One of the first things I bought at the beginning of the pandemic was a set of adjustable dumbbells. My husband and I both wanted to do strength training, but we needed several different weights. He had actual muscles while I had noodle arms. The problem was that our apartment could not accommodate a full stand. Adjustable dumbbells seemed like a sensible choice. And that was it until it was not. Under a set of chest pressures, the pin that fastened the weight plates broke. I got a 5-pound plate for the face. So as you can imagine, I was careful to test the $ 429 (or as low as $ 300 on sale) NordicTrack iSelect adjustable dumbbells.
While the price was certainly one thing I was wary of, it’s actually not outrageous. I’ll get into that in a moment, but you can easily spend just as much – if not more – on 10 sets of regular dumbbells. That’s basically what you’re replacing here, as the iSelect dumbbells go from five to 50 pounds in five-pound increments. You also pay a premium for iSelect’s smart features.
There are two things that make the iSelect dumbbells “smart”. The first is that these use an electronic locking mechanism, as opposed to pins or end screws. The second is that you can change the weight using voice commands for Alexa. Even if you fortunately do not have to, as there is also a button that lets you change the weight manually.
The dumbbells themselves (or smartbells?) Rest in a specially adapted tray. In the middle is the manual button as well as an LCD display that shows you the current weight. There is also an optional tablet holder that you can screw on the back. The ground itself is relatively compact and measures 21 x 19 x 16 inches (LWH). I could not fit it into my living room, but that’s only because I already have another connected fitness gadget in there. However, it easily fit in my home office. Most people should have no trouble figuring out a place to store the tray. The only requirements are to place it near an electrical outlet, which is usually not a consideration when storing dumbbells. You will also want to be aware of where you place the tray to begin with. Once you have put these babies away from you, you will need to move 100 pound weight plates if you change your mind. It is does not fun. (You should also keep this in mind when the weights are delivered. The box it comes in weighs as much as 123 pounds.)
It is easy to set up the dumbbells. All you have to do is download the iSelect app for iOS or Android and then follow the instructions to pair the dumbbells via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. (The latter is for firmware updates.) To use the dumbbells with Alexa, take a few extra steps to connect the iSelect app and your Amazon account. The iSelect app is also the place where you can set custom weight profiles for 15 dumbbell exercises, including bicep curls, chest presses and squats. I did not use this feature much, but I can see that it is useful if you are someone who knows exactly how much weight you need for each movement.
Unlike most connected fitness products, iSelect Dumbbells has one big thing to their advantage: a subscription is not mandatory. You get one month of NordicTrack’s iFit family membership with the purchase, but you do not have to stick to it. Just make sure to cancel the automatic renewal if you would rather use another service – if you want to use a service at all. The best part is that you will not be stuck with brick dumbbells if NordicTrack decides to stop selling or supporting this device.
If you choose to stay with iFit, you will need to download a separate iFit app to access classes. It’s annoying when connected gadgets cause you to download multiple apps to use them. This is especially annoying if none of the apps are particularly well-crafted. With both iSelect and iFit apps, I had problems loading and connecting. It was not every time I turned on apps and restarting my phone usually solved the problem. But I did not appreciate the extra time I had to spend on troubleshooting when I was trying to squeeze in a workout.
As for iFit’s content – that’s fine. It’s not flashy like Peloton or Apple Fitness Plus, but it can appeal to people who do not love peppy instructors who spray happiness cake wisdom out. You also still get solid training. Structurally, the classes and exercises shown were similar to those I have taken on several other fitness apps. (Although I appreciated that the iFit did not rush through rest periods between sets.) It’s just a different general taste. If the Peloton is a Starbucks frappuccino, the iFit is more like a hearty cup of diner coffee.
That said, iFit does not provide specific content or features in its service to these dumbbells. Unlike Tempo Move or JaxJox’s connected dumbbells, these dumbbells will not count your reps or provide any additional insight. Most of what you get are instructors in some classes that go over how the iSelect dumbbells work while easily connecting the Alexa functionality.
