Pros: Quiet, easy, fun!
Cons: Bulky, fairly heavy.
OK, first of all, this model that I have is labeled the Gazelle Freestyle. I've noticed the other reviewers have a model with the same label, but theirs has the heartbeat monitor on the actual handholds. Mine does not include this, the computer actually houses the pulse-rate monitor now. Don't know if that means it's newer or older than the one pictured, but the box reads (c)2001 FitnessQuest. FYI. ;)
First, the bad: it's about 50 lbs., so if you're having it shipped to you, it's going to run you about $30. UPS Ground in the continental 48. I bought mine at a local MC Sporting Goods store, saved the shipping but paid MI 6% sales tax instead. It barely fit in the back seat of my '94 Camry (too wide for the trunk!)...
Folded up, it is not going to fit under your bed. Luckily I have mine in my basement (finished), so it's got plenty of living space to take up. I put two large lag eyescrews into the studs on one wall, and I fold it up and strap it into place with a heavy-duty black rubber bungie strap. That only needs to happen once a month or two... luckily... :)
Now, let's get to the meat.
The Gazelle Freestyle took about 30 minutes to set up (took my time examining the workmanship). Not only did it come with throwaway wrenches (didn't need to get out my socket set!), it also packed the parts nicely on a piece of cardboard with screws and parts labelled, and EXTRA PARTS in case you need them! Classy. I bought an office chair recently with the same packaging idea, very nice change.
I'm 6' tall; from what I gather reading other reviews, this machine is made for a smaller frame (like Tony's), and 6' to 6'1" is about the max height you should be to get much workout from it. My wife is 5'9", and she loves it to death! Keep in mind, you'll be off the ground about three inches, so if it's in your basement, and you have low clearance and are taller, you'd better watch your head! With my drop-ceiling, I came about three inches from hitting my head; no jumping around on this for me!!!
This machine works like an extension of my body. Once I worked out with it for a few days, it became second nature to hop on it in the morning before the kids awoke, and kick out a 10-minute session.
I had done a ton of reading up on this thing, and I had read the "horror stories" about people falling off it and having the shakes really bad. When I first stepped onto the platforms, I made sure I was slow and careful, and held onto the frame tightly! Heck, even my two-year-old knew enough to s-l-o-w-l-y step onto it (before I yanked him off).
As for shaky legs, yes, you'll get a bit shaky, kind of like being out on a sailboat for two days and jumping right onto shore. However, this is NO FAULT of the Gazelle Freestyle! Try strapping on a pair of inline skates after not working out for over a year, and you'll get a MUCH WORSE feeling in your legs and feet after skating for about 10 minutes...
Hence the reason to buy this exercise machine over many others. It actually does give your whole body a workout.
For the person who doesn't feel like watching the video, you will NEVER get the most out of this machine without doing so! Tony Little, while annoyingly upbeat and stereotypically over-buff, does his job, makes his money honestly, by helping you to not only learn this machine but your own body as well. He walks you through the major styles of motion on the Gazelle, then teaches you how to use the machine to do full stretches! This (according to FitnessQuest) is the only machine which allows you to stretch out correctly before your workout. And it hurts... :)
Next he starts out slowly (as a beginner should), and the entire time he's explaining the different muscle groups you're working out with each different motion, as well as the real reasons we need to exercise (not for wearing Speedos, but for increasing your energy levels, for keeping up with your kids, for sleeping better, for the mental jolt you'll give yourself, self-gratification, etc.). His music is fairly cheesy if you're into modern electronica or Euro-dance music, but gets the job done, increasing the beats per minute (BPM) where necessary, keeping a good tempo for most people.
The video has a timer in the corner; at about 10 minutes he lets the beginners know it's time to hop off, take a pulse-rate reading, and walk around a bit to let the muscles adjust to normal stretching. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! Trust me, any runner will tell you this, having something to do with the lactic acids building up in the muscles after strenuous activity. The muscles need to "come down" slowly...
You don't need to like him, but watch the video AT LEAST a couple times to get a feeling for the type of workout you need to aim for in order to get your cardiovascular workout. Too little "pump" and your heart rate won't be high enough for long enough to matter. Too much, and your going to strain or tear muscles.
There have been reviews of the machine emitting screeching noises after some months of normal use. I've had mine for a month with 15 minute per day use 5 days per week, no noise. It's obvious to me, though, that the noise would probably come from the main axle (the "hand bar" across the machine), as that's the part that gets plenty of motion. It's fairly well greased coming out of the package, but the instructions DO tell you to lubricate the parts, and tells you exactly what to use. On this part, they suggest petroleum jelly, though I'd probably use a silicone-based grease instead.
In the month I've used the Gazelle Freestyle, I've lost 3 pounds. Not a ton, but I'm not past a 15 minute workout, either, and I'm not doing the more advanced exercises yet. I'm also trying to find my own better mix for the music; I wish I could get just his vocals to mix over my own jams, because he does help coax you through those extra few minutes of a workout. I've tried doing the workout to just music, and it's not half as fun...
What I HAVE gained, though, is more energy, noticably more. My rear seems to be tightening a bit (HA!), my gut feels better. My thighs are MUCH tighter! I'm a computer systems admin, so I'm on a keyboard all day; I'm suffering from tendonitis in my elbows and mild carpal tunnel problems. Since starting the workouts, I've noticed that my shoulders don't ache as much at the end of the day, and my elbows feel a bit better. We'll see if the wrists are better after a bit more time.
I also sleep MUCH better; I'm writing this at 11:30PM, and I'm ready for bed, which is about 2 hours earlier than normal, and I wake up quickly in the morning now at 6:15AM. I'm noticing less moodiness in my wife (not out of shape, but she just had our second child six months ago, and really needed something to do exercise-wise); she will readily hop on the machine in the morning before me (screws up the distance meter but oh well!) and smiles a bit more. Note that all of this would be applicable for ANY exercise machine/workout tape, but it's important to me, as I feel it's partially Tony Little's great peptalking throughout the workout tape which brings it into perspective.
Overall, I'm extremely happy with it. It deserves 4.5 stars, not five, but I'll give it the bump up instead of down for this review! Buy it, but read up first.