It’s hard to feel motivated to stay physically active during a long-term quarantine brought on by a global pandemic. You can’t go to a gym. You can barely go outside. Sure, you could run a marathon on your balcony, should you choose the path of lunacy.
Back when life was normal, my daily workouts mostly consisted of shoving my way onto various types of public transit. But now, even that joy is gone. We nonessential workers have been locked inside for weeks, and will likely be stuck here for months. Atrophy is setting in as my body is rendered more gelatinous each passing day.
Luckily, we tech-minded humans have at our disposal a crop of connected devices meant to replicate the experience of going to the gym or attending a workout class. Many people are hopping on Peloton‘s stationary bike. Others are choosing this device I tested, called Mirror.
Mirror is a tall, obsidian monolith that, as the name implies, is also an actual mirror. Shiny surface, bounces light into your eyeballs, all that stuff. If we’re reviewing the Mirror just as a mirror, it gets a perfect score. (10/10: Does reflect.) It’s meant to blend into the decor of your living room where, as a bonus, it can make you feel guilty every time you catch a glimpse of yourself not working out. And you will feel guilty if you don’t use it, since it costs $1,495.
There is, of course, more beneath the surface. Flip a switch at the bottom of the unit and that mirror becomes a screen, ready to display on-demand workout videos. Mirror’s closest competitor is probably the Tonal, a sort of vertical Bowflex that mounts onto the wall and unfolds its metal appendages into whatever configuration the selected workout demands. The Mirror is simpler. You can mount it on the wall as well, but it also comes with a stand. I just leaned mine against the wall at a slight angle and it worked great—no stud finder required.
The one-bedroom apartment I share with my girlfriend is small, to the point where just the idea of adding in a bookshelf makes me claustrophobic. The Mirror is as thin as a flatscreen TV and takes up very little space. The light footprint is a huge plus for people who don’t have room for bulky exercise equipment.
At the time I started testing it, the company offered free home installation with each purchase. A couple of friendly dudes from a logistics company lugged the box into my apartment and did all the work of installing the Mirror and connecting it to my Wi-Fi network. Since then, of course, a plague has forced us into isolation. Mirror has temporarily suspended its installation service for the sake of social distancing. The installation didn’t seem complex, but just know that if you buy one, you will have to hook it up yourself.
More important than its handsome looks, the Mirror is a vessel for content. Pair the device with the Mirror app and you have access to thousands of workout sessions, available on demand. Professional trainers appear onscreen against a pure black background to lead you through classes that run somewhere between 15 minutes to an hour. You can work out along to Mirror’s curated playlists or your own Spotify account, and adjust the volume of both the music and the instructor’s voice.
As you grunt through the exercises, you watch yourself reflected in the Mirror’s translucent surface. It’s a weird thing, staring at your sweating, wheezing self laid over the top the image of the trainer. But staring at your own reflection also allows you to pay close attention to your posture and form. This is how I realized, during a Mirror boxing class, that I have no idea how to punch something. Not without looking like a huge idiot, anyway.
“Any time you do an exercise and it looks unattractive, it’s probably not right,” says Rachel, a Mirror instructor, during a session of Cardio Bootcamp Level 1. Message received, Rachel.
In the pre-pandemic era, Mirror also offered live sessions that streamed at scheduled times. These have been put on pause so the Mirror staff can practice proper social distancing, but should resume later. During the live sessions, instructors monitored your heart rate and occasionally shouted out encouragement to you by name. The goal of this back-and-forth is to create a feedback loop of interaction that makes you want to come back to the Mirror again and again. While your “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” style pre-recorded workout videos do everything they can to make it feel like the viewer is engaged with a group of humans, the effect has never been entirely convincing. In contrast, Mirror displays the usernames of other people taking the class along with you. They can interact and respond to the instructor’s comments by sending emoji and sharing post-workout selfies. This simulation of community wasn’t convincing enough to make me feel like I had friends or anything, but it felt like a far more communal experience than following along with a YouTube video.
