The standing desk revolution is on – adjustable height desks have hit the mainstream, and are growing more popular by the day. Still, there are plenty of people who just can’t let go of their old desk – or don’t have the budget for a brand new one – and who opt instead for a “desktop riser.”
A desktop riser is a device that sits atop or clamps to a regular desk and allows the user to raise their monitor and keyboard up whenever they want to switch from sitting to standing. A very clever, and relatively inexpensive alternative to being stuck in the chair all day. But there’s clever, and then there’s really clever.
When the VariDesk first came out mid-2013 the Editors at WorkWhileWalking gave it a rave review, and it sold like popsicles at the playground on a hot summer day. We’ve since had to drop the Experts Rating on the VariDesk, not because of any flaws in the product, but because competition has been flooding into the market and there are now even better choices for the money. The Kangaroo and Wallaby line of risers from ErgoDesktop, the One-Touch line from Erogtech Group, and the WorkFit-S riser from Ergotron have become so popular that the manufacturers have had a hard time keeping up with orders.
Before we proceed with the review of the VariDesk we invite you to read our recently updated Desktop Riser Derby, a comparative review of our top choices in the category.
The VariDesk comes fully assembled, which is nice. It’s a little awkward to get out of the box, and has some serious weight. The weight is great for stability once installed on your desk, but you should definitely recruit a friend to help you unbox it, and whenever you need to move the VariDesk around.
Three Models to Choose From
The VariDesk Pro unit (aka “VariDesk Dual,” designed for dual monitor use) is 36” wide by 20” deep and weighs 47.3 lbs, while the VariDesk Single (designed for single monitor use) unit weighs in at 41.5 lbs and is 30” wide by 20” deep. Each of these models also comes in a “Plus” variant, which includes a 7″ independently height-adjustable keyboard tray.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the Varidesk is how large it is. Varidesk Pro units give you plenty of office-sprawl accommodating workspace; on the other hand, make sure you can actually fit one of these monsters on your desk. Since the unit pretty much fills the worksurface of many desks, you’ll want to mock up the footprint of the VariDesk on your desktop before deciding whether or not to get one, to see what you would have to move and if you could live with the desk reconfiguration.
To set up your VariDesk workstation, you simply move your monitor(s) on to the VariDesk’s upper platform along with any other peripherals that you want close at hand. Check your cables carefully in all positions because you DO NOT want to accidentally pull the monitors off the back of a VariDesk because the cables are too short when moving to the standing position.
We also recommend a wireless keyboard and mouse for use with the VariDesk, as you’ll have your keyboard and mouse on the keyboard tray when in the sitting position and will need to move it to the top platform when standing. Those using a laptop will likely just use an external keyboard/mouse when sitting but use the laptop’s built-in keyboard and mouse pad when standing.
To move from sitting to standing, you loosen the 2 screws (one on each side) of the keyboard tray and push it in – this gets the tray out of the way. You then push down slightly on the desktop to release the springs, pull in the two adjustment levers, and lightly lift up. The desktop will begin to move and you can release the desktop in any of the 11 total positions available. Most of the time you won’t stop the top in a locking position, but a quick push down or up after releasing the adjustment lever will audibly lock the top in place. Operating the levers produces a surprisingly loud clang, with another, even louder report coming once the Varidesk locks in place. On one hand, it’s easy to tell when you’ve reached the right spot: on the other, it’s difficult for the rest of the office to ignore.
While this 11-stop positioning system works, it pales in comparison to the level of adjustability offered by newer units on the market which allow for a continuous range of adjustability. In addition to being vastly quieter, these new models give users greater flexibility to find their individual, ergonomically-ideal positions and is a standard feature on Ergo Desktop’s Kangaroo and Wallaby risers, Ergotech’s One-Touch line, and Ergotron’s Workfit-S.
Staff reviewer Dustin reports “I never got over the concerned feeling that arose every time I moved my desktop from position to position because the monitor would shake and move around ever-so-slightly. The monitor never fell off, but I was always extra careful and think I’ll probably always feel that way. When just using my laptop, this was no issue at all.”
Moving back into the sitting position is as easy as pulling in on the adjustment levers and pushing down on the top until you’ve reached the bottom position. If you’re using a laptop, there’s no way to continue typing directly on it from the sitting position. The laptop is too high and too far away, so you’ll have to have an external keyboard and make use of the keyboard tray.
If you’re using an external monitor, the best position for it when standing is at the back of the desktop. But when you sit down, the desktop returns to its natural position and the Varidesk keyboard tray pushes you farther away from the desk. This in turn increases the distance between you and your monitor. The best place we found for the monitor while in the sitting position was at the middle-front of the desktop. This means one extra step to make every time you move from sitting to standing and back again.
