Smart trainers are resistance units that wirelessly interact with apps and software to both record your efforts and control the resistance to replicate hills or regulate intervals. In this category, the Tacx Neo Smart is in many ways the best there is.
Shaped like Kylo Ren's Command Shuttle from the latest Star Wars, the Neo Power is sturdy, stable, quiet — and emits changing colors of LED light depending on how hard you're pedaling. With ANT+ and Bluetooth capabilities, the Neo Power is simple to connect to software like Zwift, TrainerRoad or KinoMap, and the changes in resistance as you pedal through virtual worlds or stomp through interval sessions is fluid and smooth. Further, the Neo Power has the most accurate power measurement of any smart trainer we've tried, using SRM and Stages power meters as comparative tools.
So what's the catch? Well, primarily the price.
We have four other small nits to pick: the small wobble at the axle, the fact that the Tacx computer software is PC-only, the need for a front-wheel riser block, and the controlled power parameters that allow for a little more variance than we'd like.
The wobble at the axle does make the trainer feel a bit less lifeless and static than others, but it's also a tad unsettling. The PC-only software isn't a big deal, really, as the best software out there are standalone products, not trainer-brand-centric offerings. The riser, similarly, isn't a big deal, but it is an oversight compared to the more convenient option of the competing Wahoo Kickr, which is designed to just put your front wheel on the floor for a level ride.
But there is no way around the price.
Pedal harder and the LED colors change. This is a little gimmicky — but the feel and power accuracy of the unit is not
Performance-wise, the Neo Power is outstanding. While there are magnets to help with resistance, this smart trainer isn't a typical magnetic or electro-magnetic trainer. Instead, a motor works with the magnets to act as an electronic brake, offering heaps of resistance — we weren't anywhere close to the 2,220w claimed ceiling — and power measurement that is dead on without the need for calibration. While we'd call a trainer that would hover within 15-20w of a reliable power meter roughly accurate, the Neo Power tracked within single digits of our SRM and Stages meter at all effort levels. Very impressive.
The Neo Power also produces up to 450 watts of resistance when pedaling slowly at 6km/h (3.7mph) to simulate incredibly steep climbs — up to a claimed 25-percent grade.
Related reading: Wahoo Kickr review
Zwift showcases the Neo Power's strengths. Pedaling on the virtual flats feels like riding actual flats — getting going requires overcoming some initial inertia, but smoothly, just like getting on top of a gear. As your avatar hits a climb, the resistance steadily ramps up. As you crest a hill and begin a descent, suddenly you can shift into a big gear and spin easily along, even coasting and easily getting back on top of the gear.
Using the Neo Power with the excellent training software TrainerRoad, the smart trainer will get you into the ballpark of the specified wattage, but won't hold the resistance as exactly on its own as will the Wahoo Kickr. You can drift +/- 15w of the specified wattage before the trainer adjusts. In some ways this feels more natural, allowing you to exactly control how hard you are riding, but it is a noticeable difference from the Kickr that some of the more persnickety riders may not like.
The Star Wars spaceship design is cool, but we'd prefer it was lower so you didn't need the front-wheel riser block
Notably, you can ride the Neo Power unplugged, even while connected to third-party software. To get the full resistance capability and the downhill coasting features, though, it needs to be plugged in.
Stealthier than the competition
The Neo Power isn't silent, but it is appreciably quieter than other smart trainers, which we've tested in the 79-90dB range when pedaling at 200w. The Neo Power, by comparison, hums along at 78dB.
While the LED light show is a little gimmicky, the overall performance of the Neo Power certainly is not. With a realistic interactive feel and impeccable power measurement, this smart trainer sets a very high bar.
You can use Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo on the unique cassette body. The steel plate behind the cassette has some lateral movement to it when pedaling