Why you should trust us
Wirecutter has been testing and recommending adjustable standing desks since 2013. We had tested a half-dozen desktop-mounted converters over those five years. In 2019, we expanded our testing and recommendations for converters and brought them into their own guide.
Over the years of testing standing desks, we’ve consulted the work of experts in ergonomics and productivity. We’ve read the work of James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, a pioneer and early advocate for varying one’s work position. We spoke at length with Shane Harris, one of the first journalists to write extensively about standing desks. We also referenced the work of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group (CUErgo) for this guide and the guide to our home office work. In addition, we’ve spoken and written to a number of the makers of both full-size and desktop sit-to-stand desks about their designs and goals, as well as the issues we’ve had with their products.
Beyond our direct experience with standing desks, Nathan Edwards (editor of this guide) and I have written and edited a number of Wirecutter guides to home office items, furniture, and electronics. Most notably, I also wrote Wirecutter’s guide to standing desk mats. Nathan wrote or edited several previous versions of this guide and the standing desk mat guide and has been working at an adjustable-height standing desk since 2014.
Who this is for (and whether it improves your health)
Standing desk converters are for people who will not buy a full-size standing desk but still want to alternate between sitting and standing while working at a computer. This could be for many reasons, all of which we considered in making our picks for this guide:
- You cannot afford the $650-and-up price of a full-size standing desk
- You have a fixed-height desk that you like
- Your employer will not allow you to install a full-size standing desk but will allow a converter
- Your home doesn’t allow for adding a desk, or you need to be able to put away your workspace after your work is done (such as at a dining room table)
Our picks are generally aimed at people who are working with a computer for their job, whether it’s a laptop or a desktop with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Some have enough room and stability to allow for the addition of a notebook and pen, but most are not spaced or sized for a lot of documents or drawing. If that’s something you need, consider a full-size standing desk or a drawing board (drafting table).
Why would you want to alternate sitting and standing during your workday? Several peer-reviewed studies agree that sitting for long periods of time can shorten your life. Sitting for eight hours a day or more with no physical activity can be a health risk similar to obesity or smoking, according to an analysis of 13 studies, and can be linked to increased occurrence of cancers, per this broader study of 4 million people in 43 studies. Being moderately active for 60 to 75 minutes per day can counter the effects of too much sitting. But can a standing desk also counter the damage of sitting? This is not yet proven. Wirecutter’s parent company, The New York Times, published a stronger opinion by a pediatric doctor, with headlines suggesting standing desks are “overrated” and “not cures for anything.”
This does not mean a standing setup has no benefit. Smaller studies like one from the University of Leicester have shown improved productivity from using a standing desk. I tend to agree. Standing in the early morning, or after lunch, helps me stave off drowsy lulls in focus. Working in a sit/stand/move cycle encourages me to occasionally fetch a glass of water, itself a good habit, and can also be adapted to a Pomodoro Technique habit.
How we picked
Years of using standing desk converters, full-size standing desks, and even some cardboard standing adapters taught us a lot about what to look for in a sit/stand setup. Among the things we value:
- Adjustability: This is a key factor. You should be able to easily lock your work surface at just the right height without having to settle for a small number of preset heights that might not be right for you. For units with monitor mounts, getting your monitor to eye level should be as easy as getting your work surface to elbow height.
- Ease of raising and lowering: For manually controlled models, we considered how much strength or finesse was required; for electric models, we considered how long it took for a desk to move and how difficult it was to make fine adjustments. In either case, we considered whether it would be aggravating to have to make that move multiple times per day.
- General ergonomics: The way a converter is built should allow you to be about an arm’s length away from your screen, and for your elbow to be as close to a 90-degree bend as possible. Poor standing options place their keyboard surfaces too far out or too close to where your screen is going, or they force you to raise your hands while sitting to reach your keys.
- Space and layout: Although they come in different sizes, we think any standing desk should have optimal space and layout. If it’s a single-tier model, it should give you the most usable space possible without levers or handles interfering. Two-tier, single-column, and electric models should allow for a keyboard and mouse and would do well to have room for a few other items, like a glass or mug, and a medium notebook and pen.
