A Standing Desk on a Budget – What to Look For

AKTIV 2 desk silver frame and white desktop raised to standing height

There are two types of ‘cheap’ standing desk. One gives you lots of desk for a relatively small outlay. The other sets the bar so low for quality that even a low price is too much. But how do you know which is which?

Once upon a time, back in the days when shops were still a thing, you didn’t have to scour the spec pages of a website to compare standing desks. You could give them a test drive yourself. Sit at them. Stand at them. Raise them. Lower them. Pretend to be typing away on them and see how it felt.

You can still do that with our standing desks if you happen to be close to our Hemel Hempstead base - just give us a call beforehand to let us know you’re coming - but let’s assume that you’re not 20 minutes down the M1. How can you tell the cheap (in a good way) from the cheap (in a definitely not good way)?

Quality Standing Desk or Quality Marketing?

Every standing desk manufacturer, including us, is in business to sell standing desks. Every website accentuates the positives. It’s just that some brush the not so good under the carpet.

We genuinely believe our AKTIV desks are about as good as you’ll get in our little corner of the market. When someone comes along with a desk that offers real competition to ours we’re happy to shout about it, partly because we’re eager to champion quality wherever it comes from, and partly because we believe the AKTIV will still emerge as the overall winner.

But just as there are great standing desks at a budget price, there are also poor standing desks with great marketing, also at a budget price.

What’s the Difference Between a Good Standing Desk and a Bad One?

Honestly, it’s not always easy to tell. You think you’d be able to go by something as simple as the length of warranty – and to an extent you can – but not always. AKTIV desks have three (AKTIV 1) or five-year (AKTIV 2) warranties on the frame and motor and a ten-year guarantee on the desktop. They’re among the best guarantees on the market. Many other desks come with one or two years at best on their motors (so always check the small print!)

But then there’s the well-known Swedish mega retailer that offers a 10 year guarantee on its sit stand desk, despite being poorly reviewed. One or two sit/stand desk manufacturers even offer a 15 year guarantee on everything. Is that a badge of peerless quality? Or is it a sign that you’ve paid massively over the odds for a desk that will frequently fail to last 15 years but, since you’ve paid far more than it’s worth, the manufacturer can comfortably afford to replace it?

Still, the signs of quality are there if you look deeply enough.

Every decent standing desk manufacturer should offer detailed specifications of their desks (if they don’t, run a mile). Comparing specs can’t tell you everything (see below) but it can give you an important insight into what you’re buying. In particular, noise, load and speed of raising lowering, while rarely the most important factors on our customers’ wish lists, are powerful signals of quality.

  • Low load capacity (anything less than 60kg) suggests a compromise on materials and construction tolerances throughout. It also means that, even with just a couple of monitors, a CPU and a printer, you could well find the motor starting to grumble.
  • Motor noise is an indicator of overall build quality. The quality of a motor is determined by the type and thickness of its metals and the tolerances applied in construction. Thin metal and relatively lax tolerances will give more room for vibration and wear, and that will result in noise. You might wonder why Ikea’s standing desk doesn’t even quote noise levels.
  • Raising and lowering speed is, together with noise, a sort of belts and braces check on motor quality. Always consider this figure with the load capacity. A desk with a low load capacity and slow speed will be even slower as you get closer to its load limit. And a desk you have to wait for becomes an irritant very quickly.

To be completely transparent, here’s how the AKTIV 1 and 2 measure up on these three telling measures:

AKTIV 1

AKTIV 2

Maximum load

80kg

100kg

Noise

50dB

45dB

Speed

25 mm / sec.

32 mm / sec.

Getting Beyond the Spec

Specifications are a useful indicator of quality, but there are some things they won’t tell you.

Wobble (or bounce) is the big challenge for standing desk companies. When you extend the legs to their full height, it’s not easy to engineer out that tell-tale vibration. A cheap standing desk will often come with a relatively hefty amount of wobble. Type on a keyboard with the desk fully extended and you’ll see the screens bounce like a nodding dog.

We have a simple stability test that makes it easy to visualise wobble. Take a light-leaved pot plant (i.e. not a cactus) and set it on your desk. Now start typing. If yours is a standing desk that doesn’t deal well with wobble, you’ll see the leaves ‘shivering’ as you type. On a fully stable desk, you should see virtually no movement.

How come wobble doesn’t appear on spec sheets? Because it’s not caused by a single factor. It’s partly a question of load capacity (which does appear on most sheets). But it’s also a matter of build quality, manufacturing tolerances, the number of fixing points between frame and desktop, and the quality and thickness of individual elements, from subframe to screws.

When all of that comes together in a clever package like the AKTIV 1 or 2, the result is a desk that’s pretty darn robust not just for the desks in their class but for far more expensive models.

When any element is missing, well, prepare to put up with a shakier sit/stand desk experience.

Will a Cheap Standing Desk Last?

A quality standing desk will last, no matter how much you pay for it. Frustratingly (for us at least) a cheaply made desk might last too, but it’s much more of a lottery. We hear lots of reports of poorly made desks failing soon after assembly. Some fail right out of the box. There are always the outliers that will plough on (noisily) for 20 years, but it doesn’t change the overall picture.

AKTIV: A Quality Standing Desk That Costs Less

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. One of the reasons the AKTIV 1 (perfect for home workers) and AKTIV 2 (great for commercial offices) are at the front of their value-led peers is because they’re standing desks made by a standing desk specialist who understands what great looks and feels like.

We set out to make a really good desk, and then worked hard to chip away at the price until we could legitimately call it ‘budget’. You don’t have to look far for other standing desks that are just plain cheap – in every sense.

You might reasonably ask, well how come there’s only £50 difference between good and cheap and bad and cheap? Let’s just say someone’s making bigger markups on their standing desks than we are. We prefer to make something that’s genuinely good.

So be wary of the marketing. Don’t be fooled by a lengthy guarantee alone. Don’t assume that, because there’s not much difference in the price, there’s not much difference in the desk.

There really is.

Discover a really good desk at a really good price. Get AKTIV.