Standing Desk Converters vs Standing Desks: Which to Choose?
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Standing Desk Converters vs Standing Desks: Which to Choose?

|Jan 17, 2021

In the world of desk ergonomics, standing desks are all the rage. Many people, however, find themselves in a position where they don’t want to buy an entirely new desk. For those people, standing desk converters were invented.

The question is, are those converters worth the money? Or are they just a gimmick meant to take advantage of people who don’t know any better? Let’s take a look.

What a Standing Desk Converter Is

First, let’s talk about what, exactly, a standing desk converter even is. You might picture all kinds of different things in your head when you think of it, from floor jacks that lift your existing desk to big boxes placed on top of your desk to raise its surface level.

In a sense, you’re correct. A standing desk converter is, essentially, an item that allows you to work standing at a desk that is not a standing desk. Generally, they are items that sit on top of your existing desk, rather than trying to precariously raise the entire desk itself.

Converter example

Depending on the design, these units may be able to fold up entirely and be stored away when not in use, or they may simply collapse into a smaller profile.

Different Types of Standing Desk Converters

There are quite a few different kinds of standing desk converters on the market.

Types of converters

  • Post and Base. These converters are a flat base that attaches to your desk, a post at the back that holds your monitor similar to a monitor arm, and a shelf attached to the post that holds your keyboard. They’re low profile, but require you to mount your monitor, and are less compatible with laptops.
  • Z-Lift Converters. Named because of the Z shape they make when looked at from the side, these are mechanical lifts with gas springs and mechanical brakes to keep them in place. They tend to be large, which is good for holding multiple monitors, but bad if you want more of your actual desktop surface available.

Example of expensive standing converter

  • X-Lift Converters. Similar to Z-lifts, these use an X-shaped cross profile. They’re similar in size and scope to Z-lifts, but where Z-lifts lean forward (sacrificing some stability), X-lifts lift straight up.
  • Hover Converters. These converters are similar to monitor mounting arms or to post and base converters. They attach to the back or corner of your desk, and they hold platforms on long arms. Rather than collapsing downwards when you’re done with them, they swing out of the way.

Hover converter

  • Conversion Kits. Not a true standing desk converter, a conversion kit is essentially a set of replacement legs for your existing desk. You buy a kit, use the surface of your existing desk, and create a standing desk. These are great if you like your existing desk surface, but they aren’t broadly compatible and they require much more construction than a typical converter.

Standing desk converters can have a variety of different features and levels of design.

  • Simple mechanics. Some converters are little more than aluminum frames, a few rubber bits, and a couple of bolts to act as pivot points. Some are even made out of wood and use interlocking ridges to hold them in place. These are much more portable and much lighter, but they are also less stable and more difficult to adjust.
  • Electric motors. Some converts, much like some standing desks, have electric motors to help convert between the lower and higher positions. These tend to be much bulkier and more expensive than their mechanical counterparts.
  • Corner converters. These converters are angled to fit in the corner of an L-shaped desk, or the corner of a cubicle with a full-sized desk. This gives you more flexibility with your workplace, but they are larger and require a corner to sit well.
  • Monitor mounts. Many, though not all, standing desk converters have a post or arm that you can use to mount a monitor. This is convenient if you don’t need to move locations, and if you use a desktop computer, but it’s not worthwhile if you use a laptop unless you’re using a dock as well. They tend to be less flexible than monitor arms themselves, and rarely hold more than two screens at most. Many converters only hold a single screen.

So, as you can see, there is a wide range of different standing desk converters on the market. Of course, there are just as many standing desks on the market, so there are a lot of considerations you should think about before deciding which one you want.

Desk Converter Pros and Cons

Now let’s take a moment to look at the pros and cons of using a converter instead of buying an actual standing desk.

Pros of Desk Converter

  • Converters don't replace desks.
  • Converters are easy to install.
  • Converters can be cheaper than standing desks.

Cons of Desk Converter

  • Converters can be more expensive than standing desks.
  • Converters don't work with all desk types.
  • Converters can be bulky and disruptive.
  • Converters have small desktop surfaces.
  • Converters don't offer smart features.

As you can see, there are a few pros and quite a few cons to using a standing desk converter, so let’s discuss them individually and in greater detail.

The Pros

First, the benefits of using a converter.