- Maximum height: A converter should accommodate as many human heights as possible. Most full-size desks we’ve recommended accommodate people with heights up to 6 feet 2 inches, give or take an inch or two. We dismissed models that fell notably short of this goal, with the exception of the inherently compromised laptop risers.
- Minimum height: This measurement, how far the converter unit raises your work surface over the original height of a desk or table, is a major consideration. A thick converter work surface may raise your typing surface more than 2 inches off the desk you are using. That doesn’t seem like much, but some people may not be able to raise their chair to meet that height because their legs are already pressing against the bottom of the desk.
- Noise: This factor was mostly a consideration for electric models, but some manual converters also make groans, unsettling motor noises, or even screeching metal-coil-bending sounds when moving. We dismissed some desks based on noise, though they usually had other problems as well.
- Likelihood of pinching or crushing: This may sound like a weird thing to include here, but trust us, this is something you need to know about. Desktop converters that adjust manually have arms, levers, crossing points, springs, and other moving parts that can catch your hands or snag a cable. We preferred electric converters that offer collision detection, stopping the desk from continuing to move if it faces resistance.
- Desk depth: For most categories, this measurement should accommodate most people. The full standing desks we test are 30 inches deep, and any converter that comes too close to that (or goes over) is not useful to most.
- Weight: For the single-platform models and manual two-tier models we tested, this is an important factor so that you can easily remove your converter if you need the surface for other things, such as if you’re working from a kitchen or dining room table.
- Looks: Appearances were not a strength for almost any model we tested, but if a converter did anything to distinguish its appearance or hide some of its raising mechanisms, we noted it.
How we tested
With those priorities in mind, we tested 15 standing desk converters in late 2018 and early 2019, in three categories:
Single-tier (laptop riser)
Two-tier and single-column
Some of these models offer multiple sizes, or their maker sells a very similar model in a larger size. We considered this when assessing these desks; we didn’t ding any converter for not offering enough room if a larger size was available.
I used all of these desks at my dining room table (about 40 inches deep), and invited both Wirecutter editor Kimber Streams and my wife to use most of them as well. After using each one for at least a day’s work, I tested a smaller set further in my home office, on a 30-by-60-inch adjustable-height desk,1 and then I tried our picks more on a separate fixed-height desk.
We tested each standing desk converter the same way we tested full-size standing desks: we used them to do our Wirecutter work. That meant typing on a laptop or keyboard, using a mouse, drinking beverages, and occasionally scribbling in a notebook, if space allowed. We rotated between sitting, standing, and walking away on roughly 30-minute cycles. Some of these models were more stable front-to-back and side-to-side than full-size standing desks, but we noted if they seemed to wobble or transferred more vibrations to a monitor on its stand than other competitors. We tested how annoying it became to raise and lower each desk and whether cords tended to get caught in the machinery. We considered how a desk looked while lowered onto a table, and, for single-surface laptop risers, how easy the setup was to take down and stash away.
Our pick: Ergo Desktop Kangaroo Pro Junior
The Kangaroo Pro Junior, a converter we’ve recommended for more than five years, does the best job of turning a fixed surface into an ergonomic standing workstation for a mouse, keyboard, and monitor while having a reasonable footprint. Out of all the standing desk converters we tested, it remains the easiest to adjust both your work surface and monitor to where you need them. This makes the Kangaroo more stable than two-tier converters, even though it takes up less space on your desk. The Kangaroo Pro Junior sat the flattest on our desk at sitting height of any desk we tested. Its flat, open work surface accommodates a wider range of keyboards and mice than the narrow keyboard trays of other converters, and it doesn’t box in your hands while you’re using it. And it looks like a fine and normal piece of office furniture, which is an achievement for this category.
The Kangaroo Pro Junior raises and lowers differently (and we think better) than any other standing desk converter we tested. You turn a knob to loosen the work platform and monitor mount, raise them to where you need to stand or sit, then re-tighten the knobs. It takes a few more seconds to get the Kangaroo to a different height than some other lever-squeezing converters, or, of course, a push-button electric full-size desk. But there are three benefits to this system:
- You can raise the monitor and work surface exactly where you need them, as opposed to the increments of an electric device or the notches of the Varidesk ProPlus.
