Varidesk Exec Series Review
Purpose-built for taller users, the Exec 40 and the Exec 48 have the largest height adjustment range of any desktop converter in Varidesk's catalog, finally surmounting the low height maximums typical of Varidesk. Despite its enhanced height range and expansive work surface, the Exec series is still burdened by Varidesk's classic adjustment mechanism, which lacks the precision, smoothness, and quiet of more advanced workstations.
Spring-loaded mechanism with 9 height settings
40" x 28"
48" x 28"
Exec 40: Black
Exec 48: Black, White or Gray
Compatible with Varidesk arms only
Main work surface: 4.5" above desk top
Keyboard Tray: Less than 1" above desk top
Main work surface: 23" above desk top
Keyboard Tray: 18" above desk top
Exec 40: 35 lbs
Exec 48: 45 lbs
The Exec's expansive work surface and heavy-duty weight capacity lets users convert their fixed-height desk into a sit-stand workstation without sacrificing as much of their equipment as with smaller desktop converters. Its 18" max height exceeds that of any other Varidesk, and is among the tallest in the industry.
Despite its various improvements, the Exec still suffers from a few of the original Varidesk's weaknesses. Its lever-locking height adjustment mechanism has only nine height settings, preventing most users from finding the right ergonomic settings for their wrists. Moreover, the mechanism's arcing motion reduces users' available floor space. A $125 monitor arm add-on is necessary for proper ergonomics.
Update 4/2/18: The 48″ version has been replaced by a 40″ version on Varidesk’s website. We will cover both versions in this review; however, it is unclear if or when the 48″ version will be available again. They have also updated their warranty to 5 years from 1 year for all products purchased after 3/2/18.
Editor’s Note: The following is a “forensic” review. We have not yet had the opportunity to test the Varidesk Exec standing desk converter in our labs. In situations like this—when we have been unable to obtain a review unit from the manufacturer and when there is demand from our readers for information on the product—we evaluate publicly available information that the manufacturer and users of the standing desk converter have provided online. We then apply our extensive experience evaluating standing desk converters and make an informed projection of how well this product will stack up against other products in its category. For this review, we rely on publicly-available information, as well as our own hands-on experience with the Varidesk Pro. As soon as we are able to conduct a hands-on evaluation of the product or learn new information about it, we will update this review. Learn more about our review process at Anatomy of a Review.
The original Varidesk desktop converter was released in 2013. At the time, it was heralded for its ease of assembly, stability, and wide work surface. But since then, newer desktop workstations have cropped up with more ergonomic features and improved capabilities. In response, Varidesk has been updating their catalog with new standing desk converters that aim to provide their customers with a better experience.
One of these improved models is the Exec 48, Varidesk's largest workstation yet. Built with the highest height-adjustability range of any Varidesk to date, the Exec 48 is specially designed for taller users, solving the problem of inadequate height that's plagued Varidesk since day one. It's the most spacious and highest-adjusting model in Varidesk's catalog, as its distinguished "Executive" moniker suggests. The Exec 40 offers basically the same height adjust range as the 48 (it's actually 0.25" larger) with a smaller 40" work surface. Unfortunately, the Exec series still has a few shortcomings that keep it from earning the corner office.
Assembly? What's That?
One feature that made the original Varidesk—now called Varidesk Pro—so popular was its ease of installation. Unlike many of its contemporaries, the Varidesk did not require any assembly—just set it on top of your desk and you're ready to start working. This tradition continues with the Exec series, which is ready to go right out of the box, and it's also available in other newer, non-Varidesk designs, like the iMovR ZipLift, Ergotron WorkFit-T, and Ergo Desktop's Wallaby and Kangaroo workstations. Of course, there's still the matter of actually getting the thing onto your desk, and in the case of the Exec 48, that's tougher than it seems. All Varidesk models are heavy pieces of equipment, and while Varidesk doesn’t publish the Exec 48’s specific weight on its product page, the similarly-sized Varidesk Pro Plus 48 weighs in at a hefty 60 lbs. We recommend getting another person to help you with the initial lifting, but once it's on your desk, you're ready to start loading it up with monitors and other equipment. The newer hands-free assembly designs tend to be lighter, and thus easier to manage.
