For the ultimate full-body workout in the comfort of your home, it’s hard to beat a rowing machine.
An indoor rower is a big investment, and I’m a frugal person (sometimes too frugal) — so I did not want to rush into my purchase without doing my homework.
In terms of features, the overall quality, reliability, and durability of a rowing machine were important to me, along with workout programs and resistance levels.
But I really wanted to make sure that my rower had the option of interactive training.
I got set pretty quickly on the NordicTrack brand. I have one of their commercial ellipticals in my basement, and I’ve always been happy with it.
Eventually I narrowed it down between the NordicTrack RW500 or the NordicTrack RW900.
I noticed right off the bat that these two rowers had a lot of features in common.
But the price difference jumped out at me, and I wanted to make sure I was choosing the best value.
Down below I have compressed my personal notes and research into an easy-to-read format to help you decide which rower is better for you.
I list out the features, the benefits, and the drawbacks, and I give you my personal opinion and review of each rower.
The NordicTrack RW500 looks like a solid machine, but in the end, I came to the conclusion that the NordicTrack RW900 was the better purchase by a significant margin.
In fact, I ended up testing both in person at the store before I made my final decision to bring the RW900 home.
I’ve owned it for over a year now, and I absolutely love it!
Now, without further ado, let’s dive in and compare these two indoor rowers side-by-side.
NordicTrack RW500 vs. RW900 Overview
Here’s a quick comparison between the two rowers. An in-depth comparison follows.
The RW900 is the model that I ended up going with. Check out the the features:
- • Silent Magnetic Resistance™ + adjustable air resistance
- • 26 resistance levels
- • 30 built-in workouts
- • 12,000+ workouts available through iFit
- • 250 pound capacity - Excellent Heavy Duty Rower for people who weigh a bit on the heavy side
- • 22” Smart HD touchscreen
- • Music port and two speakers
- • 1-year NordicTrack iFit® membership included
- • Manual mode available
What I Personally Like About the NordicTrack RW900
So, what makes the NordicTrack RW900 the better bang for buck buy?
First of all, this rower runs beautifully. I’ve never experienced smoother transitions between resistance levels on any other rower.
Secondly, once you get it all set up and you are connected to iFit, you will never run out of exciting, fresh workouts to enjoy.
Also the screen... I freakin love the screen. It has a massive HD display to bring the iFit training sessions to life in your home gym.
At first glance, the RW500 is very similar to the RW900. But the main difference is in the screen.
Whereas the RW900 comes with a gorgeous, large touchscreen, the RW500 does not. I will get into this in detail shortly.
NordicTrack RW500 vs. RW900: Which is the Better Rowing Machine?
Let’s dig a little deeper into the features for these two rowers and how they compare.
Which Rower is Built Better?
In terms of construction and engineering, these rowing machines are pretty comparable. Both are equipped with an inertia-enhanced flywheel and adjustable Silent Magnetic Resistance™, and both can support a user up to 250 pounds.
Whichever rower you choose, you’ll discover it runs like a dream, smoothly and quietly.
In fact, the overall build of these rowers is also very close, with the same ergonomic, molded seat, oversized steel seat rail, oversized, pivoting pedals with nylon straps, and SoftTouch™ ergonomic handle.
Which One Offers More Features?
A lot of the features are identical between the RW900 and the RW500.
Both indoor rowers feature 26 levels of resistance, 30 built-in programs, manual control, a 1-year free membership to iFit, an auxiliary music port, and two 2” digitally-amplified speakers.
They also feature dual resistance (air resistance plus Silent Magnetic Resistance), and the option for your iFit trainers to adjust resistance levels for you automatically.
What you are really going to want to pay attention to is the screen for each rower. That is where the differences come into play!
Which One Offers a Better Interface?
This is where the RW900 trounces the RW500.
The RW900’s 22” Smart HD Touchscreen is a beautiful, built-in display that you can use for the live interactive training.
As you are rowing, the screen is situated right in front of you at a comfortable viewing height.
But this is not what you get with the RW500.
Instead, the RW500 has a 5” backlit display. It is pretty standard, if a bit behind the times, allowing you to select resistance levels and monitor your progress in terms of speed, time, calories, etc.
It does include a 10” Portal 10i™ Tablet. This substitutes for the role of the 22” Smart HD Touchscreen that the RW900 features.
But needless to say, it just isn’t as great. It is much smaller, so it doesn’t provide nearly as immersive an experience.