- Raising and lowering with the unit’s nitrogen gas springs requires very little effort or pressure, unlike the tension you have to apply to most mechanical converters or the bench-press-like effort to get the Workfit-TX up or down.
- Once your surfaces are tightened into place, they stay there and are stable. The Kangaroo had less wobble than nearly any other converter we tested, and leaning on it wouldn’t lower the work surface, unlike the other column-style converter we tested, the Workfit-S.
Most standing desk converters take up a lot of space on your work surface, weigh a lot, and force your keyboard and mouse onto a smaller, confined tray, even when you’re sitting. The Kangaroo Pro Junior is just under 20 inches from the front of its work surface to the back of its monitor column. That’s 1-3 inches less than every other converter we tested in its category and nearly 10 inches less than the Fully Cooper or VariDesk Pro Plus 30. It weighs about 33 pounds, which is not a small amount but less than every other two-tier converter we tested. If you had to remove the Kangaroo Pro Junior from your desk to make room, it would be easier than with any other converter we tested that can mount a monitor (after unplugging your cords, of course). There are smaller, lighter converters that do less and bigger converters that add some small conveniences, but the Kangaroo Pro Junior best justifies the space you give it.
When sitting, the Kangaroo’s work surface is about as flat and level with the top of your desk or table as it can be. The surface is roughly a half-inch thick and floats less than a quarter-inch off your desk, so it raises your typing surface by ¾ inch. Most converters add about an inch to your desktop height. Unlike other converters, you could improve the slight bounce of the keyboard/work area (which is better than that of other converters, including our other picks) by putting something under it, like a towel or blanket.
Typing on the Kangaroo Pro Junior at standing height is fine, functional, and mostly unremarkable. A small adjustable stability bar comes with the desk, which you can set to your preferred height and then prop underneath the work surface. That small prop prevents wobbling at the edge closest to you, and the unit’s heavy base halts most vibrations that come through the desk. The keyboard tray of the most similar competitor, the Workfit-S, bounces at standing height. The keyboard trays of the other two-tier models we tested either bounce and vibrate inside their frames, or are stable but smaller (like the VertDesk). The Kangaroo Pro Junior comes closest to providing work room and staying in place.
The Kangaroo Pro Junior is a metal column that holds a monitor and a black matte plastic work surface, and that’s all it looks like. There are no visible logos, glowing LED buttons, or attempts at sleek rounded corners. These are points in its favor. While we like the simple bamboo look of Uplift’s E7 electric desk, it might stand out a lot in a neutral-tone office setting. The Kangaroo Pro Junior is not entirely black plastic and black-painted metal, either, like the VertDesk, Vivo, Varidesk, or the vast majority of the dozens of other standing converters available. The mix of the two materials is just a bit more interesting than the competition without being ostentatious.
Assembling the Kangaroo Pro Junior presented no surprises. The Kangaroo’s base is a flat piece of rounded metal, so it’s very unlikely to scratch a table or desk. Manufacturer Ergo Desktop offers a full refund within 30 days of purchase (if you buy it directly from them). The gas springs and moving parts have a five-year warranty, and the steel structural frame is covered for 10. I used a Kangaroo Pro Junior for about six months after we last tested it, and it saw no notable wear or tear.
While we find the Kangaroo Pro Junior to be the best value for those with a single VESA-compatible monitor, keyboard, and mouse, there are Kangaroo products at different prices that fit monitors with stands, dual monitors, laptops, monitor/laptop combos, and even all-in-one desktops. The Kangaroo Pro Junior’s monitor mount does not allow rotation, for example, while the Kangaroo Pro does. You can also buy a keyboard extension for the Junior model if you want to extend your work surface with 9 inches of depth (the regular Kangaroo Pro is 6 inches deeper).
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The work surface of the Kangaroo Pro Junior moves straight up and down, and there’s no frame around the edges. As such, things can end up underneath the work surface and then be hit by the surface on the way down. It’s better to stand in shorter shifts (4-6 minutes every 20-24 minutes or so), but if you stand a while, be sure to check underneath.
