Before I begin my rant, I want to note that the etymology of dumbbell is more interesting than “stupid barbell,” but I’m allowed a bit of artistic license on my own blog. With that out of the way, let me get into this rant.
I still don’t (and likely never will) understand the modern obsession of taking perfectly functional things and making them dysfunctional by connecting them to the Internet. Nike still holds the crowning achievement for its “smart” shoes that became bricked by a firmware update. But the quest to match or exceed Nike continues. Nordictrack is obviously gunning for the crown with its “smart” dumbbells:
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 weights using voice commands to Alexa. Though, fortunately, you don’t have to since there’s also a knob that lets you change the weights manually.
Setting up the dumbbells is easy. All you’ve got to do is download the iSelect app for iOS or Android and then follow the prompts to pair the dumbbells over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. (The latter is for firmware updates.)
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but why in the hell would anybody want to take perfectly functional weighted chunks of metal and complicate them by adding wireless connectivity, voice commands, a phone app, and firmware updates? Changing weights on adjustable dumbbells isn’t complicated or time consuming. And if you, like the author of the linked article, are concerned about the ruggedness of a physical retaining mechanism, why would you have any faith in a mechanism that is electronically controlled?
If you want adjustable dumbbells, there are a lot of excellent options on the market. Rouge Fitness makes dumbbell bars that accept plate weights. Powerblocks are oddly shaped, but built like tanks. There is also the Nüobell, which maintains a classic dumbbell profile. All of these options are within $100 (after the addition of weights for the Rouge bell and assuming you get the 50 lbs. version of the Nüobell) of the Nordictrack iSelect, are built significantly better, and won’t stop working because the manufacturer pushed out a botched firmware update. There are also adjustable dumbbells on Amazon that are much cheaper than any of these.
There’s no reason to make dumbbells “smart.” The feature set of the iSelect demonstrates that. The only thing the “smarts” let you do is adjust the weight of the dumbbells with Alexa voice commands (and brick the dumbbells with a bad firmware update, of course). And according to the article, the voice commands are slower than using the physical knob on the stand so that single feature is more of a hindrance than a benefit.
As another aside, I chuckled when the article listed “No mandatory subscription” under the pros. The prevalence of tying “smarts” to subscriptions is so great that a “smart” device can earn points by simply continuing to function if you don’t pay a subscription fee. That tells you more than you might realize about “smart” devices.