A tablet holder keeps it snugly in place over the adjustable console as you row. This positioning hides some of the console features from view, but you should not need to use them while you are using the tablet to access iFit.
This difference between the rowers ended up being a key reason why I went with the RW900.
Like I said, having the option of interactive training was critical to me.
And while both rowers offer that, the tablet is a quality of life issue.
Yeah, it is better than making you use your own tablet to be sure—but it is an inherently awkward, unwieldy solution.
Plus, the console itself looks very dated.
If I was going to do interactive training sessions, I wanted to enjoy them to their fullest. And seeing as how the price is not too far off, I knew the 900 was the model best suited for me.
For interactive training workouts that were actually worth a hoot I needed the built-in 22” Smart HD Touchscreen. So, I went with the RW900. I haven’t regretted that decision and never will.
Comparing Workout Programs
Now let’s talk about workout programs for the RW900 and the RW500.
Both of these rowers include 30 pre-programmed workouts plus the option for manual control.
So, you can design your own workouts if you want.
Additionally, with either rower, you get a free 1-year subscription to iFit.
As mentioned, this gives you access to more than 12,000 workouts, and this is where both of these rowers—especially the RW900—really shine.
Here is what you get with iFit:
- • Studio rowing sessions.
- • Global outdoor rowing sessions.
- • World-class trainers.
- • Streaming, on-demand workouts.
- • Live training.
- • Daily workout challenges.
- • Google Maps™ rowing.
- • Stat tracking.
- • Support for up to 4 profiles (with the Family Membership).
But honestly, just going over the features doesn’t really capture the experience that iFit offers.
I love both the studio and outdoor sessions. In particular, ever since this world crap hit us, the streaming river workouts have been, well, a figurative breath of fresh air, if not a literal one.
On my RW900, I’ve travelled to the distant waterways of Ireland, Slovenia, Switzerland, and many other beautiful destinations.
What is really amazing is that the resistance level adjusts automatically. This happens with all of the iFit workouts—which is a huge help—but when you are doing a waterway workout, changes in the water and wind conditions are actually reflected through changes to the resistance levels.
So, it really is like being there! In a way, you can “feel” the wind and the water, and you get the experience of training in a simulation of real-life conditions.
That means you learn to adapt in an organic way.
I actually managed to get out on the water for real a couple months ago, and I found that my reflexes had improved. I did a much better job adjusting to the shifting currents and winds.
It was definitely the iFit sessions that made the difference.
Let me tell you, you do not want that amazing training experience squashed into a little tablet screen.
The large touchscreen on the RW900 allows you to fully enjoy all the details of your virtual surroundings.
Oh yeah, one more thing to mention about iFit is that the live coaches are phenomenal.
These are world-class rowers. I can’t imagine how much in-person classes with some of these trainers would cost—but you get to reap the rewards of their expertise and exuberant energy from the comfort of your home at a very low price.
I especially love workouts with Anja Garcia and Susan Francia!
How Does Their Portability Compare?
As you can tell they are both portable and both of these rower can be folded up and stored way if you want to save some space in your home gym setup or if you are a bit limited on your workout space.
What are Customers Reviews Saying?
On the whole, buyers love both of these rowing machines. There honestly are not a lot of drawbacks to either.
I will say that the weight capacity of 250 pounds is a little shy of the 300 pound industry standard.
So, that may be an issue for some users. But most should be able to row on either machine safely.
Aside from that, customers say that it is easy to set up these NordicTrack indoor rowers, that they operate quietly and reliably, and that the iFit subscription offers endless exciting, motivational workout experiences.
Some customers have mentioned that the iFit setup is confusing. For me it was not.
But usually this is the result of assuming that the membership is active automatically.
You can avoid this simply by remembering to keep your order number handy and placing a quick call to iFit.
What About Pricing? Which is More Affordable?
The RW500 is the less expensive model at $999. The RW900, on the other hand, costs $1,699. Financing is available.
So, purely from an affordability standpoint, the RW500 is the better pick. If you are on a tight budget, it can put the iFit NordicTrack experience within reach.
Which Rower Offers the Better Value?
Now, affordability and value are two very different things.
Here’s the thing. You are going to be spending countless hours on your rowing machine.
The difference in the screens may seem like a small distinction between the rowers, but let me tell you—it makes a huge difference in terms of the quality of your experience.
The screen on the RW900 is more than twice the size of the tablet for the RW500.
