Autonomous L-Shaped SmartDesk Review
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L-shaped standing desks are a big investment. And some of them, with this one being the prime example, require a tremendous investment in assembly time as well. In a field where choice of desktop sizes and colors should be a primary driver of consumer selection, Autonomous offers only one size and four color schemes. Low-quality components are reflected in the very short warranty, and that should tell you everything you need to know. The question is if you’re already investing $800 plus a couple of hours of assembly time, shouldn’t you look for something that’ll fit your space and decor better, last longer, look nicer and perform better?
|MSRP / List Price||$799|
5 years on the base
Only a single-stage (2-segment) electric lifting base is offered, with only a 19″ stroke. Shorter and taller users will have a poor ergonomic experience.
2.3 inches per second
Digital programmable controller with four height preset memories
Only one size: Full: 77”L x 64”W
Desktops are cheap, 1-inch-thick HPL (high-pressure laminate) with hard square corners and edges.
Limited to 28.5″ – 47.5″ due to only using a single-stage base.
Autonomous speciously claims 45 dB however the transit speed is boosted to 2.3 inches per second, making it sound more like a coffee grinder.
Box 1: 54″L x 12″W x 8″H x 51 lbs
|Typical Assembly Time||
Autonomous claims “easy assembly of 15-30 minutes.” But Autonomous makes a lot of outlandish claims. The reality is this desk will likely take you 1.5-2 hrs to build, some of while squatting low or on your back, and you will need help from a friend to turn the frame over without breaking it halfway through the assembly process.
Autonomous claims ANSI/BIFMA certification but they would not produce evidence of an independent lab certification.
|NEAT™ Certified by Mayo Clinic||
|Where to buy||
Buy on Autonomous.ai
Buy on Amazon
|Ease of Assembly|
|Quality and Aesthetics|
|Positives||Like all Autonomous standing desk products, this is the cheapest desk you can buy in the category of L-shaped standup desks. Very fast transit speed of 2.3 inches per second. Very lightweight at 95 lbs for the entire desk. Dual voltage 110-240V.|
|Negatives||Extremely laborious assembly process that Autonomous spins as "easy". No less than 84 bolts screws and washers to install using an Allen wrench. Only one size. Very low-quality components and a short warranty to reflect it. Only comes in a single-stage version with a short 19" height adjustment range stroke. Very fast transit speed means very noisy operation (as loud as a coffee grinder) and likely premature motor wear. Lacks anti-collision detection. Thin-gauge metal and cheap, low-density MDF tops are used to keep weight and shipping costs down.|
Cheap is the name of the game
As we discuss in our review of the 2-legged Autonomous SmartDesk, the founder of Autonomous likes to boast of his “scorched earth” prices that are so low that he will drive all other competitors out of business. Well, it’s been a few years since they hit the scene with their highly successful Kickstarter campaign launch, and their competitors are still around.
In fact, a quick scan of Amazon will show dozens and dozens of other commodity Chinese producers all in a race to the bottom with Autonomous. Higher-quality standing desk manufacturers that sell directly to customers or through dealers have ceded the Amazon marketplace to these brutally cheap competitors but have been thriving otherwise.
No one can deny that Autonomous moves a huge volume of product. They also get a huge volume of returns, warranty claims and customer service issues, but it’s all part of their business model. With a Gen-Z target audience, Autonomous’ market positioning is to be the first standing desk you’ll ever buy with your own money. Chances are it’ll also be your last Autonomous purchase, although just as with IKEA, they definitely have a fan club of consumers who like the fact that these Chinese-made commodity products are cheap, cheap, cheap. And they obviously don’t place a lot of value on their own time for assembling the product. Nor do they make a mental calculation of the higher cost of ownership in the long run when cheap components begin to fail and the desks need to be replaced.
L-desks are the largest and most expensive of standing desks, and as we review in our round-up of all the top-selling l-shaped standing desks on the market today, Autonomous pegs both the lowest price and the commensurate lowest rating among them. On the top end are desks that come in literally thousands of size and color combinations, with high-quality components made in the USA, and long warranties to match. The Autonomous L-Shaped Standing Desk comes in one size. Yes, just one. And four color schemes. That’s it. So let’s take a look at what you get for your money.
Welcome to the assembly line
There are basically three ways that commodity Chinese producers make their products as cheap as possible:
- Using the cheapest possible components
- Shifting as much assembly labor to the user as possible
- Using less metal and wood to reduce the weight of the product for shipping. Working against them these days, of course, are 25% tariffs, bringing the price gap between what you can get for your money with American-manufactured alternatives closer than ever. And that has driven the commodity producers to find even more shortcuts to reduce their costs and remain competitive.
The first thing you notice about the Autonomous standing L-desk is the sheer number of parts involved in the assembly. Autonomous is infamous for making specious marketing claims, and calling this assembly an “easy 15-30 minutes” is one of the most outlandishly false claims they make with this product. We counted no less than 84 bolts, screws and washers. Most of which install with a provided Allen key. You will absolutely want to have a cordless driver with the correctly-sized Allen wrench bit and Philips bit if you’re planning to build this desk.
