Anatomy of a Review
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What Goes Into a Review?
The office fitness industry is a fast-growing space. As the scientific consensus over the deleterious effects of sitting disease grows, more and more homes and offices across the country are witnessing the health and ergonomic benefits of both standing and treadmill desks. At the same time, newer office fitness products are entering the market every day, making it easier than ever to get more movement into your work week.
With an ocean of products already available and a constant deluge of new furniture and gadgets pouring in every day, simply keeping up with the market – let alone determining the best of the best – is a full-time job for everyone on our editorial and lab testing staff. We make it our mission to evaluate every desk, treadmill, riser, chair, and accessory under the sun. We take each product to task, testing every aspect of its specifications and performance, and empower prospective customers to make the best purchasing decisions for their sitting, standing, and walking needs – whether for the home or office.
Equipped with our knowledge of ergonomics, mechanical systems, and the office fitness industry, our team of experts tests each product thoroughly and with a scientific approach. You’ll find other “reviews” out there on the interwebs for the same products, but you won’t find any written by an experienced team like ours to the depth that we take our analysis on each product. Over the years we’ve developed rigorous testing regimes for each product category, and invested in proper test equipment to conduct detailed comparisons between competitors’ offerings.
The collective team’s in-depth analyses are then synthesized into a comprehensive review, where we relate our experience with the product, the good, the bad and the ugly. We also compare a product’s different features with others in the category, in a head-to-head comparison review. These charts provide an easy, apples-to-apples look at how products stack up against each other: that way, readers can quickly find the product that best meets their needs – whether it’s a particularly quiet treadmill, a standing desk with a hefty lift capacity, or the most affordable desktop riser.
For these comparison reviews, we also provide readers with guides walking them through the top criteria we used in coming to our recommendations, like our article “How We Found the Best Desk Cycle“. As we work to inform you on the latest products in the office fitness industry, we want to be as transparent as possible into our processes. We both want to keep you informed on the most important product criteria to consider when making your purchasing decisions, and to demonstrate the rigorous and meticulous standards we use in our reviews.
Why our reviews are the most trusted in the industry
One thing you won’t find here is “bought” reviews. It’s quite common for manufacturers to offer free product in exchange for a great review. For many bloggers this is just part of their business model, and that’s OK if they disclose it (which they usually don’t, unfortunately). While we do sell some of the products that we review, we limit our offerings ONLY to products that received at least 4 out of 5 stars both from our staff reviewers and from customers.
However, we complete our reviews before engaging the manufacturer in a conversation about potentially carrying their product, not after. If we have any conflict of interest on any particular product we always disclose this at the head of the review. We wish we could say the same for certain manufacturers who have chosen to create faux review sites giving their products solidly glowing reviews yet without disclosing the relationship.
There are numerous ergonomic products dealers on the internet that offer literally every product they can become a dealer or affiliate marketing agent for, regardless of quality, and publish only positive merchandising copy for all of them. We prefer to take the high road and offer only those products we’ve really put to the test and are confident our readers will love. And if there are downsides to any product we’d prefer to disclose them upfront so that the consumer is always making a fully-informed purchase.
How do we discover new products?
There are a few ways a product will fly through our radar. Oftentimes, we’ll come across something in our web searches or Google Alerts. This could be a new desktop riser on Kickstarter, a press release from an established furniture manufacturer, or even just a picture of a weird chair on Twitter.
Our own readers will sometimes clue us in on a product that they’ve found. They’ll reach out to us and recommend that we review it. In most cases we already have the product scheduled for review (our backlog can by 6-12 months in certain categories), but generally speaking, as long as the manufacturer is willing to provide a test sample we are always happy to oblige.
We also find a slew of new products by attending trade shows like NeoCon in Chicago or ErgoExpo in Las Vegas. And, every once in a while, manufacturers themselves will ask us to review their products. Numerous manufacturers have come to respect our process and the value of exposure to our readership, and will supply us with pre-production prototypes in order to get our expert review team to give them feedback before they finalize their designs. In those cases you’ll usually see a Sneak Preview on our site, and we’ll typically hold back on assigning an actual rating to the product until we can re-test a production sample of the finalized design.
As part of our overall review process, each product in our labs goes through three different stages. The first stage is written when we first hear about a product. If it interests us enough to pursue, we write a brief ‘Placeholder‘ review, which lists some of the basic details about a product – its specs, dimensions, price – and provides context about the company.
The next stage is our ‘First Look‘ article, which we write after receiving and assembling the product but before our final review. We provide more information about how a product looks, what kinds of features it has, and our first impressions of the product’s quality and performance. At this point in the process, our team is still testing the product and debating its pros and cons. Very often we will report on what verified owners are saying about the product on Amazon or other marketplace sites, but we will often point out why user reviews of office fitness equipment on Amazon tend to be inflated.
After all is said and done and we’ve finished evaluating the product and comparing it to any relevant competitors, we write our ‘Final Review.’ This review is a longer, comprehensive account of our experiences with the product, often including more photographs, lab test results, charts, and comparison tables. The product gets a star rating and a buy/don’t buy recommendation from our team.