If you like to have your cables neatly bundled and out of the way, that’s something you’ll have to figure out yourself. The Kangaroo doesn’t come with any cable-wrangling clips or stick-on routing tools. You can get the supplies yourself (we recommend some in another guide), but you will have to make sure your cables don’t get in the way of moving parts or come unplugged at standing height. There’s a bit of this work involved with every standing setup, but other desks, like the Varidesk, Workfit, and VertDesk, offer at least some standard routing holes and included clips.
Keeping an optional, adjustable leg on your desk to brace the keyboard platform is a mixed bag. It takes up space and is one more thing to knock over. But locking the brace into your most common standing height also makes it easier to get your work surface to a consistent height by raising the surface up and then gently lowering it onto the leg.
Runner-up: VertDesk Standing Desk Converter
The VertDesk Standing Desk Converter covers most of the situations the Kangaroo Pro Junior does not. Because it’s a two-level converter, it can work with monitors on a stand or all-in-one computers, rather than requiring a VESA-compatible bracket. It works if you want to use your laptop itself as your main screen. And it’s a little faster to raise and lower, with levers on each side instead of locking knobs. If you need those things, or prefer how the VertDesk looks or raises to the Kangaroo Pro Junior, this desk, too, earns the space it takes up on a desk.
The VertDesk converter doesn’t raise straight up like the Kangaroo Pro Junior, nor does it move a long distance toward you when you raise it. It moves up and slightly out, in a smooth motion and holds up your gear without being notably difficult to push back down, unlike most other models that had some imbalance of stability and ease of moving.2 Making small adjustments to the height of the VertDesk wasn’t difficult. At standing height, the VertDesk was more all-around stable, front-to-back and side-to-side, than the Vivo and Cooper.
You can use the VertDesk with a variety of screen setups: your laptop on the top shelf with or without a laptop stand, a monitor on a stand, two monitors on two stands, or one or two monitors on a monitor arm. There’s a replaceable grommet in the back-middle of the upper platform for running cables to your screen, and a few clips and suggested cable-routing spots. The VertDesk keyboard tray offers the most full-length depth, at 13 inches, of any laptop-friendly model we tested; the Varidesk has a longer notch in the middle, but is narrower at its left and right ends. That deeper space allows for more mouse room, a larger keyboard, or a small notepad. The keyboard tray’s tilt can be adjusted, and unlike the Vivo converters we tested, the VertDesk tray stays firmly in the angle you set it.
The drawbacks of the VertDesk Converter are mostly the same with any desktop converter. The keyboard tray raises your typing surface a bit more than an inch off your table or desk when sitting, so you may need to adjust your chair or make other adjustments to your workspace. It’s good that the VertDesk is available in white instead of the standard all-matte-black look, but it’s not a particularly appealing piece of furniture. While the working surfaces are contained inside a frame and the top desktop sits higher than a coffee mug when lowered, the handles on either side of the top surface could catch something if you move it underneath while you’re standing. And, again like most of its peers, the VertDesk requires that you at least manage your cords so that they can’t be caught in the pinching parts of the frame.
The VertDesk Converter has a five-year warranty with “no exceptions.” If you have two stand-mounted monitors, you can buy a 42-inch-wide version for about $70 more.
Also great: E7 Electric Standing Desk Converter
If you have a desk or space you want to fully dedicate to a sit-stand rotation with the convenience of electric movement and preset heights, the E7 by Uplift is the closest you can get to the experience of a full standing desk. That’s because it is, essentially, half a standing desk: a motorized column that raises a bamboo work surface and VESA-mounted monitor with the press of a button. It demands at least 26 inches of desk depth (and another 13 inches with the keyboard tray), and it weighs nearly 100 pounds, but it provides the quietest electric movement, a sleeker-looking wood or laminate surface, and more cord-routing options and suggestions than other electric converters we tested.
Having your sitting and standing heights set into memory on the E7 is convenient, and the E7, unlike the other electric models we tested, has buttons that are conveniently placed and easy to operate. After you tap a button, the E7 is far quieter than other electric desks when moving.