There are no separate components to juggle, and it is much easier to lose yourself in the distant waterways you’ll be rowing through with world-class trainers.
I did test the RW500 at the store before I decided on the RW900, and it wasn’t even a hard decision.
The cost for the RW900 may be higher, but the value is as well.
Over the many years ahead, you’ll be glad you went with the bigger, built-in touchscreen.
Is the iFit Cost Worth It? (My Gosh Yes)
But wait—speaking of costs—you might be wondering whether it is worth it to buy a product that is going to come with a long-term monthly fee.
You can still use your RW900 (or RW500, for that matter) without an iFit subscription, but your workout options will be a lot more limited.
So, if you are going to buy one of these rowing machines, you almost certainly are going to plan on keeping up your subscription over the long term.
After your free year expires, you will need to pay $14.99 a month to maintain your subscription.
But you know? That’s actually pretty cheap.
I used to have a gym membership that was $55 a month to maintain. This is why I now have built my own home gym.
This is way less pricey than that, and offers far more diverse experiences.
Plus, your gym membership probably doesn’t come with interactive personal training. iFit does.
So, I would say this is one of the most cost-effective programs you are going to find to stay in shape.
Do They Both Offer a Warranty? How Do They Compare?
With their high-quality parts, I can’t imagine either of these rowers needing much in the way of maintenance or repairs for a while.
In fact, my RW900 has operated without a hitch since I bought it, so I have yet to need to fall back on the warranty.
Still, it is comforting knowing it is there. In fact, both the RW900 and RW500 are backed by the same solid warranty:
- 1 year on labor
- 2 years on the parts
- 10 years on the frame
Size Comparison: Which Rower Suits Small Spaces Best?
Both of these rowers measure 86.5” long by 22.0” wide. But the RW500 is marginally shorter than the RW900 at 42.8”. The height of the RW900 is 50.4”.
Both products feature NordicTrack’s SpaceSaver® design, which lets you fold the rower vertically using a hinge in the middle. That way, you can stow it out of your way when you are not using it.
So, I would say that the modest height difference is probably irrelevant. Either rower is an excellent piece of equipment for tight spaces.
Which is Easier to Set Up?
If you purchase the rower from NordicTrack, you can opt for White-Glove Delivery if you want the company to take care of setup for you (note that availability may be restricted by coronavirus).
You do need to pay $249 for that setup service though, so you might want to assemble the rower on your own instead. This is what I did. It was far too easy.
My RW900 came with clear instructions, and I found it fast and easy to assemble even without help. So, this is my recommendation to most users.
Also, the transport wheels as well as the folding feature make it easy to move either rower around, even if you are working by yourself.
Since the two units are quite similar in terms of construction, I expect that setting up the RW500 is almost identical—until you get to the part involving the tablet.
Here is where you have additional steps to deal with:
- • Power up the tablet.
- • Make sure that the Bluetooth connection is functioning.
- • Figure out where you want to put the tablet (over the console or somewhere else).
Again, it is more to juggle. I didn’t want to deal with those hassles, and with the RW900, I didn’t have to. I just powered up the screen and I was ready to go.
As a quick reminder, your free 1-year subscription to iFit isn’t live until you activate it. Call iFit and tell them your order number. They’ll handle the rest.
Which Rower Should You Get? My Recommendation
Let’s rewind and review what we have learned.
The RW900 and the RW500 are two NordicTrack indoor rowing machines that look almost interchangeable at a glance.
Both rowers feature dual resistance technology, smooth, fluid, quiet operation, and an ergonomic design.
They also offer 30 pre-programmed workouts and a 1-year membership to iFit for free.
The main differentiating feature is the 22” HD screen built into the RW900, whereas the RW500 has a 10” tablet.
The truth is, that the larger built-in screen makes a phenomenal difference in the rowing experience. At least in my opinion. Rowing with a small screen or no screen is just not my thing. I would get so bored so quick and I would eventually just get burned out on it. Which in turn makes it a waste of my bucks.
In my opinion as someone who has tested both machines and has used the RW900 for more than a year, it easily justifies the higher price tag.
The choice is yours. I think you’ll be happy with either rower. If you’re strapped for cash, go with the RW500. Otherwise, go ahead and get the RW900 and enjoy a much larger screen and a richer, more immersive rowing experience.
Now stop making excuses and get to rowing!
Have either one of these? Let me know how they have treated you in the comments below.