Some users find all this fine tuning of peripherals just to go up or down unnecessarily cumbersome. Eventually, they simply leave the desktop in the standing position and move the whole laptop down to the keyboard tray to assume the sitting position. Again, newer desktop riser designs don’t suffer from this issue.
Neither the flat keyboard tray on the basic Varidesk models, nor the suspended one included on the Plus variants allows the user to set negative tilt. Both the Ergotron Workfit-S and the Ergotech One-Touch risers offer users the ability to achieve a much more ergonomically-correct typing position, especially when standing.
We were really concerned at first glance that putting any weight on the front of the VariDesk in the standing position would cause the desk – and everything on it – to topple over towards the user. We were pleasantly surprised at just how sturdy the desk felt in this position once we tried it out. We tested a lot of weight on the front of the desk and it never felt like it was going to topple.
One thing that all the reviewers noticed during their testing of the VariDesk while in the standing position, however, is the transfer of typing vibration to the monitor. We couldn’t figure out any setup that would lessen this shakiness, and while not a huge issue, some may nevertheless find the light screen shake annoying to the point of distraction. You’ll need to either accept this or get a separate monitor arm for your desk to keep the monitor isolated from your typing surface. Other products in this category have stabilizing mechanisms to minimize the shakes.
The VariDesk is made by Gemmy, a company that typically produces holiday decorations like inflatable Santas or skeletons with light-up eyes to put on your front lawn. VariDesk started out as a pet project within the company, and is still not spun out as a truly separate entity. This leads us to question their long-term commitment to this market. As fast as they came hurtling into the desktop riser category they’ve already been caught resting on their laurels as more and more companies have stepped up their game with new and exciting offerings in this fast-growing (and increasingly competitive) product space.
VariDesk offers a limited one year warranty that will cover any failure from normal usage free of charge, as long as the customer pays the freight to send the product back to the VariDesk warehouse in Dallas, TX. If they determine your unit was damaged through misuse or abuse then all repairs and return shipping will be at the customer’s expense.
Overall this is a decent enough product that was designed for function more than aesthetics. With a few things to consider – moving your monitors back and forth based on sitting/standing position, monitor shake while typing, giving up desk space, and length of peripheral cables – it’s not a bad deal. Varidesk remains the low cost leader of desktop risers.
However, other products in this category don’t cost much more and for the small jump in price you get a much better-designed product. For instance, on just about every new riser product, the monitor height and keyboard height are separately controlled, which turns out to be a huge advantage over the VariDesk’s somewhat rudimentary design. The Plus and Pro Plus models do boast a height-adjustable keyboard platform, but the four inches of height-adjustability is small potatoes compared to other risers, especially without a solution for monitor ergonomics. Many companies, among them Kangaroo, Ergotron, and Ergotech, have long since brought out dual monitor solutions; so, the VariDesk is no longer the only option on the market, and it’s far from the best.
Solving the annoyances inherent in the Varidesk design necessitates the purchase of additional products, like a separate monitor arm. And at that point you’re coming pretty close to the price point of these better-designed risers anyway.
In short, like the protagonist dating a jerk at the beginning of a terrible rom com, you deserve much better.
Footnote: On Varidesks and Conference Rooms
Previously we wrote on the VariDesk finding a home in conference room settings where the ability to both sit and stand would be of great benefit, depending on the meeting type. After all, standing meetings are faster, more productive, and relieve everyone who attends of just that many more hours of sitting, which we all know not to be bad for your health. Here again however the Varidesk has been outpaced by other companies’ products.
iMovR and Focal Upright Furniture have both brought adjustable height conference tables to market. The iMovR Synapse line of adjustable height tables and the Focal Confluence Collaboration Table are both currently available and are our pick for the best solution to take meetings out of your seat and onto your feet.
The VariDesk Sit-to-Stand Desktop Riser offers easy transitions between sitting and standing at your current non-height adjustable desk, featuring 11 different height settings. Stable on your desktop - even with substantial force pressing down on the keyboard area it will not tilt off the desk.
Strictly limited to sitting and standing, no potential to use with a treadmill under your desk. Eleven-stop adjustability is not as versatile or quiet as continuous adjustability on other models. Visible monitor shake when typing in the standing position. Be careful when transitioning to standing not to extend monitor and peripheral cables too far, pulling them off the VariDesk. Bulky unit is hard to move, and replaces your desk surface.