How We Conduct Standing Desk Reviews

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How We Conduct Standing Desk Reviews

In our efforts to find the best in office fitness furniture and ergonomic office products, we’ve developed a unique evaluation process that provides the most exhaustive analysis of any given product. Every aspect is put under our microscope, and this helps us create the most comprehensive individual product reviews, as well as side-by-side comparison guides. While all product reviews start from this baseline process, we tweak our approach for each product category, paying special attention to the product’s particular attributes.

There are a number of unique qualities we look at when reviewing both electric stand up desks and manual stand up desks. Some criteria apply to both types of adjustable desks, while the way we evaluate other qualities differs depending on whether the mechanism is electric or manual.

Weight capacity

Electric: This is the maximum weight a desk can safely move, measured in pounds. Always account for the weight of the tabletop itself. (Top-quality laminated tabletops usually weigh around 4 to 5 lb. per square foot.) Lift capacity is usually an indicator of the strength of the desk’s motors. A high rating means that the desk’s actuators can confidently withstand larger loads without risk of overheating or damage. Depending on the quality of MDF core used, weight index may vary.

The higher the lift capacity, the better from a reliability and durability standpoint; however, there is one exception to this rule. Some high-end adjustable height desks artificially govern their lift capacity specifications well below the capabilities of their motors in order to minimize parasitic standby power consumption—an increasingly common concern for corporate buyers. This also ensures that the desk’s lifting columns always operate in a mechanically healthy range.

Manual: A manual desk’s weight capacity affects the user experience in a different way from electric desks. As more weight is placed on a crank-adjustable desk, turning the crank becomes more difficult. A crank-adjustable desk’s lifting capacity should not only support the load of the tabletop and all the things sitting on top of it, but should also make adjustments in height as close to effortless as possible.

Crank desks can also have a stationary weight limit, which is typically about twice their dynamic lifting capacity (i.e. when they’re in motion), but most manufacturers fail to publish this specification. Look for a weight rating of at least 130 lb., though more will always be better. As a rule of thumb, a higher weight capacity implies an easier cranking action for lesser weights.

Lift Speed

Electric: This is the adjustment speed of a desk, measured in inches per second. Some manufacturers that claim high lift loads don’t disclose that travel speed may go down at higher loads. Modern electric models generally travel in a sweet spot range of 1.5 to 1.7 inches per second. Anything faster tends to be obnoxiously noisy.

Some desks have a published Max Lift specification, which means they’ll safely lift this amount of weight but the travel speed will be reduced. Rated Lift is the weight the desk will lift with no reduction in travel speed.

Manual: This is measured as the number of turns of the crank needed to raise the height of the desk by one inch. Typical crank-adjustable desks clock in at about 2-6 turns per inch. Speed plays a more important role in affecting a user’s experience with crank-adjustable desks than with electric standing desks. The fewer turns per inch of a crank handle, the more force is required to turn it. At the same time, more turns per inch means more time spent during height adjustments. A difference of one turn per inch can add up to an extra 20-25 turns of the handle every time you switch from sitting to standing.

Speed and ease of crank are at opposite ends of a spectrum; the more you get of one, the less you get of the other. We look for manual desks that adjust at a rate of no greater than three or four turns-per-inch. Crank desks that have been on the market a long time are generally slower-moving, requiring five to six turns per inch, if not more. We prefer the newer, faster models with more advanced worm gear or spindle designs.

Stability

Electric: Any two-legged standing desk will be less stable than your standard four-legged table, and all desks exhibit higher levels of instability at taller heights than at lower heights. Factors such as max height, the width the base is set to, and the base’s construction quality affect a desk’s average rigidity. This is most apparent when using a monitor arm because any vibration in the desk can end up shaking your monitor, detracting from your productivity. We look for standing desks that are stable enough to minimize this issue.

Keep in mind that carpeted floors are less stable surfaces than wood, tile or other hard floors. Also, it is vitally important to use the leveling pads on all four corners of your desk’s feet to ensure that the frame is not twisted. Electric standing desk bases are sensitive mechanisms that can generate squeaking or grinding noises, and wear down prematurely, if not adjusted to be perfectly level.

Read even more about variations in desk stability in our article “Why Some Standing Desks Shake More Than Others“.

Manual: Unlike electric desks, which use precision motors and actuators to lift the desktop’s height, crank desks rely on user-generated power to move from sitting to standing height. This introduces lateral forces on the desk that can cause the desk to wobble during height adjustments. We’ve never had a crank-operated desk break or fall over during height adjustment, but lateral stability can be the deciding factor between a mediocre desk and a great desk.

Range of Height Adjustment

This is the lowest point to highest point that an adjustable height desk can cover. The distance between is known as the “stroke” and is usually in the range of 26 inches for a true sit-to-stand desk. Standing desks with an adjustment range of more like 14″ are intended to be adjustable to multiple users’ heights, but only in a standing modality.

Corporate, educational, and government buyers will want to look for ANSI/BIFMA certified products. But taller users and anyone planning on using a treadmill with their desk will want to look for one that exceeds ANSI/BIFMA on the top end of the range. The higher a desk adjusts, the more stable it is at every point in its height range due to increased overlap between the lifting segments.

Controller type

Electric: Electric desks generally come with either a 2-button up/down controller or a more advanced digital memory readout controller. Digital controllers generally come with presets, which allow users to program their favorite heights for easy future access. Office treadmill deskers who share a workstation with other employees will find this feature particularly useful, as will users who want to save their preferred sitting, standing, and walking heights.

