The Autonomous AI SmartDesk 3 Review
30-day trial and five year warranty
Electric dual-stage, dual-motor
2.3 in per second claimed (didn't work that fast in the lab test, especially when loaded)
Embedded touchscreen. No hand controller.
One size fits all: 53" x 30"
Only three color scheme options: Titan Black, Classic White, and Grayscale
Claimed 38 dB. Reality more like 65 dB
If you'd like to have your desk tell you when you are thirsty or need an Uber ride, and you don't already own a smartphone, Amazon Echo or any other personal assistant, and really want one that's embedded into your one-size-fits all desk, this might be the one for you.
Built on the incredibly awful SmartDesk 2 Business Edition desk, the traditional hand controller is replaced with a small touchscreen device embedded into the left side of the desk (so lefties can forget it because it's right where you'd normally be mousing, and you can't mouse over this device). The user interface is cumbersome and unfamiliar to both iPhone and Android users, requiring many steps just to get your desk to move up or down. All the other features of the "AI" software (there's no artificial intelligence involved here whatsoever, but they are using the term in its loosest marketing sense) are already on your phone, and cumbersome to have to go to your desk to perform.
[Editorial Note, July 2019: It appears that Autonomous has discontinued this product due to lack of sales and reliability problems with the PDA. We leave the original review up here for posterity.]
Autonomous has created a new variant of its SmartDesk 2, with great imagination dubbed the SmartDesk 3. It is the same exact desk as the SmartDesk 2, one of the worst-performing desks we’ve ever reviewed, with a gimmicky “personal assistant” embedded into the left side of its tabletop.
Kicked off by Kickstarter, but not in a good way
Like the original SmartDesk, this variant was launched on Kickstarter and Indiegogo in November, 2017, but enjoyed a less than stellar campaign. In fact Kickstarter pulled the campaign after three days, though no public explanation for this was ever given by Autonomous as to why (though we know they’ve had clashes with the platform before over their marketing practices, which you would think they would have resolved before trying it again).
Going back to the company’s 2014 Kickstarter roots as an “AI personal robot” maker, Autonomous continues to try to promote this platypus of a desk that is neither a very good personal assistant device nor a good desk, but it mashes together the two things that Autonomous is famously not very good at. Promoted as AI (artificial intelligence), the personal assistant app is basically a crippled Amazon echo with very limited functionality and a truly bizarre user interface that isn’t familiar to either iPhone of Android users. We can’t find the “artificial intelligence” in the software features. In Autonomous’ typical hyperbolic marketing style they’re using the term in its very loosest sense to put a cool sheen on an ultra-cheap Chinese-made standing desk.
No more hand controller, but is that a good thing?
There is no traditional hand controller for this desk, all desk height adjustments must be done through the app. More desks are appearing on the market (e.g. the iMovR Lander Desk) that have a Bluetooth interface from the hand controller to a smartphone app so you can use your own phone as an alternate control console (and access other cool features related to your desk) but they don’t force you to use an embedded touchscreen device like this one.
Imagine having to start the app, enter your passcode and navigate to your desk controls every time you want to switch from sitting to standing or back… the whole idea is very ill conceived, and reminds of the $3,000 Stir Kinetic desk at the other end of the price spectrum.
The Autonomous developers’ argument for accepting all this overhead in the UI is that the more you use the desk the more it ‘learns’ about your working and eating habits, so it can make suggestions (based on your previous choices and preferences) to stand, drink water, order lunch, or request an Uber ride. We have to say, we just don’t get it, and neither has any other reviewer. The SmartDesk 3 seems to be a turkey of a product (is that too many animal references?) that the company has stopped trying to market, and few people seem to be buying it.
Operating on the proprietary Autonomous OS 1.0 system, the tablet comes with a resolution of 800 x 480 and can also help you control your music playlists, temperature, and lighting as well as allow you to check stock, remind you of your meetings (thanks to synchronization with Google calendar), and somehow make coffee.
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.