at those lung-sapping high stroke rates.
The handle is great, well-padded and fits snug into the hand to prevent slippage and hand blisters. My only beef is the same as with other models such as WaterRower with the position of the footrests. If you have muscly legs like me (some would say chunky) then I find having the feet side-by-side a little uncomfortable - if your legs are slender, then this won't be an issue. Personally, I prefer the footrests locations used by Concept2 with about four inches in between the left and right.
The Pro uses water for resistance and has the great feature of a resistance level selector. Some lower priced water machines require you to add or remove water to alter resistance. This isn't difficult but can become a chore - especially if more than one person is using the rowing machine. The addition of the selector (see photo right) makes it a heck of a lot easier. But note, if you want a rower that can automatically set the resistance during a workout (used with heart rate and interval training) you'll have to go for a magnetic rower like the LifeCore R100.
The Apollo Pro uses what First Degree call a 'rapid recoil system' that delivers an authentic experience of rowing on open water - especially at a high stroke rate. Another plus is the design of the impeller (the blade inside the water) catches the resistance fast so avoids the awful dead spots where you find you're pulling against nothing - the bane of the budget rower. Ironically most 'real' rowers will say an air resistance machine feels more like real rowing on water.
When you're done, the Pro can easily be tilted up, wheeled across the room and stored vertically out of the way, taking up far less space than a folding machine. So if space is at a premium at your place, this could be what seals the deal. Although it has to be said, it does look like a guillotine - see below right.
A great-looking machine with some great features at a great price that should last for many years. If you want a water machine (and don't have big legs) it's difficult not to recommend this model.
Update: Sept 2019 - at the new lower price this looks an even better bet.