9 Highlights of NeoCon 2015
And we’re back! We spent three days sifting through the expansive floors of Chicago’s famed Merchandise Mart building to find the latest and greatest developments in the field of office fitness. The aisles brimmed with colorful office interior products of all kinds, from flooring to furniture. We waded through the thick of it and found a number of products we can’t wait to see in our labs. Here, check out some of the highlights from the NeoCon show. We’re currently in talks with some of these companies to get their products into our review queue. To make sure you don’t miss any of the full reviews we’ll be publishing, sign up for our free newsletter.
Ongo, a young German company designing active movement chairs, showed their lineup of products including the Ongo Classic and the Ongo Stand. The Ongo Classic is a round, backless stool design that incorporates a metal ball in a track that runs the circumference of its base. The seat allows you to shift position while resting, while the ball’s motion in the track provides auditory feedback encouraging you to move. Some people might find it annoying after a while and simply remove the steel marble from its groove. We’ll also note that home office cats would probably find it endlessly amusing. What really caught our eye in this booth was the Ongo Stand. It is styled in the same vein as Aeris’ Muvman and Focal Upright’s Mobis with a flexible pedestal and seat that allows the user to shift in place while perched on the chair. This is one that we’re very excited to get into our testing labs.
Versa Tables appears to be returning to the standing desk scene after a couple years of silence. We previously wrote a review looking at their various product lines from a few years ago, but since then we haven’t seen much new coming out of the company. When we saw they were exhibiting, we knew we had to stop by. It looks like Versa is building a new business unit they’re calling Zero Gravity Tables. Currently they offer what they’re calling a Deluxe Standing Desk on the Zero Gravity Tables site. This workstation looks similar to previous adjustable-height desk offerings by Versa, with some nifty new features like the option to have a whiteboard table top. We’ve reached out to the company to try and get a review unit in our labs.
Atdec and Loctek are two makers of monitor arms whose products we haven’t had a chance to examine closely before. Monitor arms are relatively straightforward products; they need to adjust up and down, forward and back, and accommodate a wide range of monitors. How a company executes on those goals, and extra features like cable management or power solutions built into the arm are what separate the good from the great. Both Atdec and Loctek displayed arms that we want to get into the lab for serious comparison testing. In the booth they both looked good, and showcased cleverly integrated cable management systems. Both even had a method of built-in power supply, which can help you keep your devices at full battery without cluttering up your desk top. We’re working on getting arms from these two companies into our review queue.
iMovR exhibited at the show for the first time this year, creating a sensation around its new ThermoTread GT treadmill desk and Synapse sit-to-stand meeting tables in particular. Now offering more adjustable height desk models than any other manufacturer, iMovR still appears to be the only maker exclusively using 3D lamination on its ergo-contoured surfaces. Three of their new desk products – the ThermoDesk UpTown, Omega Olympus, and Upsilon Electric were also on display. The real crowd draw, however, was the new treadmill with its full-color, touch-screen, LCD desktop controller. LifeSpan and Steelcase didn’t have anything new to show this year in the treadmill desk department. A Steelcase executive did note to us that they have no plans to revamp the WalkStation treadmill desk, now over eight years old.
Humanscale unveiled its Office IQ software. The program was written for them by a software company out of the Detroit area called Tome. In a nutshell, Office IQ uses passive infrared sensors to determine when an adjustable height desk is in use and tracks the amount of time you spend sitting versus standing. Additionally it will allow you to program in your own goals for time spent upright every hour and an accompanying desktop program or smartphone app will send you reminders and track your goal progress. At the organizational level, Office IQ will enable management to compare company-wide statistics, offer healthcare incentives for meeting your goals, and track leaderboards across the company or between departments. The software will be available for enterprise customers, and is retrofittable to previously purchased Humanscale sit-stand furniture.
Autonomous AI, billing itself as the world’s first smart desk, displayed a prototype of their forthcoming desk in a pocket-sized booth. The desk made a large splash on Kickstarter, finishing its campaign at over five times its requested funding goal. The unit they had on display looked like it had been through the wringer. The tabletop was chipped in sections, and areas of the lifting legs were marked with long, black streaks where it appeared that the paint had come off. Moreover, the powder-coated top left us quite underwhelmed. It appeared as though the coating was applied thinly with the goal of preserving the wood’s grain pattern. In practice it came off more as an unfinished woodshop project than anything else. Showing their pre-production model in this state at the famed NeoCon show—brimming with interior design divas, where no cosmetic imperfections go unnoticed—was a choice which had us scratching our heads.
We did get to see how the AI assistant was going to be implemented. There was a relatively large oval console attached to the desk on a short stand. The oval featured a woman’s face and shoulders, to represent the assistant. The assistant functions much like Siri or Google Now does on your phone by accessing connected apps and executing spoken commands. At this time, the AI is fairly barebones, but Autonomous is putting a lot of development effort behind the platform. While we’re curious as to how the AI progresses, we also find ourselves wondering what place the platform has in the age of smartphones whose functions are very similar and already much more developed. At any rate, the quality of the desk we saw left much to be desired.
And last but not least, ESI brought two new desktop risers to show in their permanent showroom at the Merchandise Mart. The Lift riser takes aim squarely at the popular Varidesk riser. It features an edge clamp that can be mounted to the front or the rear of the desk and operates via a handbrake that, when squeezed, allows you to lift and lower the work surface. The Lift also has a dropped keyboard tray, and minimal arcing (when the work surface swings forward as you adjust it down). Our favorite thing about what we saw over the Varidesk? Quiet. The Lift is noticeably quieter than the Varidesk’s loud, clanging locking pin method of adjusting.
The other riser we saw from ESI was the Climb, which took inspiration from Ergotron’s WorkFit-A riser. Like that riser, the Climb is a large, adjustable arm on which you would mount your monitors and from which extends a work surface with a dropped keyboard tray. The large arm extends from a post that mounts to either the rear or the side of your desk and can support up to two monitors. The entire assembly is adjusted by squeezing a hand brake and moving the riser to where you want to it be. Let go and the arm locks in place. We liked what we saw, though we did have some concerns over its bulkiness. We are in talks to get both the Climb and the Lift into our labs.
All in all, this was an excellent NeoCon show, and we were thrilled to see the new and growing amount of support for people looking to switch to a healthier way to work. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any of our reviews of these products and more!