Today we will be taking a closer look at what is likely the most popular electric standing desk available. While the Autonomous Desk is a great option for the price conscious shopper, it should come as no surprise that one of the least expensive options comes with problems. While some of these problems are easily overlooked, others are potential deal breakers. Let’s take a closer look at the top 5 Autonomous Desk problems to see if this standing desk is a good fit for your needs.
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The Autonomous SmartDesk 2 is another desk from the mid-range that comes without a traditional cross support. It also includes a host of other issues that create stability problems when raised to standing height. Minimal threading in the feet and cheap plastic glide are two of the most glaring issues. Combine that with a T base design, which we have found to be one of the least stable base configurations, and the Autonomous Desk ranks as one of our least stable desks.
The first test that I performed on the Autonomous SmartDesk 2 was the rocking test. This is a front to back motion. The Autonomous Desk showed signs of rocking motions as early as 32”, with the motion becoming bad by 37”. Based on our standing desk height calculator, this would impact users starting between 5’1” and 5’2” tall. As the desk moved higher, the motion became even worse and will significantly impact your work. The Autonomous Desk is one of the worst performing desks for the rocking motion test.
The second test is the left to right, or wobble motion test. Fortunately, the Autonomous SmartDesk 2 performed better here. In fact, it didn’t show signs of wobble until I reached 40” tall. Unfortunately, when you raise the desk beyond 42” the motion became significant.
Because the Autonomous SmartDesk has so many stability issues, there isn’t a way to improve the stability after purchase. I would recommend looking for an alternative that offers a C leg design, with the column set back of center on the foot. If you prefer a desk without a traditional cross support, the Uplift 900 Desk is the best option we have tested. With an added wedge design in the upper column, lateral stability is significantly better than other desks without a cross support. For the best lateral stability in the class, I would recommend looking at the VertDesk v3 or GeekDesk v3. Each will include a traditional cross support.
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Low Quality Electronics
One of the most important parts of any electric standing desk is the electronics pack. We found this out the hard way, with our original VertDesk v1. Trying to keep costs down, we teamed up with TiMotion, one of the Chinese manufacturers of linear actuator systems. When the electronics fail on your standing desk that is it, there is no moving the desk up or down.
One of the most disappointing things for me, when reviewing the Autonomous SmartDesk 2, was to see they were using TiMotion. When we moved away from TiMotion, it was due to electronic packs arriving dead, loud buzzing sounds that customers complained about and failures in the field after short lifecycles.
Because the Autonomous Desk is one of the least expensive options in the mid-range, my guess would be they partnered with TiMotion for the same reason we did. While TiMotion offers some of the most feature rich linear technology from China, they do so at the expense of the quality of the electronics themselves. Everything they make looks really good, so good you would think it was on the same level as premium suppliers Linak and LogicData. Unfortunately, once you pull the cover off, the difference is quite obvious.
Looking at the inside of the control box, you can see the yellow circuit board doesn’t look right. I have opened up seven different control boxes over the past month. Of those seven, the TiMotion box had the most excessive use of white epoxy to hold wires and components in place. While I am no electronics expert, looking at the better quality control boxes there is a big difference. When comparing the LogicData control box to the TiMotion, the quality control difference was pretty amazing. Only in very specific areas are adhesives, like hot glue, used to hold wires in place on the LogicData circuit board. On the other hand, the TiMotion circuit board had white epoxy everywhere.
If you decide to go with the Autonomous SmartDesk 2, you will likely be relying on the five year warranty for your solution. When looking at the other Chinese brands, all of them had the same quality control issues with the excessive use of white epoxy. It just happened to be that the TiMotion product was the worst offender.
Better alternatives do exist in the category; these include electronics from Linak and LogicData. The three desks that we have tested to include the higher quality electronics are UpDesk Elements, ModDesk Pro and the VertDesk v3. UpDesk Elements features the Linak technology. ModDesk Pro by MultiTable and the VertDesk v3 are using two different versions of LogicData control boxes.
The motors offered on the Autonomous Desk are also from the electronics manufacturer, TiMotion. They have cranked up the speed on the desk, offering what is the current leader of adjustment speed in the class. With only the weight of the desktop, the Autonomous Desk cruises at 2.09” per second.
I’ll be honest, when I first ran the table up and down I was impressed. The Autonomous Desk is fast, really fast. As I continued to progress through the test adding additional weight, the speed started to drop off. By the time we reached 295 lbs., just short of the max capacity, it was down to 1.15” per second. It was struggling at this point and you could tell the motors were being worked hard.
While most users won’t require the full capacity of their desk, it’s important to consider how each desk is impacted by heavy loads. While the Autonomous Desk is the fastest desk we have tested without anything on the desk, once loaded, up close to capacity, it ranks in the bottom half.