When sitting, the main work surface rests about an inch above your fixed-height desk or table. It’s more awkward than the Kangaroo Pro Junior, but if you add on the optional (but included) adjustable keyboard tray, that sits lower than your work surface. That might work for some people, especially those 5 feet 5 inches and shorter, who might otherwise struggle to sit tall enough with the E7 on their desk (since they may already struggle with standard-height desks).
The main work surface and monitor mount, at sitting and standing height, are stable when typing. The keyboard tray has some wobble and bounce, especially if you’re using a mouse near the left and right edges. Generally, given its nearly 100 pounds, it’s a stable platform.
The biggest flaw of the E7 is that you have to mount your VESA-compatible monitor at one of five spots on the column. Moving the monitor to a different height requires a screwdriver inserted behind the monitor, and it’s annoying. This requires you to choose a monitor height that works just okay for both sitting and standing heights. The Kangaroo Pro Junior lets you adjust your monitor on a sliding column, separately from the work surface. At 6 feet 2 inches, I had to settle on having my monitor a little low in standing mode so that it wasn’t neck-tilting tall when sitting.
Budget laptop-only pick: Fully Cora Standing Desk Converter
If you aren’t using a monitor to work or you value being able to put away your workstation at the end of the day, the Cora Standing Desk Converter by Fully is the best low-commitment way to add a standing setup to an existing surface. It was the easiest to adjust, put away, and fit a simple laptop setup onto. It’s also the only single-platform riser we tested that wouldn’t look notably out of place resting against a wall when not in use.
The Cora rises and lowers at a steady pace on quiet springs that required the least pressure to move and adjust, and you don’t have to bear down on it from directly above to lower it, as with the Stand Steady X-Pro Elite or Vivo V000HB. The Cora is fully adjustable, rather than being limited to set height intervals like the X-Pro Elite or Varidesk’s Laptop 30. It stays stable at the top of its height, which was the case for most risers we tested except the X-Elite Pro, which jiggles and flexes when pressure is applied. Like any rise-in-place laptop adapter, you have to watch that your laptop power cord doesn’t get pinched in the legs while lowering it.
The Cora gets as flat as it can be on your table or desk, raising the work surface to 1.3 inches, while the X-Pro and V000HB bounced slightly on their lifting mechanisms at sitting height. The bottom of the surface frame has non-skid pads on it to prevent movement or scratches. The handles on the Cora were the easiest to activate and hold onto while raising or lowering, although that also means they can be triggered accidentally. When lowered all the way, pressing one handle of the Cora allows the frame to pop out slightly. It’s annoying when you’re carrying the thing or it’s stored against a wall, but it’s not likely to cause any real problems.
We think the white version of the Cora with gray aluminum legs looks much nicer than the mostly drab black competitors we tested. The Cora has a two-year warranty.
Two-tier and single-column converters
The Ergotron Workfit-S is a single-column, mounted-monitor converter like the Kangaroo Pro Junior, but it clamps to the front of your desk surface instead of resting on it. Using it side-by-side with the Kangaroo, we found its keyboard tray wobbled while typing, that the unit could be lowered gradually if you applied any kind of leaning pressure to it, and that lowering it required angling your downward pressure just so. The monitor mount also didn’t rise high enough for my 6-foot-2-inch self, and when you push the monitor to the top of its adjustment, it lowers back down again a few inches.
Fully’s Cooper was a close competitor to the VertDesk as a two-tier converter. It’s 36 inches wide but deeper than the VertDesk, with a keyboard tray that comes out to a total of 28 inches deep, versus 22.5. It looks a bit more interesting, with a bamboo option and an interesting X-fold design. The nearly 29-inch-wide keyboard tray is useful, but it jiggled more in our testing at sitting height than the VertDesk’s tray. You can adjust the Cooper’s lifting strength and resistance to find the right balance of holding your stuff up but not being too hard to push down. As shipped, our Cooper review unit required too much force to push down from the top. A long series of incremental adjustments later, I was never sure if I should try to keep lowering the resistance or make it more stable when standing. That kind of adjustment might appeal to some people, but we preferred not having to think about it.
