The Varidesk Pro Plus and the Big Black Billy Bass

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the up position

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the up position

I am an antsy dude, generally, and with catastrophic posture while seated at work here in the converted dining room. Plus the alarming, if not entirely concrete, in my estimation, health effects of long-term duff-parking. I had been casually looking into stand-up desks but had been scared off by a) the pricing, b) that I would be 100% committed, even in my laziest moments, to standing and c) the dining room table having nowhere to go.

I then casually looked into sit-stand desks, until, on a particularly antsy day, I found myself pulling the trigger on the Varidesk Pro Plus.

These cost $350, with another $50ish for shipping. They are not sold in stores. In fact, they are sold by Gemmy Industries.

These two facts were, for a period of a couple of weeks of progressively more serious investigation, not positives. This is a big mechanical thing (three feet wide, 29 inches deep), the sort of thing one generally prefers to test before leaping into for the tune of $400. The fact that Gemmy Industries was the ultimate seller (they take pains to make Varidesk seem an entirely different entity) was somewhat more disturbing. Among their other products include inflatable Hello Kitties, Mrs. Potato Head Pumpkin Push-In Kits, and the Gangnam Style Easter Bunny. To make matters worse, I learned that these are the same people who brought us the Big Mouth Billy Bass.

But this hardware looked legit, had strong reviews and had won awards. Plus these people obviously have very good relationships with Chinese manufacturers. So I dropped the four hundy.

Varidesk Pro Plus in down position

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the down position (puggle not included)

The FedEx guy, ignoring the two-person lift instructions clearly printed on the box, shouldered it to the front porch and I wrestled it in. It was packed in the highest-grade cardboard I have ever dealt with, which my eight-year-old promptly recognized and claimed for godknowswhat.

I cleared the dining room table/desk and lifted the beast up there. I didn’t weigh it post-shipping, but the shipping weight is something like 56 pounds; the cardboard, which I hefted to the basement for my daughter, was at most 10.

And so, with that 333-word lead-in, the gist: Thing is great. I mean, rock solid. The negative reviews on Varidesk tend to refer to the mere “pro” (not “plus”) models. Regardless of whether you go pro or standard, you need “plus” because “plus” means there’s a keyboard tray that is permanently affixed 3.5 inches below the keyboard/laptop stand. This raises your effective monitor height/lowers the keyboard height. Plus the whole thing feels more like a sort of semi-enclosed workstation pod/cockpit. Though this may not apply to those who haven’t worked on a cherry dining room table for seven years.

While not vivid in the marketing materials, the Varidesk adjusts to several heights on the way up. I’m 5’10″ish and have it pretty much maxxed out. Raising and lowering is simple. I have a wireline printer connected via USB and other cables and they’re not obtrusive. The free software you can take or leave. You can set it to tell you when to sit or stand (I alternate), but the calorie counter is silly (counts gross calories, i.e. not the delta between what you’d burn standing vs. sitting, which is the operative value — though there’s a calculator a bunch of websites are using and I come in at about 40 more calories an hour burned standing).

So I turned the software off. But otherwise, I’m most pleased and do recommend it. It’s a good work space when in the down position and enables solid, comfortable, de-antsifying standing-and-working when raised. Perhaps most importantly, the Varidesk is proof that the Big Mouth Billy Bass and the Gangnam Style Easter Bunny are valuable products, if only because the same engineering team that worked those mechanical designs have now applied their skills — and maybe the underlying mechanics (is Varidesk just a big, black Billy Bass in disguise?) — to a product of serious functional value.

Autonomous SmartDesk 2 sit-stand desk: a review

Autonomous SmartDesk 2 image

The Autonomous SmartDesk 2, Business Edition, shortly after assembly.

It’s probably an overstatement, and it’s become cliché, but there’s enough truth to it that it bears repeating: Sitting is the new smoking. And so when shopping for a desk, the smart money is on sit-stand.

There are, obviously, simple standing desks. I have two problems with these. One, standing can become as monotonous as sitting. Two, I’m a writer and work odd hours, which means I play odd hours – in my case, this can mean going for a run over lunch. After running 6-7 miles, I typically want to take a load off my legs. So whatever the solution, it would have to be a sit-stand desk.

The folks at Autonomous sent me the equivalent of a review copy of such a desk. In this case, it’s a 53-inch by 30-inch, walnut surfaced, grey-undercarriaged SmartDesk 2 Standing Desk Business Edition (the link defaults to the $299 Home Edition; the Business Edition retails for $399 and pops up when you scroll down a slight bit and click on the Business Edition option; shipping and handling is $49 for either one).

