Reprinted from the New York Times
By JENNIFER JOLLY
June 2, 2015
You might want to sit down for this. Or stand up. Better yet, do both.
A new batch of so-called smart desks can monitor your movements, track your calories and even nudge you to stand up at various intervals throughout the day without interruption or loss of concentration.
Over the past three years, I have tested nearly a dozen of these desks, from the cheapest, build-it-yourself model for less than $100 to an exquisitely designed luxury desk that offers a Zen-like sit-stand experience for a little more than $4,000. I’ve used desks with smart screens, desks that adjust with the wave of a hand and even desks that include a treadmill (something I could never get used to, but more on that later).
The reason to buy a smart desk is because you, like most Americans, discover you are sitting your life away. Sitting for more than three hours a day can shave our life expectancy by two years — even if we exercise regularly.
One solution is to get up and move several times a day, and that’s where a standing desk comes in. But shop wisely. About 70 percent of people who buy a traditional sit-stand desk don’t move it out of the sitting position after the novelty wears off, typically in a few weeks, according to industry research. I learned that I was far more likely to take advantage of the standing feature if the desk automatically made me do it. (No manual hand crank for me.)
The best sit-stand experience by far was also the most expensive. The Stir Kinetic Desk F1 ($4,190) and the Stir M1 ($2,990) are the work of the former Apple engineer JP Labrosse, who was part of the original iPod team. That pedigree shows. There is a five-inch touch-screen built into the surface, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and a thermal sensor on the underside that tracks your activity.
As I tested the M1 one day, the touch-screen display showed five and a half hours of standing, three and a half hours of sitting and 359 calories burned. I exceeded my goal of standing half the time, and was on pace to burn the same number of calories in a week as I would running a marathon.
Based on your settings, the desktop rises about an inch, then settles back down a few times an hour. Stir calls this “Whisperbreath,” a nudge that prompts you to change position without breaking your concentration.
The British-made TableAir ($2,300) and the Kickstarter-funded Autonomous Desk Smart Model (starting at $699) also offer high-end smart desks. To stand at the TableAir, press a button and hold out your arm — the desk automatically rises to the height of your hand. The Autonomous Desk, which begins shipping in July, promises a Siri-like voice-activated personal assistant and connects with other smart devices such as Nest or Philips Hue to turn up the heat or turn off the lights.
A budget-conscious option is the StandStand ($69), a portable wooden structure that turns any desk into a standing desk. The wood frame collapses to the size of a briefcase and can be quickly assembled and placed on the desktop at standing height. A similar product, the StorkStand ($199), attaches to an office chair. Portable models are affordable but not easily adjusted. They’re also easy to ignore.
Some companies offer conversion kits that turn your regular desk into a sit-stand desk. A desk-mounted stand like the iSkelter LIFT (starting at $298), or a desktop model from Varidesk (starting at $275) or Ergotron (starting around $250), sit on your desktop permanently and require manual adjustment as you sit and stand.
The LIFT has a cup holder, and the Ergotron’s mechanical arm accessories hold your gadgets while you work. Function is emphasized over form, and the need to adjust the desk height manually can be a drawback. Ultimately, an on-desk attachment is best suited to those who can’t afford a pricier model or who work in an office where swapping furniture isn’t an option.
Motorized sit-stand desks don’t cost much more than the manual models. Motor noise and weight may vary from model to model, but not enough to change their appeal. IKEA’s Bekant Sit/Stand desk ($489) is a no-frills motorized desk with simple two-button adjustment controls. One look at the unassembled parts and instruction manual sent shivers up my spine. I put it together wrong twice, but once I got it up and running, it went from a sitting desk to a standing desk in seconds.
For a few hundred dollars more, there are the GeekDesk (starting at $749), the NextDesk (starting at $879) or one of the UpDesk Power Series 111 models (starting at $949). These electric sit-stand desks come with a variety of features, like the NextDesk memory controller for height settings and the UpDesk UpWrite’s erasable whiteboard, one of my favorites. The biggest downside of these midpriced desks is that the user has to hold down the up-down button to move from standing or sitting, a minor inconvenience that adds up over days and weeks.
For three months, I also tested the LifeSpan TR1200-DT7 ($1,999), a treadmill desk. I wanted to love it, but didn’t. The desk took up too much space in my home office, and it took me a while to get into the groove of walking slowly enough to concentrate on work. I experienced a feeling of motion sickness when I walked more than three miles an hour and felt woozy when I stepped off the treadmill, as if I’d been on a boat all day.
While I preferred the sit-stand models over the treadmill model, I also learned the hard way that a desk sitter can’t be transformed into a stander overnight. It’s a rookie mistake to stand for hours at a time when you get your first sit-stand desk, and if you overdo it, you may end up like me, slumped in a chair at day’s end nursing sore feet, a strained back and aching joints. Experts recommend that those new to a sit-stand desk start by standing just five to 20 minutes each hour and working up from there.
Ultimately, choosing a standing desk is no different from picking any large furnishing, with budget and space the main considerations. But you should also consider that, as with any piece of furniture, you could have it for life — which may be a little longer now that you are not sitting all day.