Noise

Electric: This is the volume of a desk in operation, measured in decibels. All electric adjustable height standing desk motors will exhibit some noise during adjustment. However, some barely register above ambient office noise (usually 41 to 44 dB), while others sound more like a coffee grinder. There is also sometimes a large discrepancy between noise when lifting versus descending, which we note in our reviews. Desks like the MultiTable Mod-E (75 dB) and all Jiecang-based desks (60 dB), while in the middle-tier on price, are fairly noisy, so price is not always a good guideline for determining sound signatures.

Leg Spacing

Virtually all adjustable height desks have width-adjustable bases, and this criterion measures the range of space between the insides of a desk’s feet from its narrowest to widest setting. If you’re planning to use the desk with a treadmill, you’ll need at least 30″ of clearance between the legs. To fit a treadmill and a chair side-by-side at a full sit-stand-walk workstation, you’ll need 63″-75″ of clearance. We’re not aware of any manual desks that can adjust the space between the legs to more than 55″, so it’s best to look at electric models if you’re thinking of having an all-in-one workstation.

Ergonomics

When configuring your new adjustable height desk or treadmill desk workstation, the desk is just the beginning. To optimize your ergonomics at the office, maintain a comfortable and productive workstation, and protect your neck, shoulders, and wrists, we recommend an adjustable monitor arm and ergonomic keyboard tray.

To that end, we evaluate how compatible these standing desk accoutrements are on any given desk. If a desk’s tabletop is obstructed in such a way that doesn’t allow for these ergonomic add-ons, it’s a mark against the desk. Other ergonomic considerations include edging type (contoured edges are better than sharp angles) and tabletop shape.

  • Available Depth for Keyboard Trays: This is measured by the free space available on the underside of the tabletop, from the front of the desk to the first obstruction, usually a crossbar. A keyboard tray allows you to adjust your keyboard to a more ergonomic angle when sitting, standing, or walking to prevent muscle strain and poor posture that can lead to health problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The vast majority of adjustable height desks cannot accommodate a slide-in, under-counter keyboard tray because of interference with the cross bar. Some desk manufacturers have gotten clever by mounting the slide-in rail sideways, and some have pre-drilled pilot holes on the desktop’s underside for easy installation.

Customizable Options

Your desk should fit your office, not the other way around, since different office environments have different spatial needs and aesthetic sensibilities. When we review desks, we look at the tabletop widths, depths, thicknesses, shapes, colors, and standard finishes available. The best desks can be tailored to fit your space and match your design sensibility by providing a wide array of these options.

Most manufacturers will offer desktop widths of 48″ and 60″, but users often need a more compact desk or a large workbench. Desks can be as narrow as 40″ or as wide as 72″ to give users the freedom to personalize their workstation. Add to that the wide assortment of possible office decor motifs, and you’re now looking at dozens of possible size and color combinations.

  • Tabletop Finish: The composition of a tabletop ranges from standard high pressure laminate with a plastic edge band separately glued on (the most commonly used), more high-tech 3D laminate (found on all iMovR desks, as well as the Anthro’s Elevate II and Elevate II Adjusta), composite bamboo (used on the Ergoprise Uprise), powercoat paint, aluminum and glass, and lacquer-coated surface (used on the GeekDesk). Focal Upright proudly makes their own super-strong, nine-layer plywood tabletops for their Locus desk.
  • Tabletop Thickness: An industry standard, especially for low- and mid-tier desks, is 3/4″. While great for smaller desk sizes, once you start looking for a top over 72″ wide, the 3/4″-thick tabletop will start to bow in the middle. If you’re shopping for a seven foot wide desk, we recommend a tabletop thickness of 1.125″ to 1.375″, which generally give a more substantial and elegant appearance to a desk, but do add some weight.

Assembly

Unless you’re a real desk nerd like us lucky reviewers, assembly and installation isn’t fun. You’d rather spend less time putting an adjustable height desk together and more time standing, walking, and working. During testing, we evaluate the amount of time and effort spent in assembly, as well as the clarity of any accompanying instructions. While less common on manual desks than electric, some desk manufacturers give you the option of bypassing assembly completely by offering a pre-assembly or white glove service.

  • White Glove Installation: This is the cost for a full company installation of the product, which generally includes unboxing, setup, and removal of packaging. If you order this service, expect the delivery crew to spend an hour or more at your office putting the desk together.
  • Price of Stand-Walk Table Delivered and Installed: Full price of a stand-walk configuration (too narrow to fit a treadmill and chair side by side, generally under 60″ wide), including desk, delivery, and installation.
  • Price of Sit-Stand-Walk Table Delivered and Installed: Full price of a sit-stand-walk configuration (wide enough to fit a treadmill and chair side by side, generally under 72″ wide), including desk, delivery, and installation.

Warranty

The length of a warranty tends to be in line with product price. Warranty lengths will often vary for steel frame, moving parts, tabletop, and electronics. Expect frame warranties to be the longest (typically 5 years, though several now offer lifetime), and electronics to be the shortest (typically two to five years). The big ones to look out for are the tabletop warranty (5 years is a good sign of quality) and moving parts warranty. You’ll pay a bit of a premium for a moving parts warranty greater than two years.

Country of Origin

This is the country in which a company assembles its desks. Many materials are internationally sourced. Most commonly, US manufacturers will make their tops locally and source bases from Asia. Rule of thumb: Warranty length and price tend to correspond with where products are made.

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