At about 29 inches, just right for sitting.

The Home and Business Editions look the same. The difference is under the hood, so to speak: the Home Edition has a single motor that moves the desktop up and down from 29 inches to 47 inches, with a 220 pound capacity and a one-year warranty. The Business Edition on which I now type sports dual motors and rises from 24 inches to 51 inches, with a 300-pound capacity and a five-year warranty. Another difference between the two, and perhaps decisive to the highly impatient, is that the Business Edition moves up and down 2.3 times faster than the Home Edition’s one inch per second.

And at 51 inches, roughly armpit height for the average American adult male, and well into power-forward territory as far as standing-desk height.

Unless you’re using Olympic plates as monitor stand, I have a hard time imagining why one would need the extra 80 pounds of desktop weight capacity. Being able to go as low as about two feet could well benefit folks with small children, as that’s low enough for the tiniest of chairs. On the other end, I can tell you that 51 inches is up to roughly the armpits of a 5’10” adult male. For the record, someone my height will probably find the 40-42 inch range maximally comfortable – I’m at 42.1 inches as I stand right now. While writing the previous paragraph, I was at 29.1 inches.

As far as the speed of motion, 2.3 inches per second may or may not sound like a lot, but it’s about a foot every five seconds, which is pretty damn fast, as the below video shows.

While functionally similar, I will say that having electric motors do the work is much more satisfying than manually raising and lowering the Varidesk I use in another workspace. It also allows for leaning on the desk, which Varidesk users do at their peril while standing.

In addition to the manual up-down controls on a sleek black keypad anchored to the bottom of the desk, there are four preset options. You set these by raising or lowering the desk to the desired height, holding a button labeled “M” until the LED displaying this height starts to blink, and then pressing one of four buttons labeled 1 through 4. I’ve set two, at 42.1 inches and 29.1 inches. Press a button and, 10 seconds of quiet whirring later, the table arrives at the desired height like a dog much more obedient than mine. I imagine that, in an office environment, this feature might attract pranksters – who could, say, change my 29.1-inch preset 1 to the maximum 51 inches. I will not be teaching my daughters about the presets.

Otherwise, from a functional perspective, the SmartDesk 2 Business Edition is solidly built, looks sleek, has nice silvery caps in the far corners for plugs and other wires to descend through. Weighing in at probably 80-90 pounds, it doesn’t move at all with my typing despite being on carpet. In all, this is a very nice product to use. The question you might have, then, is how easy or hard it was to assemble. So let’s talk about that.

Probably the hardest thing about assembling the SmartDesk 2 will be getting in into your dwelling. That’s not all that difficult, either, really, thanks to the fact that it arrives in two boxes: The first, 38 pounds, holds the desktop; the second, 67 pounds, contains the legs, feet, motor(s), and control electronics. The desktop is unwieldy but not all that heavy; the legs etc. box is heavy but small enough to allow leverage. I moved them both around solo without a problem.

I will not drag you through the entire assembly process, which took just over an hour. My experience assembling various Ikea furniture was probably helpful, but this is straightforward, step-by-step stuff. The printed instructions sufficed; had they not, there are videos on the Autonomous website. I did take a few photos, which I’ll drop below. I will say that, unlike Ikea furniture, I assembled this with a sort of Christmas-morning anticipation, one which heightened right off the bat when I noted that the dual motors are called, technically, linear actuators. But you don’t rush these assembly experiences, I’ve learned from various Ikea fails (none cataclysmic). It all came together with impressive precision, and as with my Ikea constructions, I’m confident that the bolts are tight, having tightened them myself.

Bottom line: This is an attractive, robust piece of office furniture that looks great and is easy on both body and budget.

With that, I leave you with a few assembly-related images.

The SmartDesk in its travel duds.

 

The desktop upon opening of the box. The packaging, particularly around the edges, is damn-near bulletproof.

 

The undercarriage box upon opening. Lots of heavy foam padding here.

 

The desk, a little over an hour later, assembled and ready to go. The linear actuators are at the top of each leg, connected to the control box (center), which in turn is connected to the keypad (lower left). It is critical, at this point, to turn the desk over to enjoy optimum functionality. Note that Autonomous sends along cable stays for the truly organized; I made due with the twisty ties that had bound the cables during shipment.