Years and years ago, when I had more time to work than money for office furniture, my first desk was a cheap little thing about the size of my lap. At that time I was just learning about ergonomics, and having more than a little trouble figuring out exactly how high my work surface should be for an optimal placement. Want to guess how I adjusted it? If you said “wooden blocks with holes drilled for the desk feet to drop into,” give yourself a point. Take an extra point if you guessed that I would hunch under the desk and literally hold the entire thing on my back while the aforementioned blocks were being adjusted.
Fortunately, height-adjustable desks have come a long way since the days when I used that blocks-and-muscle strategy. The one I’m sitting at right now has little up and down arrows, and when I press one, the desk starts moving in that direction with nothing more than the comforting hum of a motor. It’s called the Uprise.
Why I chose to take a stand
Standing desks have been The Thing since well-publicized studies a few years ago established the scary-sounding concept of “sitting disease.” Given that I’m fairly healthy and not overweight, I wasn’t especially scared – however, standing sounded like the solution for a problem I do have, which is falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon and not being able to get any work done.
The problem with standing, of course, is that it’s really tiring. (That’s why some smart person invented chairs and couches.) The perfect solution, therefore, to the sit/stand conundrum would seem to be one that combines both postural elements in appropriate measure. Thus the sit/stand desk, an innovative type of mobile furniture that can be small or large, manually operated or electronic, depending on your needs and budget. (Especially your budget; more on that after the jump.)
Why I chose Uprise
To be perfectly honest, I chose the Uprise brand because I know a guy who carries the line and was willing to make me a good deal if I’d write this review. (And no, I didn’t have to write a positive one. This is actually among my last as a primary writer for All Things Ergo, so I have no motivation to be less than forthright.)
Some standing “desks” consist of little popup platforms that sit on top of your existing desk and hold just a monitor (or two monitors) and a keyboard tray. I decided against that solution because my main monitor is frankly too big to fit on any such model I checked. That left the full-blown elevator desk, where the entire thing goes up and down and can hold pretty much whatever you’d like to place on top of it.
The first thing most people will notice about the Uprise electric standing desk isn’t its solid build, speedy and smooth-running motors, easy assembly, or even profusion of good reviews. It’s the price tag. Unless you bought Apple stock in 1980, chances are that $729 seems like a lot of money – especially for a desk that doesn’t even have a hutch, drawers, or a keyboard tray. It seems like a lot to me as well. In fact, with my budget it’s very unlikely that I’d have ever laid out that much loot for any standing desk.
To start with, full-blown standing desks in general aren’t cheap. (Unless you get one made of cardboard, which is actually a thing.) Some non-cardboard standing desks, however, are a bit cheaper than the Uprise. I haven’t tried any of these and so can’t make an informed comment, but I think it’s worth watching this video in which the Uprise stability is compared to a lower-priced desk. I personally couldn’t ask for the thing to feel sturdier or better quality.
Saving $140 the easy hard way
Given enough time, my brother Tim can make pretty much anything out of anything. He’s especially good at woodworking, and in fact he has done at least a bit of modding on every desk I’ve ever owned. (Four since I started my current career, but who’s counting?) With this talented (and generous) brother as a sort of secret weapon, I felt quite confident ordering the base-only Uprise kit rather than the one that comes with a top ready to bolt on.
While making the top was a bit of a hassle since Tim used scrap plywood and did his own veneer, the step of mounting the desk was pretty easy and intuitive. The support base simply unfolds, pulls apart, and screws on. Even the handiest workman will probably need two people for at least part of the project, as the base is extremely heavy and awkward. For the same reason, mind your fingers don’t get pinched. The weight of one leg on a hinge could cause you a lot more than a passing ouch.
The standing desk experience
So what’s it like to use a sit/stand desk for the first week or two? So far, my feet are kinda complaining from time to time (I’ve had plantar fasciitis for a third of my life), but the rest of me loves it with a passion. I’ve never had so much energy or focus when I work. I’ve never drunk so little coffee to get through the afternoon crash! I have some friends who are very into vitamins and claim this certain product will give you energy like you never had before. Right now I feel like I got the results without the vitamin.
As I settle into the standing desk routine, I’m sure I’ll find the right balance between sitting, and my in-between MoGo stance. For now, however, I seem to be kind of intoxicated with standing power. Despite my best intentions to sit down, I keep putting it off and spending much more time standing than I intend.
When I do get tired of standing after awhile, I often pull out my Focal Upright MoGo and do a sort of cross between sitting and standing for awhile. This stance really calls for a foot rest, but until I get one built or ordered, it seems to be working fine for short periods without. Focal Upright also makes higher-priced “standing chairs” intended for longer-term use.
Where am I going to put all this STUFF?