The pros of a converter

  • Pro: You don’t have to throw out your existing desk to stand while working. One of the biggest complaints about using a standing desk is that you have to get rid of your existing desk. You might like your existing desk, or you might want to keep it but have nowhere to store it. If you’re getting rid of it, it can feel bad to throw out a perfectly good desk, but transporting it or selling it can be a huge hassle. With a converter, you don’t need to get rid of your existing desk.
  • Pro: A converter is typically fast and easy to install and requires little assembly. Many converters come in one piece and don’t require much more than, maybe, attaching a shelf, or screwing a monitor in place, or attaching it to the surface of your desk. Some of them might require a little bit of assembly, but it’s generally less assembly than is required of a standing desk. Mileage varies here, of course, as different converters – particularly the higher quality, more elaborate converters – may have more assembly required than the simpler devices.
  • Pro: Some converters are cheaper than buying a standing desk. Converters tend to range in price from around $100 to upwards of $1,000. This is a very wide range of pricing and accounts for a very wide range of styles and construction. Converters made out of aluminum with simple mechanical mechanisms and few functions are cheaper, while converters made out of steel with electric motors, extra shelves, and additional features will cost quite a bit more. The more features you want out of your converter, the more you have to be willing to pay for it.

The Cons

On the other hand, there is a number of downsides to using a converter in lieu of a standing desk.

Converter cost

  • Con: Some converters are much more expensive than just buying a standing desk. Standing desks have almost an equally wide range of pricing. Some of the cheapest standing desks cost under $200, though they offer very little in the way of features. More elaborate and fully-featured standing desks can cost upwards of $2,000, particularly if you want solid hardwood surfaces instead of particle board with veneers. You can get a great standing desk for around $400 if you know where to look.
  • Con: Converters don’t work with all kinds of desks. A major drawback for some people is that a converter doesn’t work with some styles of these desks. If the desk is too small, or multi-layered, or – as is most common – made out of glass, a converter generally isn’t a good idea. Converters can be too large for some desk styles, and for glass desks, they can be too heavy and risk shattering the desktop.
  • Con: Converters are often bulky and inconvenient to use. The vast majority of standing desk converters are large, bulky contraptions that sit on the surface of your desk, taking up space. Often, it’s inconvenient to move your interface devices off of the converter and move the converter out of the way when you want to sit. This means you end up working at a “desktop” surface that is higher than your normal desk, which can lead to a range of ergonomic problems. Not all styles of converters fall into this problem, but many do.
  • Con: Converters don’t offer much desktop space when standing. The majority of converters are designed to fit on relatively small desks, which means the converters are relatively small themselves. Often, they offer little more than space for a keyboard and mouse. Even the largest and most elaborate standing desk converters offer more than one shelf and small device platforms rather than a single larger work surface. This can mean a standing desk converter is incompatible with certain kinds of work.
  • Con: Converters don’t offer many smart features. Some of the more expensive converters might offer electronic controls, but you’ll be paying a lot more for the features. Getting a similar range of features in a smart standing desk is much cheaper, on average.

Our Overall Perspective

In broad strokes, it’s impossible to say that one kind of standing desk option is better than the other. It all comes down to you, dear reader. What do you want out of your standing surface?

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  1. If you’re attached to your existing desk and don’t want to get rid of it, get a converter. A converter allows you to keep your existing desk and (if you want to) move it out of the way to use the desk surface itself.
  2. If you have a large, elaborate computer setup, with multiple devices, several monitors, and extra space for papers, a phone, and other office work supplies, get a standing desk. A converter will be too small for your needs, and it will be frustrating and painful to need to lean over or reach down to access lower stuff all the time.
  3. If you have a built-in desk that is physically attached to a wall or floor and cannot be moved or removed without significant construction efforts, get a converter. You might benefit from certain kinds of converters over others, depending on the size of the built-in desk, but obviously, it’s a much greater investment to do building construction to replace a desk with a standing desk.
  4. If you are disabled, missing fingers or a hand, or otherwise have a difficult time operating the mechanics of an adjustable device, go with a standing desk. Converters are harder to wrangle, and the ones with electronic adjustments are much more expensive than an electronic or smart standing desk. Of course, accessibility is a big issue and you may have specific needs that make one option better than the other, requires specialized equipment, or precludes standing altogether.
  5. If your current work desk is old, breaking down, falling apart, unstable, or otherwise in need of repair or replacement, consider just buying a new standing desk to replace it. Someone, somewhere, might be interested in repairing and reusing your old desk, but chances are you have more on your hands and don’t want to deal with the hassle.
  6. You can also consider a conversion kit. If you like your desk surface but the legs are unstable or wobbly, getting a conversion kit allows you to save the surface and turn it into a standing desk.

At the end of the day, there are hundreds of standing desk products on the market, between the different kinds of converters and the different kinds of standing desks, with all their different styles and features. You’re spoiled for choice. Decide what features are important to you, investigate your options, and find a product that works for you.

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