The makers of the Fitbill F.Row claim it's the 'smartest rower ever'. That's quite a boast to make when you're up against the likes of Concept2 and First Degree with a track record of innovation. But then again, the F.Row costs around a tenth of these brands.
But does the addition of a gadget or two make it smart? And does a rowing machine have to be 'smart' to get you fit? Read on...
As with all our reviews we'll start with the unpacking and assembly. The F.Row comes in a few parts and requires only minimal assembly and shouldn't really challenge even the most unskilled DIYer.
The rowing position is okay at best, the seat is actually quite comfortable and the footrests are wide and will hold your feet secure and in place. But if you're over 5' 7" then forget it. The compact machine has a short beam and you just won't be able to get a decent workout. The full motion handles mean you can row or scull. Most rowing machines have one handle and replicates rowing with one oar. Sculling is using two oars in involves a wider movement. So in effect you can have two different types of workout using a different set of shoulder muscles.
The F.Row uses hydraulic pistons for the resistance. One on each side (painted gold in photo) provides the resistance for your muscles to pull against. There's a choice of 8 levels of resistance which can be selected by sliding the end of the piston up and down the handle. If you have a weakness on one side you could have different levels for each handle. But for a machine that claims to be 'smart' this is quite an old-fashioned and pretty crude way of doing things. Plus, there are a number of problems with hydraulic pistons losing resistance over time - see here for more on pistons.
So onto the 'smart' part. Fitbill claim this is the rowing machine with an app on the market. As far as we're aware this may be true (sort of), but other rowers are PC/Smartphone compatible and offer far more in respect to tracking your training progress and some even allow you to compete against other rowers around the world. We have more on rowing apps here...
However, Fitbill's app is pretty good when you consider the price - see Display unit below for more details.
You may wonder why we've only scored 45% for features when it comes with a motion sensor, iPhone holder and app, but the limitations of the actual rowing machine beneath the tech really does limit the use of these features. The motion sensor does nothing more than a standard console and monitor, in fact compared to many it's actually less because it cannot know how much work you're doing (watts) and how many calories you're burning.
The six month warranty on the frame and parts is around about what you'd expect for low cost rowing machine.
The F.Row can be summed up as an old-fashioned, generic, low-cost rowing machine fitted with some hi-tech gadgets. This does allow for a few more features to be offered on a model costing under $200, but to be honest, it looks more like a gimmick. Using a motion sensor is clever, but does it really do more than a standard half-decent performance monitor? Probably not in our view. But perhaps further down the line we'll see Fitbill installing their technology on better machines, but for now, this doesn't cut it for us.