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 Editors’ Scorecard rating on the VariDesk, not because of any flaws in the product, but because the 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 as well as the WorkFit-S and WorkFit-A risers 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. There’s now also a VariDesk Laptop unit that weighs only 39.4 lbs and is 30″ wide by 17″ deep.
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. You’ll want to mock up the footprint of the VariDesk on your desktop before deciding between the Pro and the Laptop/Single, to see what you would have to move and if you could live with the desk reconfiguration. The unit comes in three different width variations (Dual, Single and Laptop) for this very reason.
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 as you DO NOT want to pull your monitors off the back of your VariDesk because the cables are too short when you’re 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 on 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, the rest of the office gets notified as well.
While this 11-stop positioning system seemed great when we first tried it, the newer units on the market actually allow for an infinite range of adjustability, which we have to say we find preferable in most circumstances.
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.
Some users find that all this moving back and forth is too cumbersome, and soon get to the point where they simply leave the desktop in the standing position and move the whole laptop down to the keyboard tray to assume the sitting position. Probably not what VariDesk was designed for, but a good workaround for some users. Again, newer desktop riser designs don’t suffer from this issue.
Working at the VariDesk is natural and intuitive. It feels great to be able to go quickly from sitting to standing with no noticeable degradation in efficiency or typing accuracy. When using a monitor along with a laptop, you may find yourself moving both screens from the back of the desk to the front of the desk as you shift from standing to sitting. This is because at a standing height, the VariDesk actually rises up AND moves towards you (providing a better ergonomic setup) to the point where it’s hovering out over the front of your fixed desk.
The monitor’s best position is at the back of the desktop. But when you sit down, the desktop returns to its natural position and pulling out the keyboard tray (which pushes you even further away from the desk) will increase 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.
The coffee slosh test
We were really concerned at first glance that putting any weight on the front of the VariDesk in the standing position (using the desk as an anchor to type) 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. The desk is well balanced, and you can probably see where those 40+lbs of weight come in handy.
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, and their coffee cups (a standard test at WWW is the lateral stability “slosh” test). We couldn’t figure out any setup would lessen this shakiness, and while not a huge issue, some may nevertheless find the light screen shake somewhat annoying. This is something you’ll just need to accept or get a separate monitor arm 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, not the kind of vendor we’re used to seeing in this business. VariDesk started out as a pet project within the company better known for Halloween costumes, 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 Ergo Desktop, Ergotron and others have stepped up their game with new and exciting offerings.
VariDesk’s warranty 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 aesthetics and function. With a few things to consider – moving your monitors back and forth based on sitting/standing position, slight monitor shake while typing, giving up some desk space, and length of peripheral cables – it’s a pretty good deal for about half the price of the least expensive variable height (crank-up) desk you can buy.
However, the biggest drawback of the design that other products in this category don’t suffer from is this: when we go from sitting to standing most of us find that we like a little greater distance between the keyboard and the monitor. On the Kangaroo and Ergotron WorkFit products monitor height and keyboard height are separately controlled, which turns out to be a huge advantage over the VariDesk’s design. So huge, in fact, that it’s become a standard feature in most desktop risers. Many companies, among them Kangaroo, Ergotron, HealthPostures, and Ergotech have long since adopted the dual ergonomics design; so, the VariDesk is no longer the only option on the market, and it’s far from the best.
The alternative with the VariDesk is to either add a desk-mounted monitor arm – at which point you might as well just invest in one of the more expensive full-featured units – or adjust the base stand of your monitor(s) every time you switch from sitting to standing and back again. That can get old pretty quickly, so for that reason alone we strongly urge our readers to examine the other offerings in this category.
The Varidesk Laptop variant also needs an accompanying warning. Don’t let the name fool you – it’s a bad idea to use a laptop on a sit-stand riser without an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Placing your keyboard and your monitor at the same level is an invitation to neck pain, as you’ll likely wind up sharply craning your neck to keep your screen in sight.
Lastly, in terms of decor, some users will appreciate the wider range of finishes of competing products like the Kangaroo, in contrast with VariDesk’s one-color-fits-all basic black.
Footnote: another great use for the VariDesk
Another application we see with high potential for the VariDesk is in conference room settings where the ability to both sit and stand would be of great benefit, depending on the meeting type. We foresee the VariDesk popping up in meeting rooms around the world because of its versatility while integrating with current furniture setups, rather than requiring the replacement of existing desks and tables.
These days most people come to meetings with a laptop or tablet computer. Smart companies will soon figure out that placing a variable-height desktop riser like the VariDesk at each position around the conference table would allow everyone in the meeting to have a comfortable standing position. Standing meetings are faster, more productive, and relieve everyone who attends of just that many more hours of sitting, which we all know is very bad for your health.
In this one application the VariDesk seems to have the best design, accommodating users of all heights and not creating an awkward visual obstacle between different people around the conference table.
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. Made of attractive and solid materials. 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. 11-stop adjustability is not as versatile as infinite adjustability on other models. Lack of ability to separately adjust height of the monitor and height of the keyboard is probably the biggest design drawback. Visible monitor shake and light liquid sloshing in cups when typing in the standing position. Have to be careful when transitioning to standing not to extend monitor and peripheral cables too far, pulling them off the VariDesk.