Stir Kinetic M1 Stand Up Desk Review
From the makers of the Stir Kinetic Desk, one of the most expensive desks on the market, comes the Kinetic M1 – a sleeker, less-expensive desk with better ergonomics and the same 'smart' features. But aside from its bells and whistles, the M1 is a mediocre desk. And for its price, it doesn't offer as much tech as other smart adjustable-height desks.
Delivery in 4 - 6 weeks
3-year Limited Warranty
Embedded Touch Screen
The new Stir Kinetic M1 features a thinner, more ergonomic desktop shape than its predecessor. It uses a nifty touchscreen interface to adjust the desk and monitor your standing behavior, and uses your Fitbit as a personal identifier. The desk's Whisperbreath feature reminds you to stand.
The desk's base specs are disappointing: 150lb lift capacity, short 3-year warranty, and only one available size for most people. The touchscreen software doesn't do much that can't be done on a smartphone nowadays. And similar smart desks offer more features at that price point. Overall more hat than cattle.
[Editor’s Note: After making quite the “stir” for a couple of years, and getting acquired by Steelcase, Stir Kinetic appears to no longer really be in business. Its only retail outlet, RelaxTheBack, no longer lists the product for sale. StirWorks.com‘s website traffic is infinitesimally low. At this point we are compelled to add it to the office fitness industry dead pool. As is our practice, we leave our original review published for posterity.]
A Budget Stand Up Desk, If You're Daddy Warbucks
It was January of 2014 when the Stir Kinetic Desk made its debut. Advertised as the first ‘smart desk’, it was notable for its user interface: a touchscreen embedded into the surface of the desk allowed users to change the height of the desk and set up a schedule that reminded users to stand for a predetermined amount of time. It was also notable for its high pricetag: $4,190. That's almost three times as much as other premium desks on the market today, and well out of reach for many potential deskers.
Perhaps in response to consumers’ understandable sticker shock, and as an opportunity to make improvements to certain features, Stir has come out with the Kinetic M1, a ‘budget’-class relative of their first desk – now renamed the F1. This desk has a thinner desktop and fewer customization options than its older sibling, but retains the same user interface as the original. The price too, has been lowered a bit. At $2,990, it’s not quite the jaw-dropping figure of the F1, but it still is a long ways more costly than even its closest competitors. And what do you get in return for that hefty chunk of change? Seems like more sizzle than steak.
Less Edgy, For the Better
JP Labrosse, Stir's chief designer, was a lead engineer for Apple's iPod division over a decade ago. Apple DNA was apparent in the older F1 which was architecturally, rather than ergonomically, designed. The first Stir desk looked like a giant iPod, with a 3.5”-thick top too thick to mount monitor arm clamps or ergonomic keyboard trays onto, and hard edges that demonstrated no consideration to user comfort and ergonomics.
A year later and the new M1 desk seems to have learned from its predecessor that users, sitting or standing, want a comfortable desk. The front edge gently slopes down, allowing users to rest their arms on the edge with less discomfort. It’s a feature commonly found on all iMovR desks, and one we’ve grown to appreciate. The front edge also curves inward slightly, to give users a feeling of being integrated into the desk. We’re not sure we're enamored with the cable pass-through slit that extend along the rear of the desktop from the two grommet holes. It compromises the structural integrity of the wood to the degree that mounting a monitor arm anywhere but in the center of the desk would appear to risk cracking off a chunk of the desktop. Unlike the F1, the new M1 desk does support a keyboard tray, though unless you have one with a short 11" rail like the Float Keyboard, you'll need one that can be mounted sideways, like the Stowaway. In any event, Stir is still more focused on the architectural beauty of their desks and less on ergonomic beauty - you still can't complete your workstation with a keyboard tray or monitor arm when buying through Stir's website.
Aside from these features, the desktop looks rather bland. The tabletop is an MDF core covered in a powder coat paint, which is more durable and pleasing to the eye than standard high-pressure-laminate, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the 3D lamination technology signature to iMovR's ThermoDesk and Omega lines of desks. While we haven't seen the M1 table top for ourselves, we have seen other samples of powder-coated wood, and know that certain combinations of MDF and powder coat can lead to a stippled, bumpy surface that makes it hard to write. A drawback to this powder-coat technique is that it doesn’t come in any woodgrain designs (you can't spray paint a wood grain image), so we hope you like basic black or basic white. One thing we were disappointed to find out was that for most individual consumers the M1 only comes in a single size – 30” x 60”. Everyone has a different space to work with; a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn't adequately address most peoples' needs. The vast majority of competitors in this space offer three to five different tabletop sizes for each of their models. Stir currently only offers other sizes of the M1 for bulk orders.
Underneath the desktop, the M1’s base looks pretty standard to those familiar with electric desks. Its unimpressive 150lb lift limit is on the lower end of the spectrum, on par with something like IKEA's flimsy new Bekant desk. The M1 can adjust from 25" to 50.5", which is better than average range. The base also has four AC ports embedded in the back and cable trays are integrated with the desktop. These power management features are nice, but for such a steep price one would expect something more stellar. The M1’s base sits thoroughly in the middle of the road.
