Boy, did we ever get a good laugh out of the combustible PowerBook 5300. Quite the scorchin' deal, eh? (Never mind that only a few batteries in a testing lab actually caught fire.) These days, however, the joke isn't quite as funny: laptops really are getting hot enough to singe the skin.
You can stay cool with the right laptop stand. And you'll protect more than your skin: the 11 stands reviewed here all raise the height of your laptop to a more comfortable viewing or typing angle. As with most ergonomic products, one that's ideal for you may not work well for someone else, so keep your specific needs in mind. I wouldn't want to see you get burned.
My editor insisted that I work on this article from my couch, so I'm doing my best to accommodate her, with the help of a few stands designed to keep your laptop off your lap. (They also function well on a desk.)
Rain Design's simple iLap (; $50 and $70; www.raindesigninc.com) features an angled anodized aluminum base with a soft padded base riser and padded wrist rest. You can't change degree of tilt, but the riser rotates slightly to match the angle of your legs (if you're sitting) or to lie flat on a desktop.
WorkRite Ergonomics' TravelRite (; $146; www .wrea.com) tilts your iBook or PowerBook as much as 30 degrees, which may provide a more comfortable angle for typing. It also provides space for air to flow beneath the laptop. It includes a padded wrist rest that you can adjust to match the thickness of your laptop; however, the wrist rest makes the TravelRite feel bulkier than it should and encourages you to rest your wrists while typing. Also, the stand blocks the media drive of a 15-inch or 17-inch PowerBook G4.
Dexia Design's Dexia Rack (; $45; www.dexia design.com) is a model of portability. Folded flat, the aluminum frame is 0.75 inches thin and weighs 1.5 pounds. But when it's unfolded, the Rack lifts the laptop 7.6 inches -- enough room to accommodate your legs when you're sitting on a couch or in bed, or to raise the screen for working at a desk. The rubber feet on my 15-inch PowerBook G4 didn't always find traction on the Rack's metal surface, but this wasn't much of an issue since the Rack is flat.
The LapGenie, from LapGenie (; $130; www.lapgenie.com), provides what should be a happy combination of the previous two stands:
it has a surface high enough to put your legs under and an adjustable work surface that can be set to any angle that will hold your computer (a benefit for people who aren't able to work in a sitting position). But the LapGenie is the Inspector Gadget of stands, with a bewildering six-step unfolding process. Folding it up was also annoying: on more than one occasion, the metal legs pinched my fingers. And when packed, it felt too bulky to be easily portable. However, once deployed, the stand is surprisingly sturdy, given its lightweight (1.7-pound) anodized aluminum body.
The previous stands are at home on your lap or your desk. The following stands are designed primarily for a desk or another flat, solid surface. They follow one of two design philosophies: they either hide your laptop's keyboard (so you can use an external keyboard and mouse without obstruction) or leave it accessible, whether you connect external input devices or not.
Keyboard-Inaccessible Humanscale believes that since you won't be using your laptop's keyboard, that space can be put to better use. Its LPTHLD02 model (; $200; www.humanscale.com), also referred to as the Ergo-Top, incorporates a plastic U-shaped piece, upon which you rest the lower section of your computer. This piece completely blocks the keyboard and trackpad and serves as a document holder that lets you keep your reference materials in front of you. The base of the U-shaped piece tilts at one of five preset angles and controls the height of the laptop's screen.
A portable version of the same idea, Humanscale's LPTHLD01 (; $300), or Ergo-Q, folds up neatly into a flat metal slab that's half an inch high. Like the Ergo-Top, the Ergo-Q has an adjustable leg mechanism that lets you change the height of the screen.
I liked the construction and design of both stands, especially the portable model, but the depth of each stand, when added to the desk space an external keyboard occupies, put the screen a few inches too far from my eyes. Also, putting the lower section of my PowerBook into the U-shaped construction blocked the front-loading DVD-drive; iBook and 12-inch PowerBook G4 owners, whose media drives eject from the side, won't have this problem.
The StandIt, from StandIt (; $46; www.standit .com), also blocked my PowerBook's media drive, but the utter simplicity of its design and its low price nearly compensates for that. You might think that the metal StandIt is just a recipe-book holder: a lip on the bottom prevents the laptop from sliding onto the table, and a stiff wire leg pivots out from the back to provide support. Three separate legs of different sizes come with the StandIt to control its angle; you need to remove one before attaching another, which is awkward. Ultimately, though, the StandIt didn't work for me because the aluminum PowerBook G4's hinge doesn't open up far enough to make the screen vertical. (To be fair, the stand worked fine with my older Titanium PowerBook G4.)
Keyboard-Accessible If you want height without sacrificing the use of your laptop's keyboard and trackpad, the following stands provide more-open designs. Though you'll probably use these on a desk with an external keyboard and mouse, it's nice to have the option of unhindered access to the laptop.
Similar in design to the LPTHLD01, Contour Design's NoteRiser (; $130; www.contourdesign.com) begins as a slim square of aluminum and transforms, via a couple of bends and slots, into an angled stand that can raise your laptop. The NoteRiser has two metal tabs that prevent the laptop from sliding; these tabs also make a PowerBook G4's media drive inaccessible.
For something considerably sturdier, turn to the Kamas PowerBook Stand (; $100; www.macsonly.com/macimp/kamas2.html), which is composed of a heavy-duty steel base and a laptop platform that is adjustable to any angle. A bracket holds the computer securely in place and includes a slot that accommodates the PowerBook's DVD drive (you specify your PowerBook or iBook model when you order, so you get the correct bracket). A small shelf in back is great for storing the computer's power adapter, and a small extension on the platform allows you to thread cables out of the way.
My favorite stand for elevating my PowerBook is the inexpensive Laptop-Desktop Stand, from ErgoKomfort (; $50; www.ergokomfort.com). This simple two-piece acrylic shelf lifts the laptop to a comfortable level and offers a tilt adjustment of up to 15 degrees. The computer sits on top, with its ports and the media drive fully accessible, so you can easily grab your PowerBook and toss it into your bag at the end of the day.
Although each of the previously mentioned stands keep a hot laptop away from your lap, none of them actively deal with the heat issue. MacMice's iBreeze (; $30; www.macmice.com) takes on that challenge. A stand made from a single piece of angled acrylic, the iBreeze also includes two built-in, USB-powered fans designed to siphon the heat away from the laptop. The fans are relatively quiet -- they sounded a little softer than my PowerBook's internal fan -- and tend to lower the laptop's temperature by between 5 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit; with the help of Jeremy Kezer's ThermographX software (www.kezer.net/thermographx.html), I saw an average of about 8 degrees. While the iBreeze is a bargain, its lack of angle adjustment limits its usefulness.
Macworld's Buying Advice
I tend to favor simpler designs such as ErgoKomfort's Laptop-Desktop Stand, but I'm also drawn to the elegance of portable stands such as Humanscale's LPTHLD01 and Contour Design's NoteRiser, though it's unfortunate that the PowerBook G4's front-loading media drive is often blocked by the design of many stands. The important thing is that each of these laptop stands will keep your legs cool and raise the laptop to a better viewing or typing angle.