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Signs of change from Autonomous?
Our experts have done a good number of Autonomous reviews, going over their desks, converters, and other products. That experience has given us a good understanding of their overall business.
Autonomous was the big commodity Chinese player in the e-commerce segment of the standing desk industry. They came out with a bang, with massive financial backing and a scorched-earth discount pricing strategy, targeting the market from the bottom up (Gen Z and millennials) with super low-priced, super low-quality offerings.
One of the ways they achieved their obscenely low price points was by pushing labor costs out to the consumer, with 48 bolts and screws for the user to muddle through. And of course, component quality left a whole lot to be desired. These products have consistently received very low scores in our lab tested reviews, in contradiction to the curated 5-star reviews they literally paid customers to leave on their website.
As we covered in our past reviews of the Autonomous SmartDesk 2, while they have sold more than 100,000 standing desks they also generated thousands of complaints from customers on Reddit and other public platforms. Complaints over poor quality, terrible customer service, short product life, long delays in receiving the product (many months in many cases), and serious obstacles to getting refunds and warranty replacements.
It is well known in the industry that Autonomous had many challenges with their supply chain, and switched factories several times. That in itself is not a sin, the big Chinese OEMs that manufacture the lifting bases like Jiecang, Aoke, TiMotion, Kaidi, et al, are in a constant race to the bottom with each other in who can build the cheapest base, but Autonomous could never seem to improve the quality of their desks. Every quality corner that could be cut in the name of cost was taken. If defect rates of one manufacturer were too high or capacities too limited they’d just switch to another manufacturer.
Autonomous standing desks were also decidedly simple in design with very few options in size or color and mostly low-end products that were not designed to last. You were lucky if they lasted as long as their warranty terms, which were short.
The company appeared to have completely revamped itself with a new website and new model names, but once we got our hands on the “new” SmartDesk Core, it was instantly clear that it was basically a re-branded SmartDesk 2.. There are some new cool options like the Artists x Autonomous desktops, but price points have increased. Autonomous is now in head-to-head competition with the other commodity Chinese-sourced e-commerce juggernauts, UpLift and Fully (the latter being recently acquired by the world’s largest commercial office furniture company, MillerKnoll).
The price increases probably have more to do with increased costs of producing products in China, shipping them to the US, and the painful 25 percent tariffs still in place since the last administration. All three players have had to either raise prices or reduce features and component quality (so-called “shrinkflation”) to keep prices as low as they’ve been able to. But the pricing gap between made-in-USA brands like iMovR and the commodity Chinese makers has never been this narrow.
American standing desk manufacturers have invested tens of millions of dollars in robotic manufacturing facilities, and of course, significant technological superiority to try to best their Chinese competitors. With the headwinds of massively spiked shipping costs, raw materials costs, pandemic-related supply chain shortages and delays, and tariffs, the Americans suddenly have a more level playing field to compete on. Of course domestic shipping and raw material prices have gone up in the US as well but not having to pay $20,000 per shipping container or a 25 percent tariff and endure months-long port and rail delays is definitely a new advantage.
The Autonomous website has had yet another major facelift. The company is clearly going after the new hybrid WFH market with a vengeance, going so far as to introduce $23,000 “pods” (a fancy shed for creating a self-contained office outhouse in your backyard). So how much have their desk products really improved, and are they worth the significantly higher prices that Autonomous is now charging? Check out all of our Autonomous reviews below.
Check out our full collection of office fitness equipment brand roundups.
Autonomous Standing Desks
It’s no secret that we’re not fans of the poor general quality of Autonomous standing desks, so we’ll have to just say the SmartDesk First Class is the “best of the worst.” First Class is a misnomer as this desk represents a mere $50 upgrade over the SmartDesk 2 Business Edition, which doesn’t put it anywhere near the premium desk category. One desktop option and only four color combos is so limiting we can’t understand how Autonomous expects a lot of buyers of their new “signature line” standing desk. Taiwanese linear actuators do give the First Class a definite edge over their other commodity-produced, Chinese standing-desk frames.
Autonomous has revamped their website, changed the names of many of their desks and increased prices in an effort to change their reputation. The SmartDesk Core helps in that effort with an improved warranty and more desktop options, though there’s still plenty of work to do to bring this desk up to the next tier of more durable, reliable, and higher value standing desks. Despite its new website’s impressive marketing polish, Autonomous still has both feet firmly planted in the “race to the bottom,” commodity-grade category of Chinese-built standing desks.
The company makes over-the-top marketing claims like “the highest-rated desk in the world” and maintains its bases are of “unparalleled technology.” As far as we can tell, the only things this company is “best in the world” at is their gift for marketing hyperbole, and finding the cheapest possible components to make a standing desk. Customer complaints on public forums number in the hundreds.
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 three 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 $1,500 plus a couple of hours of assembly time, shouldn’t you look for something that’ll fit your space and decor better, last longer and perform better?
Platypus, turkey, whatever you want to call it, this is a desk that is not worth a second look. In addition to all its user interface flaws, stability issues and hardware concerns, this desk comes in only three color configurations and one desktop size (53″ x 30″), making it cheap to ship and to stock in inventory but hard to fit your space and decor. When other desks offer hundreds if not thousands of color/shape/size combinations, the extremely limited desktop offerings from Autonomous are another big negative.
The Autonomous SmartDesk Hybrid Standing Desk starts at $999. It is designed to be a hot desk used with the Autonomous Office app.
The Autonomous SmartDesk Pro Standing Desk starts at $699, comes with many desktop options, but only two desktop sizes are available.
Check out our full roundup of electric standing desks
Autonomous Standing Desk Converters
A first leap into the realm of budget electric standing desk converters ends in an underwhelming performance, but we expect more of these low-cost options to arrive on the market soon. Our advice? Stay tuned for better budget options or opt now for a manual design.
Check out our full roundup of standing desk converters