The Best Cheap Elliptical

The best cheap elliptical machine retains the smooth ergonomics of its pricier peers, provides challenging levels of intensity, and offers clear programming that doesn’t get tangled up in low-quality tech. Over in our Best Elliptical review, we pursued great ellipticals at a range of price points; here we zoom in on our most affordable favorites.

The 2 Best Cheap Ellipticals


Easiest to Use
Horizon EX-59
Horizon
A smooth-riding, no-nonsense elliptical
Pros
Luxurious ride feel
Intuitive display
High-intensity workout
Cons
No incline or fan
Low water bottle holder

Why we chose it

Luxurious ride feel

The Horizon’s slim profile had us expecting a shaky, low-intensity workout, but we found it to be incredibly sturdy, smooth, and challenging. The simple glide was even better than the feel we got on some higher-priced models. One contributing factor: The Horizon sets you back farther from the console, which makes the ride feel more spacious. It's a subtle difference that you might not initially notice, but the longer we spent testing machines, the more we appreciated the Horizon's seamless strides.

Intuitive display

The small, lime-green screen features just a few essential metrics: time, calories, and progress. The crystal-clear readings give nothing but the information we were looking for. This was a pleasant surprise after seeing so many that are chock-full of scrolling messages, flashing lights, and extraneous info.

A lot of low-cost ellipticals don’t give your heart rate numerically, but instead translate it directly into a bar chart of heart rate zones. That can be helpful in its own way, but we loved that the Horizon serves up the raw data. People bring individualized fitness goals to the table, and to better serve those needs, we much preferred the Horizon’s specific digits over other models’ mysteriously calculated estimations.

Heart reading for Elliptical Machine

The Horizon’s simple display was easy to navigate mid-workout.

High-intensity workout

With just 10 resistance levels (most ellipticals run up to 25), we jumped on the Horizon for our first workout expecting a max intensity cut in half. In fact, the upper levels on the Horizon are grueling — the same skiing-through-peanut-butter feeling we got on ellipticals that label their resistance with higher numbers. Here again, Horizon may not brag about its power, but it’s there.

Points to consider

No incline or fan

To get the Horizon’s seamless ride feel, you do have to sacrifice incline adjustments and the cooling fans that some ellipticals feature on their consoles. If those tradeoffs make you cringe, check out our other top pick.

Low water bottle holder

We had just one issue with the ergonomics on the Horizon: Its water bottle holder is set bizarrely low, so that you have to bend in half to reach it. The Schwinn and Nautilus do better, with holders that you don’t have to stop moving in order to access. However, we didn’t find it enough of an inconvenience to stop preferring the Horizon’s smooth-as-silk ride.

Best
Features
Schwinn 470
Schwinn
A decked-out machine that doesn't skimp on features
Pros
Thoughtful extras
Silent
Adjustable incline
Cons
Shaky console
Complex display

Why we chose it

Thoughtful extras

Subtle perks like cushioned pedals can be found throughout the machine. To make climbing on board easier, there’s a tiny, tractioned landing pad located behind and between the wheel tracks. The Schwinn also features a small but powerful fan to cool you down and a convenient nook for storing devices or a book.

Another fun feature: When you burn a record amount of calories (more than you have ever done in a previous workout), the Schwinn dings and flashes a star across the console screen — a reward that makes your workout feel more like a video game.

Silent

The Schwinn 470 offers a silent ride — the only sounds are the gentle motor hum and the squeak of the rubber pedal cushioning. So if you're watching TV while working out, you won’t need to turn the volume up loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Adjustable incline

Notably, the Schwinn offers automatic incline. You can raise and lower the pitch of the track 10 degrees, increasing or decreasing the intensity of your workout with the push of a button.

Points to consider

Shaky console

Although the Schwinn’s a bigger machine, the console shivers and shakes slightly while you’re in motion. It’s an inconvenience we didn’t encounter on the more compact Horizon, but we still enjoyed the Schwinn’s ride and additional design features enough to recommend it.

Complex display

After experiencing the Horizon’s straightforward display, we found the Schwinn adds a confusing array of options that outpace its abilities — like an extra set of arrow buttons just to navigate a basic set of programs. And if you like to keep an eye on your heart rate, know that the Schwinn gives the read-out only as a bar graph, not a concrete number.

How to Find the Right Cheap Elliptical for You

Consider price trade-offs

Ellipticals come with various motor placement, pedal construction, and resistance systems. A lot of these choices affect price. Most ellipticals under $1,000 — including both of our top picks — utilize front-drive motors and wheel track pedals. The design tends to force a shorter stride length and a vertical plane of movement more akin to stair-climbing than running.

Decide which features are essential to you

You’ll have to sacrifice something in order to stay under $1,000; knowing what matters most to you will help when you inevitably have to decide which bullet to bite. Is a fan or adjustable incline a must-have? Or, would you be willing to sacrifice both in lieu of a smoother ride and sharper display? Decide which features you're willing to compromise on, and (more importantly) which ones you aren't.

Compare

Now that you know what’s most important to you, you can confidently visit a sporting goods store and try them out for yourself without feeling overwhelmed. Seeing the features in-person is a good way to seal the deal on your priorities or discover new features you didn’t know you cared about.

Cheap Elliptical FAQ

What do I sacrifice when I pay less for an elliptical?

The price difference is in the details: the more expensive the machine, the more likely it is to have fancy upgrades like a touchscreen or the ability to change your stride (circular vs. ellipses vs. jogging motion). To see what lies beyond the $1,000 price range, check out our review of the Best Elliptical Machines for Home Use.

Can I finance an elliptical?

In our experience, it seems financing an elliptical is typically an option — though it works differently depending on the manufacturer. Horizon, for example, only allows financing if you buy in-store. On Amazon, though, we've sometimes seen promotions that allow 12-month financing after signing up for Amazon’s credit car. We just can't guarantee that such promotions will be available when you're buying.

What gives a better workout: an elliptical or a treadmill?

It’s a toss-up: An elliptical causes less stress on your muscles and tendons, so you won’t feel like you’re working so hard and can probably go longer. But, according to Physical therapist Mitch Owens of Seattle’s Union Physical Therapy, “Increase impact, get a better workout.” In other words, ellipticals make your workouts more tolerable; treadmills make them more fruitful.

The Best Cheap Ellipticals: Summed Up

Horizon EX-59
Schwinn 470
Easiest to Use
Best Features
MSRP
$999
$899
Adjustable incline
Resistance Levels
10
25
Programs
10
29
Fan
Extra Storage

More Home Fitness Reviews

If you’re decking out your home gym, doing your research is key. We’ve dug deeper into different types of ellipticals, along with other home-gym equipment.