Pros: Good looking, simple, rigid, quiet, high quality, low price, low floor space
Cons: Resistance cylinders require readjustment several times during long workout. Long workout might cause back pain.
The design is elegant :
1) Curving handrails that follow the same curve of the central frame upright
2) Closely spaced parallel linkage bars keep the pedals level at all times
3) Inverted U-shaped handlebar connecting the handrails at the top
4) Gracefully intersecting curved frame uprights on an H-shaped base provide excellent rigidity and weight distribution
5) Simple, reliable hydraulic adjustable resistance cylinders (long length for viscous heat capacity).
It's very quiet due to the precision of the various nylon bushing fits, and the various joints which are quite rigid. There are no squeeks; only the faint sound of the hydraulic oil in the resistance cylinders.
In order to meet the price-point, nylon material (Graphite filled?) is used for the bushing material. Of course that material won't last as long as bronze, but until the bushings fail they will surely be quieter than bronze, and require no lubrication either.
It has a smooth pedal stroke of 13 1/2", which is greater than most machines costing up to 2 1/2 times as much. My girlfriend and I have tested steppers that provide only 10" (typical) pedal stroke and we both found these machines to be unsatisfactory. Yet I am 6'0" height and in good cardiovascular shape and she is 5'6" height and in poor shape.
I'm very impressed by the design of the machine and the precision of its manufacture. Although the machine was made in China, it was obviously made via numerically controlled machine tools because there were so many precise alignments in the design that could not be mass produced any other way. Both the design and manufacture of this machine was obviously computerized, and it struck me how the extensive technologies used to produce this machine were applied as well as is currently used to manufacture aircraft and fine automobiles.
A good match for the excellent fit of the components is its glossy, durable powder coat finish; far superior than ordinary paint, which is found on cheap home exercise equipment that is in the same price category with this machine.
Excellent instrument panel has separately labeled digital displays that enable you to view all parameters simultaneously.
Assembly is neither quick nor easy. It's tricky because of the many close fits. Assembly should be done by someone with mechanical skills, like myself. A rubber mallet and a length of wood about 1/2" dia x 5"-10" long is needed. A second mallet and a helper will save a lot of time when assembling the pedal linkages to the frame. It took my girlfriend and I 3 1/2 hours to assemble this machine. I don't believe the other reviewer's (apangle's) claim to have assembled it in 90 minutes without having damaged, skipped, or misassembled some parts. It takes 20 minutes just to unpack everything from the cardboard box.
The oil in the single-acting spring return resistance cylinders will gradually heat up, causing resistance to diminish and speed to increase. However, a 190 lb person like myself can start out on a setting of 2.0 (for a brisk, fast stepping workout) and incrementally increase the resistance settings on each cylinder all the way up to 12 in order to compensate for the diminishing oil viscosity that occurs throughout a workout. Thus, for a 30-minute workout the user must interrupt the stepping action several times to get off the machine and readjust the hydraulic cylinders.
Unlike a Stairmaster, the Edge 310 does not provide for forward stepping; you only step up, not up and forward. Although this diminishes the feel of a real staircase, it does, in conjunction with the parallel pedals, impart the feeling of downhill alpine skiing in deep, light powder! In fact, the machine can double as an excellent agility trainer for this purpose.
Until you actually test this machine your impression of it might be "form follows function", but perhaps the frontward curving handrails trade off a bit too much function for looks. Its side handrails are really only useful for helping you get off the floor and onto the machine. However if you set *any* stepper machine for a brisk rate of speed (if you're in good shape) then you will want to steady your balance with a light handhold; not to "cheat", but for safety. In this regard, a stepper machine is trickier than a real staircase. With this machine even a 5'-6" height person must bend slightly forward at the waist in order to get a handhold; and at that height (and taller) such a user will grip the upper handlebar, not the handrails along the sides. This causes the torso to bend slightly forward at the waist, which contributes to an increase in the strain on the lower back. So if you're either very agile (no handhold needed) or stepping at a low rate of speed (no handhold needed) or stepping briskly for only 15 minutes (holding on but not exercising long enough to cause back pain) then the machine should cause minimum discomfort of the lower back.
Keep in mind 3 perspectives about the strain on the lower back muscles. Lower back muscle strain is commonly experienced on *all* stepper models by people who have sensitive backs. And there are other types of exercise machines that cause equal or more severe strain of the lower back muscles than this one; such as a rower or a NordicTrack ski trainer. Moreover, the stepping action does in fact provide a nice exercise of the lower back that would otherwise be quite awkward to accomplish some other way. You just have to experimentally determine your personal limit of continuous minutes on this machine; know when to quit and quickly move along to another exercise to complete your total exercise session.
Also remember that no stepper works the arms, whereas cross-country ski machines and most elliptical machines work both the legs and arms.
The pulse rate sensor is a dubious feature. Each time you place your hands on the sensors it takes about 40 seconds for the display to count up to a steady state reading, and when that reading is compared to a chest worn Polar heart rate monitor with a wrist display, you realize that the display on the Edge 310 is off by about minus 10 beats (pulses) per minute. IMO, all of the other low cost exercise machines having dual palm sensors and pulse rate displays will probably function just as disappointingly in this regard. Only the more expensive machines that accomodate Polar chest sensor telemetry will give you responsive, accurate heart rate monitoring.
IMO the Edge 310 (nor any stepper) is not that great for long workouts, so don't select it if you want to stay on a single exercise machine. It's a fine "collector's machine", and its low price and low space requirement make it a good complement for other cardiovascular exercise machines that you own for circuit training. Multiple machines not only break the monotony of your workout session but work different muscle groups. For example, gliders, cyclers, rowers, treadmills, ellipticals and cross-country ski machines cannot work the calves like a stepper can. Use the Edge 310 for just 10-15 minutes along with other machines in your 30-60 minute cardiovascular workout session.