Speaking of which, one of the most annoying things about training with traditional adjustable dumbbells is that it takes time to increase or decrease the weight. It is not a problem if you do your own training. But if you take tuition, the 30 seconds between sets is not enough time to reset the weights in the stand, lift a mechanical pin, calculate how many extra plates you need to add, and then really make sure everything is secured. When I first covered these dumbbells, NordicTrack emphasized in a demo that the combination of Alexa and the fast electronic locking mechanism would be fast and safe.
In fact, Alexa was sometimes fast. Other times, Alexa got very confused.
To control the dumbbells, you can issue commands such as “Alexa, set weights for bicep curl”, “Alexa, increase / decrease weights by five pounds” or “Alexa, set weights to 15 pounds.” When everything is working properly, it may take Alexa maybe 5-10 seconds to do what you requested. It does not include the time to re-rack the dumbbells that you need to do to adjust the weight. Unfortunately, Alexa is not always the smartest assistant on the block. Many times Alexa would confuse “weights” with “light”. Instead of doing what I asked, Alexa asked which Hue bulbs I would turn on or off. Other times, Alexa would say it could not be connected to my dumbbells – but would then successfully change the weights after a short delay.
Again, this is less of an issue if you do not follow any kind of program. However, if you are, Alexa may have a hard time hearing you properly. I tested using both an Echo Spot and the fourth generation of Echo, both of which occasionally had a hard time understanding me – Spot more than Echo. To be fair, Alexa was able to understand me over a Peloton or iFit class without any problems multiple times. But once in a while I had to repeatedly shout over the instructor or put the class on pause so that Alexa could understand my command. But even though Alexa worked properly, it was nine out of 10 times faster for myself to adjust the weight manually using the button.
The only time I could see myself using Alexa over the button is if I ran out into the kitchen for water during a recovery break. Even then, I’m not sure it would be faster than adjusting manually. I am totally in favor of Alexa controls being there for accessibility reasons, but in that case I would like the feature to work more consistently.
I was impressed with how fast it was to adjust the dumbbells manually. A couple of years ago I reviewed JaxJox’s connected kettlebell. Although it also had an electronic locking mechanism, it was not always fast enough to keep up with the teaching. Conversely, it feels like the iSelect dumbbells change weight right away. And that speed does not come at the expense of safety. I have done overhead triceps extensions, deadlifts, Russian twists, renegade rows, chest presses, squats – you name it. Nothing has ever fallen off.
iSelect dumbbells are also sturdy and the plates do not rattle as much as other adjustable dumbbells I have tried. The handles are gripping, and the square shape is good for exercises where you have to plank with the weight (eg assault rows, dumbbell bushings). Still, the shape is more voluminous than I would have liked and I would ‘I’m not saying they were much better than the standard dumbbells I already have.
For $ 429, dumbbells are expensive. It does not include the price of an Amazon Echo device – if you do not already have one – or the $ 39 monthly subscription if you choose to continue with iFit. But whether they are too expensive to be worth it depends on your needs for strength training. A complete stand with standard dumbbells from £ 5 to £ 50 in five pound ranges can cost a small fortune. For example, the NordicTracks version costs $ 1,999. Most are in the $ 700- $ 1,000 range. When you compare the iSelect dumbbells with that, you get a deal. You also save a lot of space in your home.
But that is if you actually need a full stand. If you are a beginner, do not do it. Smaller, space-efficient dumbbell sets can be found for much smaller. Adjustable dumbbell sets with a smaller selection are also on Amazon for around $ 20- $ 150. Some can even turn into barbells. Meanwhile, if you’m disappointed with the lack of measurements, JaxJox also has a set of $ 499 connected adjustable dumbbells that can count your reps.
If you have several people in your house at different levels of strength – like me and my husband – a set like this makes more sense. We also happen to already have Alexa devices, though I do not know that any of us would have used the voice control if I had not tested the device. For me, these dumbbells have the weight range we need, save space and adapt quickly to classes. The most important thing is that I can train without worrying that a plate will hit me in the schnoz. I’m well aware that no one needs to spend hundreds on connected weights that actually do not have quite as many smart features. But if you are looking for a full stand and do not have much space to work with, you can make it much worse.
Photograph by Victoria Song / The Verge