Note: This is a review, click here to visit the Sole F80 site.
Overall Assessment: For features, functions, and overall quality at a very reasonable price, I think the Sole F80 is an outstanding value.
As of this writing, we've had ours for 5 weeks, logged over 100 miles, and been through every workout numerous times. In general, the F80 has exceeded my expectations. It actually makes treadmill workouts "fun" - something I never expected. The standard preprogrammed workouts all vary the speed and/or incline about once a minute, alternating between stress and recovery. There are no long boring slogs (unless that's what you want - then you just go manual).
And the display screen provides so much feedback that you're always aware of exactly what's going on and what to expect next. That makes the time pass quickly, so that when I stop exercising, it's because I'm tired; never because I'm bored.
And one more point: it's a pretty machine. The fit and finish are nice, I like the choice of colors, and the whole setup looks pleasant and inviting in our exercise room.
The Worst problem we've experienced is the chest strap for the heart rate monitor. It's unreliable, and we can't seem to find any way to fix that. At first I thought it might be a battery problem; but changing the battery didn't help (and by the way - that's a tedious task involving four micro screws).
Fortunately, I had an old Timex heart rate monitor and the chest strap from the Timex works perfectly with the F80. It turns out that there are several inexpensive heart monitors that claim to work with "heart rate interactive treadmills and gym equipment," so if you want accurate heart rates - budget an extra $35-$40 to buy one of them.
Delivery and setup: The F80 came packaged in one gigantic box weighing 304 lbs. Fortunately, the delivery crew (from Sears) took it directly to our exercise room and set it up for us. They were very experienced and had it up and running in about 30 minutes. There were no obvious problems with the assembly other than the usual issues with a couple of blind nuts. From watching them assemble it, I'd say that I could have had it set up in about 90 minutes, allowing for the normal amount of trial and error (but I was very thankful to have them do it for me).
The F80 worked perfectly from the start, except, perhaps, for a rhythmic thumping noise that's most noticeable at the very top speeds - 10-12mph. But then again, I'd never run that fast on a treadmill because of safety. At reasonable speeds the F80 is a quiet, smooth running machine.
Display screen: The display screen is outstanding. I absolutely love it. It shows incline, distance, countdown clock, your speed, heart rate, and number of calories. It graphically displays your heart rate as a percent of maximum (based on your age), and it shows you your progress around a quarter mile track. A bar graph inside the track shows you exactly where you are in your workout program and what to expect next. With all that information feeding back to you, the workouts never get monotonous.
Approach to training: As a former marathon runner, I'm used to starting each run with a certain distance in mind (x number of miles), and then trying to run it in a specific time. The F80 turns that on its head: you specify workout time (say 20 minutes) and maximum speed (usually 6mph for me), and the distance ends up being just an interesting statistic at the end. The F80 approach is much more enjoyable, and probably more beneficial; but it did require a change of mindset on my part.
I keep my individual workout times short - anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. But I'll string three, four, or five workouts together in a single session lasting up to 90 minutes; similar to the way a weight lifter will divide his total workout into "sets." I think that's the best approach for getting an effective, well rounded workout without the drudgery normally associated with treadmills.
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Workouts: I use all of the preprogrammed workouts, and find that I prefer them over manual controls. Each workout begins with a 3 minute warm-up and ends with a 3 minute cool down (you can bypass these if you're in a hurry). The system manages things so that every minute or so you're getting a different speed and/or incline; but it never exceeds the maximum speed that you specified at startup. Generally speaking, one or two minutes of stress will be followed by one or two minutes of recovery, so it never gets overwhelming, but it still gives you a great workout.
Individual workouts vary according to their names. For example, the "Hill" workout alternates between segments of high speed/low incline and low speed/high incline. "Fat Burn" maintains a steady speed throughout most of the workout, but varies the incline. "Cardio" alternates mild stress with mild recovery to achieve a gradually increasing heart rate. "Strength" uses lower speeds and higher inclines to build leg strength. And finally, the "Interval" workout is similar to "Cardio," but more extreme - higher speeds and steeper inclines, interspersed with easy walks for recovery.
Of course, you can create custom workouts or just go manual if you prefer.
One gripe though: the HR1 and HR2 (heart rate) buttons are useless. In those workouts, the system tries to keep your heart rate constant at either 60% (HR1) or 80% (HR2) of your theoretical (age based) maximum. You manually select a speed, and the system moves the incline up or down as required to maintain a constant heart rate. The problem is that it takes time for the heart to adjust to different stress levels; but the F80 is very impatient. At the start of the workout, it's frantically jacking up the incline until it forces your heart to work too hard; and then it goes just as fast in the opposite direction while flashing "Reduce Speed!" messages across the screen. After a few minutes, it settles down; but starting out is always a pain. Therefore, whenever I want to maintain a target heart rate, I just use the manual controls. It works much better that way.
Criticisms from other reviewers:
Speed up/Slow down times: Some people have complained that speeding up and slowing down takes too long. I have no idea what those people are talking about. The treadmill is exactly as responsive as it should be. You can jump it up in two mph increments using buttons on the console or fine tune it with 1/10 mph buttons on the handle. In either case the belt gains and loses speed in a perfectly reasonable manner.
Fans: I've read that the cooling fans are ineffective. I'm not sure if that's fair. They won't blast you off the belt, but they do provide noticeable cooling - if they're aimed correctly. That's important. In their original position the fans are aimed too high for my 5'9" frame; but they can be rotated lower. Some people might not realize that.
Drink holders too low: There are two drink holders on a cross brace that probably is too low to be reached from a moving belt. But there are also pockets higher up on the console where you can easily store a water bottle or two. For myself, I never drink while the belt is moving; that's just a common sense safety rule.
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