The Desk of the Future?
Stir claims that the M1 is the first ‘Smart Desk’, despite the fact that their touch screen first debuted on the M1's predecessor, the F1, a year ago. And there are in fact other competitors on the market with similar 'smart desk' features that Stir's advertising materials seem to ignore the existence of.
Stir’s most interesting feature, for both their desks, is their touchscreen interface and accompanying software. The desk senses when you're nearby, and detects when you're sitting and when you're standing. The 5” touchscreen is embedded into the desktop, and users can adjust the height of their workstation with touch controls, as well as monitor how much of their work time is spent standing.
Additionally, users can input how much they want to stand during the day, and for how long at a time. The M1’s Whisperbreath feature will remind users when it’s time to stand with a nudge – meaning the desk will rise about an inch, then lower back down. Users can then set their desk to their pre-programmed standing height, or just ignore it – it’s your desk, not your mom. We've yet to see a cloud-connected chair with a built in cattle prod n the market, but this will surely coming someday as our desks continue to evolve into electronic nannies.
Another feature boasted by Stir is its cloud connectivity, which syncs users’ standing preferences and profile to the cloud so that users can log in from any other Stir desk. The desk can also sync with certain Bluetooth-enabled devices, like a Fitbit, using these devices as personal identifiers and pairing them with an individual profile. Stir also promises greater Fitbit workout integration in the future, though that isn’t yet available with the desk’s software. In visiting their booth at last year's NEOCON trade show we also learned that the desk was having problems discriminating between the user's Fitbit and the Fitbits of other people who might stop by their desk to chat or collaborate. We haven't heard whether this problem has been resolved as yet. Some other smart desks on the market use RFID badge readers to get around this issue.
How do the M1’s software features stack up against other ‘Smart’ Desks? Not all that well, seemingly. Other smart desks have hit the scene at similar price points but loaded with more features. The recently-introduced MisterBrightLight for example has standing reminders sent to your phone, indoor climate monitor, no-touch height-adjustment sensor controls, customizable LED lights, and a wireless phone charger. Comparing the two is like watching Rosie, from the Jetsons, fight a Terminator.
The M1’s embedded touchscreen is a neat addition to the desk, though it does have some serious drawbacks. The first is obviously the price – the touchscreen monitor, CPU, and software that goes into that little device definitely hike up the price of the desk. It also limits the desktop space available to users, and renders a portion of the desk susceptible to scratches, breakage and liquid spill damage. We certainly wouldn’t keep our coffee on that side of the desk. Not only that, but this feature (while cool in its own way) isn't really necessary for users. A number of cheap or free smartphone apps offer pomodoro timers and fitness trackers to deskers. These free-to-low-cost solutions do a fantastic job of keeping track of your standing habits throughout the day, and let you keep more of your desk space – all without adding a significant cost to your workstation.
Not a Winning Warranty
In the world of electric standing desks, one mark we look for to get a sense of whether a product is reliable or not is the extent of its warranty. It’s a chance for a company to put its money where its mouth is, and display the confidence they have in their product’s performance and reliability. Good desks offer at least 5 years on the steel frame and 2-3 years on the moving parts. Top-rated desks like the iMovR Elite and Everest - which are far less costly than an M1 - offer a whopping 20 years on the steel and 10 years on moving parts. So what kind of warranty does Stir offer with the M1? A surprisingly short 3 years. Don’t get us wrong, that’s far from being the worst warranty we’ve seen, and at least it covers the base and the desktop. But for a big-ticket item with an almost $3,000 sticker price, we expected a lot more.
The disappointment doesn’t quite end there, either. While we’re used to waiting times of 2-4 weeks for adjustable-height desks, the M1 ships at the speed of molasses running uphill in January, with a quoted 8-week delivery time. Considering the desktop is simple CNC-machined MDF that is powder coated, two months’ wait is excessive given that most adjustable-height desks can be delivered in a couple of weeks. Also notable is the lack of any white glove assembly option: the larger F1 desk is assembled on-site by the delivery team, but no such option exists for M1 customers. Normally we wouldn't comment on this; assembly at the factory or by the delivery team is still not a standard option when ordering an adjustable-height desk. But some high-end desks do offer white glove assembly and, even with the attendant upcharge, come out significantly less costly than the M1.
Let’s take the venerable Elite, for example. For the same size, with a woodgrain-styled 3D-laminated top, shipped and with white glove assembly and packaging cleanup, the Elite comes out to $1,568. This means that even after the optional delivery upgrades, you’re spending about a grand and a half more on the M1 for the touchscreen software, much of which can be replicated with a smartphone and free apps.
Here’s what the M1 comes down to: a decent desk top on a mediocre base, with a middling warranty and only one size desktop. Its software features – many of which aren’t available yet – can easily be emulated with a smartphone. Gadgets aside, a good desk should first be a good desk. Despite the M1’s bells and whistles, we find it overpriced, and not all that smart. While a desk like the M1 would normally receive a 3-star review, its price, coupled with its lackluster features when compared to similar smart desks, knocks it down to a 2.5. Anyone looking for an electric desk with great value should check out our side-by-side comparison, where we put these desks' specs to the test.