Every piece of at-home workout equipment has the same basic challenge: It’s worth owning only if you actually use it. The clothing rack stereotype exists for a reason, and in many cases, fear of commitment can impact whether it’s worth spending more than the minimum before you know a routine is going to stick.
So when I first saw Ergatta’s $2,500 Rower, I expected the price tag to be something that hung over the duration of my review. Instead, for better or worse, I found myself entirely focused on the unique software Ergatta brings to the table.
Sturdy, stable and downright elegant hardware
From the moment you unbox an Ergatta Rower, it’s clear you’re working with a premium piece of hardware that demands to be appreciated by anyone who shares a room with it. The classic-looking American cherrywood body and clear water rowing barrel look like something out of a mid-century modern design catalog, but it’s way more than looks. The frame supports rowers up to 6 feet, 8 inches tall and upward of 500 pounds, which means it supports body types well above and beyond those handled by most of the competition. And though that does mean the Ergatta Rower takes up more space when it’s on the floor, the body collapses and stands up with ease when not in use.
The design of this rowing machine stands in stark contrast with most of its competition. A glance at the new Peloton Row, Aviron Strong Series or NordicTrak RW900 rowing machines shows they offer similar-looking metal-and-black colorations with sleek lines and electronic resistance mechanisms to offer a variety of difficulty levels. Where most of the competition is focused on a fully modern and lighter frame to match the smarts on the screen, Ergatta maintains that a water-based resistance system means there are no electronic limits to the level of difficulty you want to give yourself. If nothing else, this rowing machine stands out amid current rivals.
Assembly isn’t what I’d call effortless, but it’s not overly complicated either. The frame comes together quickly, Ergatta made adding water to the tank as painless as possible, and there’s very little you can accidentally install incorrectly. The biggest challenge is the size and weight of everything; by the time you’ve added water to the tank, this frame will weigh right around 120 pounds. Thankfully, the design makes most of that weight work for you instead of against you when you’re standing up the Ergatta Rower and pushing it against a wall. When it’s standing up, the Rower occupies only 2 square feet of floor space, which is great when space comes at a premium in your house.
While there are some classic looks here, the experience of using this machine is quite modern. A 17-inch touchscreen Android tablet sits at eye level as you row, and you can tilt it in any direction in case you’re like me and have a slight glare problem at certain times of the day. The wiring for the tablet is baked in to the frame, making it so the power cable connects near the base, freeing you from worry about wires near the rowing parts. The speakers on the tablet aren’t the best in the world — they exist and work well enough in a pinch — and Ergatta’s software regularly tells you the best experience will come from headphones. The water tank doesn’t need to be filled or drained to add or remove resistance, which means you never need to turn a dial or set a program to adjust difficulty level.
Brilliant software on a clumsy OS
Like most nice indoor workout experiences in 2023, there’s a monthly fee attached to using the Ergatta software. That $29 per month ($26.58/month if you pay annually) is the only way to access anything on the included tablet. Where most rowing platforms promise immersion and frequently fail to deliver, Ergatta’s platform largely wants you to treat it like you’re playing games. Much of the software is built around a series of simple games, where your rowing will determine where you are on the screen.
The workouts surrounding the Meteor game challenge you to keep an orb floating at the correct height to score points, and you must row with the correct intensity and consistency to keep that orb where you want it. If you’d prefer to challenge other Ergatta owners instead of rowing alone, you can choose between directly challenging friends via the Vortex game or sign up for live races against other rowers. It’s not all games. You can also choose a more structured class setting or an open rowing session via many different recorded videos that take you through beautiful places all around the world.
With its fairly simple visuals and an endless array of music streaming from just about every genre, Ergatta’s platform is amazing at keeping me focused on the workout. I’ve never worked so hard to keep an animated sphere aloft for 20 minutes, or accidentally woken up half the house because it was the last 50 meters of a race and I was putting everything I had into graciously accepting seventh place. Ergatta’s whole system works on giving you the challenge level that’s right for you, and making it entertaining and physical enough that you want to keep coming back for more. It’s a genuine thrill to feel more exhausted after 30 minutes on this rowing machine than I usually feel after 20 miles on my bike, and that feeling makes me want to come back every morning.
Ergatta isn’t the first company to make a set of games for you to play while you row. Its primary competitor, Aviron, offers a wider selection of classic-looking games as well as access to a collection of streaming video apps to keep yourself busy. The difference between the two experiences ultimately comes down to distraction. Where Aviron’s games and apps feel like an effort to make me forget I’m rowing — and failing because my body is much louder than the screen — Ergatta’s games offer something additional to focus on in service of the workout. I’m not trying to escape the feeling of working out by choosing a game on this rower, I’m choosing the game that will best encourage me to reach a goal.
In many ways, the Ergatta experience encourages me to push myself further, because rowing with purpose is how I win the game. That difference is more significant on a rowing machine than it is on something like an indoor bike, where the Aviron software would likely be more appreciated by someone like me.
As strong as the individual workouts on this platform are, the overall Ergatta software experience isn’t as polished as it should be. To Ergatta’s credit, in the three months I’ve been using this Rower, it’s received a software update once a month with huge new additions ranging from new games with dozens of new workouts attached to the most recent inclusion of Apple Watch and Apple Health support.
That said, the underlying and frankly outdated version of Android running this tablet constantly reminds you it’s there in unpleasant ways. The tablet regularly takes around three minutes from when you press the power button to when you log in to your account, during which the software doesn’t do a great job of letting you know it’s still starting up and everything behind the frozen screen is working as intended. One of the software updates I received caused the tablet to reboot constantly until I performed a factory reset. And for some reason, double-tapping the power button will launch the camera on the tablet — which doesn’t do much of anything in the actual software at the moment — and it isn’t immediately obvious to the user how to escape this page without restarting the tablet.
Ergatta Rower: Final thoughts
I won’t go so far as to claim using the Ergatta Rower is fun, because even if you use one every day, rowing machines are a ton of physical work, and your body will immediately remind you just how much work you’re doing. What Ergatta does better than most is that it makes me feel like I’m doing more than just working out. For someone who’d rather watch Netflix than participate in a class on most other indoor workout machines, Ergatta’s gamification of a workout is as elegant and refined as the hardware you sit on. And if the company is able to resolve the OS-level distractions surrounding these great experiences, the Ergatta Rower could easily be one of the best rowing gadgets you can buy. It’s entirely possible that world is only a few software updates away, but we won’t know for sure until Ergatta delivers.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.