Varidesk sit stand workstations share a common aesthetic, which can kindly be described as 'functional'. It consists of a large work surface attached to a heavy, mechanical base. Two hand holes in the work surface allow users to access hand levers that activate the height adjustment mechanism. Like all Varidesks, the work surface is covered in a stippling pattern, which cheapens the aesthetic and looks out of place in an executive office. This textured finish also makes for a poor writing surface, turning your handwritten memos into unsightly chicken scratch. While the Exec 48 is available in either black, or gray and white, the Exec 40 is only available in black.
Suspended 4.75 inches below this main work surface is a second platform for your mouse and keyboard. This keyboard tray feature was first introduced with the Varidesk Pro Plus, but has since been adopted by the majority of Varidesk models including the Cube Corner and, now, the Exec. This keyboard tray is a crucial component that increases the height difference between your monitors and your keyboard, thereby putting you in a more ergonomic posture overall—though, as we'll discuss in the 'Ergonomics' section below, this keyboard tray alone doesn't provide adequate ergonomics.
The Exec's work surface is similar to the Pro Plus, with some key differences. The Exec's main platform, which measures about 20 inches deep at its narrowest on both models, is larger than the 13.75" deep Pro Plus. Exec also has a larger keyboard tray, though much of it is concealed underneath the main platform. The Pro Plus keyboard tray, in contrast, protrudes out from the main platform, and looks to be more easily accessible than the Exec's.
The metal base underneath the Exec's work surface is virtually identical to that of any other Varidesk sit stand workstation (minus the Soho, which looks like an ironing board). Its heavy base keeps the Varidesk firmly planted on your desk, avoiding the need to clamp the workstation to the desk edge or through a grommet. This base frame spans nearly the entirety of the Exec's width, measuring 47.25" wide. This is the widest base of any Varidesk to date, exceeding the Pro 48's base by six inches.
Reaching New Heights
The Exec series features a spring-loaded, lever-locking height adjustment mechanism—a staple since the first Varidesk in 2013. Other than being larger and having several spring-assisted rods on the side (presumably intended to maintain stability with the larger, taller model), the Exec's adjustment mechanism works in exactly the same way as its predecessors': Squeeze the two hand levers underneath the work surface, raise the Varidesk to your preferred height, and let go to lock the work surface to one of nine height settings. Two springs push up against the work surface to help raise heavy loads. As a result, the Exec 48 boasts a 45lb. weight capacity—the largest of any Varidesk. It's just enough to support the 23lb. Apple Thunderbolt Display and the 21lb., 27" iMac—a Mac lover's dual-monitor dream—assuming you’re using Apple's virtually weightless mouse and keyboard. Among all non-electric standing desk converters, the only one that can out-lift the Exec is the Winston, whose 58lb. lifting capacity exceeds even Varidesk's standalone Pro Desk. Unfortunately the Exec 40 is not quite as strong as its predecessor. The Exec 40 has only a 35 lb lift capacity, which is enough for most dual monitor setups, but nothing to write home about.
The Execs are built on the same kind of base and height adjustment mechanism as the Varidesk Pro, which was very stable during our evaluation. We can therefore expect the Execs to demonstrate a similar level of stability. As of March 2, 2018, the Exec series and other Varidesk lines now feature a five year warranty instead of three (however, any products purchased prior to this date are still subject to the old one year warranty.) A fivefold improvement to the suspiciously short one year warranty is a huge improvement, and a statement that Varidesk stands behind their product.
One shortcoming that's burdened all Varidesk models since day one has been their poor height adjustment range. They have a maximum height around 14 – 15 inches, measured from the desk top to the keyboard platform. Most desktop converters can reach between 16 – 18 inches high, so the Varidesks' short height ranges make them difficult for taller workers to use comfortably and ergonomically. The Exec series aims to solve this by specifically to accommodating these taller users—its 18" max height puts it within striking distance of the Workfit-S and Workfit-A. This improved height range provides ergonomically sound wrist positions for users up to 6' 2", assuming the workstation is paired with a desk measuring at least 30 inches in height.
