Monday, 13 May 2019 16:39

Review: Varidesk ProPlus 36

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Working on your feet in an office is becoming "a thing", driven largely by research associating long periods of sitting with poor health outcomes.

But not everyone wants to stand all the time, so there is a market for desks that can be readily adjusted — often electrically — between sitting and standing heights, and also for adjustable work surfaces that can be placed on top of a conventional desk.

One of the most heavily advertised product families in the latter category comes from Varidesk.

iTWire tested the Varidesk ProPlus 36, which is 91.5cm (36in) wide.

The ProPlus 36 comes in a choice of black, white, darkwood (a chocolatey-brown shade) and butcher block (light wood), so most popular desk surface finishes are covered. There are also 30 and 48in (76 and 122cm) wide models, and also as an electrically-operated variant of the 36.

No assembly is required. You simply lift the ProPlus 36 from the carton (the company recommends two people, and while it didn't strike me as being dangerously heavy for an adult, case should always be taken when lifting) and place it on the desk.

The package includes a pair of cable ties to help keep things tidy, and a coaster to stop mug rings marring your new work surface.

Fairly obviously, the taller you are, the higher the Varidesk needs to be in order to set the keyboard at a comfortable height. At around 187cm, I needed to adjust it to the maximum height in conjunction with a 72cm high desk. (If you're taller, the Varidesk Exec 40 provides an extra 14cm of lift.)

A potential problem is that the higher you set the Varidesk, the further it protrudes from the desk and the harder it is to reach anything that's on the desk. Fully raised, it was just possible to reach the front corners of the 150cm wide desk.

I was initially concerned that the leverage involved in having the keyboard shelf cantilevered so far forward could result in instability, but then I realised that that's why the ProPlus is so heavy (around 23kg). Once placed on the desk, it stayed put.

And it seemed solidly made: it's not possible to determine from a normal review how well an item will stand up to wear and tear, but there was no slop in the various joints, and Varidesk's five-year warranty is encouraging.

By the time you've put two monitors or a monitor and a notebook (my usual working arrangement) on the upper shelf of a ProPlus 36 and a keyboard and mouse on the lower tray, there's not much room left. You can squeeze in a desk phone, a small notepad and a coffee mug, but that's about it. I usually keep a lot more than that on my desk, especially as it has no drawers.

So buyers who favour non-minimalist workspaces should probably go for the 122cm wide ProPlus 48, or budget for a monitor arm to recover some flat space. Varidesk's models start at $175 and include single and dual monitor versions, as well as a very useful looking dual arm variation that takes one monitor and one notebook, but is not sold in Australia.

There are plenty of monitor arms from other vendors, but something you would need to check is how far they extend below the desktop. The Varidesk ProPlus 36 has only around 5cm clearance between the bottom of the monitor shelf and a metal crossmember, so there isn't much room for an arm's clamp.

Another reason for using a monitor arm would be to raise the screen so you don't look down at it. The top of my 21in monitor was at roughly shoulder height when standing, whereas the usual recommendation is that it should be at or slightly above eye level so you're looking only slightly down (unless you wear bifocals, in which case it should be lower). But if this was a concern for you, you'd probably already be using a monitor arm. On the other hand, in the fully-lowered position the extra height of the Varidesk raised the monitor to the ideal height for me.

A possible downside of the fully-lowered position is that it raises the keyboard around 3cm above the desk surface. That could make it too high for comfortable use by some people, depending on their height and body proportions.

As solidly built as the ProPlus seems to be, there is some movement because a metal and (what I assume to be) MDF structure isn't going to be completely rigid. Consequently, the normal vibration from typing was amplified in the standing position to the extent that the monitor wobbled a little more than I'm used to, but I suspect this was due more to the flex in the monitor's base and hinge than the Varidesk because it was much less noticeable when watching the notebook's screen.

The 11-setting height adjustment was very smooth, and the smooth spring-loaded mechanism gave no cause for concern that the Varidesk might suddenly crash to either extreme while switching between standing and sitting positions, risking damage to equipment such as a monitor or notebook.

At $550, the ProPlus 36 isn't cheap, but you can easily pay more for a complete sit-stand desk. While there are less expensive desktop products from other manufacturers, the Varidesk seems to have an edge in build quality and stability. And the 30-day return policy gives you a chance to find out whether the product is right for you.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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