If you look carefully at the picture of me enjoying my new standing desk, you’ll notice three crisp new banker’s boxes around me on the floor. Those boxes contain about half of the stuff I was storing in the four drawers and one hutch of my old desk. Why only half, you ask? Well, the other half consisted mostly of useless junk, expired debit cards, papers that should have been filed three years ago and are no longer relevant for anything anyway, and other such lovelies. The balance of said contents (which may or may not include stuff I still ought to get rid of) is in those boxes, waiting for my hopefully-soon acquisition of a small file cabinet or two.
Moral of the story: If you currently have a desk with drawers, make a plan for what you’ll do with the unimaginable volume of stuff those drawers will disgorge, seemingly supernaturally, when you try and clean them out in preparation for your big move. Don’t underestimate your enemy here.
Pro tip on cable management
If you have a desktop form factor computer rather than a laptop, you may want to save space by doing what I did and putting the mainframe chassis under your desk rather than on top of it. If so, I strongly recommend you put your desk in the highest possible position before plugging everything in. You don’t want a short cable snagging – or worse – when the desk goes up to standing height, or even if it were to be inadvertently raised above that level. In the picture you see here, my webcam isn’t plugged in because I still need to order some USB extension cables. And, I had to raid a junk drawer for a slightly longer cord before my monitor on the left could reach its port.
Arm rests, you must use
If your current chair doesn’t have arm rests, go out and get a chair that has them. I’ll wait. Got them? Excellent. Expect a warm thank-you note from your shoulders, arms, and hands. Working on a computer without the use of arm rests is not just a bad idea; it’s cruel and unusual punishment that will quickly make most people miserable in their job whether they realize it or not.
Despite knowing the importance of arm rests both in theory and by experience, I fuzzily imagined that I’d be able to muddle through without them during my standing sessions. Wrong! In my particular case, typing without arm rests makes my thumbs feel like an invisible cosmic force is trying to pull them out of their thumb sockets. (And yes, that hurts exactly as much as it sounds like it would; it’s the worst pain I have ever personally experienced.)
The lack of arm rests is an infrequently-noted weakness of standing desks in general, but there is a solution. Remember that chair with arm rests I had you buy? Take the arm rests off and throw them away. Then, go out and get an arm rest (or a pair of them) that clamps to the front edge of your desk. If you use a RollerMouse Red, as I do, this is ease defined: Contour makes the ArmSupport Red accessory, which you can see me using the picture from earlier. So, instead of leaving my arm rests with my chair when I come up to work standing, I bring them with me.
And the display trembles in fear
The Uprise is not a shaky desk by any definition whatsoever. As shown in the aforementioned video, it’s as solid as heart could wish. My primary monitor, however – that 27″ beauty that gets more of my eyeball time than my family most days – came with an extraordinarily flimsy mount. The slightest – and I mean slightest – vibration will set it shaking like a leaf. And when I type, the resulting vibration on even a steady surface tends to be, well, not slight. At first it was pretty disturbing to watch my monitor quaver as my fingers pounded the keys, and I started scheming to mechanically steady the monitor with some contrivance such as an aftermarket VESA-compatible mounting arm. After a day or two, however, I find myself scarcely noticing the tremors at all. Until I wrote that. Thanks. And now I’m off to Google aftermarket monitor mounting arms….
The Uprise controller comes with preset functionality – four buttons you can easily set to various height levels depending on your needs. In my case, I use one for sitting, one for standing, one for an in-between position with my portable standing chair, and one for a decoration. So far so good.
When I ordered my Uprise, I imagined its preset buttons working with one touch, like a garage door opener. As it turns out, you do only have to touch the preset button once – but you have to keep touching it all the way through travel, until the desk reaches your specified preset level and stops on its own.
I had actually been planning to gripe about the way this works, but instead I’m going to send a shout-out to Uprise for making a good call. What changed my mind, you ask? The other night, I may or may not have started lowering my desk while my chair was underneath it, and had great occasion to be thankful that its motion stopped the moment I released the button. It turns out that safety features, however inconvenient, are generally there for a reason.
Should you take a stand?
If you’ve read this far in what turned out to be a much longer article than I intended, you’re almost certainly pretty serious about giving sit/stand a try. As you can probably guess from all I’ve said, I highly recommend that course of action. Is Uprise for you? If you want premium quality, have a large budget, and can’t do with a smaller clamp-on type of desk, it very well may be.
If you’re not sure about this whole standing thing yet, I’m not going to tell you to go out and drop $700 on an Uprise. Instead, you might want to start with an ultra-cheap solution such as that cardboard desk, or even improvise with boards and stacks of everyday objects. Once you’re sure standing is for you, Uprise will be waiting.