The Varidesk ProPlus 30 (also available in 36-inch and 48-inch versions) takes up just under 30 inches of depth to use, the most of any converter we tested. It’s stable while typing and mousing at standing height, and its keyboard tray is about as bounce-resistant at sitting height as the VertDesk. But the ProPlus has 11 locked height positions and its upward momentum is very strong, so we had to sometimes fight it from skipping the spot we wanted. When lowering it, that also meant we had to really hold open the movement levers, push down on the top, and make sure it was locked into its bottom-most position, or else it would jerk back up to its first position.
Vivo’s V000B converter puts your keyboard farther above your fixed-height table while sitting than any other standing converter we tested. You can remove the slightly bouncy keyboard tray and type in the empty space inside the converter, but then you don’t really have anywhere to put your keyboard when the unit is raised. The gas springs are strongly tuned, so raising is easy, but making small adjustments downward takes some effort. The unit moved back and forth at its top height when making wider mouse movements, and our 24-inch monitor wobbled quite a bit at standing height.
The WorkFit-TX is different than most two-tier converters, with a keyboard tray that extends below your table, a tray that you can toggle between tilted and flat, and dedicated cable-routing grommets near the back. It’s also very big—35 inches wide and 28 inches deep, not including the tray. The WorkFit-TX is a stable converter with a lot of room for your gear, and it can handle big monitors. But pressing it down from standing height felt like doing a triceps exercise at the gym. That also meant that making a small adjustment from one standing height to another was tricky, as you had to hold the moving lever open and press hard but then stop just where you needed it.
Vivo’s V000HB riser required a bit more pressure and angling to push back down than the Cora. It feels looser and slightly bouncy when flattened on a table, and it moves into fixed notches instead of being infinitely adjustable like the Cora. Its handles, while immune to accidental pressing, also take up space on the desktop.
Stand Steady’s X-Elite Pro costs more than any other laptop riser we tested, but it’s hard to figure out why. Its one wire handle sticks out and is too easy to trigger accidentally. It has only eight points of height it can raise to, and when raised, pressure on the surface or from front to back causes the desktop to flex between those notches. It is loud when moving, and it makes a screeching kind of sound, like the legs of an ironing board. The desktop picks up speed quickly as you lower it. When lowered, it never sits completely flat on your fixed-height surface.
The Laptop 30 is 30 inches wide and only 10¾ inches deep, about half the depth of the Cora. It can only hold a laptop, really, and you could only raise the laptop screen with same-size books (although books are technically one of our laptop stand picks). This limits the ergonomic usefulness of the unit. While it has nine positions instead of fluid movement, it is stable at height. Its recessed handles are a good idea. The Laptop 30’s sloped edges are useful when you’re subtly leaning on your typing surface, either sitting or standing, but you shouldn’t really do that.
Varidesk’s ProPlus 36 Electric is mostly similar to the manual-rising ProPlus model we addressed above. It raises and lowers with a button that you have to hold down in a console between the top surface and keyboard tray. This feels awkward in part because the desk moves slowly while you’re holding that button. It’s a stable desk, it can hold dual monitors, there’s a lot of room for a keyboard and mouse, and Varidesk’s included accessories, like a clamp-on mini power strip, are quite useful. The ProPlus 36 is a big investment in deskspace and money, and we liked the E7 more for its automatic lifting, better looks, and price.
Vivo’s V000EB raises your keyboard and monitors an inch above your fixed-height table, though it feels like more. The keyboard tray bounces when typing, and while it’s more stable than its manual-lift Vivo sibling while at standing height, the whole unit is susceptible to side-to-side movement. The electric riser is slower than the E7, notably louder, and the button for raising it is off to the side, so you have to look or feel for it every time. It also glows blue all the time, which is handy for working at night, but a weird hue to have always on in your home. The cut-out on the front of the top desk is awkwardly placed for cable routing and probably not a good way to hold a 60-pound desk.
The Movi workspace is an interesting idea that needs a lot of work. The $850 desktop looks sleek, and the idea of a programmable electric desktop that rises in place without a heavy column or bulky frame is appealing. But the rod-turning single motor in the Movi is very, very loud and slow, and the controls are awkward to use, understand, or program. Making a small adjustment to the height involves holding a large but unresponsive button, and waiting to see if the display catches up with the motor. We’d be interested to see a future version of this, but for now, it’s more a proof of concept.
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