Product Reviews, From Beginning to End
Unlike other articles you may find online, our product reviews begin even before we open the box. One of the most important parts of a product, which many manufacturers – and indeed many reviews – overlook, is the shipping process. How long does it take to arrive from time of order? Is it shipped through a parcel carrier, or by freight? What kind of packaging is used? How well does the box protect its contents – is there any visible damage to the product? These are things that manufacturers don’t advertise on their sale pages but are nevertheless important to potential buyers.
In fact, you’d be surprised how many times we’ve received evaluation units that were improperly packed and arrive the pieces damaged or missing. While we didn’t do this in the past, so you won’t find it on every review, we now routinely make a video of the process of opening the box and assembling the product, to give users an idea of what it’s going to be like when the product arrives at their home or office.
The next thing we evaluate is how well the actual product compares to the manufacturer’s published specifications – its dimensions, lifting capacity, noise level, power consumption, height range, transit speeds, etc. – and how they compare to similar products in the category. Again, you’d be surprised how often we find specs to be stretched a bit, or a lot. We’ve had treadmills arrive that were supposedly rated for users up to 300 lbs. die within 20 minutes of a 300 lb. walking on it, fresh out of the box.
We also look at unique, interesting features, especially ones that the manufacturer claims to have patented – bells and whistles that few, if any, other products offer. Many of these workplace solutions hedge their success on the unique innovations they bring to the table, which can help move the industry in the right direction. Examples of such innovation are the Focal Mogo‘s collapse-and-go design, Omega Desk’s SteadyType keyboard tray, the HumanScale QuickStand‘s cable seclusion method, the Winston’s hand brake adjustment mechanism, or the ThermoTread GT’s software package – game-changing features help these products shine in their respective categories.
Not Everything Can Be Measured With a Ruler
In addition to a product’s specs and features, we also evaluate its performance. This goes beyond the printed stats and features, and speaks more to user experience. We test each product under a variety of conditions and use-patterns, to get a sense of how most people should expect a product to perform. For example, the wider walking belt of the TR1200 treadmill base makes it more comfortable, especially for taller users, than the narrower TR800. And while the Ergotron WorkFit Floor Mat and the EcoLast Anti-Fatigue Mat are both 3/4″-thick, the EcoLast’s denser polyurethane construction gives it dramatically more comfort and support than the pricier Ergotron mat. When we review any product, we ask ourselves a few questions:
> Is it stable? Can users work on or with it without worrying about a distracting – or worse, dangerous – amount of shakiness? This tends to be the first thing we notice when we start our performance trials, and can make or break a review.
> Is it ergonomic? This will mean different things for different products, but a rule of thumb here is that the more adjustable it is, the better. One classic example of this is with desktop risers: those with easily-adjustable monitors – like the Kangaroo, which lets you change the relative height of the monitor, as well as its tilt, pan, and rotation – will be more ergonomically-sound than those with a more fixed monitor position, like Humanscale’s Quickstand, that can’t pan left or right.
> Is it quality? What materials are used in the construction, and where is the product made? How clean are the welds, if the product has welds, or how precise are the joint fittings? Will the product work just like it did out of the box in a year? In five?
In addition to performance, we also evaluate a product’s aesthetics. While we’re not holding any beauty pageants, these products are going into a home or business office so we do pay attention to a product’s looks. The exact aesthetic criteria we consider varies by product type, but the questions we are always seeking to answer are “Will this enhance or detract from a person’s office decor?” and “How many different finishes are available to match the user’s decor?”
For a more comprehensive list on how we evaluate and determine a product’s star rating, see our page on our review criteria.
What’s a ‘Forensic’ Review?
Naturally, having a live product to evaluate in our testing labs is always preferred, and lets us provide a complete, exhaustive review to readers, replete with photographs, video and test result charts. However, we’re not always able to receive an actual product to test. When we can’t get a product in the labs, but readers keep asking us about our opinions on it, that’s when the forensic review comes in.
Quite a bit of sleuthing goes into a forensic review, which is as close to investigative journalism as a product review can get. We dig through a product’s webpage to find its published details, and compare it with other products in the category. Because we don’t have the benefit of real-world testing, we can’t speak to a product’s performance with complete certainty, and we disclose this in the review. What we can do, however, is see what other people are saying about the product. Independent user reviews from credible third-party sources like Amazon can help paint a picture of actual customer experiences and of what one can expect after purchasing the product. Ultimately, we consolidate information about the product in question from many sources across the web into one, go-to document that offers our impression and prediction for how the product would perform.
Since a forensic review is fundamentally different from a full review, we label all of our forensic reviews as such in italic text above the main body of the review.
The process by which we review a product is long and sometimes arduous, but it’s one we take pride in. This long process is how we’re able to cut through marketing fluff and dive into the gritty details of every desk, riser, treadmill, chair, and accessory that comes through our testing labs. This meticulousness helps us provide you with as complete a review as possible so that you can make informed decisions about the products you buy, and make sure you get the office fitness you need.
Start finding what’s best for you with our product reviews. For a quick and easy overview of the products in each category, you can check out our comparison reviews for electric standing desks, standalone treadmill bases, adjustable-height desktop risers, and anti-fatigue standing mats, to cite but a few of the most popular ones. Be sure to sign up for our online newsletter, to see our review process in action and to stay up to date with all the newest products in the market.