If you require a desk that can lift a heavy load consistently, the Autonomous Desk might not be a good fit. I personally like to see desks offer more consistent speeds throughout the different load tests. Otherwise it feels like the desk motors and electronics are always working at max capacity, whether it be a light load or at max capacity.
The EvoDesk is a good example, with an average speed of 1.5” per second with only the desktop. When fully loaded to 350 lbs., the speed drops to 1.46” per second. That is the consistency you would expect from a dual motor desk. Another option would be the UpDesk Elements; with dual motors it averages 1.43” per second. When loaded to 310 lbs it adjusts at the same speed. Only when I loaded to 400 lbs. did I experience a drop to 1.24” per second.
Cheap Plastic Glides
Like most of the Chinese brands I have tested, the Autonomous Desk’s OEM Aoke has decided to use cheap plastics for their glide systems. In taking apart the Autonomous Desk columns, the first thing I noticed was the overall look was the same as JieCang. Ultimately, both brands have decided to copy the high end Linak DL5 column. While the look was the same, the fit and plastic quality was significantly worse.
Using high quality plastics for your glide systems can provide a huge upside. First of all, high quality plastics are able to hold up to higher cycle counts. As the desk is cycled up and down, natural wearing will occur. As this happens, the desk will actually become less stable the more play that is created through the wearing process. We have found through cycle testing competing products, as cheap glides wear down and the lubrication erodes, the column has the potential to bind. If the desk has an anti-collision feature, the potential exists for false positives. This means the desk will stop and back down when reaching a certain height. The same thing it does when it hits a hard object while in motion. In the case of the Jarvis Desk we tested, it happened with only 35 lbs. on the desktop, at 36” tall, and after only 4000 cycles.
The second problem with low quality glides is the rub marks they leave on the outside of the columns. While some users may not care as much about this, you may if you are particular about these things. When comparing a heavy cycled desk with cheap glides, there is always significant wearing on the columns.
The solution for low quality plastic glides is to use more lubrication. This is why you find significant amounts on the JieCang, Lumi and Aoke products. This creates a host of new issues.
The product Aoke has attempted to imitate is used on the UpDesk Elements. UpDesk features the Linak DL5 column and with the use of high quality glides acting as a self-lubricator the the glides require little grease. Because of this the columns remain clean and the high quality glides reduce the wear marks commonly found on the lower quality alternatives.
A good real life example of how high quality plastics, like the Acetal Delrin from Dupont, wear on a painted column is our VertDesk v3. We did a high cycle test on this, ending the test at 21,375 cycles. This represents 20+ years of cycles for most users. Over that time, the upper glides that wear on the paint barely left any marks.
Threading For Adjustable Foot Glides
Starting at the absolute bottom of the desk are adjustable foot glides. These glides are used to adjust the desk if your floor is naturally uneven. Looking at eleven different desks in the category, I have found there isn’t any real consistency here. However, the desks with some of the most significant stability issues had their problems start here.
The Autonomous Desk is one of the desks that have stability issues. Looking at the foot, they have decided to tap the steel foot to create the threading required to attach the foot glide. Unfortunately, the bottom steel plate they have used to construct the foot isn’t overly thick. This has left very minimal threading to attach the glide. With little threading, the contact point to the glide is less than desirable. This creates a natural movement with the glide unless it is fully inserted into the foot.
Think about it from the perspective of the structure of a house. The desk frame can only be as solid as the foundation it is built on. The same goes for the home you live in. The entire desk and all of its contents are supported by these four small glides. As the desk is raised into a standing position, design flaws such as these are only exaggerated.
The best solution for the Autonomous Desk that I have found is to fully tighten the glides. By doing this, you will eliminate any movement that occurs when they are extended. Unfortunately, this means that you will not be able to counteract a crooked floor.
A better solution would be to look at some of the alternatives that have a better foot design. Just because the manufacturer has decided to tap the steel for threading, doesn’t mean the it will be inadequate. An example of a foot that provides better threading from tapping the steel is the VIVO 103E standing desk. While this desks stability didn’t necessarily rank well overall, the foot design was very sturdy. Another option that manufacturers have used are welding nuts to the back side of the foot plate. We have found this on the ApexDesk, and it creates sufficient threading for a quality connection.
The Autonomous SmartDesk 2 has risen in the ranks of popularity for obvious reasons. As one of the least expensive options in the mid-range, it opens the door to standing for a wide range of users. With a wide range of adjustment, 300 lbs. capacity, and good return policy, it’s a no brainer for many shoppers. For those that are particular about the quality of the products they buy, the Autonomous SmartDesk 2 has to the potential to fall short. Low quality electronics, with stability issues as early as 37” have the potential to be deal breakers. While the Autonomous Desk is one of the best options you’ll find under $500, there are quite a few better alternatives above the $600 mark. Hopefully my post today will help make that choice a little easier, regardless of the route you take.