Realistically you’re looking at an easy 1.5 to 2 hours of assembly, and that’s assuming you have a friend to help. Because of the very thin steel used on the frame components, the process of flipping over the base frame before attaching the desktops is a delicate one that requires at least two people, if not three to avoid breaking anything. This step is conveniently skipped in their 4-minute video and 4-page assembly manual, all deceptively contrived to make it look like assembling this desk is a cinch. The documentation is so short that it’s clearly written for someone who has some experience building standing desks before. Trying to save a few sheets of paper on an $800 desk seems anathema to us, but welcome to Autonomous’ cost-elimination culture.
Because of its design, you will need to get into a very low squat or work on your back to get the desktops screwed into the base and the controller attached. We recommend wearing goggles to keep the wood shavings from getting in your eyes when you drive the screws into the tops.
In point of fact, the Autonomous L Desk probably takes the record for the longest time required to assemble any standing desk product we’ve ever seen since we started writing deep-drive reviews of adjustable-height furniture back in 2013.
It is worth noting that whereas some of the sit-stand L-desks on the market are designed to assemble and disassemble, repeatedly, in under 10 minutes, the poor quality components used in this Autonomous desk pretty much negate the idea of disassembly and re-assembly. If you do move your office at some point expect a massive headache trying to take this desk apart again—it simply wasn’t designed for it. And you’ll probably need to pre-drill new holes for all the wood screws that hold the desktops down to the frame.
How it compares to other L-shaped standing desks
It is very hard to compare this offering to the mainstream standing l-desks from makers like iMovR, UpLift and Fully, first and foremost because unlike the others, this one comes only in one size: 77” L x 64” W. The color schemes of the very cheaply-made HPL (high-pressure laminate) desktops and the base are limited to just four: white on white, black on black, walnut on white, or walnut on black. Compare that to 22 3D-laminate colors and 36 solid wood finishes on the iMovR Lander L-Desk, for example.
As you can see from the photos and sketches above, there is not a lot of room to slide a regular-sized office chair in and out without hitting the left or right foot of the desk. You may find yourself tripping on the desk feet just trying to get into your chair if it’s one of those standard 5-caster office chairs with a ~29″ base diameter.
From a component quality standpoint, the Autonomous unit is the very definition of bottom drawer. The lifting columns and frame components are made of the lightest possible amount of steel you could get away with and are not designed to last as long as competing brands. This is reflected in the short five-year warranty as compared to the seven to ten years offered by competitors. L-desks are typically not subject to any wobble at all, with three feet planted firmly on the ground. The third leg on this desk has no foot, however, and combined with the low-quality steel and light weight of the entire desk, the result is just surprisingly wobbly. This is the first L-desk we’ve ever seen with a wobbly base and weak connection at the seam of the two desktops.
The desktop warranty is only one year, versus five years on quality tops, and we’d be surprised if they lasted that long before starting to degrade. The tops are 1″ thick obviously made with low-quality MDF cores despite Autonomous’ marketing claim that they are “heavy duty.” They fingerprint easily, and the frame support where the two desktop segments meet is so insufficient that it’s possible to make one of them wobble back and forth by leaning on it.
Features we’ve come to expect in cutting-edge standing desks like Bluetooth sync to a smartphone app, anti-collision and anti-tilt sensors, not to mention whisper-quiet operation are missing from the Autonomous desk. But you really can’t expect these niceties at this price point.
Among its arguably false claims, Autonomous’ website says that this L-desk has ANSI/BIFMA certification. That would be impressive, if true, given the component quality. However, the certificate isn’t on the website and we couldn’t get a copy from the company. It’s also unclear which certification they are claiming. For standing desks the main certification is X5.5-2014, but there are also the G1-2013 Ergonomic Guidelines—which this product definitely does not comply with. G1 deals with height adjustment range, which requires that the 95th percentile of seated females and 95th percentile of standing males will be able to use this desk.
Autonomous cut every corner possible to hit an $800 price point, but the most egregious deficiency is its single-stage lifting base that cannot go lower than 28.5 inches. For G1 compliance it would need to go down to 22″, but you can’t achieve that without more expensive dual-stage (i.e. three-segment) lifting columns in the base.
With a 330-lb lift capacity (minus the weight of the desktops) it is one of the weakest L-shaped standup desks on the market, and it’s also overdriven to a crazy 2.3 inches-per-second transit speed. The consequence of this is very noisy movement. But it also reduces the duty cycle of the desk, and accelerates wear and tear on the glides and deterioration of the insulation on the motors’ wire windings. In the effort to have at least one impressive spec to position the desk as “advanced,” Autonomous has instead shorted the life expectancy of the product and made it as noisy as a coffee grinder (despite the ludicrous claim of being 45 dB).
We like to say there are two kinds of standing desk buyers in the world, those who have never suffered the disappointment of buying and assembling an IKEA or Autonomous standing desk, and those who’ll never do it a second time.
This product targets the youngest (i.e. least experienced, lowest budget) consumers who may not place a high value on their time and don’t fully consider the potential downsides of buying a low-quality, bottom dollar product. In fact, what attracts them to these brands is the prospect of saving money by doing all the assembly with their roommates’ help. And if it’s the social engagement you’re aiming for and you really can’t stretch your budget to a quality alternative, this may just be the best choice for you.
There’s very little to go on to recommend this desk given the plethora of offerings from the competition. We are compelled to label it with a giant caveat emptor due to the degree of specious marketing claims made by the company, which seems to follow Chinese rather than American standards of truth in advertising.