“When there’s someone else working out with you, your ego can kick in a little bit,” Rachel says in another cardio class. “Ego in a workout can be a good thing, as long as it’s positive.”
Ego has been a point of criticism for Mirror. The New York Times called it “the most narcissistic exercise equipment ever.” It has also gained a bit of a bourgeois status, thanks to its being embraced by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Alicia Keys, and Kate Hudson. There’s no doubt that this is a luxury product. The device itself costs $1,495, and you have to shell out another $39 a month for access to the live and pre-recorded workout sessions, which are constantly refreshed. Private one-on-one sessions with a remote personal trainer (when available) run $40 a pop. Add on a set of fitness bands or a heart rate monitor that pairs to the device for an extra $50 apiece. Still, it’s half the price of a Peloton bike. And you could probably find a yearly gym membership that’s cheaper, if you’re ever allowed to leave your house again.
Many home gym replacements are complete systems, like Peloton’s bike or Tonal’s arrangement of “digital weights.” However, many of Mirror’s exercises can be done without any extra equipment. Some of the advanced exercises require weights, kettlebells, jump ropes, and resistance bands. If you’re into fitness, these are things you probably have already. If not, you’ll need to complete your collection to get the full experience.
That said, I chose equipment-free exercises just about every time I used it, and those were no joke. Mirror’s classes let you choose between categories like cardio, strength training, yoga, pilates, and dance. They rank in difficulty from level 1 to 4. Those number ratings must progress logarithmically. I got pretty comfortable with level 1 workouts, but a level 2 core strength class kicked my ass inside of 15 minutes. (This is where another benefit of the Mirror reveals itself: it is far more socially acceptable to shout obscenities at a digital workout instructor than a real life one.) I’ve idly skipped through a few level 4 classes and I’m pretty sure they would kill me.
All told, the Mirror engaged me more than any other exercise machine I’ve used (doorway pullup bar this ain’t). It made working out—dare I say it—fun. Mirror knows it too. After all, the company’s business model depends on engagement for success. Some of the instructors are genuinely funny; they interject jokes or short anecdotes into their routines. There’s a whole section of classes called “Family Fun” that aims to include the whole household, kids and parents alike. During a live class, Rachel gave me a shout out because we’re both from the Bay Area. (Yeah, the Mirror knows your location.)
Of course, these were all features I experienced before the world went into lockdown and Mirror suspended live classes and personal training sessions. There are still thousands of pre-recorded lessons available on the platform right now, but if you’re looking for that direct connection, it might be best to wait until we’re all allowed to, you know, connect again.
The strange thing about the whole Mirror experience is that I found the hardware—the actual mirror device itself—to be the least useful part of it. The classes are great, the instructors are knowledgeable and personable, and the interaction aspect is neat. But those are all features that can be delivered through any screen. Once you buy a Mirror, you get access to a service called Mirror Digital that lets you do the workouts on a phone, tablet, or TV—presumably for when you’re traveling, or sheltering at your pied-à-terre. It would be a small step to make that experience platform agnostic. Additionally, lessons like Mirror’s are available through apps from companies like Peloton and Nike.
I am, of course, undercutting the entire point of the Mirror as an object. It’s an elegant piece of home decor. I get that. If I had the discretionary funds to justify it, I’d love to own one. But as an exercise ecosystem alone, I would be completely content just to have access to Mirror’s media offerings in a less restricted capacity.
To Mirror’s credit, that seems to be the direction the company is heading. Founder and CEO Brynn Putnam told me that she sees the Mirror as a conduit for content into the home. “I think really, at our core, we’re building a media company,” she said. She declined to get into the specifics, but said that within a couple years, Mirror content will be available through “multiple channels.”
So, that’s cool. It’ll be nice if at least one of those channels doesn’t necessitate buying a big, expensive piece of glass. I already have too many of those.