Review: The Varidesk ProDesk 48 Electric standing desk
There’s a pretty broad consensus that sitting down all day is not good for your overall health, but you don’t need to dig too deeply into the scientific literature to understand how that perspective makes sense – just ask anyone who’s bound to a desk five days a week. It’s better for your body and your mind to mix things up a bit, and adjustable sit and stand desks represent a great way to achieve that. But how carried away should you get when it comes to investing in a standing desk? Do you opt for an add-on solution that sits on top of your existing desk, or to you go the whole nine yards and invest in a dedicated solution? We set out to answer that question by spending some time with the Varidesk ProDesk 48 Electric.
We've used standing desks in the New Atlas office for several years, so it's fair to say we are already converts to the idea. Personally, spending a large chunk of my life bashing away on a keyboard has resulted in some lower back issues and I've found that being able to stand at different times of the day definitely helps in this regard, as well as improving my energy levels and therefore productivity. The desks we’ve been using are of the add-on variety, the ones you manually extend into a standing position when you feel the need to stretch your legs. These work fine, but you can also buy freestanding units that entirely replace your conventional desk. Varidesk sent us one of these – the ProDesk 48 Electric – to try, so we thought we’d find out if it’s worth the premium.
The ProDesk 48 Electric is 48-inches (122 cm) wide – hence the name – and 30-inches (76 cm) deep. Its height can be continuously adjusted from 25.5 in (64.5 cm) to 50.5 in (128 cm) and there are three programmable settings so you can quickly adjust it to your preferred heights. The base is made from steel and the top has a laminated finish that looks pretty stylish. Our model was finished in “Darkwood” – you can also get Black, White, “Butter Block and “Reclaimed Wood”. It holds up to 200 lb (90.7 kg), there’s room for two large monitors, and it comes with some useful accessories like a cable management tray, hooks where you can hang gear like headphones and cable wraps, and – the only thing in the box that's not particularly useful – a drink coaster. The desk costs about US$100 more than Varidesk's manually-operated free-standing desk of the same size and $200 more than the add-on units that sit on top of the desk (Varidesk calls these “Desk Risers”).
The first thing you’ll notice is that this is one solid piece of kit. Set up is definitely a two-person job, but it only takes a few minutes. Lug the two boxes into position, crack open the box and you get your first indication that this is a premium product – instead of the near-useless assembly tools we’ve come to expect with flat-packed furniture, you get a decent T-shaped hex wrench and a mallet for banging in the steel crossbar. It’s sort of an extension of Apple’s “get nice packaging and you’ll feel good about the product” notion, except here it has a practical purpose – it means you can set up the desk properly and ensure safe operation without having to resort to reaching for your own tools. Assembly is simply a matter of attaching the legs, tightening four screws, flipping the desk over, tapping in the stability crossbar and attaching the cable tidy.
From there it’s just a matter of plugging it in, playing around with some different heights to see what suits you and dialing in your three presets. You can also set a minimum height and toggle the digital readout between centimeters and inches. The LED display turns itself off after a few seconds to save energy and operation is smooth and reasonably quiet, so you won’t spill your coffee or upset your co-workers.
The most obvious feature of the ProDesk 48 Electric is the electric part – adjusting height is simply a matter of pushing and holding a button. This seems to go against the idea of staying active in the workplace when it’s not particularly difficult to adjust the manually operated desks, but there’s a little more to this than being a lazy show pony. The difference is that while Varidesk’s equivalent non-electric free-standing desk has nine height settings, the ProDesk Electric can be set to any point, so there’s more versatility. Not having to manually lift it also means its construction can be more heavy-duty, and it can hold a lot more weight than the manually operated versions.
The same arguments apply to the desktop units I’ve previously used – they only have two possible options, standing and sitting, whereas the free-standing electric desk can be set at any height. That raises another benefit of the ProDesk 48 Electric – you can also incrementally adjust your sitting height. This wasn’t something I’d previously thought of, but I found that even minor adjustments to sitting height, as well as standing height, can help when it comes to reducing aches and pains in the neck and back. One caveat here is that unlike the desk risers, it doesn’t have a built-in tier that acts to raise your monitor closer to eye level, but it can easily handle extra weight if you want to put a stand under your monitor. You can also buy attachable monitor arms that do the same thing and give you more space on your desktop.
Of course, to get any benefit from using a standing desk you have to remember to use it, and there are quite a few in our office that don’t make it out of sitting position too often anymore. You could set an alarm (or call on Siri if you want to really go over the top), but for me, doing different tasks either standing or sitting does the trick. For calls, for instance, I always stand up, which gives you more scope for animated arm-waving, too. Whatever your method, the ease and versatility of having an electric desk does help in this regard, even after the “desk goes up, desk goes down” novelty has worn off.
So back to the original question. If you’re in the market for a standing desk, is it worth laying out the extra dollars for a top-of-the-range model like the ProDesk 48 Electric. For us it’s a definite yes. At US$695 (AUD$1,095) it’s a bit of an investment, but you need to part with a fair chunk of that for a decent add-on model that you sit on an existing desk, and conventional desks aren’t necessarily cheap either if you want something that will look good and last in the office environment.
In relation to other electric standing desks on the market a price of $695 is certainly competitive (there's also a 60-inch model for $795). You can pay less for something like Ikea's Bekant, but you get something that looks a lot less stable. You can also pay more for the likes of the Updesk Pro ($949), which holds more weight and has a slightly more sophisticated control unit, or the touchscreen-packing, cloud-connected Stir Kinetic Desk M1 ($2,990).
Beyond that, you could always add an exercise bike to the equation or build your own hamster wheel, but for a balance of sturdiness, style and functionality the ProDesk 48 Electric ticks all the boxes. It's rock solid (even at full extension), it looks great, it’s hard to scratch, easy to clean, and in the time we’ve spent with it, it functions flawlessly. In short, it does everything you need to free yourself from that slouchy spot over your keyboard and bring a bit more movement into your work day.
Product page: Varidesk ProDesk 48 Electric