The Exec's taller height adjustment range is certainly an improvement over other Varidesks. Unfortunately, it still uses a rudimentary, lever-locking height adjustment mechanism. Unlike the more advanced gas-assisted or counterbalance lift systems of workstations like the Kangaroo and Humanscale Quickstand, lever-locking mechanisms emit a loud, annoying clang whenever they lock into place. One weakness inherent to the Varidesk height adjustment mechanism in particular is that the work surface moves up and out towards the user in an arc during height adjustment. This forces users away from their desks, and reduces their available floor space. Both the Workfit-T and the Taskmate Go adjust in a straight vertical line, despite both being lever-locking systems, so we're not sure why Varidesk hasn’t redesigned this flawed mechanism.
Part of the reason office fitness has grown in popularity is that people have recognized the need for workstations that let them work in ergonomic comfort, without the wrist, neck, and shoulder strains that typically arise in modern offices. New desktop converters include ergonomic features that promote more comfortable work postures—helping keep your wrists straight to reduce excess flexion, for a more ergonomic typing experience.
Varidesk has upgraded their product line with a few ergonomic features. Their Pro Plus model introduced a separate keyboard tray, which increases the distance between monitor height and typing height, allowing you to keep your neck and muscle shoulders in a more relaxed position.
Of course, a few inches of space between your monitor and your keyboard aren't going to cut it for most people. Any ergonomic workstation worth its salt needs some sort of adjustable monitor mount to further raise your screens to an acceptable height. This is why, more recently, Varidesk has finally released an adjustable monitor arm for their desktop converters. For an additional $125, Varidesk users can finally view their monitor at a comfortable angle, without any of the neck strain that comes from craning to look at the screen. Combined with the Exec's increased height range, which gives taller users more options for healthy wrist angles, the monitor arm and keyboard tray bring the Varidesk closer than ever before to offering optimal ergonomics. This ergonomic accessory is crucial for the Exec to be an ergonomically suitable workstation, but the combined cost of the Exec and the monitor arm is $720, well beyond the price of most desktop converters.
From the upper reaches of the pricing stratosphere, the Exec loses its luster compared to more recently introduced competitors. The iMovR ZipLift delivers better ergonomics (a tilting keyboard tray to keep your wrists in neutral position), a sturdier work surface, and a silky-smooth height adjustment - for much less cost. And the Kangaroo Pro costs the same, but comes with a built-in monitor mounting feature and a more precise height adjustment range - for a better value overall.
While the Exec has made great strides to improve on Varidesk's classically disappointing ergonomics, it's still burdened by a significant ergonomic deficiency: the VariDesk's lift design. The nine height settings available on the Exec 40 and Exec 48 are far too few, making it just about impossible to find an ergonomically ideal height setting to keep your wrists straight. Gas-assisted and counterbalance mechanisms have a limitless adjustability range, which lets users customize their work surface ergonomics with the utmost precision, and are featured on all the newer models. Like other Varidesks, the Exec is due for an ergonomic upgrade—but instead, we see the same features of the old Varidesks carried on in the newer Exec 40.
Among the multitude of desktop converters in Varidesk's catalog, the Exec 48 stood out for its ample work surface space and unparalleled capability, including a 45lb lifting capacity and 18" height range—taller than any other Varidesk, and among the tallest in the category as a whole. For these reasons, we're sad to see that it's no longer available. The Exec 40 keeps the taller height range but sacrifices the roomier work surface and the generous 45 lb lift capacity.
The main weakness of both models is the height adjustment mechanism—a remnant of the original Varidesk—which forces the user away from their desk and reduces available floor space. Its mere nine height settings are insufficient for ergonomic precision, and are a step back from older, shorter Varidesk models. A $125 monitor arm is necessary to reduce users' susceptibility to the neck and shoulder strain that comes from craning your neck to view your screen. The Exec is on the whole less ergonomically precise than similarly-priced gas-assisted and counterbalance desktop converters.
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